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Column: The Gentleman Nerd

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Love ... GenCon

August 18, 2008 4:00 AM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a not entirely weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

BioWareWell, I made it back, gentle friends. I swam through the river of man and came out the other side with schwag and a few business cards. Thanks to my high level of alcohol tolerance, I managed to almost pull off a straight-faced interview with David Gaider from Bioware as well as demo a few new board games.

Now it be time to regale ye with tales from the nerdy sea. I sat in on a 20 minute Dragon Age demo, and as I mentioned earlier, interviewed David Gaider, the lead writer for this game and long-time BioWare contributor. If you're curious, he's the guy who wrote HK-47 in Knights of the Old Republic. That means he's awesome.

Anyway, Dragon Age looks pretty interesting so far. Fans of Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale will not be disappointed when this game drops early next year. Being developed exclusively (well, as of this writing) for the PC means that many of my hardcore PC friends will be completely psyched.

BioWare is going back to the 4 man party system and has developed this story and world from scratch, so we won't be seeing any old D&D or Star Wars friends this time around. The content and design appear to be M rated, so we won't be having to worry about this story having a happy-go-lucky feel to it. Overall, I'm pretty anxious to get my shaky hands on it.

Evez0r Onlinez0rMythic, as was the case last year, was busy showing off Warhammer Online and doing so very successfully. They were having PvP demonstrations and had a few stations set up to allow the public to beat each other senseless. The ever-charming Jeremy Dale was there, showing off his leet animating skillz by, uh, standing around. Eve Online was there, as always.

Turbine games were also present at the show. They were handing out trial subscriptions to Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online. The booth was packed all day, so someone had to be doing something right.

The Atari booth was basically the same way. They were demoing The Witcher and running trailers for Sacred 2. There were a few other PC gaming booths, but most of them didn't really draw my attention. The Fable 2 booth was handing out free pub games vouchers. There were running demos of the Champions game, which looks cool if you're into super-heroes.

I spent a good amount of time in the board game area as well. I'd hate to short change those events, so I'll save that for my next installment. I even saw Bud Bundy. I just hope he didn't see me.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I'm Stumbling Around ... GenCon

August 15, 2008 12:00 PM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a not entirely weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

Gary GygaxI know that I haven't written in a while - I have a good reason for that, but I won't get into it now. Instead, let's discuss the heart of why I'm posting: GenCon.

So, true believers, GenCon is back and the Nerd has noticed. It's once again time for me to head to Indy and see what's going on with all the board games and, well, 12 computer games that manage to get shown every year. Shall we?

I know that some of you must be wondering why a hard drinking bastard such as me would even care about a board game convention, or board games at all.

Well, it's because I have a heart. A heart that beats only for the solace that can be brought from popping out cardboard pieces and sealing them in a ziplock bag. The rules and errata from board gaming brings a certain level of control to my otherwise chaotic life. That, and I get into GenCon for free.

Being such an important member of the media has it's perks. For one, I get a free small soda at the movies for showing off my press badge. It's not all THAT glamorous, of course, but there are other little bonuses. Such as getting into GenCon for free, as I mentioned earlier. FREE! GenCon is like hanging out at a bus station and watching a pay TV until it's booze time, except the TV is free and there are many more things for me to break. That's where you come in.

Since I'm a mess most of the time, I can't really commit to seeing things and reporting on them like a normal human being. In fact, I can't really be bothered to commit to actually GOING to GenCon, but I probably will.

That in mind, I'd love to hear from you guys about what you'd like for me to focus my blurred vision on in order to provide much-needed knowledge about all the new card games that creepy people will be playing at Barnes & Noble in the months to come.

In all seriousness, though, I'd like to take a moment to remember Gary Gygax. I never got to meet the man, though I did see him a couple of times. He was always surrounded by a group of adoring nerds. You know, people make fun of D&D and gamers, but they're an interesting and loyal lot. I hope it can be said of me, when I die, that I'll be remembered by tons of faithful nerds.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I'm Ever Vigilant In ... Carcassonne

October 27, 2006 2:01 PM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

CarcassonneTile laying. That’s right, I said it. I’ll say it again: tile laying. That’s what I have to say to all of you tough guys out there. I play a game with little wooden guys that are nicknamed “meeples” and I lay tiles on a table to make countryside. And yes, I play the occasional game of patty cake. So what? I’m proud of my Carcassonne habit. You know why? It’s because I’ve seen the face of the meeple gods, my friends, and I laughed. I laughed right in their wooden faces. I’m the one who keeps you safe.

You see, because my friends have such extreme hatred of dice and cards (Brian), or just don’t like complex games, we’ve started bringing friendlier games into the fold. Most of my games are about killing things and cackling with glee. There are a few exceptions, like Robo-Rally, but overall, we’re pretty stabby. Since Puerto Rico and San Juan have been such a hit at the house, I decided we’d give this one a try too. It’s been surprisingly successful and not nearly as peaceful as I’d hoped.

CarcassonneThe idea behind Carcassonne is that you build cities and countryside. You do this by drawing tiles and then placing them where you can with the other tiles. These tiles are used to make up cities, roads and farms. Each tile has a place to put your little meeples so that they may make the most of their pathetic, wooden lives. They also get you points. What’s a meeple, you say? I’ll tell you. They are your wooden servants, and you must make them work.

Now, making your little guys work is pretty easy – you just put them on a piece of land, city or road that doesn’t have anyone else attached to it. That stakes your claim. Now, if it ends up connecting to something else that has people on it, then whoever has the most meeples on that feature gets all the points. If you tie, then you both get full points. Easy! Well, mostly easy. You see, there’s a touch of strategy to it, and if there’s even a touch, then that means that Brian and I are going to try to screw each other over. Oh well, there goes that “play nice” thing we had going on.

CarcassonneYou see, whenever there’s a large farmland, every completely walled city it touches is four (or sometimes five) points for whoever controls it. This can change the entire game. So, as you can imagine, most of mine and Brian’s time is spent trying to grab that freaking farm land and I usually lose this struggle because of skullduggery.

For instance, last time we played, I was the only one trying to stop the juggernaut that is Brian’s little yellow meeples. They were everywhere, man. I kept blocking him off and using towers to take them prisoner, but it was no use. I kept trying to get everyone to understand that it was only me, and my green meeples that were stopping that evil, yellow cloud from overshadowing the land. They didn’t listen. Everyone started feeling sorry for Brian. The damned fools. Luckily, I sacrificed myself so that he wouldn’t win, even though people were actually trying to HELP him. This made my wife, Sarah, the very surprised victor.

So, basically, thanks to selfless heroes like me, you people can play a nice game of Carcassonne without threat against your freedoms. You want my meeples on that wall. You NEED my meeples on that wall. Who’s your savior now, Jack?

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Need to Play Some More ... World of Warcraft

October 19, 2006 3:20 PM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

World of WarcraftThere’s a certain level of self-loathing that’s required to start playing a board game based on a MMOG based on a strategy game that borrows heavily from a board game that also borrows heavily from a table top RPG. The kind of loathing required is the kind that a sheltered life… or a serious rum bender… can breed. Luckily, I have plenty of that type of loathing. I enjoyed playing the board game so much, in fact, that I want to play it again. The only problem is finding other players.

In my youth, other than playing football and mailbox-baseball, I was also very obsessed with computer and board games. My step-brother and I spent many hours with our graph paper and a copy of Bard’s Tale. So, when Warcraft came out, I purchased it because it reminded me of Warhammer. Little did I know I’d be purchasing the first step in one of the most successful franchises in video game history, or that I’d be playing a board game based on this game’s story while living in an old, creaky house in the mid-west. Then again, back in those days, I thought I was going to be a famous archaeologist. Shows what I know.

World of WarcraftBefore I get into the actual game, let me say this first: the World of Warcraft board game takes for-FREAKING-ever to set up. I’ve never seen a game that has this many plastic figurines and specific cards per class. It’s out of control. Each class has two decks of cards - that’s not to mention the items they can win or find, the store and the events. This game is rather card-heavy.

So, once you’ve set up, it’s time to play… or at least try to play. You see, we had one player quit before we started the first turn because the game seemed too hard. Then we had a couple of other players (not me this time, so HAH) get too drunk to really comprehend the rules. Player number four was more interested in making the demon figurines hump each other. Finally, that left me and Brian. We tried valiantly to play, but without the other players, it loses it's charm.

World of WarcraftI think the biggest thing that this game has going against it is that it’s very busy. I can accept the cards, and the figs, and the quest cards. I can accept all of that, but man, the dice rolling system is intense. There are dice for every occasion in festive Christmas colors. You roll these dice like you’re trying to win the car on the Price is Right and pray to God that you get enough successes. I know that when I roll those dice, I’m clawed into my chair, wailing “OH LORD JESUS, IF YOU LOVE ME, DON’T LET THIS BASTARD MURLOCK TAKE MY LIFE AWAY!” That’s when it hit me. That’s when I finally realized that I must have my message heard. I must talk in depth about the randomization in WoW.

So, as mentioned before, there are different colors for the dice. There’s red, green and blue. Now, I don’t remember what does what, exactly, but I do remember that one is armor, one is magic and one is melee. So, you roll all these dice against a monster’s target number. Anything higher than the number is a success. Now, you split your successes out to whether it was armor, melee or magic. They then get sorted into different circles. I also think there’s a spot for an animatronics gnome reading Dio lyrics from a dusty tome, but I’m not sure.

Once we’ve got defense, melee and magic put into our circles, we then consider our special abilities and we can then “spot” a certain number to use our extra powers. Spotting a number is, well, you just kind of point at a number and go “THERE’S ONE.” So, the action of looking at a dice can sometimes trigger your character’s special attacks. I just want that to be clear.

World of WarcraftAnyway, back to the dice rolling. Once you have calculated your successes, and placed your markers in the appropriate circles, then it’s the enemies’ turn. The enemy then rolls all of their dice and subtracts it from yours. The balance is the damage either taken or given. I honestly think that, with the exception of Arkham Horror, this is the hardest to explain and understand concept in board gaming history. This game makes Twilight Imperium look like Chutes & Ladders.

Needless to say, by the end of the first combat, no one was paying attention. Brian and I played out a few more turns, but what can you do when your bitchin’ Orc Warrior decides to go play Zuma instead. We packed the game up and decided that we’d play again when everyone was sober and wanted to be there.

Still waiting.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Love... Ticket to Ride: Märklin

October 12, 2006 8:01 PM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

Ticket to RideYou know all that stuff I usually write about? All that stuff about the drinking and debauchery. I think I found a cure for that. There's this one company that is pretty popular in the board game world - I've talked about them before - called Days of Wonder. They make kid-friendly games that the whole family can enjoy, and I frankly find that disturbing. Memoir '44, one of their games I've mentioned before, is at least about our finest hour, but the one I'm going to discuss today is just too damned happy. I'm referring to Ticket to Ride: Märklin.

I think the first warning sign, other than the fact that the game is about taking trains, is that the player who goes first is chosen by either who is the youngest or who owns the most Märklin trains. I don't know about you guys, but model trains and hard drinking don't usually mix. Then again, who am I to talk?

Even though Ticket to Ride is about trains, building train routes and, well, liking trains, it's a pretty good time. The way the game works is that each player has a set amount of trains in their color and three passengers. These items are used to make lines between cities in, depending on the version, the U.S., Germany or Europe(in Märklin's case it's Germany). Every time you make a line, you are allowed to place a passenger on one of the two cities you connected. This passenger, on one of your turns, can travel the line you've created (or jump on other people's lines via "ticket" cards that you can draw) and pick up cargo for extra points. These passengers can only be used once each, so it’s wise to not go crazy with them right at the beginning.

In Ticket to Ride, you score points by building train routes. The length of your train determines how many points you get when you complete it - the longer the better. At the beginning of the game, every player draws four route cards and has to keep at least two. These routes give you extra points if you complete them, but they're also much more complex than just completing a line between two cities. There are always multiple stops when the route cards are involved.

Ticket to RideTo place trains on a line in the first place, you need to have cards. The way this works is that every player is dealt four cards from the deck at the beginning of the game and then the next five on top are flipped over face up so you can see them. For the rest of the game, players can choose to draw two cards from the deck, the face up cards, or a combination of the two. The face-up cards are replenished immediately, so there's a little bit of luck and gambling in it. Do you want to draw blind or do you see something you need on the table?

Each line on the board has a color, and these colors correspond to card choices with the exception of gray which is wild card; you can use any color card, as long as you make sure it's all that color, to claim the line. The card part of the game is fairly reminiscent of UNO in that there are wild cards can be used to represent any color, and also wild card +4s out there which act as four cards for the purpose of creating lines.

The game ends when one player gets down to his last trains. After that, everyone else is allowed to take one more turn before calculating points. The points that have been counted up are then added to by people's route completions. Of course, the player with the most points wins. That's how the game goes.

Now, usually this column would be full of me talking about all manner of skullduggery and murder, but I just couldn't manage to muscle it up this time. I really like the game, but it's just so… wholesome. For the most part, I only play games that involve killing, otherworldly beings, dungeons or all three, but it's nice to play something that's not so dour from time to time. Hell, I guess it doesn't hurt to not get drunk and angry every now and then.

This is a game that I plan to play with my kids one day.

Ticket to RideI usually like to have three game pictures per column, but I came up a little short this time. Here's a bonus picture of my current collection as of Sunday. My wife saw me looking at this and asked me why I just didn't go stand in front of the shelf and stare at it instead. That's a pretty good question. I guess I'll go stare at my games now.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Fear the Awesome Power of ... Memoir '44

October 6, 2006 9:17 AM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

Memoir 44I was never one for order and discipline. I suppose you could say that I was the kind of kid who was more interested in looking up girls' dresses and causing as much trouble as I could. I think I set a school record for demerits and suspensions, but I’m sure some ill-willed little son of a bitch will come along and break that one day. These are things that either put a young man into the army or keep him out. I was one of the latter.

Even though I never served my country, I was always infatuated with those who did. I guess my interest piqued when I was in my early twenties and my room mate was a history major specializing in World War II. Many drugs were taken while talking about Rommel, Mannstein and Patton or playing East Front II in hot seat mode. So when I saw Memoir ’44, I had to get it. I don’t do drugs anymore, so I’ve had to improvise with wave after wave of pure corn liquor buffeting my brain like a rock being swallowed by the sea. It was on one such nautical evening that I tried out my new game for the first time.

Memoir '44 is a game based on World War II and its many delightful battles. The board is hex-based and comes with different tile sets to change the layout of the terrain to suit different battles. Once the board is set, the players place their troops as indicated by the scenario and play begins. Each player takes turns using cards to move his pieces and rolls special hit dice (think the HeroQuest dice) to do battle. The amount of dice you use is based upon distance from the target and terrain modifiers. There is no defense. So, overall, it's a pretty easy game to learn.

Memoir 44Brian set up the board and read the rules while I commented on how awesome the different figurines are. Shortly afterwards, we placed units and drew our cards. This is where the complaining begins. You see, as much as I love Brian, he hates rolling dice. Well, he hates rolling dice if they don’t roll what he wants. We’ve played plenty of games of Runebound and Arkham Horror, but the dice rolls were in his favor, or at least not as cruel as they are to him in Memoir ’44.

Wait a second, I’m sorry, did I say Memoir ’44? I meant to say Random ’44. That’s what it’s referred to in our conversations. Personally, I’m quite fond of it, but you know, I always win.

I must admit, that if it were me, I’d probably be pretty upset too. You know, you can only claim that it’s your awesome strategy that’s making you win so many times before everyone starts noticing how drunk you are. That last statement isn’t only about me, it’s a universal constant. Like pi and how FOX cancels great TV shows and replaces them with crap. That’s enough philosophizing for one day. Let’s get back to the bitching.

Memoir 44The dice are only the tip of the furious iceberg; the foundation is in the card drawing. You see, you have to draw cards and use them to move your troops. Some of these cards have special abilities and different little tricks that can be used throughout the game. If you think that Brian hates dice, well you’re right, but he also hates drawing random cards… except in other games. So, basically, other than the actual board itself, the plastic figures and the container, Brian absolutely hates every part of this game.

You know what? If I had a deeper belief in the spiritual life of objects, I’d almost say that it hates him too. What if that particular copy of the game is someone Brian wronged in a past life? What if it’s a malicious spirit? Man, now I’m kind of spooked to be in the same room with it.

Oh well, I bet someone on eBay would be willing to pay top dollar for a haunted board game.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Don't Remember ... Runebound

September 30, 2006 12:12 AM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

RuneboundThe only kind of problems that you need to worry about are the ones you didn’t create. There’s a world full of hapless bastards that will fall into your traps, if you set them correctly, and provide you with hours of free entertainment. Hell, you don’t even have to know that you caused the problem to enjoy it. That brings me to Runebound.

I had wanted a new game to kick around, so we headed down to mall to look at their game shop. I regretted it immediately because malls, other than being a beacon for the insipid and dull, are full of things that are just begging to be smashed. It takes all of my willpower to not take a baseball bat to the limitless kiosks that have popped up selling cell phones and coffee mugs featuring dog pictures. The only way to get through it is to keep your head down and focus on your goal. My wife refers to my walking style as “soldiering.” I never liked that description.

Once I reach the game store, I was pretty pleased to discover that they have a very nice selection. What’s less nice is discovering that they’ve marked everything up to twenty percent more than any other store. The copy of HeroScape they had in the store was priced at sixty dollars, when you could go down to the Wal-Mart two miles away and buy it for forty. However, after braving the mall, I wasn’t going to go home empty-handed, even if it meant that I had to take an upswing to the jewels for it. Though notoriously generous, I have problems spending money. I’ve stood in a store for hours staring at something, deciding if it was worth it.

RuneboundYou know, there are certain types of people that wear their lifestyle. I’m not one of them, thankfully, but you can easily spot the ones who are. There are certain types, of course, but the easiest to spot is the geek. The geek is not only comfortable in his or her habitat, but is absolutely not self-conscious in the outer world as well. That’s why so many chubby people have ponytails. When I looked back to the counter of the game store, I saw the geek to end all geeks. Chubby, shoulders and glasses covered in dandruff, wearing the most impressive mullet/ponytail combo that the world has ever seen.

You could smell his distaste for us as we entered the store. It was fifteen minutes ‘til closing time and this man was ready for the booster draft. I had to think quick. The least ludicrous priced game was Runebound; it was actually marked at the MSRP. I’d been hearing good things about it, so I decided to go ahead and buy it. We quickly headed home. I had some serious drinking to do.

There’s something inherently wrong with letting the guy who’s drinking the moonshine read the directions. I’m quite capable of reading game instructions and teaching others how to play, but I’m usually sober when I do that part. After chugging down a few mason jars of magic, I wasn’t in any position to tell people what rule does what, but I was nominated so what the hell could I do? I’ll tell you what I could do, I could belligerently shout out orders to those who didn’t have the fortitude to take control of a situation. That’s what led to the incident.

You see, Runebound comes with two ten sided dice. I didn’t think much about it, so I threw one back in the box. “It’s a friggin’ back up dice”, I slurred to myself, “who the hell needs a back up D10?” I had seen nothing in the rules that said it needed two, so I just set it aside. After Brian had taken care of his usual game stopping habits, we began to play.

RuneboundThe idea behind Runebound is that you’re out to kill this Dragon Lord guy… or something. There are expansions that add more cards and quests, but I don’t have those. So, you go around the board, getting encounter cards and collecting experience to level up. Eventually you kill that rat bastard and its all money, baby. You see, you have to kill a monster to get the experience counter to trade in for stat upgrades. That’s where the incident comes in.

We were all starting out, stomping around the board and attacking the easy monsters. Well, this would have been great had the monsters been actually easy. We had been playing for about an hour and a half when we noticed that we had sure been dying a lot. Everyone had been dying a lot. On occasion, Voge would ask if we were supposed to use that other die. Hell no, I said, that would make the game way too easy. Eventually he grabbed the book away from me and read the bottom of page two. That’s the page that says you‘re supposed to use both dice. Everyone stared at me.

That’s why you should never let the drunk guy read the instructions.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I'm Seeking Revenge on... Arkham Horror

September 21, 2006 12:10 AM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

Arkham Horror isn’t the type of game you take on without a commitment to mind alteration and abstract thought. The brain has to be limber to follow the breadcrumbs that were left by the designers throughout the rule book for this game, and we all know what limbers the mind. So, I poured myself a glass of “brain tonic” and began my work.

Arkham HorrorWhen faced with learning something that abandons the standard rule set that we’re all used to, such as smashing windows, it’s always best to throw yourself in to it head first. With that in mind, we all sat down to go over how to play the game with only a modicum of actual game knowledge. A game like Arkham Horror, when not addressed as I’ve described, is always going to take twice as long to understand and begin to enjoy, and that’s its danger. If the learning process takes too long, the more casual players become restless and irritable and you will lose them. This will not do. That brings us to the only real complaint about Arkham Horror: the rule book.

The best way to understand these rules, and find your way through the book, as we discovered, was to have a council. We made the council out of the people we had present: Brian was the sober, hardcore gamer, Scott represented the sober, casual gamer and then me, the abstract thinker. Once the stage was set, we began to play and learn the rules at a breakneck pace.

Arkham HorrorOur characters would make a movement and perform an action, followed by a flip through the instructions. Anything that wasn’t played correctly was let slide and a promise to “do it right the next time” was laid out by all in attendance. This first game took us around four hours to play and, even after having to survive the rule book, everyone had a good time. This, by all accounts, is a minor miracle for our group. So, with that in mind, we decided to include some n00bs.

Luckily for said n00bz, there is absolutely no pwnz0ring allowed except by the Ancient Ones or their followers. On the other hand, though, is the fact that Ancient Ones and their followers really enjoy pwnz0ring n00bs and those of us with sk1llz as well. Arkham Horror isn’t an easy game by any definition, and that’s AFTER you understand the rules. That’s what makes it interesting, and oddly disheartening, to play. There’s always a “bottomless pit” waiting right around the corner to whisk you directly back to go without your ten dollars or wither spell. More than once, I’ve been swept into the void because of a lousy dice roll.

Instant death aside, the gameplay is somewhat similar to other systems. You can move an amount of spaces according to your speed and you use your different stats to determine the difficulty of skill checks and to decide combat. Items and allies can be acquired by completing challenges from location cards or by purchasing them in stores. Each player has life and, of course, sanity markers. It wouldn’t be a game based on Lovecraft’s work if you didn’t lose your mind. It’s all mostly standard board game fare with a few exceptions.

Arkham HorrorOne of the more notable differences is the gates to other worlds. Each round, the locations on the board have a chance of turning into a gate to another dimension. If a player is on that space or lands on that space, they are immediately sucked through and must find their way out. Basically, the player has to be in the other dimension for at least two turns before they can leave (though there are a few exceptions to that rule). Once the player has left the alternate dimension, they can choose to close the gate, and if they use five clue tokens they can seal that area for good, which means that neither gates nor monsters can spawn there again. Which leads us to the question: what the hell are clue tokens?

Clue tokens are little items scattered around the board that represent bits and pieces of knowledge that can be used to turn a situation to your favor. For instance, you can spend a clue token to roll additional die or to close a gate. These tokens start off plentiful and then become rare later in the game when you need them the most. Hang on to your clues, people, you’re going to need them when the Ancient One comes back.

There are a couple of ways to end the game, but the most common by far is the return of an Ancient One. At the beginning of the game, when you’re selecting characters you also select or pick at random for an overall evil threat. This grizzly bastard is planning on destroying the world, and only the investigators’ sweet brand of vigilante justice will save it. You have to fight the Ancient One and send it back to wherever it came from. There’s something satisfying about blasting Cthulu back to hell with a 12 gauge pump and some holy water.

Most of the time, however, it’s not that easy. Most of the ancient ones come into the world packing a punch and the odds of survival are slim, but where’s the fun if there’s no danger? This time we lost the nun, who was devoured by some ancient evil, and then our gangster got tossed into the abyss. After all that, those of us who remained were cut down by Yog-Sothoth.

Oh, well, you can’t win them all. Hell, it’s how you get there that’s the real fun. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway, but deep down inside I’m a torrent of rage. I’ll get you next time, you fancy bastard.

I need a drink.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Love... HeroQuest

September 16, 2006 4:05 AM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

There’s no such thing as a good drunken strategy, especially if that drunk involves making mixed drinks with something that resembles varnish. That’s why I don’t use strategies. I strive to provide a more entertaining experience for all of those involved or who are following along at home, and if it requires me to get drunk as hell and converse with giants or terribly clichéd game nerds, then so be it.

When it comes to board games, everyone wants a nice girl, but sometimes only a woman of ill repute will do. These are the games that you play when you don’t want any heavy thinking; the games that you take out for a good time. In this case, the painted lady to which I refer is HeroQuest.

HeroQuestOur game night started out in the usual way. Brian came over and brought Nick with him. Scott came over shortly after, and the game began. So did the drinking. What happened next was surprising to everyone involved: we won. I don’t know if I can really explain why, but we actually finished the dungeon and got out alive. Well, we almost finished it.

You see, HeroQuest, though not very difficult to grasp, isn’t exactly the most forgiving of games. One false move and you can kill yourself and all of your friends. This is the story of one of those mistakes that didn’t end in tragedy. This is the story of how Scott became “Johnny Go-Open-Doors.”

For those of you who have never played HeroQuest, there are a couple of unwritten rules. Rule number one is that you never search for treasure when your group is engaged with monsters in the other room. Rule number two, which is the most important rule, is that you never open a door until all the other rooms are cleared and checked. Rule number two is what earned Scott his new nickname. Thus the saga begins.

It was a perilous trip, one that most men would shy away from, like a close-talker in the men’s room or a drunken dwarf with a penchant for buggery. Once in the dungeon, we started frantically searching for treasure, much like a drunken dwarf searching for, well, you know. After turning up a few gold coins we headed out into the halls to see what was shaking. We happened upon a door and opened it up. There, inside, standing next to a very sensible, walnut-colored desk, was a goblin.

HeroQuestI noticed the desk first because it struck me as curious that they have pseudo-nice furniture. You know, when I think of dungeons, Ikea isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. I imagine shackles and bats. You know, the regular. So, admittedly I was shocked by the inclusion of such quality shelving and storage units. That’s when the goblin kicked me in the head.

I jumped to my feet and took a swing at the goblin, knocking him backwards. My elf friend stabbed him and he was down, but that just cleared the way for the other two who were waiting in the room. Suddenly, we heard the foot steps. The barbarian had run down the hallway and rounded a corner. That’s when we heard the sound of a door opening and awkward silence.

See, when you open a door in HeroQuest, anything that you can see from the hall in that room is activated. So, during the middle of our first fight, JGOD as we’ll call him, ran and opened a door down the hall. This let out a seriously angry guy, who then decided to run up our asses at full speed.

Luckily for us, we survived the fight, but not without injury. The rest of the game ended up being us sneaking around the dungeon slowly, holding back JGOD and making sure I didn’t steal any furniture. Finally we made it to the door outside of the boss’ lair. After taking a quick tally of our injuries, we decided to not try the fight. However, we did want to see what he was. It was time for JGOD to shine. He booted open the door and we all started running. Now THAT’S how you leave a dungeon.

So, the moral of the story is this: even drunk dudes know that it’s better to run away and keep some gold then to get stabbed in the head repeatedly by an unspeakably violent monster.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Love... Dungeon Twister

September 8, 2006 12:12 AM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

Dungeon TwisterI have the kind of day schedule that allows me to spend copious amounts of time helling through the internet at unsafe speeds. I won’t usually censor myself for the sake of others outside of not playing the role of digital ne’er do well, leering through a smoke filled room at some chippie trying to send herself through school. This gives me quite a bit of leeway, and so I use it… to look up board games. One day, while cruising through Board Game Geek, I stumbled upon something called “Dungeon Twister.”

What the hell is a Dungeon Twister? It sounds like you’ll need a spinner and some elf ears, but the box isn’t even remotely big enough for that. The only other kind of twister I can think of, other than the kind that tear-ass across Kansas from time to time, is of the Texas titty variety. I can’t imagine a boxed game coming with instructions on what to do to a man’s useless mammaries while my friends have him held down on the floor. Besides, I have people that do that for me. So, what is it? I had to know, so I ordered it. As it turns out, it’s one of the more inventive board games to come around in quite some time.

Dungeon TwisterThere are plenty of new ideas in the world of board gaming. In fact, it’s hard to find a game that isn’t doing at least SOMETHING that’s out of the ordinary. What’s interesting, however, is when you find a game that manages to cobble together a concept that’s completely bizarre and yet is still playable. That’s exactly what Dungeon Twister does. It takes a pretty odd concept and makes it work. I guess that’s most easily demonstrated by a quick look at the rules and how an average game goes.

First of all, the players set up the board as illustrated by my lovely, under exposed picture to the side over there. The game board sections are shuffled up and placed in the illustrated fashion. Each player then takes his team icons and, behind the screen, places them face down on either side of the starting board. Each side has a number of tokens that represent characters and items, once the player chooses his starting team, the rest of the tokens are placed upon the board face down. Once the starting team for each player is revealed, the game begins.

The basic idea behind Dungeon Twister is that both players have a set amount of cards that have Action Point amounts that range from two to five printed on them. Each player uses all of his Action Point cards and then they start over. In fact, all the cards in Dungeon Twister recycle with the exception of a few attack and jump cards. Each player plays his Action Point card and then uses those points to either move his characters, attack another player, reveal a section of the dungeon or turn a piece of the board. That last bit will take a little explaining.

Dungeon TwisterYou see, each tile in the dungeon has a gear on it, and on that gear is a number and an arrow. If you move your character to that section of the board and spend an Action Point, you can rotate the board piece a quarter turn. Now, somewhere in the dungeon is another piece that corresponds to the number on that gear. You can also move this piece by a quarter turn in the direction indicated by the arrow on that section. This is what makes Dungeon Twister interesting. You can manipulate far off sides of the dungeon to try and stop your opponent from scoring by moving his pieces off the opposite side of the board. Of course, he can do the same to you.

There are no dice and absolutely no luck involved, this game relies entirely on strategy. I’ve heard to Dungeon Twister referred to as a “crazy” version of chess, but that’s a little too narrow of a view for it. Sure, each of the pieces has a special ability and movement capability, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s hard to define or categorize. The only randomization I can think of in this game is the placement of the dungeon tiles, and there are only eight of those.

Dungeon Twister is a game of skill in a world dominated by chance. For that reason alone, it stands out as a game that should be tried. Beyond that, however, is the fact that it’s a well designed game with a low entry cost for two to four players (with the expansion). I know I’ve spoken to a few people that have trouble finding people to play games with, so here’s your chance as it only requires one other person. Sally forth.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]