What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
After Winter Dark Campaign Setting

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Weekend R&R: X-Wing Miniatures

X-Wing Miniatures is hardly a game that needs much introduction or even a review.  However some gamers who may be interested may not have given it a shot yet so I thought I'd share how I came into the game, my gaming experiences, and my general thoughts.

In short, X-Wing miniatures is an excellent and well thought out game which has already won a variety of awards since it was introduced a bit less than two years ago.  Produced by Fantasy Flight games, components are of a decent, durable quality but the love of all things tokens could be a turn-off for some people looking for an easy game to get into.  When it first came out, I was immediately impressed with the look of the miniatures.  They are plastic and pre-painted but the details certainly caught your eye.  It's hard not to imagine how any fan of Star Wars wouldn't be potentially interested -- even from just a collecting standpoint.  What turned me off initially was simple -- the price for the starter alone (containing a crap-load of tokens but only two Tie-Fighters and a single X-Wing) seemed a bit high at the MSRP of $39.95 and individual ship expansions costly themselves ($14.95 and up).  I successfully avoided temptation even though my money was quickly spent in other ways.

A month ago, running a Castles & Crusades game at my local game store for a sort of 'mini-con', I was awarded a door prize.  The prized ended up being a Tie-Fighter.  At first I didn't think anything of it but I thank the store owners thinking that maybe a friend of mine who played might be interested in it.  Talking to him the following day, he mentioned that another store was holding a sale on all their Star Wars miniatures gaming stuff to the tune of 25% off.  This effectively meant that same starter was $30 instead of $40 so I made what some would consider a rash decision to pick it up as well as the Millennium Falcon and an Imperial Shuttle.  Without knowing much about the game, save that it was point based, I figured that the Falcon, an X-Wing would be a decent match up against three Tie-Fighters and the Shuttle.  And since the discount applied to everything, I saved a bit of scratch and, at the very worse, I had some cool models to display of could turn around and sell everything again and not take much of a loss all things considered.

I did not regret the purchase.

The first thing I did was read the quick start rules and then dive into elements of the full rules of the game.  The game is a lot simpler that it appears as far as mechanics are concerned but given the pilot differences and modifications, a whole lot of customization is present as well.  It also reminded me of another game I liked published a few years ago (also by Fantasy Flight Games) called Wings of War.  Wings of War was a dog fighting game and some of the basics in that game are present in this one.  I also linked Wings of War a lot but didn't get into it much as the models seemed a bit pricey too.  As biased as this may sound, X-Wing Miniatures seems to have more going for it though as far as options and customizations are concerned.

The second thing I did was to eyeball base point values of my ships.  As it turns out, I did pretty good.  It was possible to pit all my ships against each other and, a friend and I did just that the second time we played.  The first time we played, we just tried the simplified rules set up in the Starter... X-Wing vs two Tie Fighters which was something like a 25 point game.  The second game was just shy of 100 (I think the count was 93 for each of us).

Suffice to say that the second game seemed very one sided.  Tactically speaking, I kept a tighter formation with all of my ships and with a couple of moves that my opponent didn't expect (including coming to a dead-stop with my shuttle), I made quick work on that X-Wing.  Afterwards I ended up chasing the Millennium Falcon around the map while taking some shots until my opponent conceded victory as I was closing in for the kill.

I was immediately hooked though and, through some online sales, managed to grew the number of ships significantly.  One more Tie Fighter, one more X-Wing, a pair of Y-Wings, a B-Wing, a Tie-Interceptor, and a Tie-Advanced.  Played again today and decided to do a 75 point game and I was playing Imperials.  Things didn't go so well for me.

My build consisted of 3 ships... a Tie-Advanced (Vader baby!) and two elite Tie Fighter pilots.  Fighting against a couple of X-Wings and a B-Wing.  I like to think as B-Wings as flying tanks and I decided to make this my priority.  Being new to the game, I'm sure to make some mistakes but sometimes luck plays a few tricks on you too.  As our forces closed in, I managed to score some solid hits to lower the enemies defenses (shields) pretty quick.  What I didn't expect was what the two X-Wings had in store for Vader.  Both X-Wings locked on and fired proton torpedoes.    The first shot was evaded well enough but the second one hurt -- all his dice were hits (one of them a crit) and all my dice were blank.  My shields go down and I take a hull point and I have two hull points left.  I then shuffle and reveal my critical hit card on my ship.  "Direct hit... take two hull points damage."

And there we go, in the second or third turn of play, the Tie-Advanced and Vader is gone.  I'm left with two Tie-Fighter against two X-Wings and a B-Wing and my strength (point value) has been cut in half.  I try to bring things around knowing I made significant strides toward eliminated the B-Wing so I press on.  At one point in the match,  the B-Wing and two Tie-Fighters are out of range of the X-Wings but within range 1 of each other and all within their firing arcs.  My two Ties fire first and the first has five attack dice against him and he is brought down to one hull point.  The second Tie takes the shot but the shot is evaded.  The B-Wing fires on that second Tie and successfully destroys it (having been previously damaged to 1 hull point from before).  With just one Tie-Fighter left, I look at the odds and concede victory to my opponent.

It was a great match but luck certainly was a factor in that game but I like that since you can still stack odds through customization and combos.  These were just matches (albeit fun) and there are still mission and objectives you can do instead of just pitting battles against one another.  There is a lot of strategy involved but the game is simple to learn and get into.  All of these are great things!

Of course, for Fantasy Flight Games, it's all good for business and my only concern would be long-term sustainability.  Since the game has come out, various expansions and starters have been flying off the shelves and doing quite well.  In some cases, it is difficult for retailers to keep elements of the game in stock.  However, since the game has initially come out, we have seen the following releases (in no particular order):
  • A-Wings
  • B-Wings
  • Y-Wings
  • X-Wings
  • Tie-Fighters
  • Tie-Interceptors
  • Tie-Bombers
  • Tie-Advanced
  • Slave I
  • Millennium Falcon
  • Lambda Shuttle
  • HWK-290
  • Imperial Aces Pack
All of these have appeared in the classic movies except the HWK-290 (I'm not counting the Imperial Aces Pack as these are Tie-Interceptors with a fancy paint job).  The HWK-290 first makes its appearance in the Dark Forces video game.  Some of the newer ships coming out are also have made their first appearances in other video games such as the E-Wing, the Tie-Phantom, and Tie-Defender.  Of course, a couple of bigger ships are also making an appearance this summer like Tantive IV.  That thing is massive compared to the ships in the game so far but, given scale, I don't think we'll see a Star Destroyer anytime soon.  ;)

So, what happens afterwards?  Where will they mine next?  Prequels maybe?  They have been releasing about 'two waves' a year so far and this summer's release will be the fourth wave.  They would easily put out mission/scenario books... do some more alternate Ace Packs (paint jobs) and I know there is a Rebel Aces Pack coming out soon too.  Regardless, it is a great little game and once I am eager to expand more upon and even participate in some tournaments too.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Weekend R&R: Codex Nordica (C&C)

During the month of February, I pushed (promoted) the latest Kickstarter from Troll Lord Games rather hard.  I was proud to back it after the amazing work that resulted in their Codex Celtarum book last year.  This first book won me over despite not being a strong fan of Celtic lore so I was immediately intrigued by a Norse book.  The production for the Codex Nordica book was rapid and this is a trend I would like to see continue with other Kickstarter funded projects.  One of the perks of backing the Codex Nordica project very early on was the chance to get a free softcover edition of the book (if pledging $49 or more) on top of everything else.  As of last week, some lucky backers have already gotten their bonus softcover copies.  Here, in the Great White North, I'm not so lucky but with the generosity of Troll Lord Games, I was given an advanced copy of the PDF for the purposes of this review.

To be clear, this would represent the text as it appears in the early softcover copies.  If there were any corrections made afterwards, I am not aware of them.  On my part, I did notice a couple issues which I brought to their attention so I hope that these make it in  Last note: The pic is an older promotional picture featuring the first title tossed about 'Codex Nordicanum' -- thankfully changed to 'Codex Nordica'.  I have no idea if this is the cover piece still being used for the book.

The book is broken up into eight chapters and, like the Codex Celtarum, the author (Brian Young) has certainly put in some time, effort, and research in the writing of this book.  They are:
  1. History & Cosmology
  2. The Nine Worlds
  3. Magical Beings & Monsters
  4. Wizardry & Enchantments
  5. The Gods & Giants
  6. Warriors & Battlecraft
  7. Castle Keeper Info
  8. The Precious Works
It is important to state that the first two chapters offer a brief but concise overview of the history and mythologies of the Norse.  Since the Codex series are each focused on a 'group' or 'culture', a solid baseline of information is important for the would-be gamer interested in picking this up and run a game in, what is effectively a setting.  Anyone who loves a bit of history and mythology will likely lose themselves in the material and narrative presented in these opening chapters.  The author beings with the facts and then moves on to the various myths.  This is expanded upon with the exploration of the Nine Worlds presented in the second chapter.

The Nine Worlds gives a decent overview of the realms on Yggdrasil (aka, the 'World Tree') and enterprising game masters will have a great starting point for a series of adventures in these worlds.  What I found was a nice touch was the inclusion of random encounter tables for a couple of these realms though it should be noted that most of these areas do not have the same sort of treatment.  I found this a bit curious but given the lore available in these pages, the lack of more tables will largely be unnoticed.  The Nine Worlds does more than just give overviews of these realms as history comes to the forefront once more as the the Nordic Lands are equally detailed with the same kind of attention to detail that the mythological component received.  A nice map of Europe provides a quick and handy guide to showcase the various Viking colonies from the 8th century onwards as well as routes.

The two chapters that follow are more devoted towards Castles & Crusades (and other similar FRPGs) with Chapter 3 offering just over 20 pages to new critters and Chapter 4 presenting a couple new classes and magic for the game.  'Magical Beasts & Monsters' is a small bestiary whose contents will largely be unfamiliar to your typical fantasy gamer.  Aside from the inclusion of entries like the Dragon, Kraken, or Troll, the differences with these are mostly highlighted and set them apart from the 'standard' entry.  Old Norse names are included as well with the exception of the Kraken.  There were certainly stories of the 'largest monster of the sea' (a Hafgufa?) which could describe a Kraken quite well and its inclusion here is a lot more fitting that trying to shoehorn it in GREEK MYTHOLOGY!

'Wizardy & Enchantments' presents the Seidkona class (sort of a runic sorceress) and a Volva (Prophetess).  At first glance Seidkona class offers a slight flavor twist with what basically a wizard but the details are fun.  This class doesn't use a spell book but rather the spells are sewn into their clothing.  They also have an enchanted staff (a spinning distaff) which they require for their spell casting.  Another slight twist is an extremely high charisma (19-20) will grant the class the ability of a Seer (detailed further on in the chapter).  The Volva makes for an interesting class and, aside from abilities of small and large visions befitting a prophetess, the spell abilities are intriguing as the class can gain a second spell list to draw from and use.  They start off with clerical and, at 5th, they could choose another, say Illusionist for example.

One of the things that makes Chapter 4 interesting are the details given on the Futhark and the incorporation of them as 'spells' for the game.  As someone who has done a study on the Norse Runes a number of years ago, I can't help but applaud the disclaimer the author gives on the nature of the runes in Germanic and Nordic society and what little we actually know today.  These runes can be used in game as the Game Master see fit but, they are readily to use in the same manner that rune magic is dealt with in Troll Lord Games' release "Rune Lore".  The chapter also devotes a couple of pages to the 'Blot' (Sacrifice), Ring Oaths, and Charms, and offers a few odds an ends towards the end of the chapter.

The fifth Chapter is a return to the stories and beliefs of the Vikings.  There are no mechanics in the chapter entitled 'Gods & Giants' and is truly stat-less.  It also puts the 6 pages devoted to the Norse gods in "Of Gods & Monsters" for C&C to shame.  The fifth chapter is rich in story and lore concerning the iconic figures in Norse Mythology -- both the gods and giants.  This chapter is further enriched with the inclusion of text talking about pagan religiosity, sacred sites, rites and beliefs.

By Chapter Six, the pendulum swings again as the chapter offers a bit more system material for Castles & Crusades as well as more substance for the use in your Norse-themed campaign.  New classes in this chapter include the ever popular Berserker and Giants Killers.  Perhaps more importantly is this chapter called 'Warriors & Battlecraft' is accompanying material on warriors, honor, and fighting techniques.

Up to this point, the organization of the books is fairly straight forward and well thought out.  Chapter Seven is essentially 'everything else'.  It's hard to find a good title for this chapter since it is a weird and diverse mix.  Once again, valuable information and definitions, some tables, a selection of names, and even how to use the Eddas in gaming.  Because of the nature of this chapter, it almost makes the last chapter of the book feel a bit out of place.  The final chapter, 'The Precious Works' are about the various items and weaponry of legend and their owners.  It almost feels like a lot of this material belongs in Chapter Five instead of the very end of the book.

Reaching out to the author, I was able to confirm a couple of little truths about the book.  One of these things is what happens in the editing and layout process.  The last chapter of the book seems a bit out of place in part because it is.  One of the stretch goals in the campaign was additional material and it seems like this is it. It certainly doesn't take away from the book and, given the contents of the final chapter, it is a welcome addition.

All in all, I think the Codex Nordica is an outstanding book and, from what I understand, the upcoming Codex Germania should follow nicely in its footsteps. Some people looking at the Codex Nordica may be tempted to measure it against the TSR produced counterpart  published over 20 years ago.  I know because I considered that very thing when I looked at the previously published Codex and the Celtic material it presented (you can find that review over HERE).  With two books in the series, it is certainly shaping up to be its own thing.  At most, this volume (like the one before it) is very complementary to the green book counterpart published by TSR over 20 years ago.  This is not an attempt to recreate resources that have come before it and the series is doing a nice job defining itself as a worthy resource to supplement your gaming bookshelf.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

On A Personal Note

To my loyal readers, I apologize for the absence...

Things have kinda stalled for me as much of my day-to-day routine got upset with some personal stuff.  I'm trying to get back in the saddle though and you should be seeing a few posts in the next few days.  Some of these will be posts I've started weeks ago which I need to finish, like a Stat-Block comparison between Ballista, Castles & Crusades, and Swords & Wizardry.  This piece should give my readers an idea what to expect with the new line I am starting up.

I also am excited to be releasing my review of the Codex Nordica book for C&C later this weekend!

There is a myriad of little things I want to update my readers on as well.

That said, I wanted to take a bit of time and touch upon the personal a bit.  I don't delve into details of my personal life all that often but since I am on the verge of moving forward on a couple of big projects, I felt I needed to share a bit so that my readers had a better idea where I'm coming from with all of this.

While I don't talk about it much, a few years ago, I have been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.  This isn't a huge issue but certainly an inconvenience on many levels.  I try to maintain a decent diet which, ironically, I was on the path of doing before my diagnosis.  I am followed by medical professionals but, in the end, everyone is human and mistakes can happen.  As a result of something that was overlooked and a wrong assumption, I rapidly developed an ulcer in my foot.  This situation resulted in a few things -- a trip to the emergency for one as well as a host of tests, examinations, with a bunch more to come.  In some ways, it is bad, but it could have been far worse and I'm getting treatment now.  I'm still waiting for some results and a few more appointments to take care of the situation once and for all.  But it completely sucks.

For the past few weeks, the amount of pain I have been in (on and off) have been very high.  The doctors and nurses have frankly been amazed that I have been functioning the way I had been doing which, apparently, means my threshold of pain (or rather tolerance of it) is high.  Sadly, not high enough to be able to go to my Black Sabbath concert early this week.  The distraction brought upon by the pain has also been what has led me to slow down the work I had been doing with my projects and this blog.  Well, pain *and* stress to be honest.

Why do I mention any of this?

Well, since I do intend to help launch my Ballista line with a crowd-funding campaign, I have seen many successful campaigns completely stall out because of a variety of issues.  I, like many of my readers, have been burned by various Kickstarters.  When I finally launch (probably in Indiegogo), I didn't want my readers to think I was going to be another one of 'those'.  My intent (as I've stated before) was to launch ONLY when I was ready to along with the material and will hold back until the material is ready and well on its way to be completed.

So, in some ways, no news is good news and, at present, my INTENT to launch (funding) is within a month.