Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

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The great wizard Mordenkainen puts pen to paper with this thoughtful tome detailing some of his favorite conflicts throughout the multiverse! I mean honestly, he must have been thinking of us when he decided to hover, by magelight, over a desk in his study regaling us with tales of these embittered battles (via dictation to Bigby if I’m told correctly) that often span eons. Actually, I’ve heard this work may have been somewhat pilfered, but surely he meant it to help one day yes? Well, whatever the case I’m digging it. This is an excellent way to give us some choice cuts of lore. All followed by even more details on subraces and racial choices a character might make. Lastly, just in case we need even more, this record rounds things out with a bestiary of truly devious monsters to contend with and a touch or two of more details on favored races. Let’s dive in shall we? (CAUTION: Be wary of Sahuagin as you dive).

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Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is divided into five chapters detailing some of the more iconic clashes in Dungeons & Dragons lore, with a lead in Preface that adds a little touch of intrigue about the book and what we are in for (and possibly how we received it). The Gith, Devils and Demons, etc. fill the pages of these first chapters followed by a sixth chapter which brings us a large bestiary with some truly bizarre and dangerous additions to any Dungeon Master’s regime. I’ll regal you with details from each chapter…

But first…

I feel I need to begin every review of any new tome, book, manual, or what-have-you from Wizards these days with pure praise on it’s quality craftsmanship and dedication to high quality artwork. The books in the 5th edition line have somehow managed to capture the nostalgic essence many of us crave from bygone years while updating the pages to match the “new” that 5e has brought to the table as well.

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I also can’t help but truly applaud the choice to craft alternate covers for their latest fare as well. It would be enough to maintain the already excellent artwork by Jason Rainville but here we also have a cover, by artist Vance Kelly, that evokes not only the machinations of Mordenkainen but also his view from afar on the denizens involved in the dark battles they wage across the Multiverse. Thank you WotC team, for this additional bit of pleasure to our eyes.

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CHAPTER 1: THE BLOOD WAR

Devils and Demons loathe one another, and those of the material plane fear both. With good reason of course. What many may not know, or at least not fully understand, is the basic fact that these two factions of our nightmares are locked in an eternal struggle known as the Blood War. Regimented Devils rule the Nine Hells and constantly maintain a line of battle against their chaos driven Demonic foes from the Abyss.

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In this chapter the reasons these two immortal races wage war is laid bare for us to ponder. I really enjoyed the two early portions of this where we get to read each group’s mindset for why they find themselves in bitter conflict. For the archdevils and their well defined forces it’s as much as you would guess but I love the passage explaining the why of the demonic leaders and their swarms, it belies a canniness one might not expect from the howling horde. It’s also interesting to get their separate view on the use of mortals.

The rest of this chapter lays out each individual archdevil and lord of the demons, with a deep dive into each one’s personal lore. With that comes a few pages of extra spice you might add to cultists who follow the devils and powers for the those foolhardy enough to seek the boon of a demon lord. We are also introduced to some more information about Infernal and Demonic Cambions, being those born of mortals with devilish or demonic parentage as well.

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As for the Player Character – This is your chapter that lays out some solid subrace additions to the Tiefling. We are introduced to traits from each of the archdevils your character might have a special link to. This will allow players to have a little bit more malleability with their core stats boosts, as each of the Nine Hells Lords have their own specialties.  Each subrace is also equipped with a “legacy” related to your chosen path. This will grant your character a cantrip initially followed by further spells as they gain levels. I think there’s a lot here for Tiefling lovers.

CHAPTER 2: ELVES

For those who love the long lived grace of the Elves you’ll find yourself revealing in this chapter. So much excellent detail on their history and especially what divided them into their “light” and “dark” paths. This chapter is interesting to me because though the Drow and the surface Elves hate one another their conflict doesn’t define them the way it does for devils and demons and the Gith, even the Dwarves and Duergar are a bit more at each other’s throats directly. That Elves and Drow are in conflict isn’t up for debate, they certainly are, but both groups spend plenty of energy on other facets of day to day living. The Drow have their desire to reign with superiority over all creatures, surface elves may hold some special disdain but “the Drow rule supreme” if one were to put it into a quote. Surface Elves of course have so much more to concern themselves with than just focusing on their cousins well beneath.

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A fair bit of time is spent on detailing the Seldarine (the elven gods), both light and Dark. Lore like this has always held interest to me. I am personally a religious individual so the idea that a player character I might run would, at least in part, be driven by the desires and characteristics of their chosen deity appeals to me greatly. Another nice touch in this chapter is the inclusion of more information on the Feywild. With that, of course, comes the addition of one of my favorite 4th Edition Player Character choices,the Eladrin.

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As for the Player Character – Beyond the excellent storytelling you’ll find here to round out your character’s backstory, and reasoning for actions, there are some more concrete options for the character sheet. Three new elven subraces grace these pages. We have the Eladrin, Sea Elves, and Shadar-Kai.

The Eladrin are far more fey than they were represented in 4e, but despite this change in pace I’m loving the new look. They now appear to be almost impossible to pin down when it comes to understanding their raw emotion, and as for actual looks, they take after the seasons. Love that vibe. They still have Fey Step though, such a great little power. Now though this power works through the conduit of whatever season your Eladrin bears the shroud of, with pretty cool effect.

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Sea Elves… always sounds like a cool idea, but I don’t know if I would ever take on the challenge of an underwater campaign! Of course, saying that now I kind of want to try it out somehow. It would be a challenge, that’s for sure. As for these guys themselves they come packaged with everything you’d expect, swim speed and the ability to somewhat “Aquaman” with sea creatures. We are introduced to a new conflict though, that between the Sea Elves and the Sahuagin (told you to look out). This conflict is even more dynamic than that between surface and underdark elves. If only because the Sahuagin are unrelenting savages who feel the concept of any other intelligent being residing under the waves to be an affront. Honestly it would have been interesting to hear a little more about this particular conflict but for now we only have a few snippets.

I really enjoyed the portion of this chapter that detailed more information on the Shadar-kai, it really is an excellent read. As for their subrace details I feel like they are somewhat disappointing compared to their flashy mirror opposites, the Eladrin. Only because there is only one subrace choice though, and it has some cool aspects to it. It would have been interesting to try and make some darker reflections of the seasons to add some spice to this subrace but it is pretty cool on its own.

Rounding things out in this chapter we have some tables that help you pad the character sheet for and elven player character, or even an NPC. Trinkets and story hooks, plus a table detailing Drow House specialties.

CHAPTER 3: DWARVES AND DUERGAR

I always felt like Duergar had the potential to be far more interesting to me than their elven counterparts the Drow. Probably only because I grew up during the heyday of R.A. Salvatore‘s Drizzt novels and was frankly over saturated with Drow knowledge. I like the lesser known things oft times, and Duergar weren’t nearly as touched upon. So I immediately made a beeline for this chapter, as those who follow me on Twitter can attest.  I don’t know if the story in these pages detailing the schism between the Dwarves and Duergar has been embellished to this point before, but if it was I missed it and am grateful for the story told in full here. I mean, I knew about the involvement of the Illithid in the twisting of the Duergar, but I’ve never heard it told like this. A great read if you’re a fan of these races, and their bitter conflict with one another. I mean damn… the dwarves kind of deserve these enemies. I have a newfound respect for the Duergar, despite finding their methods loathsome.

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For the dwarves in this chapter we are treated to discussions about their what drives them, their strongholds, and their deities. What I think is kind of interesting is there is a portion of the chapter dedicated to information about dwarves in differing portions of the multiverse. Specifically the dwarves of Greyhawk, The Forgotten Realms, and Dragonlance. This wasn’t present in the other two chapters really but seems like an excellent addition. Honestly it makes some sense considering how dwarves tend to differ in various realms a bit more than elves do.

As you can probably tell I have found the Duergar to hold most of my interest in this chapter. This has been my favorite introduction to their society I’ve encountered thus far. This book would make a most welcomed resource for the Dungeon Master attempting to run Out of the Abyss for this alone, not to forget the details on the Drow in the previous chapters. Enough so that it almost becomes a must have for anyone attempting the campaign. Laduguer, one of only two deities regarded by the Duergar, is a truly interesting character to be fleshed out by this chapter. There’s even a small side note story regarding how he made his deal with Amadeus and how his stoicism helped pave the Three Rules of Conduct followed by Duergar society. Quite the shrewd fable.

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As for the Player Character – There are no new dwarven subraces to mention but we are given a stat block for the Duergar. They have some pretty nice additions, including Superior Darkvision that allows for even better sight in the deep darkness where they live. So you can’t have Duergar without a touch of psionics. Considering there aren’t really any rules set forth for such a thing yet these skills take the form of some innate magic spells they can cast. Honestly I await the day we see some true psionics in 5e, which may not be too long as they have done some work on it in Unearthed Arcana, but this does well for now.

We also have a ton of useful tables to help you pad up character traits and background details like clan statuses and allies. The Duergar allies are especial interesting!

CHAPTER 4: GITH AND THEIR ENDLESS WAR

Mind Flayers. Why is it always Mind Flayers!? They corrupted the Duergar and we are soon informed in this chapter that the Gith were similarly enslaved. They also overthrew their Illithid overseers but upon doing so disagreement over their future society rent them into two factions, the Githyanki and the Githzerai. The two forces have been in bitter conflict ever since, though it appears both like to take a crack at their previous slavers from time to time.

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The bulk of this chapter provides background lore for the Githyanki. Laid bare are details about their litch queen Vlaakith and her promises to the loyal warriors who do her bidding. We also learn about the method the Githyanki use to terrorize the realms of the Multiverse, in fact we learn a great deal about their airships. Lastly the fabled “City of Death” Tu’narath is revealed to us. I love a good rundown of interesting cityscapes (my twitter name is Sharndm mind, you) and Tu’narath is highly interesting. It’s carved from the calcified remains of a long deceased deity for goodness sake! Definitely a fun read there. I love the little inroad allowed by the District of Discards by the way.

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The portion on the Githzerai may be a bit shorter but there’s some good lore to pad a character sheet available here as well. Here we are introduced to their physically powerless leader, Menyar-Ag, who hosts a mental aptitude of titanic proportions despite being unable to lift a finger. Their major cities are described in good detail as well, allowing for a number of interesting locales to derive stories from, or host them. Lastly we learn about how the Githzerai function beyond their borders in Limbo. This portion of the text would be great for helping a player flesh out their nomad Githzerai.

As for the Player Character – Traits for both Githyanki and Githzerai are available here. Again, the psionics inherent to this race has been presented in the same way a racially known spell would be added rather than craft actual psionic rules. The remaining details presented here in the form of tables that help round out player characters with names, personality traits, ideal, etc.

CHAPTER 5: HALFLINGS AND GNOMES

Perhaps no contest of arms, no bloodbath, no other contest of divided peoples can measure up to the horrific warfare between the Halflings and the Gnomes. SCORES of these smaller folk perish at the hungry blades they wield against one anoth… ok, ok I’ve had my fun. I actually like this chapter plenty. I think its focus on the ability of these two races to work behind, between, and beneath the scenes of these larger conflicts makes for some excellent reading. Plus, I’m really digging the extra details on all these other gnome types!

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First we explore the Halflings, a people I think I would love to be a part of. The natural innocence, the ability to roll with the punches and disregard some of the more troubling aspects of what’s going on in the world around them (certainly a desirable trait in real life right now!) makes for a lifestyle I find myself envying. The Halflings presented here honestly come across far more “hobbit-like” than some iterations of the D&D Halflings, there’s even a bit on “Bad Apples” in the Halfling race that allow evil to twist them into paranoid, crueler, creatur *cough**GOLLUM!**GOLLUM!**hack*… whew… sorry, something got caught in my throat there.

The Halfling gods and myths are fun stuff to parse, especially as deities in D&D are often times such ponderous things to read about. I really like the addition of the tactics each community studies put forth by their war god Arvoreen, even prepping for combat in a Halfling village sounds like fun.

Following this we dig into what drives the Halfling adventurer, because the race as a whole does not come off as a very exciting group. Far more prone to enjoying the simpler pleasures in life. Adventurers are born though, and can certainly rise to the same levels of legend as any of the larger folk out there!

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Where dwarves work their forges and dig their mines out of stoic duty and honor Gnomes seem filled with a never ending lust for knowledge to drive them. We are introduced to a few varieties of gnomes here. The Rock Gnomes are incredible tinkerers, approaching their alchemy and artifice with a veritable scientific methodology not seen in other races. The Forest Gnomes seek to assist animal kind and master the craft of illusion. Lastly we meet the Deep Gnomes, otherwise known by the moniker Svirfneblin (the name that one player at the table insists the dungeon master always use, and expects phonetic perfection). Unlike their other Underdark counterparts, the Drow or Duergar, Deep Gnomes aren’t a full on danger to their surface kin. No, while they are certainly a bit grumpier and more stoic this is simply because they endure the hardships of the Underdark to seek their gain.

The gnomish gods are many and hold a large array of domains, here they are all given a nice background. I especially loved reading about how Garl Glittergold instigated a forever hardship between Gnomes and Kobolds. There is even a place for evil among the pantheon that might surprise some. There is also an aside that details how many Gnomish gods like to travel the multiverse disguised as ordinary gnomes. A rarity among D&D gods.

Lastly we visit a few Gnomish communities and then dive into what makes for a Gnome adventurer. As one would expect there’s a lot of curiosity and desire to learn behind most. Many communities may send their young adults away with a purpose to hope for new knowledge to be brought back.

As for the Player Character – Less than the other chapters. We are presented with the traits for the Deep Gnome only, but there is also an optional feat called “Svirfneblin Magic” that may be of interest to the player who picks these sturdy Gnomes as their character’s race. Interestingly Deep Gnomes are not subject to Sunlight Sensitivity.

CHAPTER 6: BESTIARY

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Here we have the second half of this book. More than a hundred additional monsters and humanoids span these pages for the Dungeon Master to throw at his table. Plenty are old favorites, that missed inclusion in the Monster manual resurrected for the new edition. I always liked the Boneclaw for example. One would have to suspect that many wizards fail in their attempts to become a litch, and fall even further into depravity as a Boneclaw. Plenty likely try long before they amass the power to do so. Such an eerie creature, can’t wait to use it again.

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Beyond that we see a lot of stat blocks for creatures brought to life by the conflicts described ion the earlier chapters. The different types of Eladrin, or the many ways to make up a Dueragar or Drow raiding party can be found here. Devils and Demons that have not yet gotten he privilege of being presented in earlier 5e books finally find a home. We also have tons of Gith choices to help expand what a group met on your travels might look like. Perhaps one of those Githyanki airships appears before your hapless players’ eyes.

For challenge ratings the Bestiary ranges from CR 1/8 all the way to CR 26. There’s a good mix there too, you could likely run entire campaigns with only the monsters located within these pages.

APPENDIX: MONSTER LISTS

This was a glaring omission in the Monster Manual that is thankfully added, in many fashions, here. The table of contents lists the monsters in alphabetical order, not by page number. Here in the appendix we have three other methods available. Stat blocks by Creature type comes first, Constructs, Humanoids, Fey, etc. Secondly there is the ever important stat block by Challenge Rating, Lastly we have creatures listed by environments. I’ve always liked that last one.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I’ve obviously gushed, I like the book a lot. I’m sure there’s something here I will think of later that I feel is missing, or could have rounding things out a bit nicer, but everything I’ve read thus far has been really great. Granted, I’m a lore hound and this book has that in spades. I think the fashion in which they’ve presented this lore is very creative and I really hope they continue this trend. The book feels alive, it isn’t just a glut of dry information put out there for us. Great care was taken to make this manual fun and interactive. I actually enjoyed reading it! I continue to be impressed with the team behind this edition of the game.


Mordenkinen’s Tome of Foes is an excellent read, full of lore on the great conflicts that rage across the multiverse and finishes with a veritable gush of monsters for the Dungeon Master to play with. This manual will serve the needs of both Dungeon Master and Player alike with the edge of most use being to the DM, though there are new character options available in nearly every chapter.

ITEM DETAILS

Price: $49.95
Release Date: 29 May, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Item Code: 978-0-7869-6624-0

WHERE CAN I BUY IT?

Pre-order at your local game store, book stores such as Barnes & Noble, or online at retailers like Amazon. You can also pre-order now at D&D Beyond.

You can find more information about this book via a “Podcast of Foes” event where the WotC team chats with notable RPG Podcasts about the book that is currently underway, you can listen in on either iTunes or Google Play, (please note the strong RPG Academy Network presence here! Proud of my network as always!) here is the schedule:

 

-Melvs

P.S. Dear Wizards of the Coast team. Thank you for the stickers! My library kids will love them!

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Spellslingers: The Fastest Game of Wit and Wizardry

While I may be a huge fan of long, ponderous, board games that take an entire afternoon for my buddies and I to crawl through. Sometimes you need to shake things up a bit, sometimes you need a fast and loose style of game. I introduce to you, Spellslingers!

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Vincent Baker, of Vindicated Entertainment, has brought us a game that feels reminiscent of a game of Uno played backwards. Rather than trying to rid yourself of cards you covet them, all while using them to attempt to rid your fellow players of their own hands. The base game is quick and chaotic, you can play with 2-10 players after all. Each card in your hand has an effect and upon playing it you are typically targeting another player forcing them to react with their own cards or even discard them to avoid an even more devastating effect.

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The base deck of cards, as you can see each card has a value and a description of what the card does. 

Basic Spellslingers is a quick game to play with friends but within the package you receive there are already new variants of the game available.

Signature Spells: Vastly more powerful. Suggested play styles include adding them to the regular deck to be drawn randomly to your foe’s despair or, even better, as a separate deck to be gained upon defeating a fellow player. I even had an idea to grant a draw from the deck for the remaining players who didn’t defeat an opponent to add an element of “they are getting desperate” to the game.

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Spellslinger Characters: To give the game a more thematic flair characters have been added that are chosen either purposefully or at random in the beginning of the game. They add special effects to what you as a player can do.

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Other variants of note include an Epic Enemy that you can play against if you’ve got some solo time to kill, ways to play against the deck with fellow players, and even a variant where you can all team up on one stronger player.

Spellslingers is a fast paced game that’s easy to learn. I love the touch that the game includes numerous variants on how to play so you can pinpoint your own favorite style of play. It really is pretty versatile for a quick and easy card game. If it has any faults I’d say the chance someone gets teamed up on can be fairly high, but considering how quick one game is over and a new one begun that’s not going to hold it back too much.

If you are interested in buying this game, which comes in at a price of $14.99, you can simply follow this link to the Vindicated Entertainment store. While you’re there check out some of the other games offered. Hope you enjoy!

Want to see the game in action?

-Melvs

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes – Spring 2018

Coming to your shelves this Spring Wizards of the Coast brings us Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes!

 

It looks like WotC has decided to continue its recent trend of shying away from Adventure Paths\Campaigns and is providing another resource for those playing Dungeons and Dragons. This time it looks like they are focusing mostly on the Dungeon Master but with a nod to the players as well mentioning potential hooks they can use to round out their character. Who doesn’t love a mortal enemy eh?

 

I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this book of tools, should be some fun stuff. Maybe I’ll find somone sinister to throw at my library kids (insert evil and\or maniacal laughter).

A few key links for you:

Main Site Page: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

Keep your eyes on Twitch: twitch.tv/dnd

D&D Beyond YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/dndbeyond

-Melvs

Feeling Thankful

SPOILER ALERT: If you are one of the teens in my gaming group you may want to avoid reading this blog entry.

November is coming to a close, and the Thanksgiving holiday I celebrate every year has come and gone. Thanksgiving, despite any historical inaccuracies that may surround it, has some very wonderful concepts behind it. The idea of giving thanks for all your good fortunes is a lovely tradition, and I am a lucky person. Today I wanted to discuss a recent event specifically related to this gaming hobby I love so much that I am very thankful for.

A little over a week ago I was pining over what to do for the kids who show up to my gaming club this holiday season. I wanted to give them a pen and paper RPG themed gift. In the past I have purchased, and have had donated, D&D 5e Player’s Handbooks for some of the earlier members of the group. I have also used my Hirst Arts molds to make ornaments on one of my leaner years. This year I wanted to do something special and I landed on an idea that I wasn’t quite able to fund. That’s where some amazing people came into action.

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Seriously great group of kids

All I had to do was mention my idea, which was buying twenty copies of Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Core, Explorer’s Edition, Rulebook for Savage Worlds, and I immediately had people ready to assist me financially to buy this book for some kids they’ve never met. The only thing in common? A shared love of tabletop RPGs. It took less than half a day for me to amass more than enough to buy all twenty copies of the book.

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This is exactly the type of attitude I want to show the kids that our community has. Sometimes our fandom can catch a bad rap, we have a few bad actors too, but for the most part I have found that we are a wonderfully generous and inclusive group. Stuff like this highlights it all the more. It is my hope that as they grow, and age out of my club, they take such displays of generosity to heart (even if they never play the game again). Kindness, compassion, and generosity are things our world needs, more than ever these days it seems.

So again, thank you to those who donated. Thank you to those who donated beyond the amount I needed, even after I told you I no longer needed funds (those funds will be put to good use no worries)! If you missed the donation drive, because it lasted mere hours, and want to help out I’ve actually thought of something. This time it doesn’t cost a thing!

I want to include messages in the covers of each book, and I’m hoping you can help by writing these quotes. I want it to be something you love about gaming, or some good advice about it. Take your pick, write it in the comments and I’ll add my favorite 19 (because I’ve got to write at least one, yeah?) to the books. If you feel weird about writing it in the comments, hit me up with a Direct Message on Twitter @sharndm. Also, let me know how you want me to sign it on your behalf. Thanks everyone!

-Melvs

Dragons Conquer America – Kickstarter Canceled

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Back in 2015 a company by the name of Burning Games took Kickstarter by storm with a brand new Role Playing Game, FAITH: The SciFi RPG. The concepts put forth by the Kickstarter were well received by fans of RPGs and critics alike. Set in a SciFi setting the game utilized a poker deck in a unique fashion to set forth a gameplay that was less based on luck and more so some resource management for players. I was certainly on board.

When the Kickstarter had run its course FAITH had been successfully funded and Burning Games had a success on their hands. It wouldn’t be their last either. Since then they’ve gone on to great success getting three other Kickstarters funded. So when they launched the Kickstarter for Dragons Conquer America, there was likely a lot of optimism, they’d been here before. A unique product, not much like what people have seen before (even in a gorgeous time of a veritable treasure trove of RPG concepts), with a touch of resemblance to FAITH by utilizing the same poker deck based system backbone, known as the “RPC Engine”. However, not far into its run backers started to stall and ultimately the creators decided to go back to the drawing board. What happened?

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It is evident by their offered Starter Set, The Coatli Stone (free to download by the way), that this game has been worked on, in depth, prior to the Kickstarter. So while you may shrug and say “at least they aren’t out much, good thing they had Kickstarter!” You’d be partially correct of course but I imagine plenty has already gone into this product already. It wasn’t just a concept like some companies are fortunate enough to be able to utilize. Blood, sweat, tears, and capital likely went into what they have now, and if you check out the download mentioned above they have a cool idea.

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In Dragons Conquer America you are transported to a fictionalized history of the 16th century invasion of the Americas. In this version all the trappings of fantasy are also prevalent. You have magic, from both the indigenous peoples of the Americas and a religious based magic from the European invaders, there are fantasy creatures to contend with as well, especially…well Dragons.  That’s not all though. The creators decided to try something a little different with the lore this time around. They want the community that plays this game to help guide that lore. A living game if you will. It’s been done before but this would be the chance to essentially be a part of establishing a game world from the get go. Even using the outcomes of the Starter Set adventure.

So as you can see, Burning Games has a pretty cool concept at play here. Obviously it didn’t grab the same level of attention as their previous games did though. I have a few personal thoughts.

One area I noticed was the high dollar figure they aimed for. With FAITH they went for €30k (roughly $35k). That’s no slacker of a ticket price but they ended up with €41k at the end of the day. Perhaps that’s what played into their decision to set the goal this time to €42k (nearly $50k). To me getting into numbers that high for a brand new game setting can be a tough sell to some, even if you are a company like Burning Games who has a proven track record of delivering very quality merchandise.

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Another potential issue at play might be the recent release of the revamped 7th Sea game by John Wick and company. It gives players a chance to run around a similar time period in an already established setting. Granted the loose system present in 7th Sea isn’t nearly as crunchy as the RPC Engine, so they are very different games, but it does provide another avenue to play explorer in an age of flintlock and boats. In this same vein, perhaps the core fans of Burning Games’ stuff just prefer Science Fiction.

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I think what might be affecting it the most though is how the game lands in our current world climate. In DCA you can play as either the invading Europeans or the Indigenous peoples, this is true, but considering how we are currently looking back on those times, how would you ever want to be a conquistador? There is even a sub system within the rules that takes into account a character’s personal prejudices. That is some loaded shit right now, no matter how you view “political correctness”. To me I would have concerns running one of these games at a con, expecting everyone at the table to treat their character’s in game prejudices in an adult fashion. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous that I would be concerned about something like that, but it’s an inherent truth that many in our hobby have trouble with this. Granted, this is your game and you can be as good a guy in game as you want or as bad. It just seems like adding in a system that expects you to roleplay a prejudice might be uncomfortable for many (as a caveat you are expected to build you “tolerances” over time and are rewarded for it).

Maybe I touched upon some problems, perhaps not. In my last paragraph I might have even gone too deep into the system and found something personal when it might just be some surface stuff they need to tweak. In the end I truly hope they work out the kinks and bring this back to the table, I do actually love the conceptual time period as an area to play around in. I also know that Burning Games knows how to produce very quality work with interesting lore and solid mechanics. I’m positive this is merely a setback and not a barricade to future work. I wish them nothing but success!

-Melvs

If you wish to weigh in and voice why you think things went belly up for the time being feel free to comment below! Also let me know if you think I’m completely off base!

XANATHAR’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING: A DEEPER DELVE

My initial “review” on Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was merely a “hot take” on the book, I wanted to ensure you all got some information right up front about the bare bones essentials of this important new product for 5e. I had always intended to present a more in depth review but then something even better came along. A good friend of mine wanted to try their hand at contributing to the site and this gave me the opportunity to share the wealth a bit by letting him borrow one of my copies for a time. I always love involving my friends’ voices to this site, gives people a chance to hear things from a different point of view than my own. So without further delay here is a deeper delve into Xanathar’s guide by none other than my friend Conzo! -Melvs

When I read through Volo’s Guide to Monsters, its contents primarily spoke to my DMing side. While it presented a variety of new PC races, the creature-specific lore made me want to introduce my players to entire societies I’d never considered before, and the stat blocks helped me spice up combat encounters. In order to restore the cosmic balance Wizards of the Coast is releasing Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, a 5th Edition supplement that’s much ado about the players.

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Like Volo’s, Xanathar’s Guide is justified with a little in-world setup: the infamous beholder crime lord Xanathar (featured on the cover) has documented all sorts of fantastical things in his life, and for some reason he’s sharing some of his records with the reader. This flavor manifests as goofy little jokes interjected by the many-eyed menace, which I could’ve done without. Luckily they’re restricted to the margins of the book. We’re here for rules text, after all.

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If you’ve already bought some of the supplements for 5E and you’ve been following the Unearthed Arcana site, most of the material in Xanathar’s Guide will be familiar to you. A few of the subclasses from Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and the spells added in Princes of the Apocalypse are reprinted here, just for any players who didn’t catch them the first time. However, the meat of this book comes from Unearthed Arcana, where Wizards of the Coast has been posting 5E test material for free since 2015 (side note: that’s a super-cool way to crowdsource your playtesting). In theory, a miserly player could forgo this book by searching through pages of complimentary pdfs, but Wizards has considered player feedback and made some significant changes to the classes. The most striking change in this regard was transforming the peace-loving Way of Tranquility monastic tradition into the paladin’s Oath of Redemption. When you buy Xanathar’s, you’re buying polish, balance, and some flavorful art.

The guide immediately jumps into the new subclasses, and even if you disregard the reprints it presents a cornucopia of options. While there is only one new arcane tradition for wizards, there are two to three brand-new subclasses for everyone else that expand on what it might mean to be a cleric or a fighter or whatever. For example, warlocks have been making pacts with dark and disturbing entities for ages, but what if you wish to deal with a force of good? Ask your doctor if the Celestial is right for you. What if your rogue prefers solving mysteries over stabbing people in the back? Check out the Inquisitive. Every class gets a boost of characterization, as well as mechanical diversity: players are getting all kinds of new ways to heal and defend, find a tactical upper-hand, or straight-up blast the bad guys (and that’s to say nothing of the new multiclassing opportunities). Personally I wasn’t ever interested in playing a ranger before, but the portal-finding, teleporting Horizon Walker and the invisible-to-darkvision Gloom Stalker have piqued my interest.

 

 

Of course, all the mages out there get some extra attention by way of an expanded spell list. Xanathar’s Guide includes 22 pages of spells, from cantrip to 9th level, bard to wizard. As previously mentioned, the elemental evocations and manipulations from Princes of the Apocalypse make an appearance, but Xanathar’s list includes necromantic attacks and beams of radiance, arcane transmutations and enchantments, and summoning rituals for hordes of demons and magic fortresses. A lot of this section was withheld from Unearthed Arcana testing, so its novelty is definitely one of the highlights of the book. I don’t want to spoil the specifics of any given spell, but I’ll tease you with a sentence of rules text that I found more entertaining than any of Xanathar’s quips: “If a target is killed by this damage, its head explodes, assuming it has one.”

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While players are getting a lot of rules to study and abuse, Xanathar’s Guide also has some optional characterization resources to support the storytelling side of D&D. As someone who’s played a “fighter who just likes to fight” before, I can say these tables of ideas are a great way to break past a writer’s block or start investing yourself in a character. Some of these tables are class-specific, like a barbarian’s superstition or that one awful performance a bard wishes she could forget. Some are background-specific explanations of why the character became a sailor or an acolyte. The table I found most interesting was a set of randomized life events, Adventures and Tragedies and Weird Stuff to be rolled more frequently depending on how old your character is. Maybe that Horizon Walker I was thinking about is an elderly man that’s been around the world before the campaign even begins.

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While most of the book is devoted to player materials, there are a handful of DM resources that are presented somewhat randomly. There’s clarifications on sleeping and flying, lists of simple magic items, the contents of each tool kit and sample DCs for using them, tips for designing rival NPCs and complicated traps, and an appendix about running a game with multiple DMs. There are also some very expansive tables for rolling random encounters, divided by environment and party level, that seem really useful. Whether it was the scattered presentation or the fact that I was still thinking about character creation, this information didn’t excite me, but it’s a resource I might take a second look at in the future.

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As I wrap up, I should mention that while I tried to note everything in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, I almost certainly did not. The supplement abounds with eclectic information worthy of a beholder’s library, and there are a few pages of information that didn’t make it into this review. That said, even if I never see those pages again, Xanathar’s Guide is a great supplement to the core rules of Fifth Edition D&D. If you’re a player, or you have a group of players, looking for ways to give your next adventuring party a zesty new flavor, this book should keep you entertained for many campaigns to come. Your current characters might even start taking foolhardy risks, just so they can be replaced by newer ones. Unless Melvin lets me keep one of his copies, I’ll be picking up my own after November 21.

-Conzo

XANATHAR’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING

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Wizards of the Coast has been trying something different with the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. With a redirected focus off of the glut and supplement driven sales tactics of the past, we have instead seen solidly written adventure campaigns hitting shelves regularly. I feel strongly that this has been a boon for the edition in the long run but I’m not going to lie and say that I haven’t also been craving at least a taste of that oh so addictive PC supplemental material. Enter Xanathar’s Guide.

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They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. So when I heard we’d be getting a book that details an enormous influx of new character options, Dungeon Master toys, and other new goodies I was very excited. let’s take a look at some of the new items available in this treasure trove of a book.

  • We see every base class presented in the Player’s Handbook receiving two new archetypes for players to utilize (with the exception of the Wizard who only gets one). Most of these were vetted via entry onto the Unearthed Arcana site, so you know they’ve faced some scrutiny from fans and the in house team. Much in the way 5th Edition itself was playtested.
  •  A beefed up system of character background generation
  • New feats to play around with, this time focusing on the player character’s race. Reading through these reminded me that I need to pay a little bit more attention to this aspect of the game, feats are actually pretty cool options.
  • New spells are bandied about, many are long time favorites that didn’t make the cut in the first foray into 5th edition.
  • Numerous Dungeon Master tools are also available. Namely these tools serve to expand upon situations a DM might have run into and adds some needed assistance in how one might handle them.

I’ve read through a good chunk of the book already and have to say I’m impressed, and very happy with the items WotC has chosen to include. The campaign adventures have been incredible and I am very glad to own them all but this is the first book I would claim as a “must have” for everyone who enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. Players and DMs alike should really want to get their hands on a copy.

Speaking of getting your hands on a copy, you should also note that buying in you local game store can actually net you something cool beyond just the satisfaction of helping them out. You can get your hands on an alternate cover of the book! Pictured here are the two copies sent to me for review. I was so incredibly happy two get both versions of the book!

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On the left we see the standard cover by artist Jason Rainville. Certainly an awesome image, Xanathar, the beholder, peering through his fish’s tank is excellent imagery. The cover on the right, by Hydro74, stands out as something very different than what we’ve seen before in this edition, and I very much love the decision to spice things up with an alternate cover.

Hope you all pick this one up and love it as much as I do.

-Melvs

#RPGaDAY 2017

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AUGUST 1 – WHAT PUBLISHED RPG DO YOU WISH YOU WERE PLAYING RIGHT NOW?

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Frankly I’d love to be playing any RPG at any time but there is one published product line out there at the moment that I’d love to check out above the others. Tales from the Loop comes to us from creator Free League Publishing (aka Fria Ligan). The very successful Kickstarter is one I somehow missed out on and have been lamenting it ever since.  I find this project very intriguing because the art and concept for the world actually predate the roleplaying game, stemming from the excellent crowdfunded project by Simon Stålenhag.

The world is an alternate version of the 1980’s with retro type tech and stylistic choices reminiscent of Stranger Things and E.T. In fact I’d probably thank Stranger Things for playing at least a small role in making this project even more enticing to backers. I really want to dive into this world and see what kind of character or story-line I can drum up. Looks like you can now pre-order the paperback rulebook, set to come out in September. Here’s hoping someone notices it on my wish list! My birthday is August 14th after all!

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AUGUST 2 – WHAT IS AN RPG YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE PUBLISHED?

Harry Potter. Now, I know there are a few decent homebrew versions of a Harry Potter Tabletop RPG, but I’d love to see the real deal get published. Certainly some mountains would need moving, because it’s got to be wildly expensive to license anything out of that world, but I hold out hope that something official will come our way.

Inherently there are balance issues associated with any kind of combat system, but I’ve never exactly been attracted to the world of Harry Potter for its wand fights. I want to role-play in that realm and an official tabletop rpg would likely bring even more lore into the Harry Potter space. Maybe they start things out with rules for going to school at Hogwarts (or other schools) and expand into the world as a whole later, or maybe we are introduced to everything all at once. Just give me an official product to work off of!

AUGUST 3 – HOW DO YOU FIND OUT ABOUT NEW RPGS?

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Almost exclusively through twitter but I also have access to some great podcasts these days. Namely through my association with The RPG Academy Network. The RPG Academy Podcast itself is a great place to find new games, namely through listening to their excellent Show and Tell series.

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Another great Podcast for catching new stuff is She’s a Super Geek. They typically grab a new game for a one shot every episode so it gets you some great insight into games you might never of heard about.

 

AUGUST 4 – WHICH RPG HAVE YOU PLAYED THE MOST SINCE AUGUST 2016?

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Just plain ol’ Dungeons and Dragons 5e, nothing too outrageous. I ran a few games for my home group (namely Storm King’s Thunder) and, in turn they ran a game here and there. Even when my home group wasn’t playing a game I still had my monthly gaming with my library kids to count on. We’ve been playing through Horde of the Dragon Queen forever! What can you expect when you’re running a game once a month, AND for 15 Player Characters, it’s going to take some time ;P.

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There have been a few dalliances into other product lines though. One of my favorites this year was running a game of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG, showcasing their excellent starter campaign A Garden in Hell, for a select group of my library teens. We even broadcast the event over twitch, to 10’s of people! I messed up and didn’t get an actual video recording sadly. I do have the audio, should probably do something with that sometime. I also got to play a few Dreamchaser games, and even a game of Bedlam Hall.

 

For me I would still say this was a slow year for gaming. Hope I can pick it up soem over the next few months. My buddy Mike is running a 4th Edition game at the moment. I’m pretty stoked about that!

-Melvs

Grymkin: The Wicked Harvest

Hey everyone! I know I haven’t written a lot lately but, I’m back in the action. I want to let you all know that my good friends over at The RPG Academy have once again been nominated for an ENnie Award for Best Podcast! You would make me the happiest bearded guy if you’d saunter on over and throw a vote their way. Here’s where to go and VOTE. Under each option are the numbers 1-5, be sure to mark The RPG Academy number 1 before voting! While you are there please also consider a vote for Spirit of 77 — A Very Special Episode: Masterpiece 77 under Best Electronic Book as well. Lastly, in the absence of my own blog, sadly no nomination this year, I’d gladly recommend Gnome Stew as an option :). Now, on to my review of the excellent Grymkin line of Hordes! 

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Privateer Press has given us some new toys. That’s right, the new Hordes faction that has been teased at conventions and online has finally come to fruition and I have to say it’s grabbed my interest. The characters in the Grymkin line look ripped from the darker recesses of nursery rhyme lore, a child leading a beast named “Dolly”, pigs astride wasted men, and a carriage cart adorned with ringing bells. Yeah, this stuff is pretty dark!

One thing Privateer Press does, that I feel overshadows any other tabletop wargame, is carefully address the lore of their world. Everything has immense backstory, and it all fits well in the world without getting too wildly out of place. When I first saw the package that had arrived at my door, with these strange looking models and the Forces of Hordes book with dark fantasy artwork adorning its pages, it took me a moment to realize it was a Hordes faction. I was kind of concerned, I thought it looked a mite out of place for the Iron Kingdoms. Once I dove into the source material though, my fears were immediately assuaged.

Cast down to the hells of Urcaen by Menoth long ago, the Defiers and their grymkin armies have risen again to punish the wicked across all of Immoren. Freed by the Old Witch, Zevanna Agha, the Defiers now work toward their own ends. Each is a self-made godlike being who wields uncanny power to reap what is due from the corrupted denizens of Caen. The harvest of the damned will not end so long as the hearts of humankind remain tainted and debased.

Basically what the smart folks at Privateer Press have done is to weave a living nursery rhyme into their world. Perhaps cautionary tales the small folk of the Iron Kingdoms told their children at night to teach them lessons about disobedience. I especially love the mention of how people would issue worship to these Defiers in order to hopefully appease them into leaving them be. So in the end I find myself loving the lore as much as I always have.

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In any event, as much as I can find myself enjoying the well written backstories of these models the main question comes to mind, how well do they stand on the battlefield? Thanks to the new Card Database I can look up every unit (currently availiable) now, not just the models given to me for review! One of the biggest changes people will notice comes from the fact that Grymkin Warlocks (the Defiers) do not come with Feats. Instead they have what are called Arcana. Each Warlock is issued three Arcana at the start of the game, one must be an Arcana unique to them while the other two are chosen from a list of available ones. With rare exception Arcana is something triggered by an event on the enemy turn and are typically less powerful effects than Feats, but you get three. I like this variant of the Feat because it gives some variety that you don’t always see with Warlocks and Warcasters.

The units, solos and warbeasts are not just cool looking nursery rhyme horrors that want to scoop your eyes out with spoons, they also pack a punch on the table! I was personally handed two Grymkin model sets. The Hollowmen & Lantern Man and a lil’ ol’ Glimmer Imp.

First up, the Glimmer Imp

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So fresh off the floor that Privateer Press doesn’t even have a blurb about them yet. The Glimmer Imp is very scary in theme, I mean he scoops eyes out with spoons (and you thought I was joking above). This solo has a pretty good Def and four boxes of health but it’s not really meant to be around for long. It has a Paralyzing Gaze that gives enemy units in its command range a -2 to Def and when successful on attacks the debuffs granted by Eye Thief are nasty. It gives the model Blind for one round. With only a MAT of 5 the chances of hitting someone is somewhat slim, add in a PC of 4 and I’m not entirely sure how often you would field this model but jamming it into the ranks of a high Def unit to lower their Def by 2 might just be worth it.

Next up, Hollowmen & Lantern Man

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Available as of 07/19/2017

MP $49.99

From Privateer Press’ site:

Cowards who flee their posts in war their comrades do betray. Lured by golden lantern light, they die while off astray.

Deserters often follow the alluring glow of a strange lantern as they stumble through the dark—and perish. They rise again as empty husks, stripped of hate and fear. Now they bear rifles and march beneath that lantern in the ranks of the Hollowmen.

This unit and its commander are an interesting lot. I’m wondering if Grymkin are going to thrive on mostly cool abilities over high MATs and RATs, remains to be seen as I haven’t delved into every card just yet. Our Hollowmen have a low MAT of 5 but do get to make use of Apparition to get them 2″ closer to their prey and Brutal Charge to give them that +2 to damage rolls after using a much needed charge. The addition of the Lantern Man, who of course also packs Apparition, is where they get interesting though. He grants his unit a special effect called Blood-Bound that essentially allows for destroyed models in that unit a chance to come back into the fray if they star killing off enemy models. The Lantern Man can also use his Ghost Light special magical attack from up to 10″ away to take control of a living model (non-warcaster\warlock) for the turn and even move it up to 3″ before doing whatever nastiness is intended. To top things off the Lantern Man can keep using Obscuring Mist to conceal the unit until the moment they want to strike, ensuring they aren’t immediately the targets of ranged fire before they can close in. Certainly a unit to worry yourself over if it’s up against you. The only thing about this unit that scares me personally (someone who still crumbles under timed turns at times) is using Apparition, moving an entire unit 2″ in my Control phase seems a mite daunting.

I love this faction, love it so much I might abandon my plans to make my Hordes faction be Legion of Everblight. Though, I must admit at this point my love might be pure shininess of a new toy and admiration of the lore. I need to take a deeper dive to see if the way these guys play will be my style or not. I have no doubt they will slip into play easily alongside the other factions available. Kudos Privateer Press, your new faction looks great!

-Melvs

Find all your new Grymkin products at Miniature Market (located in my hometown of St. Louis!) and if you want to buy me the Army Box just let them know I can pick it up in person ;P

 

 

Aggressive Ovens and Aggravating Cattle Pens: Hoyuk

Hey everyone! Today I have the pleasure of introducing a new contributor to the site. Shane is a fellow teacher at my wife’s school who runs the gifted program. He has built a fair portion of his program around board gaming, with no small amount of help from my wife Sarah. So when the MAGE Company sent me a couple of board games to review I knew I should send at least one of them his way to have for his kids. In return he offered to write the review, and after reading it I feel like I’d probably do a disservice if I had attempted to do the same. Shane wrote a strong review below.  If anyone else feels they would like their games reviewed by Shane let me know and we can work something out in order to put more copies in his classroom! -Melvs

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Synopsis

In Hoyuk, players compete to develop blocks of families within a grid-based map. To do this, they lay down tile houses and wooden meeples representing resources. Each turn progresses from building (twice) to executing catastrophic scenario cards, awarding aspect cards for holding more resources than opponents, and then aspect card replenishment.

Dwellings are arranged by players in families (groups of one tribe) that are grouped together in blocks (groups of different families). While building, based on cards drawn twice per turn, each player attempts to have more of each resource (cattle, villagers, shrines, ovens, and pens) than his neighbors in each individual block. Controlling a resource in a block earns you aspect cards which can then be used to purchase more resources to place or victory points. Victory points are tracked on the outer border of the game board and determine the winner after all houses have been placed. A block doesn’t qualify for awarding aspect cards until it contains more than one family, which is an interesting and necessary mechanic.

Catastrophes are random events selected by cards and occur once a turn to work against the players, separating blocks and families and removing houses from the game. The shaman piece, however, can protect a block from these penalties and is placed using a construction card.

The intricacies of the block/ family dynamic are important and should be read  and discussed carefully before the game starts. This may seem like a given but there are some intricacies that are subtle and less obvious, like the splitting of families due to ruined houses, placement of houses in existing blocks, or the inability to connect blocks.

There are three levels of play ranging from 3 aspects judged per block (shrines, ovens, and pens) to 7 aspects judged (shrines, ovens, pens, stories, houses, cattle, and villagers) and there is an option to play with fewer than 25 houses speed up the game. It was nice to have these options outlined, but the full game is so much richer in strategy and not so long that the shorter versions seem necessary. A 60 minute play time, as suggested by the box, is pretty accurate from our trials. Honestly, even in a full game with all aspects and houses, I found myself wishing we could continue.

Classroom Application

As a gifted education teacher, I ask 3 things when I try a new game with my students;

  1. Do you need to be adaptive in coming up with a strategy?
  2. Is communication necessary, or at least helpful, to succeed?
  3. Will we be able to play this again with different results?

When my students and I journeyed back “some 10,000 years ago” with Hoyuk by Mage Company, we were able to answer a resounding “yes” to all these questions.

Some potential strategies to attempt were obvious after reading through the rules and the clear choices proved to be effective, but those who adapted to the placement of their opponents’ structures, negotiated with neighbors, and attempted multiple approaches benefited far more than those who chose an approach and dogmatically stuck to it.

I loved the communication aspect of this game, despite its lack of necessity during some playthroughs. Whereas communication can be brief and cold in some games that require or encourage trading, the negotiation in Hoyuk enhances the game and requires players to be tactful and clever. It is legitimately possible to be sneaky, supportive, underhanded, generous, or ambivalent in your diplomacy with neighbors and all these approaches have a place in seeking the most victory points.

Comparatively speaking, most games of this type seem restrictive in how far you can bend your conversation. That said, we finished a couple playthroughs with barely a word of discussion. It is hard to say communication is a necessary component, but imagine a game of Settlers of Catan with no trading. It would be possible, but far less engaging and entertaining.

After playing the game with 4 different groups of students of varying grade levels, I saw different results each time. Approaches worked for one group and were less effective for others based on opponents, catastrophes and chance. I personally tried different, and rather polarized, ideas from the start each time and saw relative success with each.

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Suggestions
The individual clan powers were a disappointment. The Der’s house stealing ability and the Oleyli’s element theft are both helpful and powerful enough to base a strategy around, but the other 3 clans’ powers (extra resources and control of the shaman) feel like throwaways by comparison. I found it to be a disappointing implementation of a potentially exciting and game-changing element.

The requirement for 2 families to be in a block before it is scored works beautifully for forcing opponents to deal with one another instead of an independent free-for-all. It was satisfying to see players attempt to coax others over to their massive stronghold after turtling resources in a corner for a few turns only to see their efforts rot pointlessly when their negotiations failed. Give-and-take (or trickery cleverly woven into deals) won the day over brute, strength and lucky card draws.

I would also recommend more thorough catastrophe explanations on cards. The system adds an appropriate and welcome amount of recalculation and chaos to the game, but a more informative  graphic, much like the element “suits” on the aspect cards, would reduce dependency on the game manual during play. The current graphic explanations are clever, but not very clear.

Conclusion

Hoyuk delivered an experience that fired on all educational cylinders, ended before strategies grew stale, and used tile, resource, and trade mechanics in an interesting way. It is simple enough so anyone can come up with a strategy to try and have fun, but also complex and interpersonal enough to generate multiple playthroughs with different results. It’s greatest strengths in my experience were the need for adaptability and genuine communication. The only real weakness we noticed was imbalance in individual clan abilities, and even those are far from detrimental.

My students look forward to trying the Anatolia and Obstacles expansions, as do I. Even without expansions, I would deem this game worth the price tag of $50 on Amazon based on the replay value provided by the aforementioned strategic diversity and communication. I look forward to the next time I can take over a block with the thieving Oleyli, protect a large stronghold block with the Lebu and their shaman, or cause havoc with the angry Ders.

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Market Price: $49.90

-Shane