Sunday, May 29, 2011

Into the Lair of the Spider Cult

After my quick but promising experience with Dark Dungeon, I tried another game using the Lair of the Spider Cult module, a supplement for the basic game. This 53-page PDF includes a new scripted adventure, three additional adventurers (with their profiles and cards), two new spells, four new dungeon tiles and five new enemies.

[Disclaimer: my PDF of the "Lair of the Spider Cult" adventure module was kindly provided by Avalon Games. However, I am in no way affiliated to the company.]

Lair of the Spider Cult takes place in Mordenhelm, the base city for Dark Dungeon. The first thing I noticed is that, differently from the Goblins Lair, you have a choice of three places to start your adventure. Also, the text that sets up the adventure -- finding the missing daughter of a friend of yours -- is nice and gives a sense of purpose to it.

I used my previous party as a starting point, but since in this adventure you get 150 gold to spend, I was able to give them better equipment than before, and add one of the new characters:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: Dark Dungeon

Dark Dungeon is another title from the mini-game series by Avalon Games. It is a solo dungeon exploration game which comes with one adventure module, and there are many others available as well as expansions to the game rules. I'll start with a review of the material, then proceed to a playtest report, including comments on the rules.

Content: the basic Dark Dungeon package consists of eight PDF files, including the rule book, an adventure module, a book with details about the adventurers, a quick reference chart, cards and counters for the adventurers and monsters, and a set of dungeon tiles. Quite a lot of stuff which is meant to include all that's needed to play except for ten-sided dice.

Presentation: the rulebook, character book and adventure module are laid out as single-column text, which might be readable even in booklet format. The artwork follows the same "old school" style as other Avalon Mini-Games; check their product covers to know what to expect. The diagrams look better than the ones in Battle Armor and do not cause confusion. The "Master Adventure Chart", which is used to track time and other information in the dungeon, has a good layout but it's a little crazy on the colors for my taste.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Chain Reaction 3.0

I'll start tackling my list of games with Chain Reaction 3.0. To be honest, I read those rules some time ago but at the time, I thought they were more complex than I'd like. However, as the reaction system worked so well in Qwik, I ended up getting All Things Zombie on a whim and then I thought that learning the core system before trying that game could be a good idea. [A more rational approach would have been to try Chain Reaction before buying All Things Zombie...]

Before moving to the gameplay report, here's a short review of the book -- I don't feel it's necessary to elaborate much since anyone interested may simply download it from the Two Hour Wargames site.

Presentation: the book uses a two-column layout and is mostly black and white except for the images of the covers of other Two Hour Wargames titles that are spread throughout. The tables (an important part of this game) are very readable.

Writing: the writing style is a little more concise than I would like; in my opinion, it's better to be verbose and make things absolutely clear than having people guessing. On the other hand, I must admit that pretty much all of my doubts were solved by the text, even if it took me a second or third scan through the book.

Monday, May 23, 2011

So many games, so little time...

After a while collecting miniature game rules (and a few other strategy games), I decided to take a little time to find out how many I have, how many are free and, most importantly, how many I have played at least once. The results are surprising: a total of 40 different games, 17 of them free and only 13 of them played so far. There's a dozen games I paid for and still haven't tested...

So, based on this little chart, I decided to take a break on collecting and focus on actually playing what I've got, possibly with the help of programs like RPTools or Battle Chronicler. When possible I'll use an actual table, so that I can experience the game's rules involving measurements, counters and bookkeeping in the "real" environment but I suspect that I won't have the necessary space, miniatures or terrain for some of them.

If I get the extra time to do it, I'll try to write a little review for each game system that I try, and possibly an opinion on the "solo-friendliness" of them. So, there we have a new project for this little blog.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Battle Armor

For some time I've been intrigued by the large amount of titles offered by Avalon Games, so I included two of their "mini-games" on my last batch of purchases from RPGNow: Battle Armor and Dark Dungeon. For now I'll write about Battle Armor. When I read the intro text, I immediately remembered the beginning of Starship Troopers (the book.) I think it gives the flavor of what the game is meant to be: battles between soldiers in power armor, wielding heavy guns and fighting endless wars. I did this quick drawing while in the mood.

 The game comes as two PDF files, a color version and a printer-friendly one. Layout is basic but readable (which is good.) The text is clear most of the time, although the style is very concise, meaning that some times you will have to look for information on the previous pages, as it will not repeat itself. Since the whole of the rules fit in about six pages, that's not much of a problem. Illustrations have an "old-school game" look that people will either love or hate. My real problem is with the diagrams that illustrate some game concepts; from wobbly lines-of-sight to a strange choice on how to depict a jumping motion, at first glance they confuse more than clarify.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Qwik - Game of the Wasteland

A few years ago I saw this movie called "Blood of Heroes," where the plot involves players of a (very violent) sport called Jugger in a post-apocalyptic world. I guess anyone who likes post-apocalyptic role-playing games would be tempted to convert that into a game setting. I toyed with the idea but didn't go far, and never found anything quite like that. So last week I was browsing the new releases at WargameVault when I saw this new book from Two Hour Wargames: Qwik, which turns out to be a strategy/board game adaptation of that blood sport. I grabbed it (in PDF form), and now I had the chance to run a playtest.

In Qwik, two teams of five characters compete against each other. Each team has one "qwik," usually a small and agile person, who is the only one who can touch the "bean" (a dog skull) and must place it on the opponent's stake at the edge of the field. Then there are three "drivers," tough guys armed with bats who may attack each other and the qwik, to protect their stake. Finally, there is one "chain," who acts as a bodyguard for the qwik, carrying one or more chains that can be used to trip the opponent's qwik or hurt the other players. Curiously enough, there are people who actually play this in the real world, check the ever useful Wikipedia for details.

One thing I find particularly attractive in Two Hour Wargames' rules is that they are explicitly meant to work for either multi-player or solo games. That same holds in the case of Qwik, where part of the book is devoted to the behavior of "non-player teams."

Learning the Rules
In this test match, I simply picked up the first two ready-made team rosters, controlling the (slightly) weaker one against the rules-driven opponent. On the following picture we can see the teams ready at the start of the game. My team (red) consisted of Allan (the qwik,) Wilkins (chain,) and Gordon, Ivana and Killer (drivers.) The blue team had Boris (qwik,) Vance (chain,) and Marc, Mr. Q. and Olivia (drivers.) Since you must choose your player in the team, i picked up Wilkins, who becomes a "star." In order to keep things simple in this first match, I didn't roll for Signatures for any team member.
The game began with a "face off" between the two qwiks. Luckily Allan, my team's qwik grabbed the bean and started running. My team's drivers moved ahead to protect the qwik, while the chain managed to knock down the opponent's qwik and even cause some damage. The blue team started by having Vance, their chain, knock down our qwik making him lose the bean. Even worse, Marc pinned the qwik down and the red team recovered the bean.
Some time later, Killer entered the same zone as Boris and hit him hard, taking him out of the game.  Having lost their qwik, the only hope for the blue team was to stall the game (and possibly hurt other team members) until the 100th stone was cast so they could get a substitution. A few turns later my team managed to stake the bean on blue team's field, losing Killer in the process (the red team really wanted revenge) and with Allan and Ivana also hurt.

Qwik is an interesting game, as it is all about tactical positioning. At first glance I thought that the tables automated too much of the game but actually, if you don't carefully move your team, defeat will come soon. The solo rules work well and do make the automated players behave consistently. I particularly like the ingenuity of the rules to determine how many "bonus dice" an automated player will risk. However, one must remember to always pick intelligent movement choices for the automated team (but I guess most solo tabletop rules require some degree of player intervention on the rules-driven opponent.) One very good thing is the fact that all resolution tables fit on four pages. Maybe one could even fit them all in a two-sided quick reference sheet to use in games (once all players know the general rules.)

There were a few spots on the rules that weren't clear but that are workable using some common sense. For instance, if during the game both qwiks are on the same zone as the bean, I used the face-off table to determine if either was able to grab it first or if they had to wrestle for it. Likewise, I assumed that since knocked down players cannot attack, another player entering their zone may opt to immediately go to the attack table.

In closing, Qwik is fun to play, even more if you have watched "Blood of Heroes" and thus remember the Jugger matches. I plan on trying a full campaign as suggested on the book but for that, I want to build a larger playing field and maybe some paper models for the teams. Maybe I'll do it for the Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month... time will tell.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Following the original idea from this thread on the Cardboard Warriors forum (which made want to try a photo printing service) I decided to build my own reduced version of Outrider. What I did was simply reduce each page so that it fit in a 10x15 photo and it worked very well for the terrain tiles, cars and maneuver cards. The player dashboards and counters became too small, but I should have figured that even before printing. Anyway, here are the game pieces (some of them glued to 2mm thick cardstock):
 And here is another picture next to a 15cm/6in. ruler to give a sense of scale.
Even though I still have to print a new set of dashboards and counters (I think I can fit two panels per photo keeping the original size) I wanted to finally try the game, as I have it for about two months already. I used the suggested scenario in the book, where a Muleskinner and Gunslinger must pass through the road block, surviving the ambush from an Interceptor and Linebacker.
The nice thing about this reduced version of the game is that it requires very little space. In the picture above, I set up the scenario on my computer's table (a bit of the keyboard was intentionally left at the bottom.)