A Killing Glare

Name: A Killing Glare
Type: Adventure
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 
Price:  OUT OF PRINT
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

A Killing Glare, Front Cover

A Killing Glare is a pre written adventure module for Shadowrun 2nd Edition written by Louis J. Prosperi and published by FASA Corporation in 1993. As this adventure is written with the 2nd Edition rules in mind it transfers fairly easily to the 3rd Edition ruleset but it will require some work on behalf of the GM is they want to run it in 1st, 4th or 5th edition.

The artwork on the cover is nice but doesn’t really bear any resemblance to the plot overall. I’d guess that it is supposed to depict an Urban Brawl game but since none of the characters featured seem to be wearing any kind of similar uniform, beyond some vaguely similar colours I’d say it looks more like generic gang violence than Urban Brawl. As was normal for this period the image is situated in the bottom centre and the adventure title is positioned above that with the standard circuitry surrounding both, this time set onto a crimson and black background

As always, the obligatory warning, this review feature SPOILERS!

The adventure is set in 2054 and primarily revolves around the Shadowrun sport of Urban Brawl, which in simple terms, is effectively competitive gang warfare with the aim of getting a ball into a the opponents goal.  It is set just before the final game of the season the Super Brawl which just so happens to involve the local Seattle team, the Seattle Screamers pitted against the New York Slashers. The runners Johnson is none other than Screamers Coach, “Baby Joe” Johnson (a literal Johnson) and the job is to find out what skeletons his star players, a pair by the name of Punch and Judy, have in the closet.

Unknown the runners, Baby Joe is in deep debt with the Mafia and the only way he can cover those debts is for his bets on the Screamers to come good and, for that he needs Punch and Judy. Unfortunately for Baby Joe, Punch and Judy have pulled out of the game after being threatened by the Mafia, who have placed some bets of their own on the Slashers. Despite what he tells the runners Baby Joe really wants some dirt on Punch and Judy that he can use to blackmail them into playing.

Sitting in the background of all of this is the true past of Punch and Judy, which adds a wrinkle to the plot. Punch and Judy are former shadowrunners who used to work for Aztechnology as part of an elite elven team. Back in 2048 they were on a run and they discovered that the Azzies were performing genetic experiments on metahumans (I know, that’s a huge shock). Owing to their own meta status this enraged the whole team and they trashed the data and ran, leaving the Azzies behind. Aztechnology, not being a forgiving bunch, put a hit out on the team and all but 3 were iced, Punch, Judy and a burned out mage named Bubba.

So the runners start making enquiries and this leads them to Bubba, who is somewhat hesitant to help them but eventually relaxes only to have Azzie hitmen burst in just as he starts to talk. A brief skirmish ensues and Bubba either escapes into the Puyallup Barrens or they manage to take down the hitmen and subdue him. After interrogating him or searching his apartment the runners find out about the shadowrunning history of Punch and Judy and that the hitmen work for an Azzie affiliated fixer named Keane. 

For the runners, the fun is just beginning, they are next approached by the Mafia, who have heard that they are investigating Punch and Judy and want to know why, and who hired them. The Mafia use heavy handed tactics to indicate that they have a vested interest in the Screamers losing the Super Brawl and suggest that it might be better for the runner’s general well-being if they back off.

The next day Bubba’s is found dead and the runners are squarely in the frame, being the last people known to have seen him alive and, in the worst case, being seen to be chasing him across the Puyallup Barrens. From this point onwards the runners need to keep their heads down, which is easier said than done with the increased Lone Star presence due to the impending Super Brawl and the influx of Slashers fans to the sprawl.

By this time the Azzies have sent a new assassin, their top guy, named Kyle Morgan (who shows up in the earlier Mercurial adventure) and his associate, the Western Dragon Perianwyr and they have picked up the runners trail. Tailing them from a meet Kyle and some heavies approach the runners as they reach their doss and try to question them regarding what they know. Kyle intends to kill them but want’s to learn what they know first. Generally speaking a fight will break out and the runners should be overwhelmed so that they can be rescued. It’s worth pointing out that the dragon is only present in astral form here so it won’t intervene directly (unless a runner is foolish enough to go against it in the astral) but it will throw all of it’s spell pool towards providing Kyle with spell defence. 

Just as things are going south Punch and Judy show up and rescue the party, driving Kyle off. They stick around long enough to answer a few questions and get a few answers regarding who is investigating them and why, before riding off into the night. 

The runners then return to Baby Joe and let him know what they’ve found out. How this meeting goes down depends on what they have told the Mafia and  what they told Punch and Judy but, best case scenario he asks for their help in making sure that Punch, Judy and himself are safe until the big game. In my case this didn’t happen as the runners had told Punch and Judy too much and so they got their pay and that was it. My runners did arrange for a VIP package for the game though, held in Seattle’s Stadium as one of the team was a big Urban Brawl fan and a Screamers supporter. 

The big climax comes after this final meeting, when the runners see that Kyle Morgan has infiltrated the game and is gunning for Punch and Judy. The runner should feel compelled to help, regardless, as Punch and Judy saved their lives, and so there was a mad dash across the city to reach the area of the Barrens that the game was being held in. From there they have to infiltrate the field of play and neutralise Kyle and Perianwyr before they manage to take out Punch and Judy. This leads to an epic battle as any fight involving a dragon should. 

It’s a solid adventure and the standard adventure tree format works well again here. It flows nicely and there are sufficient moments of action, stealth and etiquette to let all types of runners shine. The writing isn’t great and there are quite a few errors throughout the book with references to Screamers being incorrectly written as Slashers etc.

Part of the attraction to the adventure is that it’s certainly not timeline specific as only 2063 and 2064 have the winners of sporting events detailed in the State of the Art books. It’s nice that another aspect of the world is covered in more detail as well, I find it adds depth and it really helped my game that one of the players had Urban Brawl as a background skill. A Killing Glare does have the basic rules for Urban Brawl included in it but I’d also suggest getting hold of Shadowbeat if you want to run this, as it covers most of the cultural information for Shadowrun.

Paradise Lost- A Shadowrun Adventure/Sourcebook Review

Name: Paradise Lost
Type: Adventure/Sourcebook
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 80
Price:  OUT OF PRINT
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Paradise Lost, Shadowrun

Paradise Lost is an adventure/sourcebook for Shadowrun 2nd edition, written by Nigel Findley and Tom Wong and published in 1994. To date this book represents the only adventure and the only in game source material written about the Kingdom of Hawaii with the only other material being the novel House of the Sun, also by Nigel Findley.

The book is obviously named for John Milton’s epic poem of the same name but while there are analogies between the fall of man and the Shadowrun universe there are no similarities between the poem and the adventure. The front of the book is in the characteristic style of 1st and 2nd edition Shadowrun, with a large central picture with the title above it and an etched circuit board effect around the outside. The artwork is almost postcard like, with a beautiful woman on a sunny beach with ‘Aloha!’ written above her. in front of this are two shadowrunners descending an escalator wearing leis. The cover art perfectly epitomises the tone of the adventure, bright sunshine, beautiful beaches and dangerous people.

The book is split into 2 parts, the adventure, named Paradise Lost, and the sourcebook for the Kingdom of Hawaii both set in the year 2055. The adventure is 54 pages long and the sourcebook is is a further 11 with the extra 15 pages being given over to advice for running the adventure, the prologue and some game information covering new Totems specific to Hawaii.

It goes without saying that there will be spoilers from here onwards

The adventure is fairly straightforward and plunges the players headlong into a plot involving a couple of local Hawaiian corps, a potentially groundbreaking decking device named the AFD (anti-flatlining device), AAA Megacorp Mitsuhama and a local terrorist group named Aloha. The adventure follows the standard adventure tree format of 1st to 3rd ed Shadowrun and, as is often the case, it works very well, allowing flexibility while still giving enough detail to cover all the pertinent points. the adventure used the 2nd edition rule set and so can easily be played in 3rd ed but wil require some work by the GM to convert it for the  1st, 4th or 5th edition rules.

It starts with the runners being hired in Seattle (or whichever sprawl they call home) to investigate whether a hit on the corp developing the AFD was really a piece of corporate espionage or a prearranged plan to cover the device being sold on without the knowledge of the owners and recover any remaining AFD prototypes.

The runners are flown out to Honalulu, put up in a fancy hotel and introduced to a contact while they investigate the hit but what makes it a little interesting is that they are told in advance that while getting equipment into the island isn’t hard, getting it back out is and so they can only rely on what they are willing to lose or what can be sourced locally. I like this a it forces the runners to live by their skill and wits rather than their equipment and resources.

The first step is to break into the facility that was hit and try to find more information but it just so happens that Aloha (Army for the Liberation of Hawaii) are breaking in that same night to makes urge that there were no lose ends from the hits. After finding out what they need the runners find another related facility on a nearby island and head out there via boat only to find an MCT crew there and end up rescuing an MCT operative, who happens to work undercover for Aloha, and engaging in a high speed boat chase escape punctuated by the appearance of a Kracken. My players loved this part and put some physical barrier spells to excellent use to delay and destroy the boats chasing them.

After interrogating the guy they just rescued the runners find out he gave copies of the AFD data files and a prototype to Aloha and with a little persuasion he is willing to lead the runners to the Aloha HQ. This begins the final stage of the run and pits the runners against the might of Aloha, on their home turf. The runners manage to procure a VTOL to take them to the remote mountainous base.

Infiltrating the base will generally start with stealth but, unless the players are really careful will inevitably devolve down to combat. Aloha’s base is well guarded and all of those inside are devoted to the cause and so will defend it with their lives, meaning that when the everything goes south the party will end up having to clear the place room by room and will face some fairly stiff opposition including street sams and magicians.

The final confrontation is with the head of the organisation, a reclusive individual reported to be a powerful magic user but he turns out to be a whole lot more than the runners expect as he is, in fact, a feathered serpent. This final confrontation can go a couple of ways as the wyrm is willing to negotiate (assuming that the party think to do so)  but most likely a rather deadly confrontation will ensure inside the dragons cavernous chambers. This makes for an epic and suitable end to the run but can obviously be exceptionally deadly if the runners aren’t tough enough to take on a dragon.

After they recover the data and prototypes they can arrange passage back to the mainland and and get paid, with no shenanigans from the Johnson, unless you decide that there should be. Obviously the fallout is that the runners have a MCT and potentially a terrorist organisation somewhat upset with them, but that’s just another day at with for a shadowrunner, right?

It’s a good adventure, it’s challenging without being exceptionally difficult, it has a few nice scenes and it’s in a new and exotic locale so it can be dropped in nicely when you want to change the pace of your campaign. The final showdown with the Dragon is a nice touch as defeating a dragon always leads to a feeling of success.

Paradise Lost, Shadowrun, Kingdom of Hawaii

The sourcebook makes up the second part of the book and I really like its inclusion, more adventures in exotic locales should imclude a sourcebook section. It’s a short section but it’s enough to properly give you an idea of the general lay of the land in the Kingdom of Hawaii and a basic understanding of what the shadows are like there.

Included is the standard ‘facts at a glance’ which shows an overwhelming majority of orks amount metas on the island (22% of the total population) along with details on the climate (warm and sunny, even during winter), how you get in and out and what the general geography looks like. After that the history of the islands is explained, including how it broke away from the U.S. In 2017.

The chapter also includes some details on modern Hawaii, including it’s political family, economy and culture. This last is tied deeply into the attitude of the islands as there has been a strong re-emergence of traditional Hawaiian traditions and beliefs, which has lead to greater sympathy for those who favour greater autonomy from megacorporate influences, in particular the terrorist group Aloha.

Honalulu is given someone the spotlight as it is the destination that the runners will visit in the adventure and the greatest focus of shadow activity in the Kingdom of Hawaii. As normal this focus covers schooling, law enforcement, transportation, crime and shadow activity, albeit briefly as each is covered only in a paragraph or two.

The book finishes with 4 new shamanic totems that are specific to the Kingdom of Hawaii and would make particularly good inspiration for a PC who wanted to play a Kahuna. These totems are Honu (turtle), Kohola (whale), Mo’o (gecko) and Nene (goose).

Paradise Lost is a solid addition to any Shadowrun collection, not only is it a great adventure but it is the only place to get source material on the Kingdom of Hawaii and for a completion it’s like me, this makes it a must. It’s not the easiest book to get hold of, my search took me several months and a few failed attempts and, even then, it’s wasn’t exactly cheap, costing me more than double its original retail cost for a copy in average condition. Still, it’s certainly a book I’d recommend to anyone who wasn’t so  fun and interesting adventure that lets their players lake a little departure from the norm.

Paradise Lost, Shadowrun, Rear Cover

Atmosphere in Gaming

Last weeks article about BattleBards and music in gaming got me thinking about the wider question of atmosphere in gaming. All too often the DM (or whatever your moniker of choice is) is so obsessed by making sure that the story is ready, the encounters are prepared and they’ve thought through the obvious outcomes of the various scenes that the atmosphere at the table is overlooked.

So, today, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the various ways that the atmosphere at the table can be ruined and what a DM can do to influence it. It’s worth noting that it’s all about context, what ruins one game can help another and the best thing you can do is know your game and your players.

Ruining the atmosphere

Phone

Phones. I have a personal hatred of mobile phones at the gaming table and prefer that my players turn them off at the door (along with my own phone). Generally I’ve put a great amount of work into a session and I think it’s rude if a player is randomly sending texts while I’m trying to describe an encounter. Now, obviously, I’m not a dictator, there are times that players need their phones, either because they are on call, waiting to hear from their mortgage broker or expecting a call from their pregnant wife, but in those cases the phone needs to be on vibrate, no-one wants to hear the Thong Song in the middle of the villains monologue. Players, do the decent thing, unless you are expecting an urgent call, turn your phone off at the door and, DM’s, do the same, your game will be better for it.

Out of game chatter. This kind of depends on the type of game you run but, in general, very little ruins the mood more than someone randomly breaking the flow of the game to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. I realise that gaming sessions are social encounters but, as before, your DM will likely have put a hell of a lot of work into the game and it’s disrespectful to hijack the session to discuss something that could just as easily be brought up at any other time, even after the game.

If you run particularly long session then schedule in a break so that people can have a chat, go for a smoke or whatever. Doing this will help everyone focus on the game during game time and will let you plan on when to let up on the tension, even movies have moments when the action ebbs to let everyone recover in time for the next epic scene.

Social Media Icons

Social media/Internet. A much more recent issue and one that can be turned to your advantage at times. In general, like phones and out of game chatter, having your players more focussed on live tweeting the session or updating their Facebook status is probably going to detract from the story you are trying to tell. If someone is more interested on watching cat video’s on Youtube and keeps trying to show other people then not only are they not taking interest in your game but they can pull others away. Try to have a no internet policy at the table during game time as anything that distracts from the game is going to break the atmosphere.

On the flip side, sometimes it can be used to your advantage. If you are running a modern or futuristic style game then you can actively use the internet to communicate with players and send links and updates via email to accounts set up for their characters. In this way you can make the internet work for you, rather than against you.

Tablet

Tablets/laptops. This is pretty specific to certain games really, as these can be an asset in a lot of cases, assuming players aren’t using them for any of the above reasons or, worse, gaming. Certain games, mostly horror or very serious fantasy suffer if players are constantly and audibly typing away. In the case of horror games even the screen glare can cause a distraction and so it’s worth asking players to use good, old fashioned pens and paper in those instances.

Conversely, if you are running something like Shadowrun or Eclipse Phase then letting your players use tablets actively adds to the atmosphere as they feel more in keeping with the setting overall.

Observers. This one doesn’t come up often for me. Generally if someone wants to see what roleplaying is about then I’ll invite them to a game. However, once or twice, I’ve been asked if someone can watch a game and I’ve always refused the request. Roleplaying can, often, feel a little silly, especially if people commit and having an outsider watch you can make you and your players feel self conscious, especially if the observer doesn’t really understand or insists one interrupting.

Improving the atmosphere

Thats most of the obvious ways that a session can be ruined so I’ll move onto the more positive ways you can influence the atmosphere at the table.

Lighting. This is one of the easiest ways that you can influence the atmosphere at the table. When you go to see a film at the cinema the lights are turns down so that you can focus on the film, so it can draw you in, and you can do the same at the table. A lot is dependent on the type of game you are playing and on the number of props and accessories that you use because it’s hard to focus on a poorly lit board during tactical combat but, done right, lighting can make a big difference.

The best example I can give is for horror gaming, say Call of Cthulhu or Ravenloft. These types of games are best run in very dim light, with the bare minimum illumination for people to see handouts and character sheets. This means that players are drawn into what they can see, namely you and the handouts and they’ll focus on your words a whole lot more.

Music. I covered this in more detail last week, so I’ll keep it to a minimum here. Music can influence emotion in a big way, it’s why films and TV rarely have important scenes without background music (it’s VERY noticeable when they don’t) an you can apply this too. Assuming that you don’t have hours to spend scoring each and every session then just using it at select times can make a big difference.

Try to find a piece of music to play whenever a reoccurring villain appears, or that is used during important battles and your players will begin to notice. It’ll remind them of previous encounters and really help to make them realise the importance of a particular scene. Classical music in particular works well, whether it’s for a fast chase scene, a tumultuous battle or just playing quietly, at the edge of hearing as they explore an abandoned manor house.

Your voice. This one is linked with audio, because it’s all about what your players hear, but it deserves a mention all of it’s own because it might just be the single most important factor of all. Your voice, the way you speak and what you say is your players connection to the world. Through your voice they hear your descriptions and they interact with NPCs and so it’s important that your voice is conveying the right message. There are a number of ways to ensure that your voice is helping build atmosphere rather than detract from it and almost all relate to how you say something, rather than what you say.

Firstly, there is the obvious accents and voices. Being able to convincingly change your accent and give a different voice to all important NPC’s is a valuable skill and if you can do it, then you should because your players will identify with an NPC more if they feel like a real person. However if, like me, you can’t actually do an accent and that everything ends up sounding a bit  Scottish, then don’t do it, unless you are aiming for comedy. The same applies to voices, I do a passable Orc, Dwarf and Kender but that’s about my limit and so I don’t try to do many more. If your players can do convincing voices or accents then they should be encouraged to use a voice for their character as long as it adds depth.

Then there is the volume of your voice. This can be an incredibly powerful tool if it is used in the right way. Consider a patient in an asylum, if he spoke with perfect clarity and at a normal volume then players might question whether he’s truly insane or whether he’s leading them on. If that same patient speaks very softy, almost inaudibly quiet, as if he’s speaking to himself and then occasionally shouts at the top of his voice then the scene would be all the more convincing. A preacher on a podium shouts, thieves in a tavern whisper and so you should too.

Volume links in with how quickly you speak. Consider the asylum patient again, he may speak quickly, almost incoherently while whispering but slow down and emphasise certain words that he feels are important when shouting. The preacher would speak slowly and clearly while the thieves may just speak at a normal pace, as those who do not want to draw undue attention would. Linking volume and speed together can give you a powerful tool, even if you can’t do voices or accents.

Obviously what you say is also important. Providing too much or too little detail can detract from the experience as can having to go back and change what you said because of a mistake. Try to make descriptions, especially of dungeons clear and correct, even if it doesn’t seem realistic, so that maps are accurate and to avoid confusion.  As always this is context dependent and you probably don’t want to use specific and exact descriptions if the players are exploring a none-Euclidian temple on a mysterious island in the south pacific.

When providing descriptions try to avoid placing too much emphasis on any particular single aspect, as it will seem to your players that this is important, whether it is or not but make sure that all important elements are mentioned. 

Know your source material. This is key and links in with everything else. It is important to know the reaction you are looking to elicit and plan accordingly. If you are trying to invoke fear or mystery then darkness, jarring changes in volume and none specific descriptions are the way to go but, if you are expecting your party to navigate a dungeon and take part in mass combat then good light, a clear and consistent voice and specific descriptions are what you want.

Scroll Case

Props and hand-outs. Props and hand-outs can really help the atmosphere as the table as the ability to interact with something on a tactile level can help players connect with the world on a deeper level. These need to be used sparingly and only to emphasise important points as you otherwise risk cluttering up the table with useless pieces of paper. Additionally, if you use hand-outs for everything them players will begin to assume that anything you don’t have a hand-out for isn’t important and therefore it can add a meta-gaming aspect to your sessions.  I use a scroll case for important missive’s in fantasy games and I find it a nice touch.

 Armitage Files Handout Example

Used correctly hand-outs can actually be the basis for whole games, with their use defining the campaign and their appearance giving players mixed feelings of excitement and fear. This is best demonstrated with Trail of Cthulhu’s excellent Armitage Files, which uses a series of letters as the entire basis of a campaign and it is how the players interpret them that is the catalyst for each of the individual investigations.

Incense. It’s not one that I’ve ever used but it was highlighted to me by @Greyhawk4x4 on Twitter (who also made an excellent video on the subject of atmosphere and I recommend you check it out here). Incense used in the right place can be used to reinforce where the party are. If they are walking through a great souk in a desert town then heady scents of sandlewood and spice can help draw them in and if they are in a cold mountainous region pine scents will help conjure the right images.

The gaming room. Many of us aren’t lucky enough to have a dedicated gaming space and, in fact, part of the allure of roleplaying is that you need little more than a few dice, pens, paper and a rulebook to play. If you do have a gaming space then how it is set up can impact a game. A cluttered space with many distractions can serve to detract from the game as players eyes and minds wander whereas a tidy room, with focus on the table and DM can help to draw them in. If you are very clever you can even manipulate the room to serve your purposes, I once heard of a DM that was running a campaign where the number 13 was significant and it gradually dawned on the players that there was 13 of everything in the room around them, candles, pencils, pictures on the wall etc.

This isn’t a definitive list by any means, as a DM you need to be constantly considering different ways to add depth and atmosphere to your games. Atmosphere varies by game, by group and often by session and so adapting your approach while making sure that you understand your audience will help you provide the best possible experience for your group.

X-Wing Spring Championship Tournament, April 2015

X-Wing Spring Tournament Kit 2015

So, last weekend, Sunday 12th April 2015, I attended an X-Wing Spring Tournament at Entoyment in Poole. The event was co-hosted by Entoyment and Warez, which is another FLGS in Bournemouth. This was the 1st Tournament I’ve actually managed to attend, despite all the prep I did for the Store Championship and it was an excellent day.  There was a strong turnout with 24 people showing up for the day and so we played 5 rounds, Swiss style, to determine the overall winner.

A big thank you goes out to Entoyment and Warez for their excellent prize support on the day.  The tournament had official prize support from FFG by way of a Spring Tournament Kit, which awarded the winner and 2nd place acrylic range rulers, 1st-3rd alt art Tycho Pilot Cards and dice bags and the 6th-21nd all got alt art Push the Limit Upgrade Cards. In addition 1st place was awarded a signed Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) plaque, 2nd took how an Imperial Aces, 3-5th took home a small ship, 24th place took home a Star Viper, Friendliest List got a copy of Star Wars Risk and Best Sport got some Space Laser scenery.

So, what did I take? Well unlike last time I didn’t really get around to much practice this time around and so I went with a list that I thought would be quite forgiving and easy to use, unfortunately I was dead wrong. This time around I elected to take a Scum list and thought that Duel Aggressors would be strong enough to afford me reasonable prospects. My list looked like this-

  • IG88B- 36
  • IG 2000 Title- 0
  • Autothusters- 2
  • Mangler Cannon- 4
  • Advanced Sensors- 3
  • Push the Limit- 3
  • Feedback Array- 2

 

  • IG88C- 36
  • IG 2000 Title- 0
  • Autothusters- 2
  • Mangler Cannon- 4
  • Advanced Sensors- 3
  • Push the Limit- 3
  • Feedback Array- 2

Total- 100

The idea was that B and C would mesh together nicely providing me a free evade and gunner effect each round.  Advanced Sensors would allow me to Boost, so giving me the free evade from IG88C, the Push the Limit to focus or target lock and gain a stress that would then be cleared by the green on my dial when I revealed. In theory this should have made things very easy, especially since the Aggressor has 9 greens on it’s dial, the most of ANY ship.

The Mangler would help to stack up critical hits and IG88B’s ability would afford me a 2nd shot if the first missed or was evaded. The Autothusters would provide me with stronger defence against turrets and range 3 attacks, which would be ideal as I’d be primarily using a secondary weapon and so my enemies wouldn’t gain the bonus die for range 3 when I fired back. Finally the Feedback Array would give me the ability to cause damage to arc dodgers that tried to hug close to me, which staying out of my firing arc.

Spring Tournament 2015, game 1

Game 1 was against 2 generic E-Wings and a Y-Wing. This game was very hard for me as it became quickly apparent that it was significantly harder to manoeuvre the Aggressors that I had hoped and, despite the number of greens on their dials, clearing stress from PtL made it very hard to keep arc on anything. Aggressors are also particularly hard to move around asteroids, due to their large base, which also makes them VERY easy to block.  The Y-Wing was hard to kill, it was equipped with R2-D2 and so was regenerating shields on green manoeuvres and in the end I decided to focus on the less tough E-Wings. I took 1 E-Wing down quite quickly but then lost my first Aggressor. In the final turn of the game I used my Feedback Array to take the last hull point on the 2nd E-Wing and scrape a victory.

I learnt a lot in this game, specifically in how to move Aggressors and to not rely as heavily on PtL as this was often as much of a hindrance as an advantage. I also discovered something that I had expected, which was that the list lacks fire-power as throwing 6, or a maximum of 8 dice if both ships are in range 1 of their target, just isn’t enough for a fixed arc list that cannot guarantee shots.

Score-Win- I killed 2 E-Wings and only lost 1 Aggressor giving me a modified win.

Spring Tournament 2015, game 2

Game 2 was against Lando and Dash combo, being a YT-1300 and a YT-2400. The YT’s were set up to complement each other strongly with Lando taking Push the Limit to lock and evade and then using Kyle Katarn to provide a focus token when the stress from PtL was removed, which could be changed to a 2nd evade by Jan Ors on the YT-2400, if it was in range 1. Also, if both ships remained in range 1 of each other, then Lando could provide Dash with a 2nd action using his Pilot ability.

My opponent ran this list very well and managed to maintain cohesion throughout the majority of the game, enabling both ships to complement one another. Additionally my opponent was very tactical with the damage he took from my Manglers, ensuring that he only ever took 1 damage so that I couldn’t strip him of his tokens and use the IG88B ability to have a 2nd shot. This meant that I really struggled to wear him down and, combined with the difficulty of keeping both IG’s consistently in arc, I didn’t even manage to wear a single ship down to it’s hull throughout the game.

The game almost went to time with my 2nd Aggressor lasting until the very final turn before being taken out. I struggled from exactly the same issues in this game, namely properly manoeuvring the Aggressors through asteroids and keeping arc. I think that having Autothrusters was the only reason the game ran on as long as it did, as it generally allowed me to reduce the damage I was taking since I was facing two turreted ships that were, more often than not, out of arc.

I definitely took my worst beating of the day in this game but since my opponent was the ultimate winner of the day and he went on to a perfect score of 5 x 100-0 wins, I don’t feel too bad about it, especially since I was so close to forcing him to a modified win.

Score- Loss 100-0 in favour of my opponent.

Spring Tournament 2015, game 3

Game 3 was against 3 A-Wings and a Y-Wing. The A-Wings were all loaded up with Proton Rockets and the Y-Wing was had an Ion Cannon. I’d learnt a little bit by this game and immediately tried to focus all of my fire on one ship, dropping an A-Wing fairly quickly. I still wasn’t used to manoeuvring a large ship through asteroids and managed to repeatedly land on them, taking damage as normal (anyone who knows me knows that 90% of the time I hit an asteroid, I take damage). My opponent did a good job of blocking my movement options, restricting where I could go and reducing arcs but some lucky rolls for defence against the Proton Rockets really helped me in this one.

The Y-Wing went down second, it’s low Agility not being much of a match for the duel Mangler cannons focused on it and another A-Wing followed thereafter to the Feedback Array. The game went to time with a single A-Wing left on the table for my opponent as the paired IG’s simply didn’t have the firepower to take it down in time, given how difficult it is to maintain arc with them.

Score- Win, my opponent had one A-Wing left on the table giving me a modified victory.

Game 4 was against 2 A-Wings and 2 Y-Wings. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures of this game. This was a similar list to the last one, except that the A-Wings were equipped with my favourite pair of Elite Talents in Push the Limit and Outmanoeuvre. Both Y-Wings were set as warthogs with the BTL-A4 Y-Wing Title and an Ion cannon.

This game went quite well and I managed to take out the basic A-Wing fairly quickly after I accidentally fortressed in the middle of the table. A Y-Wing followed soon after before the first of my IG’s was taken out by a very tenacious Jake Farrell in an A-Wing with the aforementioned Elite Talents and Autothrusters. I wisely focussed on the other Y-Wing as it was the easier target and took it down at the same time as my 2nd IG took a critical hit from the out of arc Jake Farrell, causing me a 2nd point of stress on top of the stress I’d acquired that round from pushing the limit.

This second stress spelled the end for me. Jake successfully outmanoeuvred my floundering Aggressor and managed to take my last 2 hull points before I could clear both points of stress. It was a close game, Jake was down to just hull by the end and we have 5 minutes left of the hour when my 2nd  Aggressor died. This was definitely one of the most fun games I had in the day, with a lot of very tactical thought from both my opponent and me and I certainly feel I’d managed to fly the duel IG’s better this time around.

Score- Close loss, 1 A-Wing remained with 2 Hull points and no Shields.

Spring Tournament 2015, game 5

Game 5 was against Duel Decimators. I was actually pretty pleased with this match up right until my opponent told me that both of his Decimators caused stress every round, making it significantly harder for me to make the most of my 3 actions. One Decimator was set up as Captain Oicunn, Ruthlessness, Mara Jade and Dauntless, the other was a Patrol Leader with a Rebel Captive and Darth Vader.

I elected from the start to Kill the decimator with Vader on board, since it’s is a truly legitimate threat to the Aggressor’s low hull total. If I could take enough hull off that decimator it would make using Vader a risky proposition for my opponent. Fortunately for me, neither Decimator has an Engine Upgrade and so I could mostly stay out of arc of both ships and really make the most of my Autothrusters which, combined with IG88C’s free Evade on the Boost, meant that my Aggressors could take a fair amount of the damage from the Decimators.

I managed to take down the Decimator with Vader in without losing an Aggressor, which significantly improved my chances of winning.  By this point, however, one of my Aggressors was down to a single hull point left having turtled up and led both Decimators on a merry chase for a few turns. Unfortunately the next couple of rounds left me without shots as all 3 remaining ships ended up bumping near a board edge and, given the large bases, found it hard to break free without going off the table. This worked to my opponents advantage as his remaining Decimator could still cause me damage by bumping me and so he started wearing down my undamaged Aggressor.

It took a couple of turns to work my way free and, almost immediately the heavily damaged Aggressor was taken out leaving us going 1 on 1 for the final 10 mins of the game, both with fairly heavily damaged ships. On the last turn I was left on a single hull point and my opponent was on 2 when I took the risky step of taking no defensive actions and hard turning to face my opponent, taking stress to PtL and both Focus and Target Lock. Fortunately the move paid off as I managed to cause those final two points of damage and win the game with a hard fought modified victory.

Score- Win, 1 Aggressor with 1 hull left giving me a modified victory

That left me with a final score of 3-2 for the day, which I’m more than happy with considering it was my first Tournament. Overall I came joint 6th on win/loss record and 10th when you take into account Margin of Victory, which put me in the top half of the table. The day was certainly a learning experience for me and it was good to play some strong players with strong lists.

I have some thoughts on the Aggressors and the Upgrades I took-

  • Autothrusters  are worth every point and these certainly kept my ships alive much longer that they would have otherwise.
  • Push the Limit is not as good on Aggressors as expected. On paper getting 3 actions every round seems excellent but having to clear stress really limits their movement, despite the 9 green moves on their dial.
  • Aggressors are very hard to manoeuvre in general. Their large base, combined with slow speeds  means that asteroids are a large problem for them and they are very easy to block.
  • An Aggressor with Autothrusters and an Evade token is very hard to kill and this would be worse if you added a sensor jammer.
  • IG88B’s Gunner ability seems excellent but doesn’t come up as often as I would have thought. People played very tactically against it, taking just a single point of damage to prevent the secondary attack and so I’m not sure that B is as good as I thought it would be.

I genuinely don’t know if I’ll take duel Aggressors to a tournament again. They elicited a certain amount of fear from my opponents but most people found that they were not as horrific as they had been lead to believe but they are very hard to kill.  If I did take them again I’d probably go with C and D, to provide more movement and I’d swap Push the Limit for Predator and take out the Advanced Sensors and put in Sensor Jammers.

A friend ran a single IG with a Kath Scarlett Firespray on the day and came in 3rd and that’s a list set up I quite like. I think the Aggressor is a little misleading in that you assume you are making a weaker list by not using multiples of them and taking advantage of the IG2000 Title but I’m inclined to think that this might be a bit of a trap. A Firespray actually covers many of the weaknesses of and Aggressor pretty well, it’s mobile, it’s rear arc means it can keep enemies in arc for longer and it can put out some fairly significant firepower (Kath can put out 5 dice in a range 1 attack using her rear arc and that equals a Phantom). I plan on exploring this combination a little further to see if I can make a strong list with Boba Fett and an Aggressor and I might try that at the next event.

This is my alt art PtL Card-

Spring Tournament 2015 alternative art Push the Limit card

These are the alt art Tycho and dice back that my friend won-

Spring Tournament 2015 alternative art Tycho pilot card

Spring Tournament 2015 alternative art Tycho pilot card

There are a few more Tournaments in my area over the next few months and I’m hoping to make it to at least 1, but ideally more and I’ll be sure to write up a report and post it for your reading pleasure as and when it happens. Until next time, Fly Casual.

Battlebards and the use of Music during sessions

A week or so ago I was contacted by the people at Battlebards to see whether I’d be interested in reviewing their custom sound effects, which, along with the program they are building, give DM’s a tool for bringing music and sound effects into their games. Since I’m a fan of using music and sound effects I agreed and they sent me some samples ahead of their Kickstarter that is running now. In the interest of transparency these samples were sent to me free of charge, to give me a better idea of what it is they are doing.

I’ve used music in my games, on and off, for quite a long time. I recall chapters in Ravenloft and Deadlands sourcebooks that highlighted specific pieces of music that could be used to build atmosphere during sessions and these same chapters really drove home to me how the TV and movie industries use music to evoke specific feelings at certain points during the story.

It’s not just music that helps either, TSR realised in the 90’s that there was a market for audio accessories and released such excellent offerings as Planescape’s Players Primer to the Outlands with it’s Mimir CD and Ravenloft’s A Light in the Belfry audio adventure, amongst others. These kind of accessories tend to be rare nowadays with the soundtrack provided as part of Eberron’s Sharn- City of Towers and Call of Cthulhu’s Sense Impacts being the only recent examples that spring to mind.

My point here is that music and sound effects can have a huge impact on the way your players feel about a session. Having ominous chanting gradually get louder as they make their way into a temple can set the mood in a way that a DM’s description just can’t equal. Likewise, having haunting music play as they enter a supposedly abandoned theatre will induce fear in a deeper and more effective way than a statement of fact.

Background sound, the hustle and bustle of everyday life is something that we take for granted, day to day, but it would seem strange, almost jarring without it and the same applies to your games. Being a DM is all about how you frame a scene, how your describe it and far you can draw your players into an imaginary world and make them connect with it. Lighting is important, I never run a horror game by anything other than candlelight, and so is what your player’s hear around them, and if it’s just the sounds of the modern world then your players will have trouble truly connecting to game.

Now back when I first started gaming it wasn’t all that easy to put a soundtrack to a game, you’d tend to have CD’s and generally wouldn’t have a computer nearby. This mean’t you’d either need to keep swapping between CD’s or make a playlist to play through and have to break the action to skip to the right track at the right time. Additionally it wasn’t that easy to get hold of single tracks so if you wanted a particular track from Holst’s The Planets, you’d need to buy the whole CD rather than just hit up iTunes. Likewise, sound effects were pretty hard to get hold of, unless you happened to get a Horror Sounds CD at Halloween.

Thankfully it’s a whole lot easier nowadays, tracks can be found individually, devices can store thousands of MP3s and its commonplace to have a laptop or tablet near the table to use during the game. Even thematic pieces of music are more common with the rise in big budget fantasy and sci-fi movies and so gone are my days of putting the Final Fantasy 7 fight music on repeat during combat scenes (for hours on end sometimes).

A couple of things that haven’t changed though are how hard it is to find quality sound effects and the fact it can be fiddly to switch between tracks and sound effects during sessions, which can detract from the atmosphere as much as help it. That’s where the folks at Battlebards come in.

Battlebards are gamers, like you and me, and they really like trying to add atmosphere to their games. They ran a Kickstarter named Realmsound 2.0, back in October 2013, which let them begin to build a library of high quality sound effects and compositions that DMs could download and use within their own games. These sound effects aren’t just the classic creaky door or heroine screaming but are high quality representations of dragon’s roaring and breathing fire, spells verbal components, exploding fireballs and the like.

In addition they have scripts of merchants and tavern conversations that can just be playing in the background while your party go about their downtime activity. These sounds, music and scripts are composed and read by professional musicians and actors specifically for gaming sessions, providing a higher quality product that you can achieve through repurposing movie soundtracks.

Now Battlebards are back on Kickstarter, running a self titled campaign, that kicked off on 14/04/15, to expand this library to over 500 and build a custom program that DM’s can use to simply add music and sound effects to their game. This program is set to be an amazing tool that gives DMs a desktop soundboard that can be customised to use any of the sounds and compositions in their library. There is even an offline mode for when you don’t have net access.

At higher tiers you can get access to a mixer that lets you combine and layer the different sounds to fit your own purposes. Have a scene set up with a Beholder blasting the party while they try to disrupt a ritual to prevent a Lich raising all the dead in the kingdom while in the heart of a volcano? Their tools can let you layer those sounds together to give your players a unique and memorable experience.

Their service is a subscription one and so even if you missed the Kickstarter you can head over there and sign up to gain access to their library and tools, once the project delivers. At the time of writing they don’t have the price structure set, a lot depends on the feedback they get from the Kickstarter, both as to what sells and what their backers say.

I have to say, what they have planned is exciting. The RPG industry is a small one and the publishers don’t have the time or money to devote to developing service like this and so it’s great to see that a group of gamers have taken the initiative to do it themselves. The beauty of the Kickstarter model is that gamers can do something like this and share their vision and passion with the wider community.

What Battlebards are doing might not be for you, they are passionate about fantasy gaming, D&D, Pathfinder, 13th Age etc. and the project is geared towards that. So if you aren’t planning on running a fantasy game around the time that this delivers (estimated as November 2015) then you might not get quite as much out of it, although I guarantee that some sounds and effects will be suitable for repurposing.

If nothing else I encourage you to head over to the Kickstarter or their own page and check out what they have to offer as it looks like it’ll be pretty damn cool.

 

Tiny Epic Defenders, Kickstarter Deluxe Set- A Review

Name: Tiny Epic Defenders
Type: Tile Based Boardgame
Publisher: 
Gamelyn Games
Players: 
1-4
Age:
 13+
Size:
27.8cm x 11.9cm x 4cm
Weight:
 261g
Time: 30 mins approx
Price: £15.99 (Standard Edition)
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Tiny Epic Defenders, front of box

Tiny Epic Defenders is the second in the Tiny Epic series of games by Gamelyn Games. It is a co-operative game for 1-4 players and in the style of all Tiny Epic games it plays out in under an hour. It is set after the events of Tiny Epic Kingdoms and involves the various races working together to protect their capital city from attack by a variety of monsters.

 Much like Tiny Epic Kingdoms before it and Tiny Epic Galaxies after Tiny Epic Defenders was funded by Kickstarter and raised $162,372 in July 2014. Production took a few months and Tiny Epic Defenders started delivering to backers in January 2015 and hit stores shortly after.  I personally missed out of the Kickstarter, having only found out about Tiny Epic games during the Tiny Epic Galaxies Kickstarter, but I’ve since managed to source a Kickstarter deluxe edition.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Kickstarter Deluxe contents

You don’t get quite as much in the box as with Tiny Epic Kingdoms or, I suspect, Tiny Epic Galaxies but the box is still satisfyingly full, albeit with a card insert taking up around a quarter of the space to make sure that the components don’t rattle around too much during transit. Inside the standard box you get-

  • 4 x Meeple Tokens (Blue, Green, Yellow and Red)
  • 5 x Health Tokens (Blue, Green, Yellow, Red and Black)
  • 7 x Threat Tokens
  • 6 x Territory Cards (all double sided, covering Plains, Ruins, Coast, Forest, Desert and Mountains)
  • 1 x City Card
  • 6 x Epic Foe Cards
  • 10 x Hero Cards
  • 10 x Artefact Cards
  • 9 x Enemy Cards
  • 6 x Dire Enemy Cards
  • 6 x Action Cards
  • The Rules

The box is what is now the standard size for the Tiny Epic line of games at 7”x 5”. The box is made of thick durable card and is in full colour. The inside lid has a full colour image of a few of the heroes, planning the defence of the city and the sides of the bottom of the box provide some information about the artists and designer.

The components are high quality. All of the tokens are made from laser cut wood and have been painted in bright and vibrant colours. Each of the Meeples has a heart shaped health token in matching colours and there is a 5th,  Health token for the  Epic Foe, when it is revealed. My favourite token, by far is the little Threat token, which is cut to look like a fire and painted bright orange, in fact this might be my favourite token, in any game, ever, as it looks so cool-

Tiny Epic Defenders, Threat Token

Tiny Epic Defenders, City and Territory Card

The cards come in 2 sizes. The City, Territory, Hero and  Epic Foe cards are all oversized, roughly 5”x 3”. The Territory cards are all double sided with the same territory on each side but each side has a different Action or Passive ability. The City card is also double sided but both sides are the same.  Each Territory and the City has a Threat track along the top that shows how much danger that area is in. If the threat rating of a Territory ever reaches maximum that Territory is destroyed and if the City is destroyed the game is over and the players lose.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Hero Card

The Hero cards are all double sided with an image of the Hero on the back and the health track and actions on the front. Each of the Heroes have different actions that can be used on your turn and most are thematic to the Hero, for instance a Paladin can take damage instead of another Hero, and all have 4 Hit Points, aside from the Paladin that has 5.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Epic Foe Card

The  Epic Foe Cards are one sided with the back of all the cards being the same with a picture of a battlefield and with space marked out for the Horde deck. The front of the  Epic Foe cards have a health track and the Ultimate Enemies action.  For all intents and purposes the  Epic Foe is a Hero, albeit one with significantly more hit points than a player Hero.

The art on the cards is nice with the Territories and City cards having a more serious feel to them and the Heroes and Epic Foe cards having a more cartoony feel to the art style. The cards are fairly thick but are not laminated and the corners are not rounded so they are quite susceptible to damage. Damage to the City and Territory cards wouldn’t overly effect the game (aside from an aesthetic point of view), but damage to the  Epic Foe cards could be a problem because you are not supposed to know which  Epic Foe you are facing until it is revealed.

The other cards, being the 2 types of Enemy cards, the Artefact cards and the Action cards are all standard playing card size.

Tiny Epic Defenders, small cards

Looking at the Enemy cards, there are two types. The first is the 9 card deck of the standard Enemies. Each of these cards is divided down the middle and depicts 2 monsters, with different Territory Icons to show where they attack then they are drawn. The second depicts the Dire Enemies and each of these represents a single monster that also has a power that takes effect when they are drawn. These cards also have a Territory Icon to show which location they attack.

There are 6 Action Cards in total, made up of 5 different cards with 1 duplicated. Each of the Meeple colours is represented once, (Blue, Green, Yellow and Red) and there duplicated card is multi-coloured. When these are drawn the player whose Meeple matches the colour of the card takes their action and when the multi-coloured card is drawn all players get to split a certain number of actions.

The backs of the preceding 3 types of card are all the same as they all help to make up the deck that drives the turn sequence of the game. The backs of these cards matches the back of the  Epic Foe card as some of them rest on the back of the  Epic Foe card until they are added to the turn deck as the game progresses.

The Artefact deck looks different, it’s very light and bright. It’s made up of 10 cards that all provide one of actions or passive effects that the owning player can invoke during the game. These cards are obtained by successfully defending against a Dire Enemy, at which point one is dealt out randomly.

The art on all of these cards is good. Some, like the Artefact deck, are a little more cartoony that others but overall the quality is consistent and nice. These cards are made of a good, thick, cardstock and are all laminated which helps them be a little more durable than the larger cards in the set.

I’ll go into a little bit of detail at the end as to what you get in the Deluxe upgrade, if you manage to get your hands on a copy.

Tiny Epic Defenders, example of play

The gameplay is very simple. Each player selects or is randomly dealt a Hero card (I deal 2 to each player and let them pick 1) and the Territories are arranged, randomly or by selection, around the outside of the City with the threat rating of each Territory being set at 1 (so the Threat token is placed on 1 on the Threat track) and the threat rating of the City is set at 0. An  Epic Foe is randomly selected and placed next to the play area and the appropriate number of Dire Enemies are randomly selected from the deck and placed on top of the Epic Foe.

Three normal Enemies are randomly selected and shuffled together with the correct player Action cards, as determined by the rules and this is the Action Deck. Once this is done the players place their Meeples on the City card and their Health tokens on maximum on the health track on their Hero card and the game is good to start.

Play is simple, draw a card from the Action Deck and resolve it. If it’s a monster then the Territories with corresponding Icons take damage, which mean that it moves up the Threat track by one space, unless a player defends that area, and if it’s an Action card then the appropriate player takes 3 actions. If, at any point a Territory reaches maximum threat it is destroyed and any further damage to that area increases the Threat rating on the City card.

Once the Action Deck is depleted then one of the Dire Enemies on the Epic Foe card is added to the stack, it is shuffled and the process begins again. This repeats until all of the Dire Enemies are in the Action Deck, at which point the Epic Foe card is flipped and the end game begins.

The goal of the players is to defeat (so cause 10 points of damage) the Epic Foe before the City reaches maximum Threat and is destroyed. On their turn players can use action points to invoke the actions on the Hero Card or a Territory, Move, Reduce a Territories Threat or Attack the Epic Foe (once it is out). Players need to work together to anticipate the cards in the Action Deck and make sure that the appropriate Territories are defended while trying to reduce the Threat in damaged Territories.

Tiny Epic Defenders comes with 4 difficulty levels and each simply adds more Dire Enemies to the stack on the Epic Foe card, which therefore increases the length of the game and affords the monsters more time and attacks with which to try and destroy the city. By doing this the game can be nicely modified to suit the skill level of different groups and so while you might set it at Easy when playing with younger children, experienced groups may prefer the challenge of Hard or Epic.

One of the things I really like about Tiny Epic Defenders is that it can be played solo. This surprised me, more often than not I prefer games to allow 5+ players because I play with a large group, but I found the solo mode very useful to use when learning the game. I generally tend to play a turn or two of any new game alone, so I can better understand turn order and what the cards/actions do. Unfortunately, with most games it doesn’t work all that well because your actions are determined by what other players do but Tiny Epic Defenders allows you to play solo against the Action Deck and I think that’s a nice touch.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Mini-Expansion

The Deluxe Kickstarter comes with 11 extra cards. At the time of writing this content is only available via the Deluxe Kickstarter version, although it may appear on the BGG at some point as the Tiny Epic Kingdoms mini-expansion has. In the Deluxe edition you get-

  • Giant Snake (Dire Enemy)
  • Basilisk (Dire Enemy)
  • Fire Elemental (Epic Foe)
  • Overlord (Epic Foe)
  • Baal’s Bait (Artefact)
  • Gavel of Gamelyn (Artefact)
  • Necromancer (Hero)
  • Assassin (Hero)
  • Avenger (Legendary Hero #1)
  • Revenant (Legendary Hero #2)
  • Guardian (Legendary Hero #3)

Unlike Tiny Epic Kingdoms, the mini-expansion for Tiny Epic Defenders doesn’t offer any alternative modes of play but rather expands your options for the normal game. I particularly like the inclusion of the Overlord Epic Foe because it strongly resembles a classic D&D monster that I love, the Beholder. The Legendary Heroes are much the same as the normal Heroes but with slightly more powerful abilities and this makes them useful for when you first try to tackle the higher difficulties of the game.

This mini-expansion also includes the another Hero that doesn’t have the standard 4 health, the Revenant. In this case this Legendary Hero has just 3 health but heals back to full every time  Territory is destroyed so, as the game nears it’s conclusion this Hero is very likely to not need to return to the city to be healed, which is a very useful ability indeed.

On the whole I like Tiny Epic Defenders. It’s not quite as good as its predecessor but it fills a rare spot in that it’s a co-operative game that can be set up and played within 30 minutes and that’s something that I appreciate. I really like the fact that it’s also it’s own distinct game, being completely different from the other two games in the Tiny Epic line because it would be very easy to fall into the trap of just reskinning what came before and selling it as a new product. You can see that Gamelyn and Scott Ames have gone out of their way to ensure that Tiny Epic Defenders plays and feels differently to what came before.

Tiny Epic Defenders gives you exactly what you would expect from a game with that title, it’s small, great fun and involves defending the kingdom from marauding monsters and Epic Foes. It’s a good quality product with an original design from a company that I’ve come to expect great things from. It’s the weakest of the line overall, but that’s not a criticism or me saying that it’s poor, rather a shining endorsement of just how good I think Tiny Epic games are. There is no shame in being the weakest in a line of games that are this much fun and such good value for money and, after all, a 4 out of 5 is still an excellent score.

I play a lot of micro-games, usually while we wait for a player to arrive or to round out the last half hour of a games night and Tiny Epic Defenders is a game that’s going hit the table to fill that spot a lot over the next few years.

TIE Defender Unboxing

TIE Defender, boxed

The TIE Defender is a Small Based ship released as part of Wave 4 of the X-Wing Miniatures Game and it forms part of the Imperial Fleet. In the fluff the TIE Defender was, by far, the most advanced ship of it’s kind but, unfortunately, it was far too expensive to be put into general usage and so only a limited number were ever produced. Those that were produced continued to see usage for a significant period of time.

TIE Defender, Contents

As normal the Defender comes in the standard small ship blister pack. The ship is housed in an inner blister to secure it for transport and it is positioned in a front facing position which provides a good view of the whole ship. The tokens and cards are, as always, hidden behind the star field backdrop insert. In this expansion you get-

  • TIE Defender Small Based Ship
  • Small Ship Base with 2 pegs
  • TIE Defender Manoeuvre Dial
  • 11 x Cards (split between Pilot cards, Upgrade cards and Rules cards)
  • 19 x Tokens (more on the actual split a little further down)

The Defender is an odd looking ship. To me it looks out of proportion and oddly large for a small based ship, owing to the way that each of the 3 wings is split down the middle with each half angled outwards. It doesn’t have the sleek look of ships like the Interceptor or Phantom and therefore doesn’t look as agile as it is. It is painted in the standard blue/grey and black of the Imperial fleet and, just as I said with the Phantom, the paint job is nice enough but it’s hard to get excited about grey and black.

TIE Defender, Pilot Cards

The normal 4 Pilot cards are divided in the customary way, 2 Generic and 2 Elite. Even the cheapest ship weighs in at 30 points, which is high, despite the excellent stat line of all 3’s. The Elite Pilots are both expensive at 35 and 37 points each for Colonel Vessery and Rexler Brath respectively. Both Elite Pilots have interesting abilities, Vessery’s allows you to acquire (and therefore use) a Target Lock after rolling attack dice but before modifying them. Rexler Brath has an exceptionally powerful ability which allows him to spend a focus token in order to flip any damage cards face up after attacking, making it one of the few ways to actually cause critical hits to Chewbacca.

The art on the card is nice enough, the Generic pilots are missing something and don’t really stand out but I think that the scene on Colonel Vassery’s card is particularly nice with the ship being under lit by the sun that it is in close proximity to.

TIE Defender, Pilot Cards

You get 5 Upgrade cards in this expansion, which is pretty standard for a small ship expansion. Of the Upgrades included only Predator is Unique to the set but it is also a particularly useful upgrade that kind find a place in many lists, especially those with Gunners so as to maximise it’s usage.

Elite Talents-

  • Predator (unique to this set)
  • Outmanoeuvre (also found in the E-Wing expansion)

Cannon-

  • Ion Cannon (also found in the B-Wing, Slave-1 and M3-A Interceptor expansions)

Missile-

  • Ion Pulse Missiles (also found in the Z-95 Headhunter expansion)

Modification-

  • Munitions Failsafe (also found in the Z-95 Headhunter expansion)

The art on the cards is average, none in particular is especially standout here. Given that almost all of the Upgrades can be fund in other sets, sets you would generally buy multiple copies of, this isn’t a set to consider buying just to ensure you have all of the Upgrades you might need for a tournament list.

Also included in the set are 2 Rules cards, specifically the Ion card and the Titles and Modifications cards.

TIE Defender, Tokens

The Defender comes with all of the tokens you need to use the ship, including any of the Upgrades included in the set, without needed to buy any other expansions. The tokens included are-

  • 2 x Small Ship Base Tokens (double sided as Delta Squadron Pilot/Colonel Vessery and Onyx Squadron Pilot/Rexler Brath)
  • TIE Defender Manoeuvre Dial.
  • 3 x Shield Tokens
  • 2 x Ion Tokens
  • 1 x Stress Token
  • 1 x Critical Hit Token
  • 2 x Focus Tokens
  • 2 x Target Lock Tokens (double sided as letters W and X)
  • 6 x Ship ID Tokens (3 each of numbers 37 and 38)

The Defender is an intriguing ship, on paper it should be an absolute monster to fight and should see significant tournament usage, yet it doesn’t. This is likely to be, in part, because it is very expensive to field, costing close to 50 points if you use an upgraded Rexlar Brath and considering it doesn’t mount a turret weapon, thats a stiff price.

The Defender also makes an attractive target and considering that it lacks the Evade action and can’t fit AutoThrusters due to the absence of Boost, it is hard to make it as durable as an Aggressor or slippery as a Phantom. In my experience Defenders go down quickly in games because they attract significant fire and green dice are fickle things that fail more often than succeed. The trick with a Defender is to be unpredictable with it, it has a white K-Turn on it’s dial, something that can only be achieved with Upgrades on other ships, and that means that it should never be out of arc and, combined with barrel roll, should be a fairly strong arc dodger.

Considering Rexlar Brath’s Pilot Ability adding a Heavy Laser Cannon is an attractive option. It ensures a 4 dice attack at any range and any and all hits can be changed to critical’s for the cost of a single focus. Add in Predator to provide a reroll if needed and the Defender becomes a deadly, if expensive, killing machine that would excel at being kept at range 3 to benefit from an additional defence die. The likelihood is that it would die in a few short turns which would mean pointing it at a priority target and settling it loose. In particular this set up excels at killing other Imperial ships or anything with little to no shields.

TIE Defender, close up

The Defender is by no means a ‘must have’ ship, the roles it excels in can be better filled by other ships and the points can be better spent elsewhere, especially if you are interested in competitive play. With that said, it’s a fun ship, it has some interesting tricks and it can be utterly lethal for the short period of time it stays on the table and therefore t’s certainly worth breaking out for fun games.

The Defender is in the same place as one of the other releases in Wave 4, the E-Wing. It’s expensive for what it does and it needs a niche to truly shine. The E-Wing found that niche when paired with the Outrider and therefore it’s only a matter of time until the Defender finds it’s niche and gets it time to shine but, until then, it’s a ship that will see more time on the shelf than the table.

TIE Phantom- Unboxing

TIE Phantom, boxed

The TIE Phantom is a small base ship release for the X-Wing Miniatures game that formed part of the forth Wave of releases for that game. The Phantom is a unique ship within the game as it has sole use of the Cloaking action making it a formidable challenge in the hands of a skilled opponent. Within the Star Wars Universe the Phantom was an experimental ship developed in secret but it never saw widespread use as it was very expensive to build and required rare materials for it’s Stygium Particle Accelerator.

As always the TIE Phantom comes in the standard small ship blister pack. The ship is visible from the top down and is angled so it is facing upwards giving you a good view of the whole ship. The cards and tokens are hidden behind the star field insert and the ship is protected within an inner plastic inset to hold it snugly during transport.

TIE Phantom, contents

Inside the blister pack you get-

  • TIE Phantom small based ship
  • Small Ship Base and 2 pegs
  • 1 x TIE Phantom Manoeuvre Dial
  • 12 x Cards (split between Pilot cards, Rules cards and Upgrade cards)
  • 18 x Tokens (I’ll provide an exact split a little later)

The TIE Phantom is a nice looking ship, it has pointed wings that are reminiscent of the TIE Interceptor and the 3 of them sit evenly spaced around the central cockpit. The cockpit itself is longer than the earlier TIE Fighters and this accounts for the fact that the Phantom can accommodate a crew member. The ship is painted in the standard blue/grey and black of the TIE Fighter line of ships and the paint job on this ship is even and neat, although I can’t call it stunning as it’s hard to get excited about a ship painted grey and black.

TIE Phantom, side view

 

TIE Phantom, Pilot Cards

 

The Phantom comes with the standard 4 Pilot Cards, split evenly between Generic and Elite Pilots, two of each. The lowest pointed ship, the Sigma Squadron Pilot, comes in at 25 points meaning you could field 4 of them in a standard Tournament list if you wanted, although you would have to be very skilled in manoeuvring to avoid a quick and painful defeat. The Elite Pilots are the standouts here as their abilities make the already unpredictable and agile ship significantly harder to track or damage with one ability guaranteeing an extra evade token  and the other providing more options with which to decloak.

The artwork on the cards is nice and up to the normal standard of the Pilot cards with Echo and Whisper being the best looking of the bunch. Echo in particular is illustrated so as to show the Phantom decloaking which is a nice touch.

The weakness in the Phantom is it’s relatively low Pilot Skill values since all but the most skilled of players rely upon being able to decloak, attack and recloak before being shot at in order to get the extra 2 defence dice for being cloaked. This can be remedied somewhat with the addition of Veteran Instincts but even so, high PS pilots, such as Corran Horn, Han Solo, Soontir Fel and Darth Vader can get the drop on the Phantom and so counter it’s daunting defences.

TIE Phantom, Upgrade cards

You get 5 Upgrade cards in the set, 3 of which are unique to the expansion although of those, 2 are usable solely by the Phantom at this point as they provide upgrades to the cloaking ability.

Crew-

  • Tactician (unique to this set)
  • Recon Specialist (also available in the HWK-290 expansion)

Sensors-

  • Fire Control System (also available in the B-Wing expansion)

Modifications-

  • Stygium Particle Accelerator (unique to this set)
  • Advanced Cloaking Device (unique to this set)

You get a good set of Upgrades within this set, all of which are useful on the Phantom and, if not solely for the Phantom, on other ships. The Advanced Cloaking Device is a must on the Phantom and I have yet to encounter one flown without it, being able to cloak for free after hitting with an attack is just too attractive an ability. This, of course, means that the Stygium Particle Accelerator sees little play, despite it being cheaper and exceptionally useful in it’s own right.

The Fire Control System can be helpful on practically any ship, given that it essentially makes all attacks more accurate through providing never ending target locks and in particular Corran Horn finds this upgrade exceptionally useful. Tactician is one of the few ways of consistently dealing stress without having to hit with an attack or take stress yourself. This makes it oddly useful for Rebel forces looking to try and shut down a Phantom since stress can all but shut down a Phantom by preventing it from decloaking or can make it very vulnerable if stressed while visible.

TIE Phantom, Cloak and Decloak cards

I rarely mention the rules cards in anything other than passing but given that the Phantom has the unique actions of Cloak and Decloak I though it was worth highlighting. These actions have been much discussed since the ship was released and have been heavily criticised for being overpowered, which I don’t think is the case, at least to the degree that many believe.

In late March 2015 FFG released updated FAQ and Tournament rules for the X-Wing game and included therein is a change to the order in which the Phantoms actions are performed which has subtly lowered the power of the ship by 5-10%. I encourage you to head over to the FAQ page and download those rules for yourself.

TIE Phantom, tokens

As always FFG make sure that they provide sufficient tokens so as to use the ship without buying any other expansions and this includes the upgrade cards. The tokens in this set are-

  • 2 x Small Base Ship Tokens (double sided as Echo/Sigma Squadron Pilot and Whisper/Shadow Squadron Pilot)
  • 1 x TIE Phantom Manoeuvre Dial
  • 2 x Shield Tokens
  • 2 x Focus Tokens
  • 1 x Evade Token
  • 1 x Cloak Token
  • 2 x Target Lock Tokens (double sided letters Y and Z)
  • 1 x Critical Hit Token
  • 1 x Stress Token
  • 6 x Ship ID Tokens (3 each of numbers 41 and 42)

As I’ve said, the Phantom is a unique ship, it is undoubtedly the best arc dodger in the game up to and including the Wave 6 releases, but more than that, it has an ability that literally no other ship so far released has, it’s ability to cloak. This ability gives it the unsurpassed ability to have 4 defence dice at range one and 5 at range 3, plus an Evade token if you take the Evade action or use Whisper. Add to this the fact that the Phantom is the only ship to have a native 4 dice attack, 5 at range 1, and it is easy to see why it is such a monster in the right hands.

On a personal level and as a primarily Rebel player (I’ve only recently felt the lure of the Darkside, but I did buy into Scum and Villainy on release day), I have a long standing hatred of the Phantom. I don’t believe it is over powered and the recent FAQ certainly helps even out any small imbalance there was but that doesn’t change the fact that it is infuriating to face and always required a hard counter, or great luck, to stop. In skilled hands the Phantom is formidable and should rarely ever end up in arc for an enemy ship, regardless of it’s excellent defensive capabilities, it should be unpredictable but utterly devastating.

Prior to the recent FAQ the Phantom was a must for any Imperial player, working well when paired with a Decimator or a TIE Fighter Mini-Swarm. Now, it’s weaker certainly, but only insofar as it is slightly less unpredictable in it’s movement but that doesn’t make it less of a threat, rather it just makes it more of a priority target. The TIE Phantom is still a ship that any Imperial player should own, it looks awesome, its interesting and different and it’s by far the most forgiving ship with which to learn the important skill of arc dodging, just don’t expect anyone to like like it hen you put it on the table.