Monday, March 28, 2011

Witch of Salem

WITCH OF SALEM  by Mayfair Games
Published in 2008

Witch of Salem is a cooperative horror game, which takes players into a terrifying world of Wolfgang Hohlbein's mythos - a mythos strongly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Regrettably, I know nothing of Mr. Hohlbein's work (I gotta do something about this)... but as for Lovecraft's short stories, I am a fan! So this game (as well as a certain other game that sets in Arkham! :>) is very much to my liking.

The game story: The Master Witch of Salem - Robert Craven - is gathering brave investigators to save Arkham from the onslaught of Elder Evil. Players control these investigators in a battle against an unknown Great Old One, that is trapped in the sunken city of R'lyeh. This creature is now looking for a way out, and so his trusted minion - Necron - has opened dimensional portals all over Arkham. Necron is the nemesis of Robert Craven, aiming to gain enough power so that the Great Old One may step through the portals. Together, the investigators and the Witch of Salem must find and close the portals, find out the identity of the Great Old One, and banish it...


The investigators in this game are identical. They have different names and faces, but unlike in most other games, these heroes have no special abilities. My investigators are David Foster and Maggie Sterns. The only value on the investigators, that changes throughout the game, is sanity. If either one - David or Maggie - loses all of their sanity, the game is over. This is because I'm playing with only two investigators, and two are needed to make the final banishment.

One of the portals, the main portal is you will, is visible behind the Miscatonic University. This portal can only be closed if one of the investigators is in R'lyeh, banishing the Great Old One. Other portals are scattered around Arkham. There are 2-4 of them, and their locations are unknown at the beginning of the game.




R'lyeh is also pictured on the board.
The identity of the actual Great Old One in there is a secret. The cards are revealed one by one, slowly discovering the entity that is threatening Arkham.

The first revealed Great Old One in this game is Cthulhu himself, so he will not be the real enemy this time.





THE GAME BEGINS:

A Red Witch appears. This woman must be stopped, or she might cause the portals to switch places, confusing the investigators. Of course, at this moment, all the portals are unknown anyway.
David loses some sanity, as he picks up a pair of Magical Glasses from the Witch House. Maggie also picks up glasses, but from the Church. These glasses are used to search for the dimensional portals.

A Shadow of the Great Cthulhu arrives to haunt Arkham. This will make all the other monsters more dangerous.
It will not be an easy task to get rid of it.






A mighty Lava Worm is seen at the Cemetery.

David meets Maggie at the Church, where they arm Maggie to banish Cthulhu's shadow. Maggie gets back to Miscatonic University, but the mighty Cthulhu foils her attempt, and drains some of her sanity as well...
David attempts to destroy the Lava Worm, but fails. Nothing seems to work out for the investigators. David finds a Dagger of N'gaa from the Cemetery.

"Strange, pervading uneasiness continues to strengthen." Both of the investigators are losing their sanity. This feels like Necron's magic...

David drinks some Elixir of Nus to restore his sanity.







Maggie destroys the Red Witch, and picks up a bottle of the elixir as well. Her sanity is shaking, so she will need to drink is fast.

Maggie also reads a copy of Necronomicon, to find out some forbidden information about the Great Old Ones! Yog-Sothoth, the "All-in-one and One-in-all" is revealed.








Finally some good news! The sun shines in Arkham, restoring a lot of Maggie's lost sanity.
The Witch of Salem moves to the Miscatonic University... David joins him, and together they banish the Shadow of Cthulhu from Arkham, using David's Dagger of N'gaa.

Maggie uses a Secret Passage to move into the Church, where a Deep one is rampaging. Maggie kills the creature and uses her Magical Glasses to look for portals - there doesn't seem to be one around the Church.

Maggie and Mr. Craven move to the Cemetery to confront the Lava Worm. The Worm is banished with two bottles of the Elixir of Nus. After the encounter, Maggie drinks one of the bottles, regaining sanity.

Things are looking up.







David reads Necronomicon and reveals Dagon. Dagon - ruler of the Deep Ones - is weaker than the other Great Old Ones, so he would not have been that difficult to banish... Now we know that something worse is coming.

Maggie kills a Cultist from the Arkham News building. She also looks for a portal, but still won't find anything.

More good luck; a hidden library is discovered, with the following items: Magical Glasses, another copy of Necronomicon and a Purple Seal. The investigators are doing fine at moment, and only a single monster - an Undead - is present in the city.
But nothing is certain yet... not a single portal has been found.




Hastur, the Unspeakable One is revealed. Now the possibilities for the Great Old One threatening Arkham are down to two: It is either Shub-Niggurath or Nyarlathotep.

Maggie finds a gate from the Witch House, along with a wicked Ice Witch. Another Lava Worm also appears.

The Witch of Salem uses his hypnotizing powers to defeat the Ice Witch.

A Horrifying energy creature known as "Soul Devourer" appears in the Witch House.







David finds another portal - this one is at the Cemetery.

Maggie has to go back to Miscatonic University for some rest. She also reads Necronomicon in there, revealing the Crawling Chaos - Nyarlathotep. This means that the entity, that is been trapped in the city of R'lyeh, and which is now looking for a way out, is Shub-Niggurath, the "Black Goat of the Woods".







David uses the horrifying Secret Passage to travel into the Witch House, where he exorcises the Soul Devourer. He drinks some Elixir to treat his sanity that was shaken during the usage of the Passage.
Maggie also arrives at the House and seals the portal in there.

More monsters come forth... Arkham is getting overrun by them.








A very dangerous monster called Thul Saduun is seen at the Hotel!

David kills a Red Witch, and Maggie (with the help of Craven) destroys a Shoggoth. David also seals the portal from the Cemetery.
Nyarlathotep's Shadow begins to haunt Arkham, making all the other monsters more dangerous!

Maggie is looking for the items needed to banish Shub-Niggurath. The uneasiness grows again, chasing sanity away from both of the investigators.

The oppressing shadow of Nyarlathotep is banished by David and Mr. Craven. David used the powerful Dagger of N'gaa for this.

The last portal is found! It's in the Sanatorium. Maggie already has the right kind of seal for closing it...

Now all the investigators need to do, is to seal the portal, gather the required items to banish Shub-Niggurath, an finish it all.






The Witch of Salem uses his hypnotizing abilities again. Thul Saduun is defeated.
David fights against a Ghoul in the Cemetery, but doesn't manage to destroy it. Maggie arrives at the scene and destroys it.

Shub-Niggurath is revealed! From now on, it will increase the Necron's power fast, so the investigators only have a little time to end this threat.

David already has the necessary items to banish the Great Old One, but his sanity is failing... He will have to get his mind back on track if he is to survive long enough in R'lyeh.



Maggie closes the third portal! Now is the time to banish Shub-Niggurath!

Necron shows himself. His power increases, and Shub-Niggurath's time is drawing near!









The last banishment is about to begin:

David makes his way back to Miscatonic University. He needs to rest before he travels to the dreaded R'lyeh. He knows he is not coming back from that journey...

Maggie goes to Witch House, where she kills a Blood Hunter with the help of Robert Craven. She then picks up a seal, which she will use to close the last portal, the one behind Miscatonic University. Maggie's sanity is almost gone... but she must stay together long enough to close the portal after David has gone through.

A Shadow of Hastur appears in the Miscatonic University. For this, the Witch of Salem loses all of his powers!
The investigators are now on their own...

David uses the Secret Passage to enter R'lyeh. His sanity is shattered, and he won't last long in the sunken city... Now Maggie must close the last portal without delay.






So close!
Maggie can't stand the presence of the Hastur's Shadow and succumbs into madness... The last portal is left open, and Shub-Niggurath is allowed to come through it!

The Humankind is doomed...




CONCLUSION:

So very close... Witch of Salem is the most difficult cooperative game to complete that I know of! I've only had this game for a short time, and this was my fifth game. So far I haven't been able to beat the game, but this was the closest run so far. Well, actually it couldn't get any closer; if the outcome of the final rice roll would've been any other, than what it was, I would have succeeded :)
I have noticed, that my performance has gotten better after every game, so maybe the next one will finally be successful!

Witch of Salem is somewhat abstract in mechanics, but its strategic value is surprisingly high. By just reading through the rules it might seem, that Witch of Salem is a simple game of item handling, but the imposing difficulty forces the players to think their every move very carefully.
No traditional combat is involved in this game, the monsters are destroyed automatically if an investigator has the right items. I find this an interesting mechanic, which supports the flow of game nicely.

What about the artwork? Simply amazing! The monsters are strange and scary, as they should be in Cthulhu Mythos, and the game board is one of the best ones I know of. At least for a Cthulhu Mythos fan, I think this game looks exactly the way it should.

RATING: 8 /10

SOLO RATING: 8 /10

Witch of Salem isn't actually meant to be played solo, but only one rule stands in the way of this game being a great solo experience... And that's why I have taken the liberty to change one part of the rules in this game!
The rules say that when an investigator looks at the portal in some of the locations, *they are not allowed to tell - or even hint the other players - whether there is a portal or not*.
Well first of all, this would obviously make the solo game impossible, so this rule had to be gone.
But I would go so far as to take this rule away even if there were other players with me! Because I think it's simply a stupid rule... This is supposed to be a cooperative game, after all.

Let's take an example about this rule:
If someone puts a seal in a location, that has no portal, the game is lost right there! This rule serves its purpose, as it forces the investigators to actually investigate. But what if I have examined a location, and found out that there is no portal in there - then some other player decides to put a seal in there for some reason! Now, I would not be allowed to tell this player, that if they do this, we all lose the game! And after the seal is put in the wrong place, I'm expected to finish the game, fully aware that we have already lost :P

So, I simply take this rule away. Logically, removing this rule makes the game easier, but seeing how my win/loss ratio is 0/5, I think the game is still challenging enough!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Forbidden Island

FORBIDDEN ISLAND by Gamewright
Published in 2010

Forbidden Island could be described as Pandemic with an adventure theme and a slightly simplified mechanics. But is this a bad thing? Of course not. Pandemic is a great game and so is the Forbidden Island.

Story goes: An ancient empire known as the Archeans used to possess the ability to control the Earth's core elements; fire, wind, water and earth. This was due to four sacred treasures that they had in their possession. These treasures were hidden on the Forbidden Island, so that no outsider could get their hands on them. As an added protection, the island was designed to sink if intruders ever attempted to claim the items.
Ages have passed since those days, and now the Forbidden Island has been found. The player controls a team of adventurers to land on the island, find the treasures and escape before the whole island in sunken beneath the depths of the Ocean.

Forbidden Island - like Pandemic - is a fully cooperative game, which scales its difficulty automatically according to the number of adventurers used. The game has no traditional game board, instead the island is created with 24 island tiles, each picturing a location on the island.
In the picture below, the four items above the island are the treasures: The Statue of the Wind, the Earth Stone, The Ocean's Chalice and the Crystal of Fire.


Each adventurer has their own special ability, and two of these only work with more than one adventurer, so at least two guys should always be used.
I have a Messenger and a Diver chosen for this game. The Messenger can share information to the Diver over distance, while the Diver can quickly move through flooded and sunken areas.

Some of the locations are important, and can not be allowed to sink. The "Fools' Landing" is the most important; if it sinks, the game is over. This is where the adventurers' helicopter is located and it must eventually be used to escape the island. Also, the island has temples, caves, gardens and palaces - two of each - which need to be kept above surface long enough to discover the treasures.



All adventurers may perform "shore up" - an action that saves the flooded locations. However, if an already flooded location floods again, it is lost forever.

This track is used to monitor the water level.
If the track reaches the skull and crossbones, it's game over. The difficulty is also set with this track - I play with normal difficulty.








THE GAME BEGINS:

It would be best for the adventurers to distribute their attention all over the island. A plan is made: the Diver - who will be able to move very fast once the water rushes in - will patrol around the island, while the Messenger will stay close to the landing zone, keeping it safe.

Dunes of Deception and the Observatory are shored up by the Messenger.

The Diver heads east, shoring up some gates. The flood engulfs the Fools' Landing, endangering the whole mission right from the start.

The Messenger sends some info about the location of the Chalice to the Diver.










Waters rise for the first time! This speeds up the sinking process.

The Diver fights against the rising waters by diving further north and shoring up the Crimson Forest and the Twilight Hollow.
He also has some sandbags deployed at the Tidal Palace, which is located far south.



Three important locations are flooded: The Temple of the Sun, The Fools' Landing and the Tidal Palace. Diver's sandbags saves the Palace - without them it would now be gone.

Waters rise again, quickly after the first time.

This time the Tidal Palace sinks into the depths and is lost for good. Now the other palace - the Coral Palace - must be kept safe, at least until the Chalice is found.
But the adventurers are on to it! The Messenger sends some more clues about the treasure to the Diver.




The Diver uses his abilities to rush back west and save the landing zone, which was sinking again. The Silver Gate and the Lost Lagoon sinks away. These locations are not important, but now the island has some "holes" in the middle of it, making the movement more difficult... for ordinary people, that is - the Diver actually moves faster in the water.

The diver quickly dives back east. His speed will be of great help once the waters rise some more.

Almost half of the island is now flooded or sunken.

The blue locations are flooded.






The Diver finds the Ocean's Chalice from the flooded Coral Palace!








Waters rise again, sinking the Observatory.
Three locations are lost: The Crimson Forest, the Gold Gate and the Coral Palace sinks... luckily none of these were crucial for the mission.

The Messenger sends a lot of info about The Crystal of Fire to the Diver. Diver already had some info of his own, so the Crystal might be found soon.

The Messenger fights to keep the Fools' Landing operational. He also discovers the location of the Earth Stone... If only he'd have enough time to go pick it up.

The Messenger finds the Earth Stone from the Temple of the Sun. That's two treasures down, two more to go.







The Howling Garden sinks, and the other garden - the Whispering Garden is flooded as well. Somebody must act fast to save it, as the Statue of the Wind can only be found from a garden.


The Diver discovers the Crystal of Fire from the Cave of Shadows. Now there is only one treasure to be found - the Statue of the Wind. But information about this item is scarce, and the last garden is in danger to be lost forever...





Waters rise and three more locations are lost! Time is running out, as the island is sinking faster and faster.
Messenger's task is now to keep the Fools' Landing usable, while Diver is searching for the last treasure.

This is all that is left of the island! The Diver is on the small patch of land at east. That's where the Whispering Garden and the last treasure is. The Messenger is on the other island, keeping the Landing zone above the sea level.








Locations keep on sinking. More than half of the island is now gone.

The Diver finds the Statue! Now he must quickly get back to the Landing Zone, where the Messenger is waiting for him. Luckily this shouldn't be any kind of a problem for an adventurer who moves so fast through water.





And lift off! The two adventurers leave the rapidly sinking island behind, carrying all the four precious treasures with them. This mission is a success.


CONCLUSION:

Well that went smoothly. Forbidden Island (with normal difficulty) is an average game when it comes to difficulty, I win maybe about 60% of the games. This time I got a very nice pair of adventures. I'm not sure if I have ever before played with these two together, and it seems that Messenger and Diver work very well together: Messenger can guard the Fools' Landing and send cards to the diver, who is free to swim around the island and shore locations up - a powerful combo.
Also, the first three "waters rise"- cards were drawn rather early on, which is not necessarily a bad thing. When these cards are drawn in quick succession, some of the key locations may sink, without me having any chance to save them... but if nothing crucial sinks, then I'm going to have a long time until the waters start to rise again, giving me easier times.

Forbidden Island is a simple game. Simplest of all the games I have reviewed in this blog. But, thanks to its mechanics, it is a nice experience, with moderate amount of strategy involved. Once again, the similarities to Pandemic are more than few (actually these games have the same designer), but if you like Pandemic, you probably will like this one too.

The game components are nice to look at; nothing amazing, but above average, I would say. The large treasure figures may be a bit much, when considering that all the other components are tiles and cards, and even the adventurers are represented by basic wooden pawns. But then, why not... The price of the game is actually quite low, so the overdone treasures don't matter.

RATING: 8 /10

SOLO RATING: 8 /10

Forbidden Island is an easy to learn, quick game with a very good soloing capabilities.
The ratings I give are one point lower than what I gave to Pandemic - this is because I feel that the simpler rules take something away from the strategic depth of the game.
Still, a very nice game to play every now and then.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS:
CASTLE RAVENLOFT  by Wizards of the Coast
Published in 2010

Castle Ravenloft is a board game adaptation of the Dungeons & Dragons RPG. I have never played the real D&D, so this session and review is based solely on the impressions I get as a board game enthusiast.

Count Strahd, an evil, vampiric master of the Castle Ravenloft is up to something sinister. A small group of mighty heroes are prepared to enter the castle, venture deep into the dungeons below it, and foil Strahd's plans for good.



Castle Ravenloft has a lot of components: A multitude of counters, from which only a few are used per adventure, some pretty nice figures, and a thick stack of dungeon tiles, that will eventually form the game board.

The game comes with an adventure book, complete with 13 different adventures, all with their own goals, special rules and villains. All the lesser monsters, events, items, and even the layouts of the dungeons are random in each of the games.
Setting the game up may take some time, depending on the chosen adventure.



The adventure I chose for this game is a one called "Defeat the Dracolich".

The heroes have to find and destroy Count Strahd's most valued ally, a Dracolich called Gravestorm. Everyone familiar with D&D should now that these creatures are a force to be reckoned with, so this adventure will definitely not be an easy one.


The two heroes assigned for this task are Kat, a Human rogue, and Immeril, an Eladrin wizard.

Both of the heroes get to draw one 'Treasure' at the beginning of the game. However, in this game, only some of the treasures are actual items... The rest are other good things that happens to the heroes, some of which may have no benefit at the beginning of the game.
 



This time my heroes had luck, as they both drew a useful item: Kat got Thieves' Tools, making her already sharpened trap-disarming- skills even better.
Immeril got a Ring of Accuracy, enhancing his ranged attacks.

Each of the heroes have their own set of skills and spells. Not all of them can be used in a one game, so some "character creating" takes place before the game.
In every game, each hero has two basic powers that they may use as often as they want to. In addition, they have 2-3 special powers that are much more powerful than the others - but they are usable only once (unless you get to recharge them).

THE GAME BEGINS:

Kat and Immeril descends down to the dungeons using the stairway. Kat explores forward and finds a Blazing Skeleton - a magical undead creature surrounded in flames. The Skeleton hurls a ball of fire at Kat, slightly injuring her.
At the same time, Immeril suffers a minor injury from a "Spirit of Doom" passing through the dungeon.



Immeril moves to support Kat, casting a Magic Missile from a close range, damaging the Skeleton.

Immeril also explores further, discovering a Fatid Den. This is the den of the Werewolf, but luckily that creature is not home in this adventure.
A swarm of Rats inhabit the Den instead.





Kat moves into an advantageous position an throws a dagger at the Skeleton, but misses it. A Kobold Skirmisher appears and throws its javelin at Kat. The Blazing Skeleton hurts Immeril with another ball of fire.

Immeril moves away from the Skeleton and the Rats, and casts a Scorching Burst at the monsters. Both the Skeleton and the Rats are destroyed by this! Immeril finds an Amulet of Protection to boost his armor class.

Kat - assisted by Immeril's lore about the monsters - throws a dagger and takes out the Kobold. Kat then explores the next corridor. Some more Rats are in there.


Immeril spots a Zombie back at the stairway, easily destroying it with a long-range Magic Missile.

He also finds a Necklace of Fireballs.

Immeril decides to give this item to Kat, because Immeril's own Scorching Burst- spell is actually better than the spell in the Necklace.





A Chapel was found. It is empty, save for a Wolf that was prowling in there.


Kat is in trouble... She is confronted by another
Blazing Skeleton, as well as a huge Spider.

These two monsters almost defeat Kat, and the Spider's web also slows Kat down, preventing her escape.

The Rogue could use some help right about now...





Immeril saves Kat with his Illusionary Crowd- spell. This powerful spell creates illusions of hapless crowds, which attract monsters towards them - away from Kat. The monsters also end up very close to each other, so Immeril casts another spell, the Scorching Burst. Immeril's fire kills the Wolf and damages the Skeleton, but leaves the Spider unharmed.

A pseudopod of gray ooze suddenly reaches out from the nearby puddle of goo, and tries to strike Immeril, but the Wizard uses his hard-earned experience to avoid this.

A foul odor of a bubbling cauldron suddenly draws the monsters away from the illusionary crowd, causing them to attack Immeril instead! He is now in the same situation where Kat was a little while ago...
Immeril fights back with another Scorching Burst, destroying the Skeleton. Somehow, the Spider survives the flames yet again.

Some Prowling Spirits manage to steal Immeril's Ring of Accuracy away from him.


An animated suit of armor springs out of a dark alcove and smites Kat down as she was trying to reach Immeril.


Immeril continues to struggle against the Spider.







Immeril finally defeats the Spider with a Magic Missile. He explores, and finds a Kobold Skirmisher. The Kobold downs Immeril with a thrown javelin.

Kat gets back up and rushes into a throwing distance of the Kobold. A careful Snipe Shot kills the little creature.
Another Spider pops up.


Immeril uses the second - and last - Healing Surge to revive himself. He then engages the Spider with a Magic Missile.. The Missile is a rather poor one, but the heroes had a blessing on them, which guided the Missile just enough to hit its target.








The Archane Circle is found, Gravestorm the Dracolich has now been set loose! Both of the heroes are badly injured, so this will be a tough fight - most likely too touch...







A Laboratory was also revealed.

Gravestorm's Phylactery - the item that holds inside the Dracolich's evil essence - is in there.
Should the Phylactery be destroyed, it would greatly weaken Gravestorm, perhaps giving the heroes a fighting chance...

But the Laboratory is all the way on the other side of the dungeon.



No other monsters are in the dungeon at the moment, so at least the heroes can concentrate on the single enemy. That is, until a Rat swarm appears.

Kat uses her Spring Away- skill to quickly sprint towards the Laboratory, aiming to destroy the Phylactery.

Gravestorm bites Immeril, nearly killing him. Immeril flees back a little bit.


Kat quickly reaches the Laboratory and breaks the Phylactery.

Gravestorm loses half of its health, but it is still healthier than the two heroes combined...







Gravestorm chases after Immeril and sends a Burst of Lightning at him. Immeril barely survives this...
The Dracolich also has a much more powerful lightning attack, called the Blast of Lightning, but it won't use it until both of the heroes are at the range. Knowing this, Kat and Immeril are better to keep a little distance to each other...


Immeril uses his powers at their full potential:

He uses A Fay Step to quickly move away, then casts a Freezing Cloud at the Chapel.

The cloud immediately kills the Rats that were in there, and will damage the Dracolich as soon as it reaches the place.





Immeril almost steps into a Circle of Death, but manages to evade it with his experience. This magical circle would have killed him.

Kat uses a combo of Sneak Attack and Snipe Shot to deal some damage to Gravestorm. She also distracts the creature, so that it would stay a little while longer on the freezing cloud.

Gravestorm is not amused, and rends Kat with a bite. Now both of the heroes are in extremely bad shape. The feared Blast of Lightning would kill them both on the spot, so they are going to have to stay apart from each other.

Immeril's Magic Missile damages the Dracolich, as does the freezing cloud that still floats around in the Chapel. An Overwhelming Terror forces Immeril to flee at the stairway, right next to Kat...


Gravestorm moves closer and attacks with a Burst of Lightning, shocking both of the heroes...

Neither one of then survives the hit, and so both of the heroes succumb before the mighty Dracolich!








No more healing surges or other miraculous recoveries are to be found, so this is final; Kat and Immeril are dead, and their mission was left incomplete...
Kat would have had some powerful melee attacks at her disposal - perhaps even enough to slay the Dracolich - but she never got close enough to use them...



CONCLUSION:

I always enjoy playing Castle Ravenloft. To me, this is one of the best solo playable board games there are.
"Defeat the Dracolich" is one of my favourite adventures - I have tried it for a few times, and I'm yet to complete it. But the Dracolich is just so cool adversary! Count Strahd is probably even tougher than Gravestorm, but the Vampire lacks the monstrous feel of the Dracolich... (just look at the huge figure of Gravestorm :))
Overall, this game didn't go so smoothly. In order to actually beat this adventure, my heroes should be in a much better shape when the Arcane Circle is found. Maybe one day I will defeat the beast.

The mechanics in Castle Ravenloft are very much to my liking... Usually games like these require one player to be the "game master", which would render the solo game impossible. But in Castle Ravenloft, the game is its own master, moving the monsters around. Maybe these mechanics don't quite substitute a human player, but I would say that they do a very good job anyway.
Every now and then I may stumble into a situation where I can't be sure of how some little detail is supposed to be resolved, and the rules or the cards don't give a clear answer. But when this happens, I just do as I feel would best support the events going on in the game.

Castle Ravenloft looks nice and the components are definitely of high quality. Figures are detailed, and if you'd like to paint them, I'm sure they offer a nice opportunity for that. Only the monster cards have pictures on them, so the artwork on cards is not that gorgeous... but the dungeon tiles are beautiful enough.

RATING: 9 /10

SOLO RATING: 9 /10

Despite of the frightening amount of stuff inside the game box, Castle Ravenloft isn't in fact that heavy game. It only takes an hour or less to play it, depending which adventure you pick. Also, the rules are very consistent and easy to remember - I find no difficulties in controlling more than one hero in a solo game. The game does take some space, and that's probably the reason why I don't use more than two heroes... If I had a bigger table, I think I would.

So is Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft a good board game? Definitely! A very good, and I don't think I will easily get bored with it.
Is it anything like actual Dungeons & Dragons? I wouldn't know, probably not... But maybe that would be a bit too much to ask for a board game.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game

SPACE HULK: DEATH ANGEL
THE CARD GAME   by Fantasy Flight Games
Published in 2010

This copy of the game is in Finnish. Usually I want my games in their original language, but I couldn't find this game in English here in Finland, so bear with me... at least the artwork in the cards is universal (if you can make something out of my photos) :>

Death Angel is a spinoff from the very popular Space Hulk board game. While the actual Space Hulk game is a huge assortment of miniatures and counters, the Death Angel is a very compact game. Just a bit over hundred cards, one dice and few markers.

The game sets in a Warhammer 40k universe, where a small group of Space Marines enter a Space Hulk called 'Sin of Damnation'. The hulk has been infested with alien monsters known as the Genestealers, and the Marines are sent in to purge this threat.
And so the Marines have to slowly advance from a location to another, fighting off swarms of Genestealers, while trying to complete their mission.





Death Angel is purely cooperative game; even while playing alone, at least six Marines must be used. The game has 12 Marines in total, forming six combat teams which all have their own abilities. The placing of the cards on the table is very specific - they form kind of a game board, with the Marines in the middle, and the terrain and Genestealers on the sides.


The Marines cannot just be placed in any which way, but in one column shown in the picture above. This means that they literally advance one after another, which brings some serious strategizing in the game. Also, the Marines have a facing, allowing them to shoot only in front of them, leaving their backs exposed to alien attacks.

The other cards next to Marines are Terrains. Like a corridor and a ventilation duct in this picture, the Genestealers enter the room via these terrain cards.


Each combat team has three actions:
'Move + Activate', 'Support' and 'Attack'.
The basic actions work the same way with each of the teams, but each team has their own additional special abilities associated with them.

Green team here has the actions 'Run and Gun', 'Block', and 'Dead Aim'.
Basically they have a chance to deal lots of damage, while their Sergeant Gideon has his Storm Shield to block incoming attacks.



I also have yellow and purple teams. Yellow team's most prominent asset is Brother Claudio, who can use a 'Heroic Charge' to slay multiple Genestealers at a time, with a risk of being killed in process.
Purple team can scout and strategize, and their Brother Zael has a devastating Heavy Flamer.

THE GAME BEGINS:

The mission begins when the Marines enter the Sin of Damnation via Void Lock. The goal of this assignment is unknown at his point... But all will become clear when - and if - the formation reaches the last location.

Two Genestealers charge in from the ventilation duct, and two more from a door.







Purple team uses their 'Forward Scouting' to gain some tactical advantage by using the door. Also, they get a glimpse from future events with this ability. The other teams attack, killing three of the four Genestealers currently present.
The surviving monster attacks and kills Brother Omnio of the purple team! What a devastating start for the mission... Every Marine is important, and now one of them falls in the very first combat.
Two new Genestealers appear, Brother Zael incinerates one of them. The other two Genestealers attack furiously: Sergeant Gideon survives with the help of his Storm Shield, while Brother Zael stays alive thanks to the support from the green team.

"They're Everywhere!"
More Genestealers suddenly appear from every direction. Seven monsters are now engaging the five Space Marines I have left, a tough situation!





Luckily the formation gets to travel into a new location, a Teleportarium.
Two of the Genestealers are slain with the strategic help of the door.

The Teleportarium offers an interesting choice:
If some of the Space Marines were to activate the control panel in the room, the whole formation would teleport right to the next location. But there is a risk; some of the Marines might not survive this teleportation.


Green and yellow teams attack the Genestealers with a great success; Brother Noctis shoots one of them, while Brother Claudio's 'Heroic Charge' kills three. Brother Zael strategizes.
The only surviving Genestealer attacks Brother Goriel, but misses him.

It turns out that Brother Omnio is still alive!
He joins the formation from behind and the purple team is whole again. This is excellent news, but at the same time, four Genestealers enter the Teleportarium.









Casualties for both sides: Brother Zael burns two monsters to death, but Sergeant Gideon's Storm Shield fails, allowing a single Genestealer to charge in and kill the Sarge.
A 'Chaos of Battle'- event disorients the Space Marines...
Some more chaotic skirmishing takes place, when four more Genestealers are slain, and Brother Goriel of yellow team meets his end by an attack from behind.

The Teleportarium is left behind.


The next locations reveals to be a Hibernation Cluster. This place doesn't have that many Genestealers in it, but there is a special terrain called a Spore Chimney. This chimney spawns a lot of Genestealers, unless it is quickly destroyed.





The brutish Brother Claudio destroys the Spore Chimney right off, blocking it. Brother Noctis uses his 'Run and Gun'- ability to operate the door, while shooting and killing one Genestealer. Brother Zael supports this action with his Heavy Flamer, destroying the two monsters that were right behind Brother Noctis. Co-operation is the key here!
After this furious combat, the Hibernation Cluster is quickly left behind. The next location will be the last one...

The "Genestealer Lair"!
Two Brood Lords are inhabiting this place - these beasts are significantly more dangerous than the ordinary Genestealers. However, this time there is not that many minions for the Lords to command, reducing their deadliness... I believe I'll have a chance to pull this off and slay these creatures.

And I still have Brother Zael with his flamer, as well as Brother Claudio and his 'Heroic Charge'... The final showdown awaits!


One of the Brood Lords is alone, so Brother Claudio kills it easily with his charge. But the other Lord has three Genestealers with it, making it a lot more difficult to kill. Claudio kills two of these a well.
The Brood Lord counter-attacks Brother Claudio with the remaining Genestealer, catching him off guard from behind - an extremely hazardous situation, but Brother Claudio survives!

No time to rest, as six more Genestealers appear from the dark corners of their Lair. Luckily, the monsters are separated in numerous smaller swarms, reducing their lethality.

Victory! Brother Claudio reorganizes, allowing Brother Zael to get the Brood Lord at the range of his Heavy Flamer. The Brood Lord - along with its "bodyguard" - is reduced to ash!









The mission - and the game - is successfully completed!



But what about the four remaining Marines? Their mission is over, but will they get out of the Lair?
Let's play a few more turns and find out...

- Brother Zael dies right after his triumphant attack. While burning the Brood Lord, he allowed other two monsters to sneak close enough for a kill.
- Brother Claudio, the other great hero, faces a huge swarm of Genestealers and attacks them with his famous 'Heroic Charge'. Three monsters are killed, but Claudio finally runs out of luck, and receives a fatal blow during his charge.
- Brother Noctis is the next one to fall, leaving Brother Omnio - the one who "died" once all ready - to fend for himself...
He finds himself alone in the Genestealer Lair, with four Genestealers around him. Two more appear in his radar screen... I ended the game here, giving Omnio a slight chance to survive this situation.

CONCLUSION:

What an interesting game! I believe this was the first time I ever completed the game with the Genestealer Lair as the final location. The rough start I had ensured that this game was non too easy, which is a good thing - challenge is always appreciated. I also got to play some of my favourite teams (I drew them in random).

Death Angel can sometimes be a ruthlessly difficult game. Like in this game, when I lost one of my Marines during the very first turn, it reminded me that none of them is ever completely safe.
So the Marines are quite vulnerable... The odds are that at least some of the Marines will die in each game, and if two or three of them is lost in the first half of the game, you can pretty much say goodbye to you chances of success.
Laying down some numbers, when a single Genestealer attacks a Marine with no additional abilities on him, there is a 33% chance of the Marine being killed. With just two Genestealers attacking, the fatality rate is 50%, so no wonder the Marines die so easily.
But that's where the Marine special abilities play an important role: Don't let the Genestealers attack at all! The player really has to learn to utilize everything his Marines got.

Artwork of Death Angel is a bit hazy for my liking. The Genestealers themselves are pretty cool, but the pictures on the other cards are small, and it is hard to tell just what's happening in there. I can see a marine, a genestealer, a muzzle flash and so on, but only a few of the cards are clear enough to be enjoyable.
But maybe this is intentional, picturing the chaotic nature of the close quarters combat between Marines and Monsters.

RATING: 8 /10

SOLO RATING: 8 /10

Death Angel can just as well be played alone, as with friends. You can even increase the number of teams you want to use in solo, but I wouldn't try with all 12 Marines. Three teams (six Marines) are enough for me, even though some of the locations will never be played with the minimal number of teams.

When playing with other people, conversation is a necessity: Every action someone takes must build into the common goal.