At the UK Games Expo I got some hands-on demos of some of the tabletop games being exhibited. Here’s my games review and low down on the game play mechanics.
Game Review: Posthuman Saga
I believe that it was fate that I played this game. Two days before the expo I came across an advert in Facebook messenger for this game’s Kickstarter. It had a board with gorgeous artwork, lots of colourful pieces, crazy specialised dice, spectacularly sculpted miniatures, beautiful cards and all sorts! It was tabletop heaven!
In Posthuman Saga you play as one of the last human survivors in a world where nature is reclaiming the planet and our mutated offspring are working to eradicate us.
Just over a year ago all you wanted was to find the Fortress, the last human bastion in a region overrun by mutants. Today, you’re being sent out beyond the safety of its walls on a journey into the uncharted Wilds. There’s a dozen survivors for every mouth the Fortress can feed. It’s time to earn your place within its walls once and for all.
I almost decided then and there that I wanted to back the game Mega Mutant – All In! style. I quickly brought up the UK Games Expo website and checked their list of exhibitors, yes! Mighty Boards were going to be there. Thursday night, I met Robin outside the expo ready for the Press Preview. We headed on in to where Robin had stashed his bag. I stashed mine and as I looked up, there it was. The glorious Posthuman Saga board game set up right before me. It was fate.
I had the pleasure of speaking with designer Gordon Calleja about the game and he passionately explained the mechanics. There were a lot of mechanics and it was hard to remember everything without actually playing it but he assured me that once you start playing, it’s the gameplay that dictates the mechanics and they make sense thematically. Undeterred I was still eager to play and couldn’t wait to get a hands-on demo during the weekend. The next morning, I got to exactly that and I bee-lined directly to their stall in the main Trade Hall as we arrived.
Posthuman Saga is a game of exploration and survival. Your objectives drive your exploration, whilst your survival depends upon careful resource management and overcoming encounters. You and up to three other players compete to earn your place at the stronghold. You are given an objective, for example, to scout out the old library for supplies. You head out of the stronghold exploring the terrain tiles, gathering and managing your resources, whilst (hopefully) overcoming your encounters. It requires strategy and planning; and that’s what appeals to me the most about this game. And let’s face it, who doesn’t love a bit of post-apocalyptic fantasy?
At the start of each round players get to bid against each other to have first dibs on the terrain tiles available. This neat mechanic is subtly competitive – your objectives require you to explore specific types of terrain tile (forest, city, mountains etc). This means with more bidding power you are more likely to get the terrain tile you need or prevent another player from getting the ones they need. The terrain tiles stay in your hand until you take a map action on your turn and place them down on the board.
The majority of the game will be spent exploring – this is where all the fun stuff happens like the combat and narrative encounters. If you have a combat encounter you will fight a mutated opponent. You have equipment cards that give you weapons and other items affecting combat. You also have a hand of combat cards, which you use in an attempt to outmanoeuvre your opponent and gain the upper hand to win the combat encounter.
Combat itself has a number of factors in play, which includes movement, damage and block – all dictated by your character, equipment and combat cards played. These play out in a specified order on an encounter tracker before damage is dealt. This process cycles until you or the opponent perishes. Once the encounter is completed you gain some XP, get to place a safe zone or objective token and roll for some loot.
If you instead get a narrative encounter you have to try to get a specified number of successes to pass the encounter. To do this you draw challenge tokens from the challenge token bag in a lucky-dip style. Your character and equipment can provide bonuses here. There are three outcomes on the challenge tokens; successes, misses and botches. Some tokens also have a mix of either success or miss and a botch. Once you have enough successes you can pass the encounter.
On your turn you can instead take a Forage action to look for supplies. What you get depends upon which terrain tile you forage, so this is where you need to pay attention to your resources and plan ahead. You can also take a Rest action, which allows you to recover health, morale, combat cards and some other stuff I sadly did not get to experience due to the short nature of a convention demo.
Once all player actions have been resolved the game goes onto the night phase. If you are not in a safe zone you need to choose whether to eat or not. If you don’t eat you suffer 1 point of fatigue. If your health, morale, or fatigue ever reach 0 you are knocked out, lose a bunch of equipment and return to either the starting point or a safe zone. The game ends when either a player defeats the Mutant Boss or an event triggers the Game End Event. Unfortunately, my demo only demonstrated a few turns so I did not get to encounter the boss to see how this differs from a regular encounter.
My Game Review: There’s a lot of components and a lot of mechanics but once you’ve wrapped your head around those the game flows very well. This game is beautiful to look at and great fun to play. I’ve decided to back the Posthuman Saga project on Kickstarter, scheduled to be released May 2019 and I eagerly wait to receive my copy and start playing through that story once the game gets released!
Game Review: Big Trouble in Little China
I love the 80s. Who doesn’t? (Seriously if you don’t I question your taste). The decade that gave us cheesy one-liners, big hairstyles, synth-electro music, and most importantly, the cast of The Expendables.
I must confess however that I have never seen this film, but I have now played the board game based on it. Well, a little bit of it at least and it has beautiful artwork, glorious miniatures, special dice and lots of cards; everything I look for in a tabletop game!
The imagery is strong even though I haven’t seen the movie (yet); a mulleted Kurt Russell in a white tank top, wielding a semi-automatic pistol. Why WOULDN’T I play this game? Helen and I got hands on with lead designer Chris Batarlis. We jumped straight into the final encounter; our characters already level 5 badasses. I played a lightning-crazed Margo Litzenberger whilst Helen played the kung fu expert Wang Chi. Another expo guest named Nathan played with us using gung-ho Eddie Lee.
The objective: Kill Lo-Pan and put an end to his sorcerous ritual. But first, we had to gather the keys to his lair. We could obtain these by killing his mini-bosses. Helen and Nathan teamed up and took out two mini-bosses to obtain one of the keys, whilst I stormed on over to another lightning-wielding mini-boss to attack. Unfortunately, this guy would take a couple of rounds to defeat.
In this game each player has a special character board and a number of action dice to roll and expend to perform an action using their mind, body or spirit. Each character excels in different areas and gets a bigger bonus if you use the dice where it counts.
Your action dice are used to move, attack and rest. (Other actions take place on the other side of the board, but due to limited demo time we did not play through the Chinatown Phase). You can perform as many actions as you have action dice, so for example you could attack 4 times in one turn, but here’s the thing; you have to roll high enough to do the damage. So the more action dice you expend in your attack, the more dice you get to roll with to do the damage. Ah! Choices! Strategy! This game is just begging me to buy it.
Helen and Nathan got the drop on Lo-Pan before I had dealt with my opponent. A couple of rounds up against Lo-Pan and his ten minions and things were looking desperate. Luckily death in this game is not the end, because in Little China there are many hells; when you die you visit them and get a hell card. This usually imposes some kind of disadvantage on you such as being unable to use mind dice for actions. There is a price for returning to the mortal plane however, and that is reducing the counter for Lo-Pan’s ritual completion by 1. When it reaches 0, his ritual is complete, and the players lose the game.
Once I’d finished off my opponent, I got into the final chamber and beat on Lo-Pan enough to finish him off. Or so I thought… with an evil DM smile, Chris flipped the Lo-Pan card to reveal his morphed form and retreated the miniature to another chamber. Time was running out with 2 rounds left on the ritual counter.
Eddie pursued him and used the last of his action dice to perform an attack then took out another special mechanic called a fate die to do another attack. The damage is needed, only Helen had a turn left that round and it was likely we were all going to die due to the sheer number of minions remaining. The fate dice was not in our favour. We did the damage but Nathan took enough damage to die again. The counter was reduced to 1. Last chance saloon. It was all or nothing and it was up to Helen to lead us to victory. I whispered some words of advice in her ear: Use 1 action dice to heal before moving as when she moves to pursue Lo-Pan the minions would get an attack of opportunity (like in D&D) which do 1 free damage each, and that would have been enough to kill her and lose us the game. With that taken care of she moved and launched one final huge attack on Lo-Pan. He succumbed to her might and we sighed in relief as Chris knocked over Lo Pan’s miniature. We won!
My Game Review: That was very fun. I was very tempted to buy the game then and there, but I exercised willpower and resisted the urge, and I hadn’t even experienced the story side of the board. Thanking Chris, we bid him farewell but not before learning that there are expansions to the core game planned. Now I’ll be going home and watching the film to see if it’s as fun as the board game.
Game Review: Dark Souls: The Board Game
So I just want to put it out there; I haven’t really played much of the Dark Souls video game. Dark Souls: The Board Game was released in 2017 and I actually picked up this game for a mate who really loves the video games and has been banging on about the board game since it was announced on Kickstarter so long ago. I’ve kept my eye out for it ever since and after seeing a 2nd hand copy in the Bring and Buy for £60 I had a look at it’s contents and it was pretty much brand new, I just had to buy it for him.
I checked through and organised all the pieces, the cards, the miniatures, the dice… you get the idea by now. I set up the board following the setup guide and picked what I thought would be one of the easier bosses to fight solo. Dark Souls is a co-operative game for 1-4 players. You pick a character from one of four classes – Knight, Warrior, Assassin and Herald. I went with the Knight as he looked like he could take a lot of punishment. You get some starting equipment and access to some one-time use items to restore health and stamina, perform a heroic action or re-roll the dice.
In the solo version of the game, you start with 16 souls in your soul cache. You can spend these souls to buy a treasure card or upgrade a character statistic. There are four statistics: strength, dexterity, intelligence and faith, and these mainly determine what items you can equip. You pay 1 soul for 1 treasure and as I spent my souls I didn’t find any decent treasure, nothing decent enough to bother expending points into my statistics in order to equip it.
So off I went out into the world of Dark Souls: The Board Game. The first encounter was against a Silver Knight Swordsman, a Hollow Soldier and a Crossbow Hollow. No it’s not the start of a bad joke, it was the start of my demise. In Dark Souls the enemies all get to go first, and they all act together, followed by a single player character, then the enemies again, then another player character and so on until all player characters have had one turn each. Of course as I was playing solo I was at a slight disadvantage.
The enemies have a movement and an attack (or sometimes an attack then a movement). Movement is controlled by nodes; each board has 15 nodes and you can move vertically, horizontally and diagonally. As a player you roll your block on an enemy attack. I rolled okay on the first turn and only took a little damage. I decide to off the Hollow Soldier first. I moved onto the same node and rolled against him successfully. Round 2, I noticed it was the Crossbow Hollow that was doing the most damage as his magical attack was taking chunks out of me. I used my Estus Flask to heal and attacked the Silver Knight Swordsman. He went down, and it was just the Crossbow Hollow left but he was several nodes away. I made my way over one node at a time but didn’t make it to him quick enough before he melted me away.
My first death!
I reshuffled the encounter cards and treasure cards, counted myself another 16 souls and reset the board to give myself a fighting chance. Normally you take 1 spark off your spark counter on the campfire and when this reaches 0 it’s game over. This time around I managed to get a decent weapon upgrade and a slightly better shield. I headed out in the same way as before and this time encountered 3 Hollow Soldiers. Easy pickings, and there was a chest as a reward. Once you complete an encounter on a board tile that has a treasure chest you can open it and reveal 2 treasure cards form the treasure card pile. It gave me better armour so I headed back to the campfire tile to equip it.
I carried on through each of the regular encounter boards and cut through them without much issue. Now I understood the basics of managing my health and stamina effectively and how to move around the nodes for advantage I started going after the magic-casting Crossbow Hollows before I dealt with the opponents I encountered.
Finally I reached the mini-boss and the rulebook was back on the table. Bosses and Mini-bosses work differently from normal encounters. Instead of defined movement and attack, they get a hand of manoeuvre cards. Some of these get revealed to you by any gravestone tiles you have uncovered by defeating the regular encounters. They are then shuffled and revealed one by one. Each manoeuvre can be a different attack with a particular set of movement associated to it. The attacks can affect multiple arcs (front, back, left, right) and can potentially leave the creature vulnerable in a particular flank.
I danced with the Gargoyle, staying out of his range and letting it waste a few manoeuvre cards as it approached. Once the mini-boss has cycled all its manoeuvre cards they are turned over and it begins again in the same order, over and over until it ‘heats up’. Learning the attack pattern I positioned myself carefully, taking advantage of the exposed flanks and backing up before the Tailwhip attack it had used on its first round of action.
Once the mini-bosses (and bosses) reach a certain health threshold (12 in the gargoyles case) they get a heat-up manoeuvrer card added to their existing manoeuvre card repertoire then that deck is shuffled and begins a new cycle. At this point, anything could have happened, but I got lucky. The tail whipped the air again so I rushed in to try and finish it off as quickly as possible, suspecting a severe attack to soon be on the way. I’d used up my Estus Flask and my Heroic Action (which gave me another block die when rolling defence). I overcame the gargoyle within a few turns, really taking full advantage of everything I had left.
My Game Review: I was tempted to continue but I’d learned the game now. I understood the mechanics, had a little fun and only died once over the course of about 4 hours! I’m now eager to give it to my friend and play it in a group setting but in the meantime, I will definitely be trying out the video games again.
Game Review: Guild Ball
Guild Ball is Steamforged Gamed Ltd answer to Games Workshop’s Blood Bowl. Here’s another Never Have I ever… played Blood Bowl. I’ve popped a lot of cherries recently. My cherries! Guild Ball is a game of 6-a-side football meets team death match. I got a hands-on demo at UK Games Expo with Steamforged Games Ltd very own Sam Page. Oh, and it was the miniatures that caught my eye…
Sam introduced the premise of the game to me and gave me a run-through of the character cards, which detail each character’s basic stats and traits. Essentially each character can move, tackle (a.k.a melee combat), kick the ball and also have some unique actions which can affect the game in a multitude of ways. Really, the best way to learn is to play so it was time for Kick Off!
For the demo we played a trimmed down 3-a-side version of the game. Just enough to keep the rounds quick and get a basic feel for the game. Sam kicked off and I got control of the ball. I was playing as the Masons and passed the ball to my designated striker Friday. Hanging back, I allowed my players to stick together whilst I observed Sam’s strategy. He moved up but not close enough to attack or take control, consolidating his position. In Guild Ball the round flows by character activations. Each character gets 1 activation and usually the players take turns in activating characters, though there are specific rules to bend the turn order to your will.
Round two. I saw an opening and managed to get Friday past and score a goal! 4 points to me but Sam was prepared. He moved his guys in and punished me for pushing Friday out on her lonesome. She is fast and has a good kick but she is weak in defence. She was eliminated and 2 points to Sam. That’s unfortunately where the demo ended but I had enjoyed it so far. Quick to learn but I’d only scratched the surface of the depth of strategy available. Could this be the first version of football I’m actually interested in? Unless we’re counting Blitzball from Final Fantasy X. That was great. On a hunch I bought the game at a special show price of £25. I can’t resist a bargain.
My Game Review: Guild Ball is a 2-player game available now. The miniatures are gorgeous and will double up nicely for D&D minis. Double Win. I’ll be spending some time learning this game a little more in depth before I attempt to go find a Guild Ball league somewhere, and I feel this might even be something I can play with my own football loving friends and family, even the not so geeky ones.
Game Review: Seekers of Astrod
This isn’t my usual sort of game. No sexy miniatures. No dice. Just a board, a few components and a stack of small cards. But it was set in space and well, I like space, so I thought I’d give it a try. I sat myself down with Vindhyanjana Ramini, co-founder and creator of Zvata Studios and Seekers of Astrod, who began explaining the way the game works to me.
Essentially the game operates in a manner similar to Guess Who, but instead of guessing names you’re guessing planets. And instead of asking ‘does the person wear glasses?’ you are exploring space looking for clues and making observations. Those observations come in the form of ‘is the planet in a specific galaxy?’, ‘does it have any moons?’, ‘has it got a ring?’ and so on. You get a private board and a marker to make a note of which clues you found, and cross off any planets that don’t match.
You move around space in your shuttle via a hand of cards, which you play one at a time. You move from space to space as per the number indicated on the card you play. Some cards have affects, like steal credit off your opponent, move your opponent’s shuttle by a number of spaces etc. This can create a bit of strategy, however I used up some cards that I perhaps should have held onto for a bit longer, simply moving around the board. As you move, collecting clues and credits, you narrow down the planets you think it could be and eventually return to the starting position, the launch pad.
On your first guess, you need 8 credits to launch the ‘guessing’ rocket. If you have the credits, you spend them and then place the rocket on the planet you think it is. The rocket and the correct planet are magnetized, so if you are right you will know through the power of science, and you will win the game. If you are wrong however, well, you’ve potentially given your opponent a free clue, but you’re also going to need to spend another 3 credits on another launch on your next go.
I faced off against Nivas Ranjan Bose, the other co-founder and creator of the game. We played through gathering clues and discussing strategies. He guessed incorrectly twice before I even began to head back to the launch pad. He set out to replenish his credits, meanwhile I confidentially headed back collecting the remaining credits required on my way. 3… 2… 1… blast off! I launched successfully and selected the planet. To my bafflement it didn’t magnetise. What? But I only have one planet not crossed off it must be that planet?!? I paused, took a deep breath and analysed for a second. I looked at the clues again. Darn it! It’d crossed one of the clues off incorrectly. I quickly scrambled to correct my error whilst Nivas made his next turn.
When I had finished my corrections I still had a few planets to choose from. There was one more clue to gather but by this time Nivas was already ready to return to the launch pad and have another guess. And guess correctly he did. I was gutted. I was so confident I was going to win after he had incorrectly guessed twice, but realised I made an error. It just goes to show, one error in space is very costly. Be careful out there kids!
My Game Review: All in all the game only lasts about 15-20mins. It was quick and fun. The best part is the way in which the game is re-playable. You just spin the top ‘floating’ board around. It selects a new target planet and the clue spaces already match up to reveal clues on that specific planet. It is a nice mechanic. What I really liked is that Vindhyanjana and Nivas both asked me for feedback. My only suggestion were more planets to make it harder and add more re-playability and to remove some more of the credit spaces. The more scarce of a resource is it, the more importance is placed on guessing correctly, and the more impact the credit steal card will have.
Seekers of Astrod is for 2-4 players and is currently still in development. Zvata Studios have plans to start producing and publishing soon.
Game Review: Thronestorm
Thronestorm is a card duel game. Oh, what being a member of the press can do for you – Robin got his hands on a free copy. We had some free time, so we gave this game a quick bash. After some initial confusion and clarifying the rules as we jumped straight into it, we found it wasn’t quite the 10-minute card game as advised.
There are four different types of cards: a weapon, an armour, a helm and an item card. and you can only hold one of each. There are four items to a set, and the sets match by colour, with each colour representing one of 10 noble houses. Your goal in Thronestorm is to complete a set of cards from one noble house. When you play the game of Thronestorm, you win or you die.
The four different types get organised into their type piles then shuffled. Each player gets a card of each type then they begin drawing and the placing down into the realm, which is a 3-tiered area of cards with the middle row slightly displaced from the other two. On your turn you can pick up from the draw piles and add that card to your hand. If you already hold a card of that type you then place one of them down into the realm, following the rules to the 3-tiered play area. Card placement is strategic here. Pay attention to the colours and make sure you don’t lock yourself out of being able to access the realm.
The other action you can do is take from the realm by revealing a card of the same colour as a card on the bottom row of the realm. You then take from the realm diagonally the 3 cards from the realm. You must then return 3 cards to the realm in any order but remember you can only hold one of each type. It may sound complicated, but it is quite simple actually. It’s one of those ‘you just need to play it to get it’ type of games.
My Game Review: The fun starts when you know what set your opponent is going after, which is open information as your hand is revealed. You can then begin to strategise against them by ensuring you hold onto the final piece they need until you either win or they change their mind on the set they are pursuing. Stakes are raised when multiple set are visible ready for the taking. To go for it or not? By this time in each game Robin and I already had 2-3 pieces of a desired set so it was risky business either way.
Thronestorm is a quick fun little game that is quick to set up and was released at UK Games Expo.
Adam Smith – Epic reviewer of new games at UK Games Expo