All posts by Matt Bramley

Numenera Review

Name: Numenera
Type: Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
System: Cypher System
Format- Hardback
Size: 28.3cm x 22cm x 2.5cm
Pages: 416
Price:  £39.99
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Numenera Cover

I first heard about Numenera by sheer chance, by looking up what Monte Cook had been up to and I discovered that he’d found substantial success on Kickstarter with a new game, using his own system, a new game by the weird name of Numenera. The game was so successful that, at the time of it’s conclusion, Numenera was the most successful RPG ever on Kickstarter.

Now when I first heard the name I figured that it was just a setting with a bizarre title, like Eberron, but after some research it became abundantly apparent that, just like everything in Numenera, Monte Cook had been thinking about this for a very long time and it was pitched perfectly. For those that are interested Numenera splits into two words in Latin, Numen and Era. The former has several meanings, Of the Gods or Divine, Command or Will and the later, obviously, means a Period in Time. In the context of Numenera the meaning translates to something like Divine from a Previous Age, which makes perfect sense since everything about this game is deeply rooted in what came before, these almost supernatural devices from ages past, these numenera.

The book

The rulebook is 416 full colour pages hard bound with an sewn binding. The front and back inside covers display a full colour map of the ‘known’ world. It’s a beautiful book full of good artwork that evokes images of classic prog rock album covers (in fact prog rock album covers are a remarkable source of inspiration for games of Numenera) as well as interesting information about a world so distant from our own. Over it’s 9 chapters the book covers character generation, the rules, optional rules, monsters, history, the campaign setting, of course the Numenera in all 3 forms and also gives the standard handful of adventures to get you started. It’s a tried and tested format that gives you everything you’ll ever need to run and play Numenera in single core book. Also included is an A2 size poster map of the world, an addition I really like as I’m a bit of a sucker for maps of campaign worlds.

Numenera Map

At the start of the book is a little framing fiction, The Amber Monolith which sets the scene for the world and can also be downloaded for free here- The Amber Monolith.  The back of the book also has 11 pages (included in the page count) of Kickstarter backer names. I was unfortunate enough to discover Numenera after the Kickstarter and so I’m not on  list but I think it’s a nice touch that the general release print of the book still contains the names of those who made it a reality.

A little bit of history

Before going into some detail about the system and how the game plays I think a little history lesson in the background of the setting would help. Numenera is set on Earth in the future, the distant, far, incomprehensible future of around a billion years or so from now. Numenera is set in the Ninth World and there have been eight previous worlds, each built by civilisations with such immense power that they could manipulate time, reality or matter on a molecular level, at will. These civilisations likely spanned galaxies or universes and were not all necessarily human.

The way I like to describe these previous worlds to players is that they could encompass pretty much any sci-fi or fantasy setting, show or movie that they can imagine, GW’s 40k? That could be just one world. Time Lords? That’s pretty likely, Star Wars or Star Trek? probably just blips or footnotes in the history of a single world. the world of Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels? almost certainly. When you imagine the scale of possible history in Numenera there is absolutely no limit. The history of Numenera is such that the world we live in now wouldn’t even come close to registering as a single previous world. Simply put, if you can imagine it, it could be in Numenera.

With that in mind it’s worth describing the world in Numenera, as it is. The setting is basically medieval, as the new civilisations of the Ninth world begin to rebuild and rise up to claim their eventual destiny (in a few million years), people live in cities or villages, they use animals to farm and bandits, brigands and monsters roam the land preying on the unwary. What makes Numenera different is that nothing is as it seems as the previous worlds have all left their mark on the planet, a day is 28 hours long, the air you breath is full of nano machines and mountains are fallen statues of kings and gods long forgotten. Everything has been changed or manipulated by the previous worlds.

All this change means the medieval world has a feeling closer to Planescape than Dragonlance, as the weird and wonderful is commonplace and accepted because it’s simply  the way things are and have always been. These changes mean that, under the surface there are subtle differences. Some communities use floating drones to irrigate their crops, others live in cities built amongst huge networks of pipes, using them for heat or transit and other still worship these machines for their almost godlike powers.

Character Generation

Numenera Characters

So where to the players fit in? In Numenera there are 3 types or classes, Glaive, Nano and Jack which roughly translate as fighter, mage and rogue but the choices you have mean that it’s not quite that simple. In the world these characters seek out the numenera (more on those later) and explore the lost or forgotten places, either for the good of the world or, if they want, for their own profit. The game isn’t greatly suited to characters seeking to become rulers or overlords, although it can certainly be done, because the premise is that the characters are driven to explore and discover and not amass power and rule.

Character generation is simple and pretty unique in my experience. You start by creating a statement “I am an adjective noun that verbs‘ with the italicised words being taken from the options in the book, the adjective is your Descriptor, the noun is your Type (class) and the verb is your Focus. The book provides a number of options for each and I worked out that, out of the core book, there are some 900+ character variations based on the character generation system and that is before you take into account individual skills or cosmetic differences. An example of a character statement is something like ” I am a clever nano who bears a halo of fire” or “I am a rugged glaive who wields two weapons at once”.

Races are pretty simple, aside from a couple of alien races and mutants (all in the optional rules, rather than the default game), as everyone is assumed to be human, but not human in the traditional sense. Remember that Numenera is set a billion years in the future and so humans have been altered and altered themselves, have interbred with other species and have transcended what we would understand as human. That being said, right out of the gate my players wanted to be something a little more interesting, for example in one case, a player wanted to play a cloud of sentient nanites and so I just reskinned the basic human, worked with him to pick the right descriptor and type, and locked him into a mostly human form due to a malfunction. Numenera easily allows that kind of manipulation.

The simplicity of the system means that character generation only takes around 15 minutes from start to finish and far less if a player is content to just pick a cool statement over reading specifically what each ability does. The longest it took for a player in my group was about 20 minutes and that was for someone who wanted to be a mutant and so we had quite a lot of rolling on random tables to do. The only criticism I have about the chargen system is that some options seem far better than others, which isn’t a problem if you have a group that are more interested in form than function, but if you have powergamers in your party then there will probably be some moaning that some characters seem more powerful than others.

With how simple the system is combined with the weirdness of the world, a little flexibility from the GM and imaginative players, you can end up with some pretty interesting characters in your party. My group created a jack who looks a lot like Katsumi from Mass Effect with powers akin to the protagonist in the Dishonoured game, a mutant nano who looks like the Lizard from the Spiderman movie, a glaive wild man with fists of stone and a bladeling/tiger crossbreed for a pet and the aformentioned nano made from a malfunctioning sentient cloud of nanites that are, more or less, locked into a humanoid shape. I find it amazing that such wildly different and interesting characters can be achieved by just thinking about how the powers could be granted by a characters focus and applying that to the look and personality of the PC.

A critical part of the Cypher system is the players stats, Might, Speed and Intellect. These 3 stats act as hit points, talent pools and armor class all in one and give the players a huge amount of control over the action. A player can spend points from their pool to lower the difficulty of a challenge but they have to weigh that against the fact that a lower pool means that they are easier to hit and can take less punishment. Much as in D&D hit points are an intangible thing and relate more to the expenditure of energy or effort than to actual physical or mental punishment or damage. The logical extension of the idea that the depletion of these pools relates to stress or tiring is allowing a player to expend effort to give themselves a better chance at succeeding at a task, which is just what Numenera allows you to do. Using this system a player can spend Might to help force a door, Speed to carefully traverse a narrow ledge or Intellect to decipher particularly complex language.

The power level of a starting character in Numenera is much higher than in many fantasy adventure type games. Starting characters can have the ability to walk through walls or fly, they can have powerful animal companions or several immunities and the abilities of their powers are far less well defined that is commonplace, deliberately. Numenera is designed to make players think, to find interesting and outlandish uses for the resources at their disposal and to work as a group to solve the challenges that the GM puts in front of them. This works incredibly well if the players are into it but can be a bit of a struggle for players than are used to rigid descriptions of what they can and can’t do as it’s not quite as easy as just making sure you have as many +1’s to your roll as possible.

The rules

Numenera Rules

The Cypher System itself is amazingly easy to master and, 99% of the time, requires nothing more than a D20 and a good imagination to play. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail as your really should buy a copy for yourself, but, in short, the GM sets a difficulty level, for a task, of between 1 and 10 with each corresponding to a target number which is basically the difficulty multiplied by 3. The player rolls a D20 and if the hit or exceed the target then they succeed, otherwise they fail. Obviously hitting a 30 (difficulty 10) on a D20 is impossible, without and exploding dice mechanic, which doesn’t exist in this game, so the player can utilise skills or abilities to reduce the difficulty. All monsters, enemies or obstacles have a difficulty which translates into it’s hit points, damage, difficulty to hit and ability to hit players in return meaning that as long as the GM knows the difficulty then they pretty much know the entire stat line for the challenge which allows them to focus on the story rather than a book.

This leads me nicely into how combat works in Numenera and this was one of the harder things for me to grasp because I really like rolling dice. In Numenera the players roll all of the dice all of the time. The only time a GM might roll is to randomly generate treasure and treasure level, IF they want to roll it. In combat a creature’s level designates how hard it is to hit (difficulty 4 means you need to roll a 12+ to hit, for example) and how hard it’s attacks are to avoid (again, difficulty 4 means you need to roll a 12+ to avoid it’s attacks) and how much damage it does. This, again, allows a GM to focus completely on crafting a story over rolling dice and comparing them to difficulties, it also allows players to focus on the action and feel in more control than if the GM is rolling dice behind a screen and telling them their fate.

In it’s rule-set Numenera reminds me of a combination of FATE, D&D 4th edition and Pathfinder. It embodies the very best of the spirit of those systems while being something very special all of it’s own. Incidentally you can see aspects of Numenera in the recently released D&D 5th edition, something one of my more inexperienced players commented on while leafing through my 5th ed Players Handbook.

The rules of Numenera are quick to learn and teach and allow a player and GM to resolve conflict and obstacles quickly and cleanly. They expect imagination and ingenuity to be used throughout the game and so are flexible enough for the GM to be able to use them to make judgement calls on the fly in order to resolve quirky or unexpected outcomes (which happens a lot). Due to the speed of obstacle resolution, the emphasis on exploration and the simple rules ,GM’s should expect PC’s to complete substantially more in a session than if they were, for instance, playing D&D. Conversely, GM’s should be aware that this openness in the system makes it very difficult to plan a game, beyond a rough outline for a session, as there are so many different ways the players could complete the task at hand. GM’s need to think on their feet more than they may be used to in other fantasy games (though FATE GM’s will probably be used to this kind of GMing) and get used to making up things on the fly.

It’s worth noting that the actual rules of the game take up a fraction of the space in this book, as opposed to say Shadowrun which is 400 pages of dense and complicated information. Numenera is designed to be quick, simple and flexible and put story, exploration and player ingenuity ahead of combat, rolling dice and working out modifiers. From my personal point of view, after running a campaign with a complex rule-set for 2 years prior to starting Numenera, it came as a breath of fresh air to me and to my players.

Numenera in Numenera

Numenera in Numenera

At the heart of Numenera are the numenera, the lost artifacts of previous worlds that PC’s can find and employ during their exploration of the unknown. It needs to be explicitly stated, numenera are, for all intents and purposes, the magic items of the setting, as well as the name of the game and they come in 3 types, Artifacts, Oddities and Cyphers. Artifacts are powerful and long lasting items and they can be anything from a mass of pipes and wires that subdue sound, to a scrap of paper that displays a 3D map of the local area to a 9 fingered glove that confers telekinesis. Oddities are peculiar items with no discernible original use, although inventive players may find a use for them, and can anything you can imagine, a long as it’s weird. One Oddity I gave to a player is a short, crooked, amber coloured, metal wand that screams an incomprehensible phrase in an unknown language when it is pointed due east.

The final type of numenera is probably the most important and certainly the most abundant, the Cypher. Cyphers are pieces of ancient machines that have been salvaged and re-purposed to make them useful again as one shot items. I tend to think of Cyphers as being akin to potions in D&D only much more common and varied in their use. All characters begin the game with a number of Cyphers (2 or 3, depending on class) and they should use them often as they should find them regularly throughout their explorations. All Cyphers do one specific thing, be it turn armour invisible, create a wall of fire or allow a character to teleport 16 feet to the left and it is up to the players to employ them to succeed and again, players are encouraged to be inventive with their use. For example a player in my group used a force wall projector (which unsurprisingly projects a wall of force) as a makeshift slide to break the fall of another character after he was teleported some 100m in the air.

Conclusions

The fact that Numenera reminds me so much of Planescape is one of the things that endears this game to me most, since Planescape is how I cut my teeth as a DM and hold a special place in my heart. I have long considered Planescape to be the best campaign setting ever conceived and it’s no coincidence that Numenera embodies the best aspects of it since Monte Cook is responsible for a large part of Planescape and even mentions his desire to create something similar but uniquely different and infinitely less complex in the foreword to the Numenera core book.

The book is fantastic and well worth the asking price for it’s atheistic value alone but the fact that within it’s covers lies an interesting and evocative world combined with a flexible, fun and light system makes it a steal. It’s probably not a game for someone looking for a lot of crunch as the rules are pretty basic so as to allow players and GM’s to really push the weird. Any game that repeatedly reminds you to emphasise the weird is bound to get my vote as it allows a GM’s mind to run rampant with the wild ideas that just don’t quite fit in another setting.

Numenera plays and reads like a game that has been a labour of love, which can so often mean that a game has too much of the writer in it and is therefore only playable by them, with their idiosyncrasies. Fortunately, to me, Numenera deftly avoids that trap and results in a game that the commercial market can enjoy. After all how can a game with an NPC who wanders the world with his giant, sentient, floating carp companion be anything but awesome?

Numenera Carp

At the time of writing Numenera has 6 print expansions and many more available on Drivethrurpg

Y-Wing Unboxing

 

Y-Wing Front View

I realise as I write this that doing an unboxing for a Y-Wing seems a little redundant as unboxings tend to primarily preview unreleased items or showcase recently released ones. Well the intention of this is to cater to those new to the game, who are considering a Y-Wing but aren’t sure what they will get. From my point of view, I’m pretty new to X-Wing having properly bought in in the last few months after dabbling and playing with friend’s ships since the release of the game, and the Y-Wing has been unavailable for a reasonable price in the UK while I’ve been collecting. That all changed recently as the reprints of some out of stock ships finally made their way to our fair shores and so I took the opportunity to get my hands on two of them for my Rebels.

The Y-Wing was released as part of Wave 1 of the X-Wing Miniatures Game back in September 2012 and is a staple of the Star Wars setting. The Y-Wing was present in A New Hope (or just Star Wars to those old enough to remember when it was just one film…) at the battle of Yavin, represented by Green and Gold Squadrons and is almost as iconic as an X-Wing or TIE Fighter. This makes it a must for anyone looking to build a collection rather than field the best force. I’ll stop before I go into too much detail around lists and the use of the ship in the game as this is an unboxing and not a review or discussion.

As you can from the pictures, the Y-Wing comes in the standard blister pack style that FFG use for their smaller X-Wing ships. The packaging is light, durable and protects the precious ship very effectively while in transit. The outer packaging is all clear plastic and this allows you to get a good, top down, view of the ship from the front. The back of the packaging shows the inner sleeve which gives a little bit of fluff about the ship and details the contents.

Boxed Y-Wing, FrontBoxed Y-Wing, Back As is states on the back of the package, inside you get-

– 1 x Painted Y-Wing Ship and stand with pegs ( 2 pegs to be exact)
– 1 x Y-Wing Ship Manoeuvre dial (with rebel markings)
– 10 x Cards (I’ll give some detail as to what these are later)
– 17 x Tokens (Again, more detail a little later)

The Y-Wing ship itself is a really nice sculpt with a good amount of detail. The paint scheme is primarily the standard grey used on all the rebel ships with black ink used to bring out the detail. A pale yellow/gold colour has been used to paint a V shape on the cockpit and the front of the engines have been picked out in the same colour to mark the ship as part of the famous Gold Squadron. The paint job is ok, at least on the ships I have, but it’s nothing truly outstanding and it actually a little messy on the yellow/gold touches on the engines. One curious thing that I didn’t realise until I got my hands on the ship is just how thin it is, just 5.5mm at the thickest part of it’s engine compared to a Z95 Headhunter, the 2nd thinnest Rebel ship which is around 8.5mm at it’s thickest and which feels like a bulkier ship. I know it’s a weird thing to focus on so much but it really did surprise me.

Click for a full 360 degree view of the Y-Wing-

Y-Wing 360 view

As well as the ship you get a number of other items in the package-

Y-Wing Contents

There are two types of cards in the pack, the large Pilot cards and the smaller ship upgrade cards Additionally there are the various tokens which, as with all FFG games, come printed and punched on a larger card sheet which means you need to pop them out yourself.

Y- Wing, Upgrade CardsY-Wing, Pilot Cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Y-Wing, Unpunched Tokens

The Pilot cards are-

  • Gold Squadron Pilot (18 points)- Unique to this set
  • Grey Squadron Pilot (20 points)- Unique to this set
  • ‘Dutch’ Vander (23 points)- Unique to this set
  • Horton Salm (25 points)- Unique to this set

The Upgrade cards are-

Torpedo-

  • Proton Torpedoes x 2 (4 points)- Available in the Core Set, the X-Wing Set and the B Wing set as well

Astromechs-

  • R5-D8 Astromech (3 points)- Unique to this set
  • R2 Astromech (1 Point)- Unique to this set

Turret-

  • Ion Cannon Turret (5 Points)- Available in the HWK 290 set as well

In addition you also get a single Ion rule card that is the same size as the Pilot Cards.

The art on the cards is nice with the standout to me being the Astromechs as it looks liket the individuality of the droids has been captured really well. I also like the fact that the ‘Dutch’ Vander card art has him flying in a Y-Wing with Gold Squadron livery as ‘Dutch’ is one of Gold Squadron’s leaders. Specifically the art has ‘Dutch’ taking part in what looks like the trench run from the Death Star attack at the battle of Yavin from the end of A New Hope. This just goes to show that FFG really take the established lore of Star Wars into account when designing the cards and further endears them to the fan base.

The tokens included in the set are-

  • Shields x 3
  • Stress x 1
  • Ion x 1
  • Damage x 1
  • Focus x 1
  • ID Token numbers 16 and 17 (x3 of each)
  • Target Lock Tokens Q and R (x2 of each double sided, red and blue)
  • Ship Tokens- Double sided Horton Salm/Grey Squadron Pilot and ‘Dutch’ Vander/Gold Squadron Pilot
  • Ship Maneuver Dial base and top

Y-Wing, Punched TokensY-Wing, Genreic Pilot Ship Tokens

 

 

 

Y-Wing, Elite Pilot Shipe Tokens

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like all X-Wing Miniatures Game sets, you need to put the Manoeuvre Dial together yourself by popping out the base and to from the card sheet and then using the plastic pin to fix them both together.

Overall a good set and a nice addition to any Rebel Collection. It should be noted that, at the time or writing, this set is only an expansion for the Rebels and does not include any pilots usable by the Scum and Villainy faction. Aside from the Ion Turret and Proton Torpedoes there are no cards in this set that can be used in a Scum and Villainy list although FFG have confirmed that the Rebel dial can be used as part of a legal Scum and Villainy Tournament list.

 

Cthulhu 500

Name: Cthulhu 500
Type: Card Game
Publisher: Atlas Games
Players: 3-8
Age: 8+
Size: 13.5cm x 9cm x 2cm
Playtime: 30-60 mins.
Price:  £15,99
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Cthulhu 500 Box Front

As is evidenced by the tattered state of the box in the picture above, my copy of Cthulhu 500 has seen a huge amount of use. I’ve owned a copy for several years and at one point I carried the game around in my work/gaming bag at all times and pulled it out whenever my group had a spare hour.

Now I need to be honest and say that I’m a Cthulhu junkie, I have the complete works of Lovecraft, own an almost complete Arkham Horror collection and run Call of Cthulhu whenever possible so I’m probably a little bit biased towards this game. With that said, this game is a big hit with my whole group (who rarely agree on anything) and has been a go to game since I got a copy so it can’t just be me.

In the box you get the rules, which are on a double sided A3 sheet that folds up nicely, and the 110 cards you use to play the game. The cards are split between a few categories being the Vehicles, Upgrades, Crew, Actions and Reactions.What you don’t get with the game, and need to play, are dice, being a couple of D6 for ‘passing’ tests (see below) and counters or another die for each player to show how many laps that each player has completed.

You get 2 versions of each 8 Vehicles, one with just a picture of the vehicle on it for the middle of the play area to show your place in the race and one to keep in front of yourself with the vehicles statistics on. Each of the vehicle cards is also double sided to allow you to flip them when a vehicle becomes damaged.

Cthulhu 500- Feararri, Undamaged.Cthulhu 500- All Vehicles

 

 

 

 

 

Cthulhu 500- Feararri, Damaged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unsurprisingly, based on it’s name and everything I’ve said, Cthulhu 500 is a card game that plays out a race. The object of the game is to have the most laps at the end of the game,  which is when the Checkered Flag card is drawn. The rules are, with one notable exception, very simple and reasonably simulate a race, albeit a race using occult and impossible vehicles, crew from beyond the stars and none Euclidean upgrades.

The game starts in a simple enough fashion, each player is dealt 5 cards and then the pack and turn order is decided. To do this each player takes and places a die face up (or number of tokens) representing the number of cards from that starting hand they are prepared to sacrifice to be at the front of the pack for the start of the race. Players reveal simultaneously and the player that sacrifices the most goes at the front, 2nd most is 2nd and so on. Ties are decided by a dice roll and crucially all sacrificed cards are placed in the discard pile.  The person at the back of the starting pack takes the first turn.

Players can take 2 actions on their turn chosen from Play an Action Cards, Add Pit Crew, Make a Pit Stop or make a Passing Attempt. Playing an Action Card just means you can play a card from your hand with the action type, such as Shuggoth Crossing, and these can be offensive or defensive. Adding Pit Crew just means that you can add a crew card from your hand into your pit team, which gives you access to their skills and special abilities. Making a Passing Attempt is the most obvious way to try and win the game because this allows you to move up the pack and gain laps. Making a Pit Stop leads to a few other actions and opens up the option of upgrading your vehicle by installing items such as wheels or a driver, I’ll go into a little more detail on this shortly.

Since Passing Attempts are one of the most common and important actions that you can take in the game I thought that I’d go into a little more detail, especially because the one truly clunky rule forms part of some Passing Attempts. In it’s most simple form a Passing Attempt involves a player trying to move up the pack by passing the car in front (cars at the front move to the back of the pack and gain a lap) which is accomplished by rolling a D6 and adding your vehicle’s speed. There are other modifiers that can apply, dictated by your driver, mods, action and reaction cards but the core mechanic of D6 plus your speed remains the same throughout. The player of the vehicle you are trying to pass does the same and if you beat their total score then the Passing Attempt is successful and you move ahead of them in the pack.

This process becomes complicated if you both reach the same score because this means that the two vehicles have collided. Assuming that neither vehicle was damaged before the Passing Attempt both players (the player attempting the passing test and the player they are attempting to pass) flip their vehicle cards over to the damaged side and the pack order remains unchanged. If either vehicle was already damaged before the Passing Attempt was initiated then one of a number of things can happen depending on which vehicle was damaged or whether both vehicles were damaged. I won’t go into detail but if an undamaged vehicle tries a Passing Attempt against a damaged vehicle and the result is a tie, causing a collision, and then either vehicle also has the ability to cause further damage, due to a mod, things can get very clunky to resolve.

Taking a Pit Stop action allows you to upgrade your vehicle with new tires, an engine, a sponsor, a driver, tentacles or any other of the variety of the mods that you can add to your vehicle with the aim to make it stronger and faster, alternatively a Pit Stop allows you to try and repair your vehicle if it’s damaged.  Taking a Pit Stop action isn’t without risk however, the vehicle behind you gets the chance to try and pass you for free which might cause you damage and let them move ahead of you in the pack, and if you’ve pulled in to try and repair then you still need to make a roll to succeed and this might fail resulting in you having wasted an action.

Cthulhu 500- Vehicle with Mods

After a player has taken 2 actions they can then discard as many cards as they want and draw two new ones. Once the whole draw pile is discarded then the discard pile is shuffled and forms a new draw deck.

Winning the game is simple, you need to get more laps than anyone else by the end of the game. The end of the game is determined, as I said above, by the appearance of the Checkered Flag card which is generally shuffled into the draw pile on it’s 2nd cycle through (after it has been exhausted and the discard pile reshuffled). The game allows for a number of variants to this end game process and my group tend to opt for the ‘Warning Lap’ option which allows every player 1 more turn after the Checkered Flag is drawn. This turn tends to be hectic and high risk as players try everything to get another lap or two in. By having the endgame being determined by the appearance of a card the game can also be easily shortened or lengthened by simply changing when the Checkered Flag is put into the deck. The method most often used by my group is to shuffle it into the last 5 cards of the draw deck on it’s 2nd cycle through.

As I’ve made clear, this is a great game, it’s fun, fast, simple (mostly) and maddeningly hectic if you play like my group, who opt for the ‘everyone get the person who is winning’ method of gaming. It’s not without it’s problems as it’s not technically a complete game since you need a few dice to play and the Passing Attempt action can get very complex in certain situations. Those issues taken into account it’s still a go to game for me and my group and a game I would recommend to anyone who wanted a suggestion for a good card game.

At the time of writing Cthulhu 500 doesn’t have any expansions (which is a shame, if anyone from Atlas reads this, please create an add on for Cthulhu 500).

Firefly the Boardgame Review.

Name: Firefly the Board game
Type: Board game
Publisher: Gale Force Nine
Players: 1-4
Age: 13+
Size: 39cm x 26.5cm x 8cm
Playtime: varies by mission but around 2 hours on average.
Price:  £44.99
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Firefly Box cover

This review is for the UK edition of Firefly which includes the first expansion ship The Artful Dodger.

Find a crew. Find a Job. Keep flying“. I think Gale Force Nine (GF9) have nailed the tagline for this game as it perfectly encapsulates everything you need to do to succeed when playing Firefly. As soon as I opened the box the first thing that hit me was the quality of the contents. The back of the various decks of cards, the style of the money, even the sides of the box itself are lavishly decorated with custom artwork, mostly in an art deco style that reminds me of Bioshock and the front of the cards have high quality images from the film and tv series.

Firefly Money

Firefly Cards

The game takes a little while to set up due to the number of decks that need to be shuffled and the selection process of Ship, Captain and Starting position. The game also takes up a substantial amount of space and so a large table is required or, at the least, adequate extra space for the cards etc to be placed so that each player has access to every single deck whenever they need it. Ideally you will want at least 5 foot by 3 foot table to play this on and probably more if you want space for the all important snacks, this is a game that likes to make it’s present known and would certainly appeal to the hardcore gamer.

The premise is simple and, as I said above, is perfectly described by the games tagline. During set up the players pick a ship, all of which are Firefly class vessels and have the same ‘stats’ (cargo and stash space plus your starting engine, maximum number of ship upgrades and maximum number of crew members) except the Artful Dodger ship which is a little different. Players also pick a Captain all of whom have special abilities and skills along with selecting a starting location on the board. Then the Mission is chosen and there are a number of missions that come with the game, these describe the victory conditions such as get X amount of Money, become ‘solid’ with x amount of contacts etc.

Firefly Board

The board is a space map of the majority of the Firefly universe up to the borderworlds on the edge of Reaver space but not going as far as Miranda (I understand that the Blue Sun expansion includes an extra board that does include Miranda, a world from the movie). The board is split into sectors, one for each star system and within each star system are planets that can be visited by the players as they fly around the board. Each board space can either be empty space or a visitable location but regardless, unless players move very slowly, there is always the chance that something might happen in any given space which is something I’ll get into in a moment.  Each planet can be either basic and so just be worked or used to start/hand in a mission or it can have a contact or shop on it or both in some cases.

Players can take 2 actions on their turn and the actions are ‘Move at hard burn’ which is full speed, ‘Mosey’ which is move one space, ‘Deal’ which allows them to obtain missions from or sell to a contact if they are on the correct space, ‘Buy’ which allows them to buy from the shop on that pace, ‘Start a mission’, try to ‘Hand in a mission’ or ‘Work’.

Moving at full speed requires a player to spend fuel and allows them to move a number of spaces dictated by their ships drive. Doing so means a player must draw a card for each space they move from either the Alliance Space deck or the Border Space deck, dictated by where the player is moving to on the board. These cards can either allow the player to just carry on or can reveal events for the player to interact with which can be anything as simple as finding a derelict ship to salvage or as horrific as being set upon by Reavers who may eat all your passengers, destroy your cargo and kill your crew! By contrast taking a Mosey action only moves you a single space but doesn’t trigger a draw from the decks and so is significantly safer. In firefly it’s all about risk vs reward.

The other actions allow you to interact with certain locations which in turn lets you get more jobs, find more crew and upgrade your ship. It’s fairly straightforward to perform each action, although I think calling the deck that you primarily search for jobs/crew/equipment the discard deck is a little misleading. I also feel that the system of ‘consideration’ is a little clunky. All of the shop and mission decks are split into 2, a draw pile and a discard pile and players are always able to look through the discard pile at any time to see what’s there. When you want to buy something the system states that you can ‘consider’ 3 cards and buy 2 or accept 2 in the case of missions. To initiate this you can search the discard pile and take up to 3 cards to consider and then you can draw the remainder, up to 3 from the draw deck before finally deciding which to buy/accept. It’s simple enough in practice but it just feels a little convoluted within the confines of the game.

Missions are the bread and butter of the game, they are the way you get cash, which lets you hire more crew, upgrade your ship and ultimately keep flying and they are also the way that you can win the game. Missions are the jobs obtained from contacts and they tend to follow a couple of basic themes either ferry people or goods from one place to another or go to a place and complete a task, which generally involved ‘misbehaving’ a given number of times and then succeeding on a check of some kind. If you succeed at the mission you get to hand it in for the amount listed and you become ‘solid’ with that contact if you aren’t already.

When completing missions the task of ‘misbehaving’ is pretty important as it forms the obstacles that you must overcome. Each mission tells you how many times you must misbehave and that is basically the number of cards you must draw from the Aim to Misbehave deck-

Aim to Misbehave deck

Each card has a task that must be overcome and is titled to give you a bit of narrative as to what has happened to you and your crew. When you get to the point of Misbehaving you have to decide which crew are going along and what equipment they are taking as it is the skills of these crew members that will be used to pass the challenges posed by the Aim to Misbehave deck. This part of the game reminds me a lot of the old Shadowrun CCG as skills are denoted by little symbols on the crew members and each Aim to Misbehave card feels like the challenges that you put on the runs in that game. This is no bad thing however, as borrowing mechanics from good games shouldn’t be frowned upon, after all it’s very difficult to come up with 100% unique mechanics.

Most of the Misbehave cards have 3 ways to pass the challenge, either the ability to walk straight through if you meet certain criteria or a dice roll, augmented by either your combat or social skills, depending on whether you want to fight or talk your way through. This allows you to customise your crew depending on how you like to play and depending on the captain you have picked.

Overall this is a good game. I’ve covered the basics of the mechanics here but there is significantly more to the game right out of the box as every captain plays differently, the Artful Dodger ship runs differently, the different missions pose different challenges and have different success criteria.  All of this is before you even consider the morals of the crew members or just how bad it can get if you suddenly run out of fuel in the middle of Reaver space.

There is little else to dislike about this game, it’s not particularly original but as I’ve said, that’s no bad thing if it’s done right. My main criticism is that the miniatures provided are very poor by comparison to the rest of the contents-

Firefly Miniatures

It should also be noted that despite the great artwork, the actual quality of the cardstock used for the cards isn’t exceptionally high and so while they will certainly stand up to normal play, caution should be exercised is you have drinks near the play area as I have a feeling that spilling liquids on the cards might damage them.

This is a great game for hardcore gamers and one that should definitely be checked out but I think that the multitude of cards and actions might make it inaccessible to casual players unless they are really devoted to the source material and prepared to put in the time to learn the game. It’s not a complex game by any means but there is quite a lot to take in initially and that might make it seem more involved than it actually is.

As my group mentioned while we were setting up the game, it’s so surprising that a show with such a limited run and just a single movie have managed to spawn such a loyal cult following that continues to produce high quality merchandise, be it props, cloths or in our case gaming material,  but I for one am really happy that they do, not only do I love the setting but this is a fantastic game.

As a final note, if you have looked closely at the picture of the board above you may have noticed the stegosaurus at the top.  This is Wash’s stegosaurus and is used in the game to denote who’s turn it is. One of the very best things about the game, to me at least, is that the game recommends that you buy a proper plastic one to replace it although it’s a shame that they didn’t just provide a plastic one in the box….

At the time of writing there are 3 expansions available for the game.

Asteroids – a space scenery building guide

Ok, so one of the first things I wanted to do, after my very first game of X-Wing was build some full 3D asteroids. X-Wing is a great game, one that takes place in a 3D environment and as awesome as the ships look (and they are pretty much the best pre-paints I’ve personally seen) they look a little flat on a board with the asteroid tokens from the core box scattered around.

At this point I need to give full credit to Marcalla on A Few Maneuvers- Asteroid Building Guide since his post provided the inspiration and basis for how I went about doing it.

Now I’m based in the UK and I find it very hard to find guides for projects like this that use UK product names and UK Stores as suggestions for materials to use and where to buy them. I’ve decided to buck that trend and, as much as possible, I’ll detail the local names of materials and provide links to the stores I purchased them from.

Finally I should highlight that I’m not a particularly skilled modeler or painter, I won’t be winning any Golden Demon or Crystal Brush awards, and so the guide is going to be simple enough for anyone to follow and make their own pretty awesome looking set of asteroids for X-Wing or any other space combat miniatures game.

Without further ado, the guide-

Asteroid Tokens

First of all you need to create tokens to sit flat on your board so you know when your ships base is overlapping it and when your movement template puts your flight path through the asteroids area. These need to be the exact same size and shape as the official tokens so as ensure that the game is fair and balanced. For this stage you will need-

  • Your X-Wing Asteroid Tokens
  • Some thin Cardboard (I used the box that my Sky router came in)
  • A pencil
  • A pair of scissors or a very sharp modelling knife
  • Some black paint of spray paint (Pound or discount stores are a great place to get cans of black spray, look for an isle that has car maintenance equipment)

This stage is very easy and only takes half an hour or so start to finish. First of all trace around your existing X-Wing Asteroid Tokens, on the thin Cardboard, using the pencil. Try to be as careful as possible so that the final asteroid base tokens will be as close to the same size and shape of the official tokens as possible. It should be noted that any tokens that you make will not be allowed in official tournaments.

Next, using the scissors or if you are skilled enough the sharp modelling knife, cut out the token, using the traced lines as a guide. Again try to be as careful and exact as possible so as to ensure that the final tokens look as close to the size and shape of the originals as possible.

At this point your tokens should look something like this-

Asteroid Tokens

Next you need to spray the tokens (both sides). I sprayed mine black because my board is black and I don’t want them stealing focus from the asteroids-

Painted Asteroid Tokens

That’s this stage done. You could do more, by adding stars to the tokens or you could go utterly over the top and add decoration like sonar hits.

Asteroids

This is when you actually start work on the Asteroids proper. Before you start you are going to need a few things-

Roofing Foam- I got mine from B&Q for £5.68 and specifically it is Celotex Roof Insulation (L) 1200 (W) 450 (T) 50mm. This piece is enough to make dozens of asteroids so you can share with your friends if you like.
Flying bases- I got mine from Ebay and paid £3.50 for 25 of them so just do a search for Flying bases on that site.
A sharp craft or Stanley Knife
Black Spray paint- See above.
6 wooden kebab skewers or something similar- I got mine from Asda during the summer for BBQ’s and paid around £1 for about 100.
2-3 gray paints, each a slightly lighter shade than the last- see below for more information but I just used Games Workshops Eshin Gray, Dawnstone.
1 white paint, I used Games Workshop’s Ceramite White.
A large drybrush and general painting materials

Step 1

Cut a strip of foam from the sheet, roughly 3 inches wide, and then cut the strip into blocks, roughly 3 inches wide so that you end up with half a dozen or so 3″x3″ blocks of foam. In actuality I ended up with 8 or 9 blocks. You don’t need to be particularly exact so don’t worry if your blocks are perfect or equal in size. Each block should look roughly like this-

Asteroid Build, cut foam block 1ck Asteroid Build, cut foam block 2

Step 2

Peel the card/shiny covering off each side of the blocks you have just cut. This should come off fairly easily but you can use a knife to assist you. Again, don’t worry about being too exact, you are about to start hacking the block up anyway.

Once you have removed the covering start ripping chunks off the block with your fingers like this-

Asteroid Build, plucking foam

Dig into the block and try to use all of your fingers and your thumb as each will form a different size and shape mark on the asteroid. Keep ripping and sculpting in this way until you reach a shape and look you are happy with. I will say that the sound that the foam makes when you pull it apart is utterly horrific and I couldn’t do it without loud music through headphones so if the sound of polystyrene or nails on a chalk board bothers you then be careful as chances are this sound will haunt your dreams! Once you have done this the block should start to look something closer to an asteroid-

Asteroid Build, fully plucked block

Step 3

Take you wooden kebab skewer and push the sharp end into the sculpted asteroid. This hole will be where you are going to later fix the base so make sure that you set the asteroid at an angle you are happy with and that it will not overbalance later. Use different and creative angles and try to envision the finished asteroid tumbling through space.

This skewer will allow you to hold the asteroid at arms length while you spray it and give you the ability to spray the whole asteroid easily. Once the asteroid is sprayed it should look like this-

Asteroid Build, sprayed base coat

You can easily spray all of your sculpted asteroids in one go and just plant the other ends of the skewers in a plant pot or, if you want, another chunk of the roofing foam.

Step 4

Once the sprayed asteroids have dried then it’s simply a case of building up layers of colours to give the appearance of rock, you won’t be painting blocks of colour here, it’s all about drybrushing. In case you don’t know, drybrushing is a the process of using a flat tipped brush with minimal amounts of paint on it to apply paint to the raised areas of an object. Very simply put you should water your paint down a little and, after dipping your brush into it, then brush most of the paint off on a piece of kitchen roll or toilet roll until almost no paint remains on the brush.When brushing do so roughly and concentrate on getting paint on all the raised areas rather than onto the flat surfaces.

You should start with your darkest paint and gradually work your way up to the lightest applying less and less paint either time.  I’d suggest leaving the kebab skewers in place at this stage as it makes the asteroids easier to manipulate while drybrushing. With the paints I used the order was-

Eshin Grey-

Asteroid Build- Eshin Grey

Eshin Grey/Dawnstone 50/50 mix-

Asteroid Build- Eshin Grey:Dawnstone mix

Dawnstone-

Asteroid Build- Dawnstone

Dawnstone/Ceramite White 50/50 mix-

Asteroid Build- Dawnstone:Ceramite White mix

Ceramite White-

Asteroid Build- Ceramite White

It doesn’t take long to apply a single coat to one asteroid, perhaps a couple of minutes because you don’t need to be particularly careful, beyond making sure that there isn’t too much paint on your brush, and by the time you have finished a coat on the last asteroid the first should be dry enough to start the next. It took me maybe an hour and a half to fully paint 6 asteroids. As you can see each separate layer doesn’t look like it adds much, especially in the first stages but it’s the process of adding all the layers that adds up the the overall effect.

Step 5

After you have finished drybrushing the layers and you have obtained an effect you are happy with it’s time to mount the asteroids on the flying stands. First remove the kebab skewers carefully, as you don’t want to stretch the holes or cause damage to your pretty new asteroid, then, if you haven’t already, assemble the flying stands. It’s up to you how permanent you want the completed asteroid to be but since I have the storage space I decided to  glue the flying stands into the asteroids by just applying a small blob of superglue to the tip of the stand before carefully pushing it into the hole left by the kebab skewer.

After inserting the flying stand you are done and hopefully your completed asteroids, with tokens should look something like this-

Asteroid Build- Completed Asteroids Asteroid Build- Asteroids with X-Wing

That’s it, it’s a nice, simple and quick process that yields pretty awesome results. If you have any questions or comments then just let me know.

Pandemic Review

Name: Pandemic
Type: Co-Operative Board game
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Players: 2-4
Age: 8+
Size: 35cm x 22.5cm
Playtime: 45mins
Price:  £29.99
Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Pandemic Box

This review is for the 2013 edition of the game which comes with 2 extra playable roles, the Contingency Planner and the Quarantine Specialist.

Pandemic is a simple game of the Euro style (despite being developed by a North American company). That means that it only has a small variety of components and simple mechanics. What makes this definitely American is that it requires a heavy dose of luck to succeed when played at it’s hardest. For it’s price it comes with a surprising amount in the box, being the board, 2 decks of cards which are the player deck (59 cards) and the infection deck (48 cards for a total of 107 cards), 96 plastic cubes in 4 colours (24 per disease), 6 wooden tokens (1 for each disease, 1 for the infection rate counter and 1 for the outbreak counter), 7 role cards, 6 plastic research stations, 4 cards listing the actions a player can take and, of course, the rules.

The board is split into 4 coloured zones, which match the 4 colours of disease cubes and has space for the player deck and discard, the infection deck and discard, all 4 disease counters with space to define them as cured, plus both the infection rate counter and the epidemic outbreak counter. Each zone on the board has a number of associated cities which the players can move between and in which the diseases outbreak. Cities are linked to adjacent cities by lines which define where a player can move and where a disease spreads if it outbreaks.  The player deck comprises of 48 city cards (matching those on the board by name and colour), 6 epidemics cards and 5 special cards.

For any experienced gamer Pandemic will be very quick and easy to pick up. Within a couple of turns I fully understood the mechanics and could play the game with minimum reference to the rulebook and that’s great because it means that it’s easy to teach and inexperienced gamers can pick it up very quickly. The goal of the game, as summed up by the tagline “Can you save Humanity?” is to cure the world of the 4 diseases, represented by the little plastic cubes and this is achieved by the players taking turns and playing Pandemic against the Infection Deck which determines where the diseases spread to. Each player plays a role, such as Contingency Planner, Medic or Researcher and each roll has a special ability that allows that player to defy the rules in a specific way and, on their turn, they can take 4 actions to work towards countering the diseases. Actions allow players to move, cure outbreaks, cure diseases if specific goals are met, build research stations or take other actions as defined by their role.

The board at the start of the game-

Pandemic starting board

After each individual player takes a turn they draw cards from the player deck and if the player draws an epidemic card from the player deck then the process on the card is followed causing a large outbreak in one city and infecting all adjacent cities. Drawing an epidemic card also causes the infection discard to be shuffled back into the top of the deck which dramatically increases the chance of infection growing in already infected cities, which can cause further outbreaks. After drawing from the player deck the active player draws a number from the infection deck designated by the infection counter and infects the chosen cities accordingly.

The board mid-game-

Pandemic mid-game board

Diseases can be cured and eradicated. Cured diseases still spread but are easier to clear, eradicated diseases don’t appear any more after they are eradicated. The players win if all 4 diseases are cured (not necessarily eradicated). The players lose if there are a certain number of outbreaks, if the player deck runs out of cards, or if all of the cubes for a single disease are on the board.

Pandemic is not an easy game to win. It can be made easier by playing with less epidemic cards in the deck and I would suggest playing with no more than 4 for beginners. The more epidemic cards you play with the more luck becomes a factor as the random order of the decks decides when and where outbreaks happen and if you get a couple of successive epidemics in an already heavily infected region then it’s game over. My regular gaming group, made up of experienced somewhat hardcore gamers, is on a 40% win rate and we’ve yet to win a game with more than 4 epidemics in the deck, although we have been close with 5 a couple of times.

The board after being defeated by the yellow disease-

Pandemic end of game board

I have a couple of criticisms of Pandemic.

First is the aforementioned luck element. While I’m sure that it gets easier with a few more games under your belt, the random element means that the game could, hypothetically, be over within a couple of players turns with some bad luck and there is very little that the players can do to influence this. While luck is an element in a great many games there is normally an element of player skill that can be used to counter or avoid potentially bad situations but this isn’t the case in Pandemic. It can be argued that this mechanic represents the very real threat of a global disease outbreak but I find it to be a little heavy-handed in a game.

Second is, rather weirdly, the co-operative aspect of the game. This is a little weird as I am a great lover of co-operative games but it seems to me that every action made by every player is a matter of group discussion and consensus which can mean that quiet or shy players can have their turns dominated by the will of forceful or more vocal ones. It also reduces the feeling of influence or personal interaction that each player has because the individual doesn’t get to decide what actions they take. You could play with a stipulation that players can’t ask another to take actions but I can’t help but think that that would make the game substantially harder.

These are personal criticisms that I have with the game, both actually highlight and almost simulate an epidemic outbreak and that is a good thing but it also reduces the enjoyment I got out of the game.

The game has many positives, it is a true co-operative game and no-one can die making it ‘all for one and one for all’. It’s simple enough that a family could play it on a games night but it has enough variation that hardcore gamers can find enough to enjoy because of the tactical nature of play. It is also remarkable value for money as the production values are high with the tokens and cards all being high quality, especially given that you can often find it for around £20.00 online.

If you enjoy the idea of forward planning, consensus decision-making and challenging play then Pandemic is a game for you. I would certainly suggest that any hardcore gamer try it out if they are offered the opportunity, even if you don’t plan on buying it yourself as it is good fun and certainly gets hectic as the deck dwindles and outbreaks surge.

At the time of writing there are 2 expansions available for Pandemic.