Category Archives: Modern Reviews

Exploding Kittens, Original Edition

Exploding Kittens, Original Edition

Name: Exploding Kittens Original Edition
Type: Card Game 
Publisher: Exploding Kittens
No of Players: 2-5 (2-9 with any 2 deck combined)
Size: 16.2cm x 11.3cm x 3.8cm
Weight: 225g
Age: 30 and up?
Price:  £16.99
Playtime: 15 mins
Rating: [usr 3.0]

A while back I reviewed the NSFW edition of Exploding Kittens (you can read about that here) and since I recently picked up the original SFW edition I thought I’d write a little something on it. I’m not going to go into a great amount of detail, it’s essentially the same game as the NSFW Edition and so you can read my thoughts on how it plays on the other post, instead I thought I’d just look at a few of the cards.

Exploding Kittens, Original edition, Contents

So, a quick look at what you get in the box-

  • The Rules
  • 56 cards

Just like the NSFW Edition the list of contents is pretty damn short, but that’s fine, it makes for a nice and simple game.  You get exactly the same number of cards, with exactly the same ratio of the 8 cards types in either edition.

So, what makes the Original Edition different from the NSFW Edition? Simply put, this version is a little more kid friendly than the NSFW Edition, the cards don’t have references to anything sexual or otherwise inappropriate and instead tends to rely on the absurd or the gross like this-

Rainbow-Ralphing Cat

or this-

NOPE- Exploding Kittens Original Edition

As with the NSFW Edition all of the art here is done by The Oatmeal and all are a little offbeat and odd but that’s part of the charm. If you aren’t amused by the idea of someone being force-fed a sandwich while having a sauce bottle with NOPE written on it then this game probably isn’t for you.

The whole point of the game is to avoid the Exploding Kitten cards and they are probably some of the most amusing of the set, especially if you own a cat.

Exploding Kittens, Original Edition, Exploding Kitten Cards

I can see my own cat being responsible for any of the catastrophes, from walking over a keyboard (which she does ALL THE TIME) to randomly chewing on some TNT and all with a casual nonchalant look on her face as the world burns around her.

So should you buy this version if you have the other (or vice versa), that comes down to whether you like the other and whether you routinely need to cater to more than 5 people, which I do. Ultimately it’s no different in play style to the other version and the only reason it’s scored a point lower is because I identify with the humour in the NSFW Edition a little more. Exploding Kittens is fun, it’s easy and none gamers can play it while having a few drinks and find it funny and stupid, which counts for a lot.

Star Realms Colony Wars Review

Name: Star Realms Colony Wars
Type: None Collectable Deck Building Game/Expansion
Publisher: White Wizard Games
Players: 2-6 (2 per box used)
Age: 12+
Size: 9.7cm x 7.1 cm x 4.6 cm
Weight: 255g
Playtime: 20 mins
Price:  £12.99
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Star Realms, Colony Wars, Front of Box

 

Star Realms Colony Wars is a stand alone game and an expansion for the Star Realms Card Game. It is produced by White Wizard Games and was released in December 2015. Colony Wars is the first boxed expansion for the Star Realms game. As with the rest of the Star Realms line, Colony Wars follows an LCG style model and so every single Colony Wars deck has exactly the same cards in it, unlike CCGs like Magic the Gathering.

Colony Wars comes boxed in a standard trading card game style cardboard tuck box with the front decorated by the Mech Cruiser card art and the back of the box giving some general flavour text about the game and the designers. As with the original Star Realms game, Colony Wars was designed by MtG hall of Famers Rob Dougherty and Darwin Castle.

Star Realms Colony Wars, Contents

Inside the box you get-

  • 80 x Trade Cards
  • 10 x Explorer Cards
  • 20 x Starting Cards (comprised of 2 decks of 2 x Vipers and 8 x Scouts each)
  • 18 Authority Cards (12 x double sided 1 and 5 cards and 6 x double sided 10 and 20 cards)
  • 2 x Rule Leaflets (1 x Standard and 1 x Multiplayer rules)

Star Realms, Colony Wars, All card types

The cards come cellophane wrapped in two decks, within the box, and the rules leaflets sit between the two. The cards are of reasonable quality, not quite the premium cards of FFG but better than the ones in Shadowrun Crossfire. They are laminated for protection but still feel a little flimsy and so probably wouldn’t stand up to the spill test all too well, which is worth bearing in mind.

I won’t go into a huge amount of detail as to how the game work, thats covered on the original Star Realms Review, but in simple terms each player starts with 50 Authority (life) and the same starting deck of 10 cards (2 Vipers and 8 Scouts). Players have a hand of 5 cards and take it in turns to play them, using any Trade (yellow coin symbol) to buy cards from a shared Trade Row made from the main deck and using any Combat (red circle symbol) to cause their opponent damage and to loose Authority. The first person to reduce their opponent to 0 Authority or lower wins.

Star Realms Colony Wars, Faction Cards

Each of the cards in the Trade deck falls into one of the 4 factions from the original game, being the Blobs (green), Machine Cult (red), Star Empire (yellow) and Trade Federation (blue). As with the original game the abilities and bonuses that these cards provided are broadly defined by faction. For instance the Machine Cult generally allows you to scrap cards from your hand and discard, so reducing the chance of drawing weak cards late game, while the Star Empire tends towards forcing your opponent to discard cards from their hand, limiting what they can do on their turn.

The card art is a further improvement on the original game and Crisis expansions and is now more defined, brighter and more action packed giving the cards a greater impact on the table. While the standard of the art, in terms of complexity, isn’t exceptional, I don’t feel that this detracts from the game at all and it certainly helps keep the game cheap to buy and play.

Star Realms and Colony Wars Power Comparison

Looking more closely at the cards it seems that there is a little power creep in play, the card on the left, the Trade raft is from the original Star Realms game while the Solar Skiff on the right is from Colony Wars. As you can see, it’s immediately better since you get 2 Trade and the ally ability or drawing a card on the Skiff for the same cost as 1 Trade and an ally draw on the Raft. I’d generally be concerned but as the Trade Deck and Row is shared between players, both are equally aided or hampered by it.

Colony Wars expands the base Star Realms game beyond the 2 player game it was out of the box. Sure you could have bought multiple boxes to play with more people but  generally don’t like buying the same game more than once when I know it’s not going to add content and so the introduction of Colony Wars gives me another way to bring the game to the table for my wider gaming group.

Colony Wars is a great stand alone game and an even better expansion to the base Star Realms set. I hope White Wizard look to make more boxed expansions for the game in the future as it’s a simple great with depth and replayability, making it perfect for a casual evening. The only downside for me is that it’s now too big to fit in my Star Realms Deck Box, meaning i’ll probably need to buy a second one, or the larger one.

 

Star Realms Cosmic Gambit Review

Name: Star Realms Cosmic Gambit Expansion
Type: None Collectable Deck Building Game
Publisher: White Wizard Games
Players: 1-2
Age: 8+
Playtime: 20 mins
Price:  £7.95 approximately
Rating: 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

http://www.starrealms.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Screen-Shot-2015-12-06-at-5.56.28-PM.png

The Star Realms Cosmic Gambit Expansion is booster pack style expansion for the Star Realms Card Game. It is the 6th such booster pack style expansion and it contains a further 16 Gambit cards for use with the Star Realms and Star Realms: Colony Wars games.

As with all of the Star Realms sets the Cosmic Gambit pack resembles a booster pack for collectable card games such as Magic The Gathering but unlike collectable card games each Cosmic Gambit pack contains exactly the same cards and, in this, resembles the Living Card Game model that Fantasy Flight Games uses for games such as A Game of Thrones and Android: Netrunner.

As with all of the other booster style expansions this set comes in a foil pack that tears open, much like any other trading or collectable card game. The art on the front is bright and neat and depicts a mining station on a volcanic planet akin to Mustafar at the end of Revenge of the Sith. I find the artwork to be extremely eye-catching and I’d certainly take a look at what it was if I saw it on the shelf of my FLGS.

Star Realms, Cosmic Gambit, cards

You get 13 Cards in the pack and they are all Gambit cards, aside from the Secret Outpost and the rule cards. Of those 13 cards there are 10 unique cards with 3 having multiple copies in the set. The full card list is-

  • 1 x Rules
  • 1 x Secret Outpost Base
  • 1 x Acceptable Losses
  • 1 x Black Market
  • 1 x Hidden Base
  • 1 x Triumphant Return
  • 1 x Two Pronged Attack
  • 1 x Veteran Pilots
  • 1 x Wild Gambit
  • 2 x Asteroid Mining
  • 2 x Exploration
  • 2 x Rapid Deployment

The art on these cards is exceptional, a real step up from any of the previous releases. As you can see from the Hidden Base and Secret Outpost cards below, they’ve really improved the overall visual style, making the cards more action packed and the art cleaner and more dynamic. Star Realms cards have generally had a fairly high standard for the artwork but these surpass any previous offerings.

The rules for these Gambit cards are slightly different from the original Gambit set. Whereas previously you dealt out Gambit cards and they were revealed by all players simultaneously at the start of the game, Cosmic Gambit cards are dealt out and remain secret until a player chooses to reveal and play them, adding previously unseen ‘secret’ element to the game. This is the only circumstance in Star Realms when a player won’t know what cards his opponent has available since all Trade Row buys and hand/deck discards are public.

The new cards work slightly differently to the first Gambit set with each card providing a single discard bonus that tents to allow additional drawn on top of a small amount of a resource. The exception is the Hidden/Secret base as this Gambit allow you to put the hidden base card straight into play, which could be a significant advantage early in the game. This base is one use though and doesn’t go into the discard pile after it is destroyed so it needs to be deployed wisely.

ic Gambit, Hidden Base:Secret Outpost

As with the last Gambit pack the Cosmic Gambit pack is a nice addition to the game of Star Realms but it’s far from essential and, of the two, I prefer the original Gambit pack, although that is decidedly harder to source nowadays, especially in the UK.

It will add an interesting element to your games, especially the secrecy of what Gambits people are holding since you can’t be sure as to how strong your opponent is, right from the start, but you aren’t loosing anything by not picking it up either. With that said, I’m a completionist and for the minimal cost of the expansion it hardly seemed worth missing and that that reason enough for me, as it will be for others but I wouldn’t prioritise it over Colony Wars or indeed most of the Crisis sets.

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition

Name: Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition
Type: Card Game 
Publisher: Exploding Kittens
No of Players: 2-5
Size: 16.2cm x 11.3cm x 3.8cm
Weight: 225g
Age: 30 and up?
Price:  £16.99
Playtime: 15 mins
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition, front of box

I’m not a big fan of Black Friday, what with being English and it basically being transposed onto us as a way to try and persuade us to spend a little more in the weeks leading up to Christmas. With that said, I’m not an idiot and so I generally browse the Amazon deals to see if anything on my wishlist is coming up and, this year, something did and that something was Exploding Kittens.

Like so many offbeat games Exploding Kittens first appeared on Kickstarter where it, and its sister game the Safe for Work edition, managed to accrue $8.5 million in funding in February 2015, making it the most funded game on Kickstarter at the time. I’d heard good things from people who had backed it and, honestly, I couldn’t see how wouldn’t enjoy a game for people who like Kittens and Explosions and Boob Wizards and sometimes Butts and so, when the deal rolled around, I decided to pick it up.

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition, contents

In the box you get-

  • 56 cards
  • Instruction leaflet

The box is nice and small, being around the size of one of the Tiny Epic game boxes and perfect to just throw into a bag at the last minute. The box is matt black with the title in big letters on the front along with the tag line about boob wizards and this very much set the tone for what you’ll find inside the box. On the front of the box is an illustration of a cat with it’s nether regions pixelated out and this pretty much says everything you need to know about the game.

The box is made from a nice, thick, sturdy card, showing evidence of the upgrades it received during the Kickstarter campaign and although the cards themselves are printed on a card stock that is a little thin, they still seem well made. That said, I’m not convinced that the cards would survive the beer test that well and for a simple and comedic game, thats not a good thing.

As for how it plays, it’s pretty simple, as you’d expect for a 56 card game that plays in 15 minutes. The instruction leaflet very much advises you against reading it, claiming instructions are boring and telling you to watch the video at this link instead.

All told though, it’s a very simple concept. You remove the Exploding Kitten  and Defuse cards and deal one Defuse to each player before shuffling the rest back into the deck and dealing 4 more cards to each player, for a total hand of 5. You then add Exploding Kitten cards to the deck equal to the number of players minus 1 (to guarantee a winner).

After that decide who goes first and I like using the ‘who has the shortest spleen’ method. On their turn players can play as many cards as they like before drawing one card from the deck and adding it to their hand unless they draw an Exploding Kitten card. Drawing an Exploding Kitten card means a player is out, unless they can use a defuse card and last player out is the winner. If a player Defuses an Exploding Kitten then put it back in the draw deck wherever they choose, allowing them to try and force it upon another player.

Cards played before drawing can allow the active player to miss their draw, make another player draw twice, look at the top card in the deck etc. All of which can help minimise the chance of drawing an Exploding Kitten.

The game plays with a real air of suspense as turns are quick and frantic and the further down the deck you go the higher the level of tension as the games turns into a game of Russian Roulette with Kittens but in a good way, not in the pet the belly and have your eyes scratched out way that Russian Roulette with Kittens ends with.

I buy and play a great many mini games as I like simple mechanics that allow for endless play. Sure I like deeper and more involved games like Arkham Horror, Battlestar Galactica or Pandemic Legacy but it’s hard to ignore how much fun a simple mechanic can be, especially one that lets you attack a friend by growing a magnificent squid tentacle and slapping them like a fat baby.

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition, Attack Card

As fun as the game is, it’s the art style and comedy that really makes the game and this comes from Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal webcomic. Aside from the aforementioned squid tentacle cards such as Cat’s Schrödinger-

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition, Cat's Schrodinger

A rather upset kraken-

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition, Upset Kraken

The Pope of Nope-

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition, Pope of Nope

Boob wizards-

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition, Boob Wizards

And, of course, the eponymous Exploding Kitten-

Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition, Exploding Kitten

Exploding Kittens is a very fun game, in the same way Cards Against Humanity is fun, however, unlike Cards Against Humanity, you actually care about winning in Exploding Kittens and the game has a tense feeling to it, not just an air of hilarity (although it certainly has that too). I found that Exploding Kittens works best with a bigger group, 4 or 5 players so as to maintain the tension and feeling that everyone is out to get you. As a 2 player game it’s not that good, you don’t feel that constant threat of drawing an Exploding Kitten as there is only one in the deck.

In addition to the NSFW edition, which was originally just an expansion for the basic deck and it was only the massive overfunding that it received on Kickstarter that meant it was produced as it’s own game, there is a child friendly edition (which you can read more about here) and both sets can be combined to allow the game to support up to 9 players, which I imagine would be extremely frantic and nerve wracking.

If you are after a quick, fun game to play with none gamers or during drunken evenings you could do a lot worse than to pick up Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition. It’s not going to satisfy the hardcore gamer’s urge for complex and time consuming games, but thats not a bad thing, you can’t play Pandemic Legacy or Twilight Imperium while waiting for other gamers to arrive on a games night or as a bit of fun to round out an evening.

Exploding Kittens is silly, it’s funny and it’s dumb and all of that works in it’s favour. If a game can force players to collapse in fits of hysteria when playing a card (and I wholeheartedly recommend that all players read out the text on their card when playing them to make sure that happens) then it’s a winner in my book and one i’d suggest to anyone.

 

Pick the Lock, Kickstarter

Name: Pick the Lock
Type: Card Game 
Publisher: Portal Dragon
No of Players: 2-4
Age: 8+
Price:  £8.50 on Kickstarter
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Pick the Lock logo
© 2015 Portal Dragon

This week I was sent a print and play copy of Pick the Lock, a game by Portal Dragon that is currently live on Kickstarter until 07/12/15. Pick the Lock is a simple and quick game that mixes luck and skill to determine which player is able to acquire the most treasure and therefore win the game.

My copy was just a print and play so I can’t comment as to the production values of the game, however the cards and box have both received an upgrade through unlocked stretch goals as part of the Kickstarter. The art is simple with the Players and Communal cards being different colours for each player and just displaying numbers with some light decoration around the outside. The Treasure cards are clean and bold with strong images of the various treasures, including crowns, gemstones and more.

In the 52 set I got-

  • 4 x player decks (4 x 7 cards numbered 3 through 9)
  • 1 x communal deck (9 cards number 1 through 9)
  • 1 x Treasure deck (12 x treasure cards)
  • 3 x Rules Cards

I know things have moved on a little since the print and play was produced and the rules have been trimmed down and refined. All references in this review are to the print and play I was using to just bear in mind that the player and combination decks have different numbers of cards in the final version. In the final Kickstarter set you’ll get-

  • 4 x player decks (4 x 5 cards numbered 4 through 8)
  • 1 x Combination Deck (8 cards numbered 1 through 8)
  • 1 x Treasure Deck (21 cards)
  • 7 x rules cards

You don’t need anything else to pay the game, no tokens, no dice, nothing, which I like as many smaller games often require a dice or a few coins or beads as tokens but Pick the Lock is entirely self-contained.

In terms of rules, these are fairly simple. Each player takes a player deck and a number of treasures are placed in the middle of the table, which acts as the vault. The exact number or treasures varies based on the number of players but, in a 3 player game, it’s 5.

Pick the Lock, Player Cards
Player Cards

Players then take it in turn to try to steal treasure from either the vault or, if they have treasure, another player. Stealing is simple, you pick a treasure and then place one of your cards, numbered 3-9, in front of you and the player to your right choses 3 cards from the combination deck (numbered 1-9), none higher than the card you played. You then guess a number and if guess one of the numbers on the 3 combination cards then you have guess the combination correctly and stolen the treasure and you place the treasure card in front of you and discard your own number card (so you can only use each number once).

Pick the Lock, Communal Deck
Communal Deck

If you want to steal from another player the same process is followed except that they only pick one card from the combination deck and the individual treasure abilities may come into play (I’ll talk about those shortly). The game ends when all players have run out of cards in their own decks, which is 7 turns each. At the end of the game the player with the most treasure wins and, in the event of a tie the two players go into sudden death just using the number 3 from their own deck (I assume this will be 4 in the final version).

Treasure Cards
Treasure Cards

Treasure cards each have an ability which the thief can use when trying to steal from another player. Some are mandatory and increase the number on the card the thief plays (so you play a 3 but it may count as a 4 for purposes of picking cards from the combination deck). Others benefit the thief by allowing a second try at stealing or restricting the combination cards to just odd or even numbers, narrowing down the potential choices. Treasure cards add an interesting dynamic to the game because they make it a little more tactical and allow you to devise a strategy for what you plan on stealing and with what cards.

Pick the Lock is a cheap game, it’s $13 (£8.50ish) to back and that includes postage to the UK and it’s already funded. It’s almost impossible to get any game for that price, Love Letter, my other go to simple game, is around £6-£8 and so that makes Pick the Lock remarkably good value for money. Not only that but it’s quick to play, I played it with 2 groups of people, teaching the rules both times and the games still only took around 15 minutes, which makes it perfect for a game to pull out while waiting for folk to arrive on games nights.

Pick the Lock might not be to everyone’s tastes, while it has some tactical aspects regarding the different treasure abilities it’s still fundamentally down to luck much of the time and so people who prefer skill based games probably aren’t going to like it. That said, I consider myself a pretty hardcore gamer and I played it with other hardcore gamers and with people who only really dabble and everyone enjoyed playing it. They found it simple, fun and light, which is exactly the kind of game it is and unashamedly so. Personally I also think it’d make a great intro game for children, especially if you don’t use the treasure abilities, as it would help them learn numbers and number values in a fun way and then treasure abilities could be slowly introduced later, as they become more confident with the mechanics.

It’s nice and cheap to back Pick the Lock anywhere in the world and if you want to throw down some more money they have some truly beautiful looking handmade wooden deck boxes at higher pledge levels. I was sent the Print and Play for Pick the Lock for free so I could review it but I’ve backed it with my own money because I think it’s excellent value for money. It’s simple and fun and I like the fact that I’m helping a small company make a game and try to make a living doing something they love.

 

Paper and Pixels a Boss Monster Mini-Expansion

Name: Boss Monster- Paper and Pixels Mini-Expansion
Type: Card Game Expansion
Publisher: Brotherwise Games
No of Players: 2-4
Age: 13+
Price:  Free with Boss Monster 2
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5) 

Boss Monster, Paper and Pixels, front of packet

Paper and Pixels is a 14 card booster style mini expansion for the Boss Monster and/or Boss Monster 2 card game. It was available in Q4 of 2015 in limited quantities and was given away with copies of Boss Monster 2. The basis for the expansion comes from cards that are in the PC and mobile app version of the game.

This expansion is the sole reason I bought Boss Monster 2 now, rather than waiting. I like getting limited edition releases and cards and so the inclusion of this gave me an excuse to pick the game up. As with all of the cards in Boss Monster the art on the cards is just excellent, portrayed in fantastic 8-Bit style and with little nods to classic console and tabletop gaming.

Boss Monster, Paper and Pixels, contents

The pack consists of 14 cards for the game and a rules card detailing the new rules in the pack. They come packaged in a booster style pack but unlike boosters for games like Magic The Gathering, every Paper and Pixels pack contains exactly the same cards. The art on the pack is pretty cool and very representative of the game. Inside the pack you get-

  •  1 x Rules Card
  • 1 x Epic Hero
  • 2 x Spells (Both the same)
  • 3 x Boss Monsters
  • 8 x Rooms (2 x each or 4 rooms)

The new rules are quite interesting and mean you need another couple of components for the game, specifically a D6 and a few tokens or glass beads. The Die is because the spell does variable damage and the tokens are because the rooms increase in power when certain conditions are met.

Boss Monster, Paper and Pixels, BossesJPG

You get 3 new Bosses in the set, Greg, Chase and Explodo. Explodo I like, he kind of reminds me of the Kool Aid mascot combined with a Bob-omb. The level up abilities of all 3 utilise the new rules in this set.

Boss Monster, Paper and Pixels, Spell Card

You get 2 copies of the Fireball spell in the set. Fireball does variable damage which is a nice touch and I think that feels like another nod towards D&D, especially as variable damage is the a D6. Combined with another spell card for discarding there is a good chance that Fireball could win someone the game if played at the right time as it’s pretty power.

Boss Monster, paper and Pixels, Epic Hero

You get a single new Epic Hero, the Princess. Like the Fool the Princess isn’t lured by any particular type of treasure. Her bait is the player with the most cards in their hand. She is tough though, with 16 health and so will prove to be quite the challenge. It’s a shame she doesn’t look a little more like Princess Peach though.

Boss Monster, Paper and Pixels, Rooms Cards

You get 8 rooms in the set, which is 2 copies each of 4 rooms. There are 2 Monster rooms and 2 Trap rooms, with no Advanced rooms. The rooms are-

 

  • Elder Portal (Trap)
  • Clock Tower (Trap)
  • Spellslime Incubator (Monster)
  • Hydra’s Mire (Monster)

All of the cards utilise the new rules in the set as well. The effects vary between the rooms with the Clock Tower getting weaker each round and the Spellslime Incubator getting stronger as you cast spells. All in all they are a nice, fun addition to the game. On first examination I thought that the Clocktower had the time from Back to the Future on it but I was disappointed to find that it doesn’t.

Paper and Pixels is a fun little set and if you have the opportunity to get hold of it then you should. I’m very pleased that I managed to get a copy and I think it’s a nice step from Brotherwise to give it away as a seasonal promotion though I hope some existing players can also get hold of copies. The downside of these kind of promotions is that it’s very hard for existing players to get their hands on it, meaning that they can’t have a complete collection. It tends to lead to an expensive secondary market on Ebay and so I hope Brotherwise do some kind of other release for these cards so everyone can get in on the fun, not just new players.

It’s a good set but I think that a couple of little tricks have been missed, like the time on the Clock Tower clock, things that would have elevated the set a little bit more. If the set sees a general release for existing players I’ll up the review score to a 4 since the set itself is good but the difficulty that existing players will have getting it detracts from it’s overall appeal to me.

UPDATE- Brotherwise Games have confirmed that Paper and Pixels will see a general release in 2016 and so I’ve updated the score to 4.

Horror On the Orient Express Deluxe Campaign Review, Part 1

Horror on the Orient Express, front of box

Regular readers are probably aware that I backed the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter and that I tend to rant about how badly it has been conducted. Fortunately this isn’t another one of those posts and today I’m actually going to sound pretty positive about Chaosium for a change.

As part of the CoC 7th Ed Kickstarter I purchased the Horror on the Orient Express campaign as an add on. Horror on the Orient Express (HotOE) was ran as a separate Kickstarter by Chaosium prior to the 7th Ed Kickstarter and I missed out on that one so this seemed a good time to pick up the boxed set at a significant discount. As many of you know, I have a bit of an obsession with trying to own and run the ‘great’ campaigns, more or less regardless of system and for Cthulhu HotOE represents the last omission from my collection.

HotOE was first released as a boxed campaign by Chaosium back in 1991. Original sets can still be found on EBay fairly frequently and tend to command fairly high prices if they are complete. I’ve long considered picking one of the original copies up but it never quite made it to the top of my list and so when it was offered at half price ($60) as part of the 7th Ed Kickstarter I jumped at the chance to grab it. The version that was Kickstarted is far more than just the original game Chaosium really went all out in their production of a deluxe campaign set.

This edition is designed for use with the, as yet unreleased, 7th edition rules for the game but includes stats for 6th edition so you can run it with existing material. Also included are basic conversion rules for 7th edition if you want to try and run it using that system.

Horror on the Orient Express, books

Horror on the Orient Express, props

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what do you actually get for your £75 at retail? In the box there is-

6 Campaign books

  • A Tour Guide to the Orient Express and it’s stops
  • 6 A3 maps detailing the various carriages of the Orient Express
  • An A3 Handout of the Scroll of the Head (plus instructions on how to cut it up and age it to make a more convincing prop)
  • A Map of Europe detailing the various Orient Express Routes over the years
  • A cardboard Simulacrum that breaks down into 6 parts for the players to find and assemble during the campaign
  • A cardboard Dagger (what is the dagger for)
  • A Matchbox (with toothpicks in, matches are incendiary devices and can’t be posted)
  • An Orient Express stamped envelope containing 4 Period Accurate US Passports, 4 luggage stickers, a bumper sticker, and 2 period postcards.

It’s a mighty set. The box is X inches deep and it weighs in at 4.5kg, which means it is the heaviest boxed set for any game I own and rivals the WFRP 3rd ed box in size but the difference is that HotOE is jam packed with books, as opposed to innumerable tokens. So packed is the HotOE box that the lid doesn’t actually close properly and it literally bulges.

Before I go into some detail about the individual components I thought I’d take a moment to look at the production values of the set. The box is large and sturdy, despite not being overly thick. The artwork is bright and eye catching, with the box art from the original set being reproduced and used again. The books are all softcover and black and white with good quality paper used throughout. For the props, all of the card ones are made from a thick card and are clean cut and well printed. The matchbox is sturdy enough to have survived shipping without being damaged and the envelope seems to have similarly protected the props it contains.

So let’s take a look at the books. As this only arrived last week I’ve not come close to having properly read it and so I won’t be reviewing the adventure so much as looking at what each book covers and the production values used on them. That means that there will be very few spoilers in the article although if you do intend on playing through this campaign then I’d suggest you stop reading now, just to be safe.

Horror on the Orient Express, Campaign Book

Book I is the Campaign. Book 1 is 74 pages long and provides a general synopsis of the entire campaign. Given the size of the set as a whole it’s not great surprise that the campaign overview needs a book all to itself. This book follows the main plot of the campaign, given the Keeper a good idea of how the game should flow and a timeline for the events. The last is especially important because the adventure runs on a fairly specific timeline which corresponds with the time it takes to take the Orient Express from Paris to Constantinople in 1923.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 2, Through the Alps

Book II is Through The Alps. This book is 264 pages long and covers the first part of the journey. It begins in London and covers two periods, being 1923, the year the adventure is set, and 1893 for an optional prequel scenario. After London it moves to Paris for the PC’s to actually board the Orient Express and then shifts to the Dreamlands for another optional adventure while the train is on route to Lausanne, the next stop. The final section of book 2 sees the players travel through the Alps to Milan.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 3, Italy & Beyond

Book III is Italy & Beyond. This book is 272 pages long and covers the middle of the journey. This books takes the players from Venice to Trieste and onto Vinkovci. It has a couple of optional sections, one in a Dreamlands type sequence and two others, both in Constantinople in different eras, 330AD and 1204AD. The background sections provide an awful lot of perspective for what is going on in the present and, while optional, seem to be worthwhile building into your game.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 4, Constantinople & Consequences

Book IV is Constantinople & Consequences. This book is 192 pages and brings the campaign as a whole to 728 pages, which makes it a full 290 pages longer than the entire of Beyond the Mountains of Madness, which is a colossal beast in it’s own right. This is the final book of the campaign proper and takes the PCs from Sofia to Constantinople before they cross back across Europe in the exciting conclusion before the campaign comes full circle to end in London. There is also one final optional encounter which takes place in Istanbul, 2013.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 5, Strangers on the Train

Book V is Strangers on a Train. This book is X pages long and contains X NPCs for use during the campaign. While the main campaign books contain all of the important NPCs as they are encountered Strangers on a Train provides the DM with a series of NPCs to fill the gaps when the PC’s decide to question people in the restaurant car, or members of the trains staff. It’s designed to fill the gap when the players talk to someone that isn’t intrinsic to the adventure proper but who may still be able to provide them with a clue that gets them back on the right track (no pun intended). Each NPC has the generic stats and also a page on which you can make notes, in case the PCs speak to that person again.

This book makes another excellent addition to the set and allows the Keeper to introduce people on the fly without having to worry about remember specific details about the person later. It also deals with the minor issue of players knowing that an NPC isn’t important because the Keeper doesn’t reference them from the book. Using NPC’s from Strangers on a Train means that every single NPC will be viewed as important and the players won’t be able to make assumptions about an NPCs importance and take any information they supply for granted.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 6, For the Investigators

Book VI is For The Investigators. This book is 196 pages long and contains all of the handouts that the players may find during the course of the campaign, reprinted from each of the separate campaign books. They are all printed neatly on white paper and are not double sided allowing you to cut them out if your wanted. Fortunately, as this is the digital age you don’t need to deface your book, wither by actually cutting out the handouts or by bending it trying to photocopy them, instead you can go to the Chaosium website and download a PDF of the handouts for free, which you can then cut up. The handouts can be found here. I have to admit, I think that this is a brilliant step by Chaosium and one I applaud. This will make my life much easier and make me significantly less nervous about trying to age and weather the various bits of paper.

So thats it for part 1 of the review, in Part 2 i’ll be taking a closer look at the handouts, props and maps included in the set.

Boss Monster, Tools of Hero Kind Mini Expansion Review

Name: Boss Monster, Tools of Hero Kind
Type: Card Game Expansion
Publisher: Brotherwise Games
Size:  9.9cm x 9.9cm x 1.8cm
No of Players: 2-4
Age: 13+
Price:  £6.99
Weight: 23g
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Boss Monster, Tools of Hero Kind, Front of Box

Tool of Hero Kind is a mini expansion for the Boss Monster Dungeon Building Card Game. It contains a total of 26 cards which build upon the existing Spell and Room decks and also add a new concept in Items cards which upgrade the Heros and provide a bonus to the Boss Monsters that defeat them.

Boss Monster, Tools of Hero kind, Contents

In the box you get-

  • 20 Item Cards
  • 4 Advanced Room Cards
  • 2 Spell Cards
  • 1 Rule Card

As with the Boss Monster base game Tools of Hero Kind builds upon the themes of classic 8 Bit games and old school RPGs. With this expansion, the box has been styled on the classic Game Boy look (as you can see below, with it compared with a Game Boy Advanced game). The box art is cool and very representative of what I picture when playing the game. In this case it shows King Croke (a Boss Monster from the base game) being assaulted by a Hero and looking like he’s about to come off a little worse for wear…

Boss Monster, Tools of Hero Kind, Box Size Comparison

The Rooms and Spells are small additions but nice nonetheless, however it’s the Items that are the true stars of the set and that make up the bulk of the cards. Items are drawn at the start of each turn, before Heros are drawn, and they attach themselves to the the first (or oldest) Hero that matches their treasure icon.

Items have two lines of text and which applies depends on whether they are being used by a Hero or a Boss Monster. First they boost the power of Heroes, having such effects as deactivating the abilities of rooms the Hero survives for that turn (making it easier for other Heroes to survive), destroying rooms or just boosting the health of all Hero that enter the same dungeon that turn.

Secondly, if the dungeon defeats a hero then the Boss Monster gains the Item and therefore gets to activate it’s Boss Monster ability. In the hands of a Boss Monster Items have such effects as healing the Boss Monster a wound, boosting Heroes in other dungeons or making opponents discard cards.

The art on the Item cards is excellent and carries many nods to a variety of sources, including classic D&D with the 10 foot pole card and the Gelatinous Cube on the Ice Rob, Lord of the Rings with Frodo and Gollum on the Ring of Invisibility card and even Monty Python with the art and title of the Holy Hand Grenade card.

On the whole I feel this is a solid little expansion. It adds another element to the game without adding significant complexity, and it actually actively works to fix one little niggle I have with the main game, which is that the game tends to be dominated by 1 player who is lucky enough to have the right treasure when the heroes are drawn. By giving those Heroes Items, which boost the Heroes and weaken the dungeons, it makes that kind of domination a double edged sword.

For £7 Tools of Hero Kind is a really worthwhile expansion to Boss Monster. It doesn’t do the one thing that I really want from a Boss Monster expansion, which is to have support for more than 4 players. Still, it adds a nice extra element to the game and, at its price point, its pretty hard to complain.

D&D 5th Ed DM Screen Review

Name: D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Screen
Type: Accessory
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
System: D20 (5th ed D&D)
Setting: N/A
Size: 27.4cm x 21.5cm (folded) 109.5cm x 21.5cm (unfolded)
Price: £10.00
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

5th Ed DM Screen

This is going to be a pretty quick review to be honest, there isn’t a lot to say about a DM Screen and I wouldn’t generally review just a screen, but I’m actually pretty impressed with this one. What I might do though is maybe take a look at the wide variety of screens I own for different games at some point.

So why is this one so cool? Well it’s down to what is actually included on the DM side of the screen. Before I get to that I’ll take a look at the pack as a whole. The outer packaging that is normally just a paper wrap with a general description on the back is actually pretty cool, obviously it is still thin card wrap but the inside is a mini-poster that advertises the D&D Adventurers League, which is pretty cool-

D&D 5th Ed DM Screen, Poster

 

The screen itself is made of nice thick card and covered with a glossy coating and it seems pretty hard-wearing, which is good because screens see alot of use. It’s a four pane screen and it’s landscape in format, as is common for modern screens, which I actually like this as it reduces the DM/Player separation. The player side depicts and epic battle across all four panes between a party and a red dragon and it’s minions.

D&D 5th Ed DM Screen, Frontal

However, it’s whats on the DM side that impressed me, especially this-

D&D 5th Ed DM Screen, Name Generator

As silly as it is, the inclusion of an NPC name generator on the screen is something that will help me immeasurably as I literally can’t count the number of times i’ve made up a stupid name on the spot when the PC’s have decided to talk to someone I hadn’t considered. I used to have a whole list of names ready, just in case, but this is a much more elegant solution.

The rest of the inside of the screen is filled with the normal kind of things you’d expect to see, details of the various conditions, cover and concealment and some random event tables. Unlike some previous DM screens this one isn’t cluttered or hard to read and is filled with things, like the NPC name generator and the random events table, designed to keep the game flowing when it might stagnate.

The inside of the screen is also covered with little bit of art, some just to illustrate things like the various status modifiers and others, like the Tarrasque attacking a village are just there to make the screen a little more interesting for the DM to look at. At the end of the day this is still just a DM screen but it’s one of the best DM screens I’ve bought in a long time.

Boss Monster Review

Name: Boss Monster
Type: Card Game
Publisher: Brotherwise Games
Size: 20.8cm x 12.7cm x 3.8cm
No of Players: 2-4
Age: 13+
Price:  £19.99
Weight: 476g
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Boss Monster, Front of Box

Boss Monster is a none collectable card game produced by Brotherwise Games and released in December 2013. It was originally Kickstarted and was funded to the tune of $215,000 dollars in November 2012.

The game is built on a foundation old school gaming, both 8-bit style NES games and old D&D and the premise is that you are the big, bad Boss Monster at the end of a side scrolling dungeon. Your job (or, more likely, hobby) is to draw adventurers to you dungeon in order to kill them in a variety of inventive monster and trapped themed rooms so that you can harvest their souls.

The game comes packaged in an NES game style box that fits the whole theme of the game perfectly, even the writing and logos are all designed to look like they belong on the box of Super Mario. The box is made of thick card and the box art has been applied via a sticker, rather than printed directly onto the box. The downside of the sticker is that it can easily scratch and peel away a little at the edges but this still all adds to the retro feel of the game.

Boss Monster, Contents

Mine is the 2nd printing of the Boss Monster game. You can tell the difference between the first and second printings by the the inclusion of the quick start rules. In the box you get-

  • X x Boss Cards
  • X x Room Cards
  • X x Spell Cards
  • X x Hero Cards
  • X x Epic Hero Cards
  • Rulebook
  • Quick Start Rules Sheet

The components all fit nicely into the box with the cards sitting in two piles inside an inner tray and the quick start rules and rulebook sitting on top. As with the box, the rules are designed to be reminiscent of an 80’s Nintendo game right down to being printed in a landscape format and using a font type and layout that feels like a game manual.

The game comes with  basic types of cards, Boss, Room, Spell and Hero/Epic Hero. All are standard dimensions for a card game and would fit any generic sleeve on the market. All of the cards feature 8-Bit artwork that resembles any side scrolling dungeon crawl from the 80’s and beyond. It’s in this artwork that you can see the love that has gone into the game, not just a love of 80’s computer games, not just a love of the NES but a love of D&D.  Let me explain a little more-

Boss Monster, Monstrous Monument Card

I initially thought that this card was a great little touch, an 8-Bit image of the classic 1st edition AD&D Players handbook featuring a statue of Orcus. It’s a great nod to D&D and the kind of things fans of the RPG (myself included) like to see. Still, it’s an well known known image and one commonly used to reference D&D. Then, when I was sorting through the cards I noticed this-

Boss Monster, Xyzax Card

Firstly the name, Xyzax is a clear play on Gygax, one of the creators of D&D. It’s also a play on Xagyg, which is Gygax backwards and a character from the original Greyhawk campaign, the Progenitor part of the name is a little nod towards the great man himself. Again though, while this is a clever little nod, it’s still something reasonably well known about D&D and about Gygax. It was only when I was looking for cards to photograph for this article that I noticed this-

Boss Monster, Dark Laboratory Card

 

This one is a little more subtle, in fact I wouldn’t have picked it up if it hadn’t been one of my favourite prices of art from my favourite campaign setting this-

Jeff Easley, Raistlin in the Tower of High Sorcery

It’s a famous piece of art, but only if you really know your D&D and, specifically your Dragonlance. Now, granted, a Google search could probably have come up with it but I’m not sure that it would have seemed all that significant then, after all, unless you know what it is, why would you bother including it? Its for this reason that i’m pretty sure that the creators of Boss Monster don’t just love 80’s NES games, but they love D&D too.

So, the game. It’s pretty simple to both learn and play. Each player gets dealt a Boss card and places it, face up, on the right hand side of their play area. They then 5 rooms and 2 spells and discard 2 cards from that hand, of their choice. Prior to the first turn each player plays a room, face down, on the left of their Boss to start building their dungeon. Once all players have placed that room they are revealed, in order of highest XP to lowest.

At the start of each turn Heroes are drawn from the Town deck (made up of Heroes and Epic Heroes, in that order) equal to the number of players. Players can then play another room, again face down, on the left of the previous room or on top of it (so building over previous rooms). Once everyone has built a room the Heroes are allocated to the dungeons according to which dungeon has the most treasure symbols (heroes like treasure) that correspond to their type (so mages like books, for instance). Heroes scroll through dungeons, left to right as is proper, taking damage from each room and, if they die, their soul is collected by the Boss. If they reach the end they deal a point of damage to the Boss. Spells can be played either during building or adventuring, according to the spell.

The winner is the first to reach 10 souls and any player whose boss takes 5 points of damage is eliminated from the game. Thats all there is too it.

I’ve played this game a couple of times now, first of all my normal solo game to get a grip on the rules and i’ll admit, it was a bit weird to play solo and didn’t make much sense, but i’m used to that on the first run through. My second game was with my wife, who tends to be a bit hit and miss with board/card games. She beat me inside of 20 mins, grasping the rules with uncanny precision and building a dungeon to rival the dreaded Tomb of Horrors.

I then took the game to my regular weekly games night. I’ve been wanting to for a couple of weeks but we tend to regularly get 5+ players and Boss Monster only supports up to 4. We finally managed to break it out for a couple of games and, as expected, it was quick to teach and fun to play. My group loved the art style immediately and found great pleasure in building their dungeons and chuckling at cards like the Goblin Armoury-

Insert photo.

All in all Boss Monster is a great game. I missed the first Kickstarter and the Next Level Kickstarter but i’ll definitely be checking out any further Kickstarters that Brotherwise set up. The game is fun, it’s well supported by Brotherwise who regularly put up new cards for play test and it looks just fantastic. This is a game for hardcore gamers and families alike and the art and nostalgic feel to the design is even enough to pull in those weird friends who don’t generally like to play games (we all have them).

At the time of writing Boss Monster has 2 expansions, one of which can be played as a stand alone game.