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

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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.

Hoyuk

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Market Price: $49.90

-Shane

Fresh To War: Uboxing the Warmachine New Releases for May 2017

Privateer Press has a new batch of fightin’ bastards to liven up the ranks of numerous factions! This month’s offerings hail from not one, not two, but four warring coalitions from the Warmachine line. All solos too. As always I’ve linked each new selection to their corresponding page on the Miniture Market webpage, my personal favorite shopping spot for all things Warmachine & Hordes. So pull up a stool, because your old pal Uncle Grumps is going to bend your ear for a moment or two and give you his thoughts on these combatants. – Melvs

What’s up, Jerks?  Your friendly neighborhood Uncle Grumps is back with another quick look at some new releases from Privateer Press.  We have a varied selection of solos to scope out so let’s get started!

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First up, we have the Deliverer Arms Master:  

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From Privateer Press’s website:

“Few deliverers survive long enough to gain true mastery of the weapons they wield, but those who do can earn the distinguished title of arms master, directing their charges in combat from the back lines. Tasked with the upkeep and repair of Skyhammer rockets and Sunburst artillery, they also train the faithful in the use of these devastating weapons.”

The Deliverer Arms Master has a similar stat line to the Deliverer Skyhammer unit.  His MAT, RAT, DEF, and ARM are 1 point higher and his CMD is 2 higher.  He also has the Tough ability.  The Master is armed with a short range, POW 12 fire bomb that causes the Fire continuous effect on a crit.  He also has a POW 7 sword, but if you’re using this something has most likely gone terribly wrong.  The Arms Master has two special ability actions.  The first is Combat Coordination [Deliverer] which allows a Deliverer model in the Master’s command range to re-roll one attack or damage roll.  The other is High-Angle Fire which gives a friendly Faction model’s ranged, AoE weapons Arcing Fire.  (Arcing Fire allows a model to ignore intervening models further than an inch away when attacking.)  The Arms Master also has the Veteran Leader [Deliverer] ability which grants +1 to attack for other Deliverer models in this command range.  

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The Deliverer Arms Master greatly increases the effectiveness of several of the Protectorate of Menoth’s ranged options.  The most obvious is the Deliverer Skyhammer unit.  Combat Coordination allows the primary attacker in a Combined Ranged Attack to re-roll his attack or damage as necessary.  Additionally, the +1 to attack rolls helps offset the -4 penalty from Inaccurate.  Keep in mind that these abilities can also be applied to the Deliverer Suburst Crew unit.  Veteran High-Angle Fire can help your models with AoE ranged attacks reach vulnerable parts of your opponent’s army.  Keep in mind that High Angle Fire will work on any friendly Faction model.  The Judicator, Revelator, and Vanquisher could all greatly benefit from Arcing Fire.  The Deliverer Arms Master is a solid support solo and an auto-include for anyone who wants to get the most out of Deliverers.  

Next up is the Winter Guard Artillery Kapitan:

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From Privateer Press’ website:

“The artillery kapitans of the Winter Guard understand the true strength of Khadoran artillery. Under their command, crews lay down fearsome barrages just ahead of their advancing troops, decimating enemy lines while creating a chaotic environment that Khadoran forces can turn to their advantage. Often friendly troops are caught in these blasts, but a kapitan knows such losses are a necessary price of victory.”

The Winter Guard Artillery Kapitan has the same stat line at the members of the Winter Guard Infantry with the exception of 1 additional point of STR, MAT, RAT, and CMD.  He is armed with the traditional Winter Guard Blunderbuss and Axe.  He also has the tough ability.  The Artillery Kapitan has access to three special action abilities.  The first is Artillerist which gives a friendly Faction model in his command range +2 RAT on its next ranged AoE attack.  The model affected is also able re-roll the direction or distance if the attack doesn’t directly hit and deviates.  The Close Fire action gives a friendly Faction weapon crew unit the Clear! Ability.  Clear! causes ranged attacks from the affected model to automatically miss friendly models.  (And before you ask, yes the exclamation point is absolutely necessary when discussing Clear!)  Finally we have Fire & Displace which gives a friendly Faction weapon crew Reposition [2″].  

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The Winter Guard Artillery Kapitan brings an interesting mix of abilities to the table.  Fire & Displace greatly increases the mobility of both the Winter Guard Mortar Crew and the Winter Guard Field Gun.  Reposition [2”] can help these units line up a shot for next turn or keep some distance between them and the enemy.  Artillerist is an extremely powerful ability that can help any of Khador’s ranged options.  Putting Artillerist on a Victor will partially eliminate the Inaccurate penalty of the Siege Mortar, and if you do miss, the re-roll on the deviation will help ensure that the 5” AoE lands where you need it.  The Conquest, Destroyer, and Mortar Crew all benefit from Artillerist in similar ways.  The Winter Guard Artillery Kapitan is a powerful support solo that will give you plenty of bang for your buck.  (I couldn’t resist)

The next solo that we’ll be looking at is the Venator Dakar:

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From Privateer Press’ website:

“With exaltation a remote hope at best, the ruthless warriors of the Venator caste take to the field for survival and victory instead. Relentless and cunning, Venator dakars are stern leaders with exacting standards. Under the watchful eye of a dakar, other Venators march quickly and take precise aim, proving they are every bit as skilled in dealing death as the more respected warriors of the skorne.”

The Venator Dakar has a similar stat block as a Venator Reiver with the only differences being his higher RAT and CMD.  The Dakar is armed with the standard Reiver and Sword but the Weapon Master ability on his Reiver means he can dish out more damage than a standard Venator.  The Dakar has two special action abilities.  The first is Combat Coordination [Venator].  The ability works just like the Deliverer Arms Master’s Combat Coordination but it affects Venators instead of Deliverers.  The second special action is Desperate Pace [Faction Weapon Crew].  This ability grants +2” of movement to a friendly Faction weapon crew in the Dakar’s command range.  The Venator Dakar also has the Veteran Leader [Venator] ability which gives friendly Venator models in the Dakar’s command range +1 to attack rolls.  

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Just like our previous two entries, the Venator Dakar is a ranged support solo.  Combat Coordination can help you Venator Reivers land an important combined ranged attack.  It’s also handy for increasing the accuracy or damage of the Venator Catapult Crew and the Venator Flayer Cannon Crew.  The Venator weapon crews also greatly benefit from Desperate Pace.  An extra 2” of movement may not seem like much but the added threat range can take your opponent by surprise.  Veteran Leader provides a +1 to hit for every Venator within nine inches of the Dakar.  This includes the two weapon crews, the Reivers, and the Venator Slingers.  I highly recommend bringing a Venator Dakar if you want to get the most out of the Skorne’s Venator units.  

Last, but not least, we have the Hellslinger Phantom

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From Privateer Press’ website:

“A malevolent specter born of Cryxian magic, the Hellslinger Phantom bears a striking resemblance to the Cygnaran warcaster Allister Caine, and rumors suggest it was made from a sliver of his very soul. The Hellslinger Phantom mimics Caine’s style on the battlefield, firing runeshots akin to the ones employed by gun mages. First spotted in a remote town in northern Cygnar, the phantom slaughtered a large number of innocent civilians, and now every day it roams free, the body count grows.”

It looks like Caine has been moonlighting as a pistol wraith.  Speaking of pistol wraiths, the Hellsinger Phantom has the same stat line as a standard wraith but with +1 RAT, DEF, and ARM.  The Phantom also shares the pistol wraiths’ Undead, Incorporeal, and Gunfighter abilities in addition to Soul Taker: Body Count which allows the Hellsinger to claim enemy souls and Strength of Death which allows it to spend soul tokens to boast attack and damage rolls.  The Hellsinger Phantom also has the ability Swift Hunter which lets it move 2” after destroying an enemy model with a ranged attack.  The Phantom is armed with two Wraithstorm Pistols.  These mid-ranged, POW 12 guns have three different attack types to choose from when making an attack: Critical Grievous Wounds which causes models that are hit to lose tough and the ability to be healed on a crit, Ghost Shot which ignores line of sight, concealment & cover, and Incendiary which changes the damage type to fire sets models hit ablaze.  On top of all this, the Pistols also have Reload [1].  This allows the Phantom to make 1 additional ranged with each pistol per soul token spent.  

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The Hellsinger Phantom excels at hunting down enemy infantry.  The Phantom’s first order of business should be to gather souls to make the most of Reload and Strength of Death.   Just be careful after attacking.  The Phantom loses Incorporeal after making an attack leaving it open to retaliation.  Swift Hunter can help keep you safe by allowing you to re-position after destroying an enemy.  This combination of powerful abilities makes the Hellsinger Phantom one mean combat solo.  

Well folks, Old Man Melvin is tapping his foot and glaring at his pocket-watch* which means it’s time for me to wrap things up.  ‘Til next time!

– Uncle Grumps

*Melvin does not own a Pocket Watch but now wants one.

Pathfinder: Bestiary 6

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Ask anyone, I’m not a Pathfinder guy. I played decades of Dungeons & Dragons 3.X and walked away satisfied, but also with no real desire to play the system again. Even the enhanced version of the rules put out by the wonderful folks over at Paizo didn’t really give me an urge to dive back in. I don’t want to cause any confusion though, I have watch Paizo succeed, and give them nothing but praise for their, practically doting, attention to their fan base and quality product line. In my hands now is their 6th Bestiary. I think it’s high time I delve back in and check out some of these new monsters!

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Pathfinder has always been a game of excesses. They are great about providing a plethora of anything a player or GM might want to get their hands on. The Bestiary 6 sports over 200 new monsters & playable races for the table. Growing up I always had a thing for wolves, this has survived into adulthood so of the many new playable races I really love the look of the wolf-headed humanoid known as the Rougarou. I love the lore surrounding them, they are often mistaken as werewolves but actually detest lycanthropes and hunt them mercilessly. I think I’d really enjoy playing around with these guys. They can even shift to wolf form!

The biggest draw to this book, for Game Masters that is, are the inclusion of some really excellent new archdevils and a really cool Horsemen of the Apocalypse angle. I really like that the Horsemens’ steeds each have their own special stats and abilities. The Horsemen themselves are nasty creatures to go up against, the lowest CR being a 27. These are some truly epic level foes to throw at a party. Their lore is extensive too.

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Even Krampus makes an appearance.

The book is laid out very well. I’ve always enjoyed Pathfinder’s commitment to maintaining an artwork style that flows smoothly over all of its products. Keeping a similar look. This bestiary also sports a huge variety of appendixes to make searching for that perfect foe for your table very easy. The layout and variety of appendixes is something for other tabletop games to emulate.

While I may not find myself playing Pathfinder any time soon, I can eassily say that if you do this book will make for an excellent addition to your library. I have to say, with Starfinder on its way, I am very happy to be starting to dig a little deeper into Paizo’s line of work. They produce really quality items and I know their next line will be the same. Let me know if you have any further questions about Pathfinder’s 6th Bestiary below!

-Melvs

AcadeCon 2017

The Kickstarter is winding down, and they are looking good to fund. I opted to write my post a little later than usual this year, and hopefully I can urge a few readers to join us at the coolest (not quite as little anymore) gaming convention out there! 

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AcadeCon is the realized dream of Michael, Caleb, and the whole RPG Academy Podcast crew. This year will mark the fifth such time the convention has been put on but 2015 was when they truly threw caution into the wind and put forth the first publicly open AcadeCon, held at the Hueston Lodge in Oxford, Ohio. I had the pleasure of attending and it was some of the best gaming time I’ve spent at a convention to date! There’s a deep love of gaming that bubbles within every attendee I’ve encountered at AcadeCon. In 2016 AcadeCon was growing, thus they moved things to a bigger venue, the Dayton Convention Center, in Dayton, Ohio where they will also host this year’s event. Sadly I was unable to attend AcadeCon 2016 due to the wedding of a friend, but by all accounts it was yet one more step up for the group.

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One of the hallmarks of any AcadeCon is the special guest list. RPG Creators, Authors, Podcasters, and Bloggers adorn this list. I can attest to playing beside some really cool people at AcadeCon 2015. It almost feels like a bit of a retreat for those in the industry at times. Instead of panel after panel they can play side by side with the people who love their games.

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Some of the other perks are possibly getting into a game with the You Too Can Cthulhu crew, back again for the third year running. This group really knows how to pull together some great Lovecraftian Horror for you to play, often corralling the players into secreted locations to really up the ambiance.  The Double Exposure Envoy program is joining AcadeCon this year, allowing con attendees to play brand new games. Every time you play a demo, you are entered into a drawing to possibly win that game. According to the Kickstarter continued plays net you more chances at the same game, or maybe you just try your hand at all of them.

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Honestly I could drone on all day, espousing the joys of gaming with this crowd, but you would be even better served just visiting the Kickstarter, helps get you closer to that pledge button anyway. I’m truly hoping to attend myself this year but more weddings seem to be in the way (I have one the weekend before and one the weekend after!) and I’d not miss these weddings for the world. However, I hope you get the chance to attend, I really do. You’ll not find better gaming anywhere in my opinion!

-Melvs