April 5th – International TableTop day!

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April 5th is International TableTop day!

Spread the word, pick a game, throw a party; do what you can to make TableTop gaming a stable part of your social life and get your friends to geek out! You can host a games session of your own, or find one to join in on at tabletopday.com or by searching for the hashtag #TableTopDay

I think for this International TableTop day I’ll be trying out the Game of Thrones board game, as I’ve heard it’s really well designed and comfortably complicated 🙂

Let me know you ITTD plans in the comments 🙂

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Choose Your Own Adventure – Freeway Fighter by Ian Livingstone

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Recently, I wrote about a run of Choose Your Own Adventure mobile apps by Delight Games, and how I got into the CYOA scene back when I was in school. Strangely, before even hearing about the likes of Dungeons and Dragons, and other pen and paper adventures, I was rolling dice and calculating luck factors, completely unaware that I was playing guided fantasy.

The Fighting Fantasy series sold in the millions throughout the 1980’s and was headed by the co-founders of Games Workshop, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. Some of these games are now available on iOS and Android, thanks to Tin Man Games.

Inspired by the re-invigoration of CYOA on its new, handheld platform, I eagerly went back to the source of my dice-rolling adventures with Freeway Fighter, written by the fantasy-adventure OG, Ian Livingstone. These books can be picked up online for a handful of change, in great condition, and even as first editions without any extra cost.

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First published in 1985, Freeway Fighter looks into the distant, dystopian future of 2022, when most of the population has been wiped out by a deadly virus. The survivors live in small, desert camps, in an endless battle for fuel and Credits.

Your mission is to drive from New Hope; the surviving population’s last bastion of peace, to the oil silos of San Anglo in and armed, Dodge Interceptor to trade for an armored fuel tanker, return it to New Hope and kick-start the post apocalyptic world’s slow-grind into normalcy.

The whole thing couldn’t be more “Mad Max” if it starred Mel Gibson himself, but despite the glaring similarities, it’s extremely enjoyable.

All you need is two dice, a pen and paper and away you go. You’ll find yourself collecting car parts, syphoning fuel, bare-knuckle boxing and drag-racing against pick-up trucks that have been converted into Roman chariots, all in the name of restarting civilization.

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I failed on my first attempt in around 50 turns, rather tamely, by running out of gas and being forced to abandon the Interceptor and walk the plains back to camp. On my Second attempt, after a gruelling, 90-something turns, I died at the hands of “The Animal”, despite the use of my deadly knuckle-dusters. Finally, after almost 100 turns, on my third attempt, I managed to restore humanity, and even rescue a hostage. The book has a tonne of replayablity, different routes to take and even different endings. The game isn’t the most intuitive, and has a lot of luck involved, but every so often you’re rewarded for making bold moves, or punished for overstaying your welcome.

The artwork, provided by Jim Burns and Kevin Bulmer, is a 1980’s gem; with mullet-clad warriors and shoulder-padded women regularly making an appearance, making you crave watching some retro movies. I’ve had Alien, Mad Max and Blade Runner running in the background, as I’ve battled my way though this book. Each run has taken 1-2 hours to play through, and grants a unique piece of nostalgia. I’ve seen that the FF series has since been bought out, modernized and republished, but I can’t help but hope that they still have the same vibe, and live on in another generation of roleplayers.

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Next up, I’m thinking of taking on one of the dungeon-crawlers; either Citadel of Chaos, or the original, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

Carcassonne Mobile Edition – Power to the Meeple

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Carcassonne represents as one of the pillars of modern European board games. Unlike Catan, Ticket to Ride and the other Euro tabletops, Carcassonne is quick to set up, quick to play, simple to learn and relatively straightforward and unpolitical.

Straightforward doesn’t mean it’s easy to play though. From 1v1 to 5-player, expect to get your game stunted, your plans cut short and, in multiplayer, to get ganged up on and betrayed.

The game plays out like a four-sided dominoes game. You play tiles and pieces, called “meeples”, scoring points when your meeples “investment” is completed. You can play meeples on roads, fields, towns and monasteries, which will grow procedurally as players place more tiles. This means, as you place tiles, you can grow your own areas, or hinder the plots of others until all the tiles have been played, and a final round of scoring decides the winner.

It can be pretty cut-throat, and as such, I’ve decided to download the mobile game, in the hope of upping my game.

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The mobile edition is available on Windows, iOS and Android devices for roughly $4.99, depending on device.

For $4.99, you get a lot for your money. Not only do you get the game, playable with up to 5 others (this requires and expansion in the physical game), you also get The River II, an expansion that’s great for setting the dynamic of each game, and makes for a nice change of pace from the original.

You get a choice of AI, across three stars of difficulty, which can often prove challengine in multiplayer, although head-to-head it’s a little tame. You also get a set of acheivments, which alone are tough to earn, yet equally rewarding when achieved.

There’s also an online mode, however on my Windows phone, I’m yet to find anyone on it, but I feel that’s more down to the lack of Windows players, than the game’s matchmaking capability.

The River II, in my opinion, is unbalanced and flawed, as it can easily be sabotaged and the first and last tiles are incredibly fruitful for “Farmers”. It’s nice to have the option to turn it on and off though, even if it’s just to add some variety to each game.

Besides that, it’s a great tool to practice with, and it definitely helps practice new battle-plans and opening gambits, although you really need other people, in order to test your wits. There’s a “Coming Soon” banner next to The River II expansion too, so hopefully there’ll be some more expansions on the way!

Games Night – Catan Seafarers

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The Settlers of Catan fast became one of the most popular board games of our time. Launching in 1995, it rose to tabletop fame and popularity and has now sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

Wil Wheaton’s TableTop and BlameSociety’s Beer and Board Games sessions had both been appealing to me, but despite its popularity, I couldn’t find a big enough group that was interested in playing the modern European classic.

Finally, last week I was invited to my first, rather serious, 6-player Catan session.

Considering I’d never played any of the Catan games, playing a doubly expanded version straight off the bat was daunting. Not only were we going to play with the Seafarers expansion, but also the additional 5-6 player expansion on top of that!

Armed with only a couple of Youtube vids worth of info, and some strong, Czech beer, I marched my settlers in, to see how I’d fare.

There’s tonnes of different versions of Catan out there now; from regional editions, to junior editions, to inter-planetary Star Trek editions, but from what I can tell, the Seafarers Edition has a lot to offer, in terms of what new things it brings to the table.

For anyone who hasn’t played Catan, there are many rules, but a single, simple goal of getting 10 Victory points (14 in this expansion, explained later). Points are typically earned by building settlements, expanding settlements and by building and owning the longest roads. All of these tasks are perfromed by reaping the land around your settlements for building materials, and trading your local wares with your opponents. In addition, you can trade materials in for “Development Cards” which can grants bonus points, bonus materials and an additional metagame of accruing the largest army, a process which grants a bonus Victory Point, and occasional control over the games common foe; the robber. The robber ceases development of the tiles around it, and steals from nearby players.

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You can still play your traditional game of Catan with the Seafarers Expansion, depending on what starting scenario you pick. In our scenario, we began with a large, standard Catan board “island”, with several satellite islands surrounding it, some containing the first of Seafarers’ new features; Gold. Gold acts as a wild card, which allows you an instant draw of any raw material you want, and you could quickly see roads and shipping routes plotted in its direction.

 In Seafarers, there’s also a Pirate, which, (you guessed it) acts as a robber on the seas, putting your shipping routes in equal peril.

Shipping routes are the other big addition in Seafarers Edition, represented by adorable little wooden sailboats, and grant access to the distant islands. Settling on an island grants a bonus Victory Point, and for this reason, the target score is raised from 10 to 14, to keep the game the same length as its predecessor (typically 60-90 mins per match).

I’m a big fan of other European board games, such as Carcasonne, but dynamically, Catan seems far superior. The interaction between players, making cutthroat trades and silently conspiring against each other reminded me of Munchkin, where you must maintain sound relationships with certain players, or risk being fed to the lions later in the game. There are 3 distinctive parts to a Catan game; an opening gambit, a large bout of trading and hoarding, and a political race to the finish line, as players become aware of their opponents’ scores. Each segment of the game transitions smoothly, but not without an almost audible “clunk”, as the pace of the game rapidly shifts each time.

After 2 back to back 90 minute matches, I learned a lot, but still finished near the bottom of the pile. I can see a long, treacherous future for myself in Catan, and I’m already hooked, but it’s a game, like poker, where you can only improve by playing more and more and more.

Settlers of Catan retails at £39.99 ($67), with the Seafarers expansion costing around £28.99 and the 5-6 player expansion costing a further £14.99. I was very fortunate to get to play such a big, expensive Catan build straight out the gates, but the standard game, which I’ve played since, is equally rewarding, with its own ebb and flow, and in hindsight, a much better starting point if you want to grasp the basics. They are also readily available online second hand, with a smaller, Travel Edition available for £24.99 new; if you don’t want to dump a pile of money on the game right away.

For £40, with the right company, I can see it being a worthwhile investment, and a great way to sink beers in the living room without getting a TV involved, making for memorable stories of settlement success and setbacks, for many nights to come.