Sunday, January 15, 2017

The 3X game Through the Ages is an enjoyable but long "cube pusher"

My friend Jim bought over the holidays the recent edition of Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization by the famous game designer Vlaada Chvatil, and so we decided to try it out.

Jim and I enjoy "civ" games, and we both spent many an hour playing Civ on the computer over the years, so this game is a no-brainer.

Through the Ages is not quite a 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) as I don't think you can exterminate the other players, so I'll call it 3X for now.

However, the game is so abstract, that it is arguable if there is exploration or expansion, but we'll give it that.

This game is a 100% Euro.. I don't know why Europeans love pushing cubes around so much, but this game is cube-city.

It's a card-based tableau game. No map, per se.

We started off with a modest amount of cubes at the beginning..

and at the end, it was cubes all over the place..

In fact, that is all you do.. push cubes and draw cards. Cubes for resources (blue), cubes for people (yellow). You put yellow cubes to build troops, mines, farms, etc.. So that is the "exploitation" part..

Everything is abstract.. getting land (colonies), which are just called "territories." Historic territory, wealthy territory... You bid troops with your opponents to get them.

So that is kinda "exploration" and "expansion" I guess..

You build up and upgrade troops for abstract aggressive moves and war on the other.. At the end, I built  Modern Infantry upgraded from warriors, Cavalry from Knights, Rockets from Cannon, etc... 

Very abstract indeed, as I upgraded from muskets to get to modern infantry, without the need to upgrade first to rifleman, though it was expensive. To upgrade from spearman to modern infantry for instance, would cost me 5 resources per troop (7 minus 2), whereas for Jim, to upgrade from musket rifleman to modern infantry would only cost him 3 resources. Later on, when he got modern infantry, it would only cost him 2 resources per troop (7 minus 5) to upgrade to modern infantry.

You also upgrade your production over time.. Here for example, I improved my farming with Selective breeding, and my research using the scientific method from plain philosophy.

I later upgraded my mines to oil production  when I reached the modern age.

Anybody who played Sid Meier's Civ game will see all the familiar elements, including the effect of adapting different governments. My initial despotic form of government, for instance,  allows 4 general actions and 2 military actions per turn (represented by white and red cubes), is not as useful as my ending republican form of government, with its 7 general and 2 military actions per turn.

Sid Meier fans of course, will also recognize the effect of happiness on your people, which affects your food production. The game has an abstract concept of happiness that seems to work.. As you use more people, you better keep them happy, or else you have to divert resources.

Corruption and graft handled abstractly but well..  The more production you use, the more "sticky fingers" eating into it. In this example, I lose -2 resources per turn.

Other hallmarks of Civ are here.. leaders for instance. Here, Gandhi in the Third (modern) Age replaces my use of Sir Isaac Newton from the Second (or Renaissance) Age.

And of course, you build "wonders" which are very Civ-like. I built the Library of Alexandria in the ancient age to the internet in the modern age, for example, each giving different benefits..

Jim did a similar thing.. building the Pyramids and tried to build the Great Wall of China.

Incidentally, the game pays tribute to Sid Meier by making him a leader..

Advanced techniques, military, leaders, etc, all are given to us players in a running track, with stuff constantly falling off and coming in...

Scientific and cultural tracks are maintained for scoring purposes off to the side, with the player with the most cultural points at the end, winning.

We were just a two-player game, and it took up most of my 6 foot plastic table. A large footprint indeed, as you would expect in a civ game.

Scoring at the end was a long-drawn out affair. I don't know what boardgame geek is talking about, playing this in two hours. It was more like most of the afternoon and evening, as were learning to play.

As you can see then, lots of moving parts to keep track of, with a bit of a learning curve at the beginning.. However, once you get into it, you can see the charm of the game through the cards mixes and matches and can thus see multitudes of replay possibilities.

The game is abstract, and a bit cerebral, so you need smart and imaginative people to play this. It's not a beer and pretzel game.

I was taken aback at the beginning at the fiddleness of pushing all those cubes as I tend to be an Ameritrash player, and I didn't like some of the "gotcha" aspects that comes out of card play (I don't really like card games for that reason), but once you start playing, it all comes together beautifully.

Thumbs up!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Army Painter Target Lock laser pointer is really useful

I was listening to the Meeples and Miniatures podcast the other day, and one of the guys made a passing reference to Army Painter's Target Lock laser pointer.  It is unique in the sense that it points a laser light at the table, clarifying LOS issues.

I got it today and tested it out on two random minis and terrain.

Yep. Very damn useful and cheap too, at $10 Canadian.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Two sessions of our Frostgrave (permanently cooperative) campaign

My friend Jeff and I yesterday continued with our Frostgrave campaign, but we decided to make it permanently cooperative given our enjoyment of the official cooperative scenarios we recently played. We just tweaked the official monster spawning rules from before.

Our generic scenario mechanism going forward was 3 monsters were to be generated every turn, with an additional monster potentially being spawned on a roll of 16 + whenever treasure was picked up. All monsters, if no LOS to any of our wizards or troops, will then wander in a clock direction determined randomly by a d12 (but be stopped by walls and such). Monsters would be generated on either of the four sides of the battlefield, and our guys can exit accordingly, on either of the four sides.

I got my Frostgrave Litko tokens, which I now used for the first time..

and I also, since last time, made my own cards in MS Word by cutting and pasting googled images to make potion, items and spell cards for both me and Jeff.

In game 1, we decided to have 5 guys each for a total of 10 and go in and swoop into the ol' city for treasure on a generic mission.

I brought along my wizard, Niccolaides, the apprentice Aggron, a Man-At-Arms, a Crossbowman and Thug, extra equipped as follows:

Niccolaides:  1 Potion of Healing, 1 Fate Stone and 1 Ring of Teleportation
Aggron: 1 Potion of Fire Breath, 1 Scroll (Fast Act) and 1 Fate Stone.
Man-At-Arms (MAA):  1 Elixir of Speed
Crossbowman (CB): 1 Poison potion
Thug: 1 Explosive Cocktail.

I now had an opportunity to use some of my homemade terrain that I built (as discussed here, here and here) for both sessions. In session 1, I employed my fallen Raven statue as well as my fallen Snake Temple statue.

Turn 1 was uneventful, though we generated 1 wild dog, 2 skeletons and 2 giant rats., all on the North end away from us.

It was quiet, too quiet, as my guys reached the fallen Raven statue...

On Turn 2, we generated 2 more wolves, a werewolf and a small construct, the latter two being near me and attacking.

Both of them attacked my MAA who was lagging behind on rough ground, severally damaging him, taking 10 points of damage (he only had a starting health of 12).

Meanwhile Jeff is in his usual cakewalk mode, just dealt with 2 wild dogs.

On turn 3, I had my Thug throw his Explosive Cocktail behind the two monsters, but he rolled badly and did not scratch the two. That was a waste of 50 gold pieces..

My Crossbowman fired a bolt, but though it hits the werewolf barely, it bounced off the armour.. ...claaang.. My MAA attacked the werewolf as well, but was ineffective. Lastly, my apprentice fired a Bone Dart spell, but missed..

This was getting bad..

I send back a trooper to give my MAA a flanking bonus..

Meanwhile, la-dee-da.. after dealing with the two dogs, Jeff neared a treasure token at the snake statue ruins...

On turn 4, we generated 2 ice toads near Jeff..

while I got two ice spiders near me on top of what I had to deal with. (We did not have 2 spider miniatures readily available, so we used giant centipedes instead to represent them).

I found I was getting besieged here, as even the august person of my wizard, trying to hide behind the fallen Raven head statue, was under attack by a skeleton we earlier generated.

My Crossbowman had problems of his own, fending off the two centipedes (ice spiders) and could no longer help back there with the werewolf and construct. To make matters worse, he had to reload.

Jeff was starting to feel the pressure as well, as those deadly ice toads were attacking his guys..

Speaking of Jeff, his apprentice went back to help my MAA fighting the construct and werewolf, by firing off an Elemental Bolt into the melee, which per the rules is assigned a random hit to anyone. Jeff managed to roll such that it hits by mistake, my severally weakened MAA and knocked him out of the game. I'll rolled later to see if he dies or is injured.

Thanks, Jeff, thanks.

My thug that I sent back to help the MAA died fighting the Construct.

Some good news... My apprentice helped out the master, by killing the skeleton with a bone dart and my crossbowman killed one of the spiders.

On this turn, we generated another ice toad, 4 giant rats and 1 white gorilla, all up North..  Jeff and I were slowly finding ourselves overrun..

On turn 5, it dawned on me .. wait a minute..I'm a warlock and I have the Control Animal spell...

I quickly used the spell on a wild dog, and after making the rolls and counter rolls, controlled him.

My apprentice did the same to the remaining ice spider... and quickly took control of its feeble mind.

Meanwhile the construct was reaching the raven ruins and the werewolf was attacking my crossbowman.

I "sicced" the dog on the Construct, and sicced the ice spider on the werewolf...

We killed the Construct, which was down to 1 HT anyway when it got to the Raven ruins. However, we generated 2 wild dogs, 1 snow leopard and 1 large construct this turn. The two dogs were near me and they attacked my crossbowman while we were trying to finish off the werewolf....

Jeff had his hands full as well, fighting off a large construct..

On turn 7, I thought.. I'm outta this scenario as were being overrun.. I used my ring of teleportation to move 8 inches near the board, and then exited my wizard.

My apprentice sicced the dog on the werewolf but the dog got killed.

I then had the Control Animal spell successfully used on a wild dog and then sicced him as well on the werewolf as I inched my apprentice closer to the entrance as I wanted him to leave as well.. My mercenary troops would have to fend for themselves.

Jeff on the other side in the meantime was still having a very tough time with that large construct...

As much as I wanted to exit though, I found my way blocked by a generated skeleton randomly located near me..

The werewolf knocked out my crossbowman, and I now found my apprentice attacked by the skeleton and a weakened werewolf, just as I wanted to exit.

I killed the skeleton and the werewolf managed to miss me.. On the next turn, miracle of miracles, I managed to kill him and limped off the board.

Man, werewolves are tough in Frostgrave.

Jeff managed to kill the Large Construct as well and managed to exit also.

Post game, all my fallen guys lived, but my crossbowman was injured and out of the next fight.

After calculating experience and collecting and spending gold, we did another session, which I will just highlight.  I bought more rings of teleportation, potions of healing and the "Gloves of Strength" and equipped them on my guys for the second session.

We decided that for game 2, we should bring 7 guys each into the fight, as we were besieged and outnumbered in the first game.

I brought along the following guys:

I had no crossbowman this turn, so it will all have to be magic and HTH..

We changed terrain, and I managed to put more of my homemade statues and fantasy domes for this session.

With more troops, I was starting to feel game 2 was more of a cakewalk at first as I had nothing near me at first when I reached the "Hero" Statue..

I quickly picked up treasure with no opposition..

while Jeff just had a skeleton to deal with..

on his way to picking up treasure himself..

However, then we started to generate bears and other unpleasant things..  A bear attacked my Templar guy early on...

while rats and ice toads swarmed all over Jeff's troops near the fallen "Eagle" statue..

It took half my guys to fight off the bear, who was joined by generated skeleton and snow leopard...

To cut a long story short, I was besieged again, and my guys were fighting long and hard.. I lost several guys fighting off monsters..

with new big monsters generating near me, as this new bear did near my apprentice..

Luckily, I made my Control Animal spell and the bear failed his will, so I controlled him and sent him to help my guys out..

My wizard at one point was heading for treasure, but one of my guys nearby found himself besieged by two monsters. If he fell, one of the monsters was going to go after my wizard, which is a risk that I would rather not take.. 

Just before my wizard exited, he successfully made his Wall spell to help out my trooper as well, blocking out the monsters. My wizard exited, and my trooper picked up that last treasure.

My apprentice did the same, helping out a trooper while leaving the controlled bear to fend for himself. I built a wall to help my trooper who I also wanted to exit.

He was the last guy to exit and using all his movement, he was just short of exiting when, horribly, an Ice worm generated near him.

This thing is very tough and moved fast and was on top of him preventing escape.

In the next round however, by some fluke, I won the combat (but no damage to the worm however). However, per the rules, I "pushed" myself out of the battlefield and exited.

Phew.. cooperative is not easy. Two tough games.

A pleasant evening though. Thumbs up.