Restoration Games announces Return to Dark Castle for 2020

Return to Dark Tower Feature

Restoration Games is turning their attention to another ‘Holy Grail’ game of the 80’s

Way back in 1981, Milton Bradley released an incredibly experimental board game – Dark Tower.

On the surface, it may look like fairly standard fantasy fare.  Search the four realms for three keys to unlock the Dark Tower.   Explore the board, fight monsters, buy items from the market – yep nothing really out of the ordinary these days.

But in 1981, the Dark Tower itself was the app that kept tabs on what was happening and directed play.  It had a small keypad that allowed players to input their moves, and the tower made various sounds or lit up various panels to show what was happening.

And the best bit (well, for some) – Orson Welles himself did the ad!

While Dark Tower was released over 30 years ago, there are still a lot of people that go to amazing lengths to have a copy in their collection – working or not!  This is very similar to another game released in the 80’s I have talked about on the site before – Fireball Island.

I have loved almost everything Restoration Games has released.  The only game I am not going out of my way to play is a game called Indulgence.  It is by all accounts a fine game, but I was never a fan on the of the DragonMaster (well, original for what I played), so the restoration did not hold a lot of interest for me.

Fireball Island New Board

That’s one game though.  Stop Thief! took another innovative design from the 80’s and made a beautiful deduction game with solo, cooperative and competitive game modes.  Downforce (which I got to play again last night actually) made racing games fun again, and I am looking forward to the new tracks and powers this year.  Even Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar lured me in, and I am looking forward to that appearing in the mail later this year!

And then during Gen Con, the following video was let lose on the world.

Restoration Games track record and nostalgia have once again combined to get me excited about an old game that by today’s standards is primitive and ‘not fun’.  And with Gloomhaven designer Isaac Childers working with Rob Daviau and the Restoration Games team, Return to Dark Tower should become something special indeed!

But there will be a wait.  A long wait.  According to statements made during Gen Con 2018, Return to Dark Tower won’t be on Kickstarter until 2020 sometime – and that’s all going well.

Until then, I will just have to track down a copy of Dinosaur Tea Party to keep my Restoration Games release anticipation in check 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Horizon Zero Dawn to be the next Video Game to become a Board Game

Horizon Zero Dawn Feature

Breaking down a massive open world experience into a board game

There have been a few Board Game adaptions of Video Games over the years.  Some have been good.  Some have been not good at all.

Steamforged Games have had a lot of success with their Kickstarters.  The miniatures for the Dark Souls The Board Game are fantastic, but the reports on the game proper are mixed.

I have backed the Resident Evil 2 Board Game.  Honestly, not for the game.  I am a bit unsure on the what seems to be a Resident Evil themed dungeon crawler, but for the miniatures.  I am going to have a great time painting up those miniatures I think, and if the game turns out to be a bit of fun then all the better.

During Gen Con last week, Steamforged had an announcement to make.  They have another project coming to Kickstarter, and it is another Video Game adaptation.

This time it is Guerrilla Games Horizon Zero Dawn.

Now I have barely started Horizon.  It’s on my ‘get back and play it’ list that I am hoping to put a dent into over the Christmas holiday break.  But watching any video footage of it makes it immediately clear how beautiful a world Guerrilla has created.

Horizon Zero Dawn Screen
A world as dangerous as it is beautiful

There is very little detail available about the game right now.  The announcement really is just a statement that work has begun, but the hype is already starting.

Now as I said Dark Souls from Steamforged has a bit of a mixed reception.  Resident Evil 2 as a board game I am not expecting a lot from.  Steamforged though does have some great games in their stable, including Dark Souls the Card Game.

This isn’t something like Victorian Masterminds where I am looking forward to it based purely on the designers involved.  I have no doubt in the future when this does come to Kickstarter (no dates yet!) that it will be another big hit for the company.  But just look at the attention to detail in what they have revealed already:

Horizon Zero Dawn Scrapper
The attention to detail is amazing again. Once again, I may be backing a game just to paint minis
Horizon Zero Dawn Aloy Render
It is a 3D render, but the attention to detail in Steamforged minis are amazing

What do you think?  Is the idea of playing Horizon Zero Dawn as a board game something you are looking forward to?  Or like myself does the idea of enjoying the miniatures enough?

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Richard Garfield and Fantasy Flight reveal KeyForge: Call of the Archons

KeyForge Starter Pack

This is my deck.  There aren’t any like it, and this one is mine.

I have spoken a few times about my relationship with Android: Netrunner.  Asymmetrical two-player card games are something I enjoy playing, but there is almost always two major obstacles.

The first is buying boosters looking for ‘the card’.  This is something that the LCG or Living Card Game format largely fixed though.  Knowing that every few weeks you would be spending $X on a new expansion made budgeting simple.  There was also no frustration in buying 100 boosters and not finding one card you need to make a combo happen.

The second is almost contradictory – deckbuilding.  Most people play trading card games as deck builders – literally, putting your own unique deck into play and seeing how it holds up against others.  This takes a lot of time, and that is not something all players have at their disposal.

There are two key aspects that take time with deckbuilding (three depending on how you look at it).

The first is the study of the cards and rules to learn the interactions.  This learning curve is similar to all gaming, but in a trading card game with literally hundreds if not thousands of cards this can become a full-time job.

The second is the playtesting of said decks.  Building the deck and understanding interactions is fine, but the playing of the deck to fully understand your creation is a labour of love.  And it is here that a culture of gamers emerges – the ‘MinMaxers’.

Pile Of Cards
If you think this looks daunting, you are obviously new to trading card games

Now MinMaxers get a pretty unfair go reputation wise.  I don’t mean the term to be derogatory in the least.  Really good MinMaxers are borderline mathematical geniuses that work out statistics on card efficiency and draw-chance for fun.  These players are in search of the ‘best’ deck – the one that is guaranteed to win every time.

There is nothing wrong with this – wanting to win with your deck is the point of playing after all.  I honestly respect these players and their abilities as they are well deserved.

There is a subset of these players though that give them a bad name.  These are the kinds of players that look at a beginner or casual player and don’t deem them ‘worthy’ to play because they don’t have deck X or card Y.  These types of people you just want to avoid in general and are a separate reason people don’t want to play socially altogether.

Now in trading card games, MinMaxers are where the money is.  These are the players that will buy every booster pack they can get their hands on to get that ultra rare card that will give them the edge.

Even if they don’t have that magical card, they are able to use the cards they do have with terrible effectiveness.  This is daunting to newer players yes, but learning a game and playing against a veteran player always feels like this.

Once you get to know a game, you start learning archetypes in games.  In Magic: The Gathering, you learn what a red aggro player means.  In Android: Netrunner, you know Jinteki means you have to protect yourself on a successful run.  The exact cards and effects may vary, but you learn a general theme and feel pretty quickly.

Netrunner Runners
Once you get to know the game, you have a pretty good idea the overall strategy of the player when you see one of these IDs

Now in some ways, Richard Garfield is responsible for this type of play in Trading Card games.  One of the most successful TCG to date is Magic: The Gathering, and it became a template for many games that followed such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!.  Even Netrunner, the original design Android: Netrunner was based on, shared a lot of common themes that promote this kind of play.

So you can imagine my excitement when during Gen Con 2018 Richard Garfield and Fantasy Flight Games announced a new type of trading card game that turned all of this on it’s head.

So what makes KeyForge interesting to me?  On the surface, it looks like any other trading card game.  Two players have control over unique decks, and try and outplay their opponent through a combination of luck and skill.

KeyForge is a resource and combat game.  The point of the game is to collect three keys, achieved by harvesting 18 pieces of Amber (or Æmber in the game).

Learn the core rules, identify the archetypes of the seven houses, throw your deck together job done – what’s the hubbub about.

Well, it’s the throw your deck together bit.  This doesn’t happen, ever.  With the exception of the starter pack decks, each deck will truly be unique.

KeyForge Starter Pack
KeyForge, where you don't buy cards to fit your deck - you just buy a whole new deck and play!

You see booster packs in KeyForge aren’t a random combination of cards you get to put into or leave out of your deck.  Each booster pack is a new deck, in its entirety, ready to play.  It’s actually illegal game wise to take cards from one deck and put them in another.

Imagine travelling around and you leave your deck at home – no card games for you this trip!  Well in KeyForge, assuming you can borrow some tokens or a pen and paper, this won’t be a problem.  Nip into your local game store, and buy a USD$10 booster pack.  You now have a new unique deck ready to play!

And the billions and billions of combinations?  This isn’t actually marketing hype.  It’s easier to explain with a normal deck of playing cards.  A standard poker deck has 52 cards, so the amount of combinations that deck order can be is 52 factorial or 52!.  This means 52x51x50x49x etc. etc. down to x1.

How many combinations can exist?

80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636, 856,403,766,975,289,505,440, 883,277,824,000,000,000,000.

That is why they say when you shuffle a deck of cards, that exact deck order most likely has never existed.  The number is just too huge.  And that is with a pool of 52 cards.

Imagine the number of combinations in KeyForge with its 7 factions!  Even if each faction had only 52 cards in it, the number of possible combinations is mind-blowing.  Hence the random decks in each booster are statistically unique, and no one else will have a deck like yours.

Now the MinMaxers still have their place in KeyForge.  Learning the available card pool and hoping for a booster with the ‘magic’ combination is still possible.

But imagine the organised play opportunities?  The deck comes into it, but you can have one class with your well practised deck, and another with blind decks that you open at the start of the event and just start playing!

KeyForge Combinations
The chances of anticipating the contents of your opponents deck are amazingly small when you do the maths

Fantasy Flight has confirmed that KeyForge: Call of the Archons will be supported by their organised play, and it will be out fourth quarter this year.

Quietly, I am hoping it will be out early October for purely selfish reasons.  While this would potentially take the shine off last round ‘official’ Android: Netrunner play, jumping straight into a new card game would be amazing!

And if it is released in the States early October, there is the chance it will be at PAX Aus come October 26th.  Where I will be.  With my wallet ready 🙂

You didn’t think that countdown was just for show, did you?

What do you think about KeyForge?  Is the idea of a trading card game you just need to learn to play appeal?  Let me know!

For more information, the official Fantasy Flight announcement can be found here, and the Board Game Geek page here.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Gloomhaven is coming to PC via Steam in 2019

Gloomhaven Digital Feature

It’s true – Gloomhaven is going digital

Gen Con has been going strong again.  By the time this article is up, the annual event will be wrapped up.  Wallets will think themselves safe for another week after the purchasing frenzy of new releases and wishlist additions grows ever longer.

It’s no surprise there has been new game announcements that have had me reaching for my credit card yet again.  There are a few games I have been waiting for, and a few that have come out of left field for me.  Nothing strange there, and you will be reading about some of these titles over the next few days.

Board Games in general though have almost taken a similar place in my game times as some of my Video Games.

The Witcher 3, for example, is a game I will play, and play at my pace.  This massive world will be explored fully, with every piece of lore I can find studied to the nth degree.  But right now, Octopath Traveler is being played in its place.

Nowadays I have board games that find themselves in similar positions.  Legacy of Dragonholt is a game I have been happy to put on hold, but will probably knock over for in two days.   Arkham Horror LCG is a game that is starting to get at least a fortnightly play session in, but it won’t take much to displace this.

And then there is Gloomhaven.

Gloomhaven Box
It looks like a normal game box. Then you realise it's 10kg and takes up a shelf on its own.

Gloomhaven is a 10kg box of legacy adventuring goodness.  It is a game that is simply described – a dungeon crawler with legacy like elements.

And that description is somehow accurate but in every important way completely wrong.

It is a game that takes hours to punch and sort.  I ended up buying a wooden insert, making my game now closer to 14kg or now organised gaming goodness.

But it has the problem of I want to play the game and give it the attention it deserves.  Each game takes an hour or three?  Fine.  But each game is a part of an estimated 100+hour board game and from all reports a unique experience for each player.

Now there are plenty of times that such hype is given, however Gloomhaven has a few points going its way.  In its first year with a limited print run, it became the number 1 game on Board Game Geek of all time.  It has sold approximately 120,000 copies as of the time of writing, with another 60,000 being printed – and there is already concern that this third printing won’t be enough.

That’s right – a game that came to Kickstarter because its designer Isaac Childers didn’t think anyone would buy the huge expensive game that makes up Gloomhaven can’t stay on the shelves.

Well this Gen Con, Asmodee Digital has come up with an interesting halfway solution.

That’s right – Gloomhaven is going digital.

Now I know I called this a halfway solution, and for the moment I am going to stick with this.

Initially Gloomhaven Digital will be a solo dungeon crawling experience, with campaign elements and multiplayer to come.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is a quicker way to get it into gamers hands.

However, the huge box and cost of Gloomhaven is justified by the fact that a campaign that exceeds some video games is fully included in the box.

Gloomhaven Digital Gameplay 1
No table space or setup required - Gloomhaven Digital edition

With all this goodness comes the issue for players like myself where this much content makes the game difficult to just play.

Setup has been a good 20 minute affair, and then once everything is done and ready to put away up to 40 minutes to resort and put away.  The two initial games I have played were easily an hour longer hour than they had to be simply because I had to look up a bunch of rules again.

Taking Gloomhaven digital means that none of this needs to be.  No parts can be misplaced or lost, and the games bookkeeping elements are handled by the game itself.

And even better for a lot of people – no rulebook to read.  The game keeps track of all that itself, you can’t get a rule wrong that can have lasting impact throughout the campaign.

Gloomhaven Digital Gameplay 2
Playing through a dungeon will definitely move quicker though

So there is a lot to be said for the transition to digital.  This will open up the world of Gloomhaven to many new players for a much lower price point.  But Asmodee Digital have already said they are only aiming for the spirit of Gloomhaven, not a true digital conversion, so does this make Gloomhaven Digital a side game type of affair?

I have added Gloomhaven to my Steam wishlist and will be keeping an eye on it in the months to come.  But I would be keeping this as a new Gloomhaven experience until a lot more information comes out, rather than looking forward to a true Gloomhaven experience in digital form.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

A’Writhe: A Game of Eldritch Contortions – why not Cthulhu Twister ?

A'Writhe Feature

Something is stirring in Arkham.  Again.

Pretty much everyone I know has played Twister at some point in their lives.  Callout a body part and a colour, and let the awkwardness begin!  It’s not a game I thought I would be looking at adding to my collection anytime soon, but WizKids may have just changed my mind on that.

A’Writhe: A Game of Eldritch Contortions is coming to Gen Con this year, and really it’s Cthulhu Twister.

The idea is pretty simple – split into teams of two.  One player is the cultist, trying to twist their body into arcane symbols by touching various locations on the board.  The other player is the Elder God the Cultist is trying to summon, calling out directions to their lunch loyal follower.

There is a catch though (isn’t there always?).  No one pair can get all of the positions correct themselves.  Humans are limited by four limbs after all.  So the other Elder Gods must be careful their cultist doesn’t help you form your symbol.

A'Writhe WizKids Playing
The WizKids Crew demonstrating the ritual - no I mean the game! Yes, game. That's it.

There isn’t a lot of depth and strategy here.  It’s a party game for 4-6 players that should take about 20 minutes.  The board or play area can be customised, as the locations appear to be neoprene mats.  This makes location setup unique, but might want to be careful about playing this on tiled floors!

Cthulhu as a theme is overdone.  I am a fan of the theme, and I cannot deny this.  As much as I am a fan though, it’s not the theme itself that makes me look at essentially a game of Twister – it’s they turned Twister into a game again.

A'Writhe Sample Layout
Sample layout for a visit to Arkham

Twister you play to pass the time and let everyone fall down.  This doesn’t make it bad, it’s just how it is.

A’Writhe: A Game of Eldritch Contortions adds game mechanics to a silly fun time.  You have to be Elder God that directs the Cultist to create the pattern first, so it’s a race.  You also hide the pattern you are trying to make from the other ‘Gods’ so they can’t stop your symbol from being made, adding an element of hidden information.

So there is ‘game’, but not enough to bog it down and not make it the party icebreaker and laughs of the original design.

Amazon US has this preordering for USD$50 + shipping, so this may be an expensive bit of fun though.  I would have to see the finished product to justify the price or wait for a good sale, but one thing is clear – WizKids made me interested in Twister again.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD