Wednesday, May 31, 2017

MK Review: Dark Souls the Board Game


MK Review: Dark Souls the Board Game


Having taken the Tabletop realm by storm the newly released Board Game version of the old classic Video Game, Dark Souls by Steam Forged Games is the topic at hand today. I will admit with full truth that I was not a fan of the video game. I prefer to play a game that does not make me want to burn the whole world into ashes due to frustration of the difficulty level of a pack of minions, let alone the Boss that I haven't even seen yet. That being said, I was truly excited to hear about the birth of this Tabletop game. This is another product of the crowdfunding experience known as Kickstarter.

This was the first time that I was excited and so thoroughly sold on the quality of the product that I decided to click that 'Retail Backer' option. The fact that the campaign itself funded before it had been 24 hours, broke every stretch goal they put on the board, and set new records for Kickstarted Tabletop Games in multiple categories made it a safe bet. Having now received it and had some time to play, I am not disappointed.

Staying very true to the source material, the very first thing that happens when you open the box? You Die. That's right. You haven't even started the game and you died already. It is actually a good thing. It is better you get used to it right from the start. This fully cooperative and brutally unforgiving game had killed us four times before we even made it to the mini boss. Granted, this was our first run through, we hadn't picked characters with proper synergy, and we made a couple of big mistakes in soul (XP) expenditure, but none the less, the game continued to batter, beat and destroy us until we adjusted our tactics. 

The Components

There are large beautiful tiles that make up the rooms you are trying to survive. The miniatures that come with the game are collector quality while using nice durable board game-type plastic, keeping them light (the game weighs enough already), but still paint friendly for those of us who like to take it up a notch. The cards and tokens, even the instruction manual itself shows the utmost attention to detail and visually pleasing art paired with high quality durability to give this game some serious longevity. Toss in the variable treasure, random encounter cards and the changing move set of the creatures you will face, this game has high replay value. It even has a Campaign mode! From one time set up and play through Campaign, it can all be played as a solo run, or up to four players can combine efforts in an attempt an survive.

The Game

You begin by choosing your characters, your mini-boss and setting the board according to their individual requirements.You then decide which room you want to enter first. The unique 'node' system mechanic helps bring this game even closer to its predecessor. The way the enemies move, decide who to attack, and what their individual tactics are, are all printed on their card. Once you get comfortable with the symbols, you don't need to keep that rule book handy anymore. This is true of every single aspect of the game. Again, just like a video game, once you know the game you don't need the rules.

This is a very strategic game. It is a seriously mind taxing undertaking. Every single turn you have to be thinking of how to safely keep your groups forward momentum going while trying to take into consideration the next round of  moves. After a player takes a turn, the game hits back. So, if you are playing with four people, after you take your turn, there will be four sets of moves and attacks coming from the enemy troops before you get to do anything. You must choose. But choose wisely. One wrong choice can lead to a quick and sudden death. If you love games of high strategy that are mind numbing in how challenging they can be to master, than this is the game for you! The best strategy we could find included a lot of 'grinding'. Basically, you have to clear the rooms, spend the souls collected, rest, and clear the rooms again. 

Oh... did I not mention that? Yeah, if anyone dies or if you rest, ALL of the rooms reset. They are no longer cleared. Treasure farming? Nope. That chest is still open and empty, but the beasts have returned. The number of 'Sparks' or resets you have is based on the number of players. Basically, even grinding for souls has to be kept to a minimum to assure you have enough sparks to even get to the big-boss after making through both the mini-boss dungeon, the mini-boss and the main dungeon. Dark Souls the Board Game forces you to carefully calculate every little part of the game. Your resources, your movements, your attacks, the moves and attacks of the opposing force ...each one thought over at least twice before committing to the choice. 

 The Wrap Up

I am of the kind of person who actually enjoys these types of games. I had a blast playing through it. I am currently setting up a Campaign run with a few friends to get the full gauntlet effect. I will let you know how it goes! This is not a cheap game. The amount of hours that will be enjoyed in a face to face social interaction is actually almost free when divided over time in comparison. Movie and popcorn with a friend? Grab a twenty, divide by two (approximate time spent) and you are paying ten bucks an hour to sit and stare at very large TV. Grab a game that will be played for hundreds of hours over the coming years and divide that... interested in getting yourself a copy? Check out Dark Souls the Board Game on the website. There will be much more content coming for this one extending its replay value tremendously.

Over all I did truly love the game. It has extreme quality components, unique mechanics, solid theme throughout and does some serious justice to the game it emulates. I actually prefer the Board Game. I give this game Four Stars ...and a warning; Prepare to Die.

Until next time... Game On!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

MK Review: Uh-Oh, Monsters!

Uh-Oh, Monsters!


Every once in a while you stumble across a game that completely surprises and delights you. Sometimes you don't really expect to even like the game. Other times you knew it would be cool, but it demolishes your expectations and delivers an experience like no other. This was how I felt when I found No Thank You, Evil! Now imagine that same game released new content that stands up to and intensifies they awesomeness of the original work. I am privileged and excited to review this addition to the No Thank You, Evil! universe. Shanna Germain and Monte Cook Games have done it again in Uh-Oh, Monsters!

Just in case you need to catch up on the topic:
No Thank You, Evil! 
Story Please!, An Adventure Building Deck 
You can check out my review by clicking on the titles. All caught up? Let's dig in!

As if having a fantastical world of pure imagination with no limits wasn't an amazing enough feat on its own, the additional content provided within the Uh-Oh Monsters!: Adventures and Creatures for No Thank You Evil! is like having the perfect side dish to accompany your perfectly cooked steak. It is suddenly realizing just how well chocolate and peanut butter go together. It is finding your favorite flavor of hummus to dip your fresh veggies in.
 Yes. I am using a lot of food references. Why? Because this expansion is satisfying my hunger for more No Thank You, Evil! in the same way having my food in front of me when my stomach starts to grumble gives me joy. Allow me to give you a small taste of the buffet they are offering.

Claws and Paws; The Monsters You'll Meet

We must start here as it is the most obvious content to expect given the name, Uh-Oh, Monsters! With a name like that, if you didn't deliver more monsters, you would have a lot of angry customers on your hands. Not only dose this supplement contain more monsters, it gives you entirely new ways to look at, think about, interact and even document them. Fair warning, for those of you with younger children, not all of the monsters in this book are light and fluffy (so to speak). There are a few monsters in here that you can gauge for yourself as to when to add them into your game.
Monster creation is totally a thing. A good thing. After you read all about 'how to', once again you are only limited by the imagination of you and your players. You can go as light and fluffy, or as dark and creepy as you deem appropriate for your group. 
The Monster Museum is another great way to introduce quests, monsters and equipment. There is even a section adding nouns and their build within the world. Here there will be ways to document new creature findings. Perhaps the curator will hire the players to help capture a monster that got loose, or ask for photographic evidence that can verify rumors of the return of the Do-Do Bird. What this gives you is a second hub for the players to base their next adventure from. How often are they going to want to always see the Mayor, or the Sheriff for something to do?
As one of my favorite parts, you need to check out the section on Quirks! New ways to interact with the monsters you'll meet that add yet another layer of depth to the game. Maybe you have the group that doesn't really want to fight everything they meet. Or maybe they are told they can't fight it in order to be successful in their mission. For whatever purpose, Quirks give even the fiercest of beasts a way to be defused. Why fight the lion when you can feed it a hot dog and make it your friend?

Lairs and Scares; Let's Go On Wild Adventures!

Next we have an adventure guide! You do need the No Thank You, Evil! core set in order to play through these stories, but hey if you don't have it by now, I am sure that will be quickly rectified. If nothing else the anticipation of using this guide should drive you to purchase it as soon as you finish reading. Four new adventures await you and your party of characters. 

1) Save the Holi(day)!
2) Ice Breakers
3) Trouble in Space
4) Enter the Fear Factory
Each is its own unique and well shaped tale that is sure to keep your players on the edge of their seats and ready for more. It has plenty of flavor and player variety with a Holiday themed adventure that can help introduce newer players, all the way through some scarier adventures for the brave among us. I will not go into details as I wish to give no spoilers, but just know it is more than worth it for these two booklets alone!

The Extras; Oh, the Extras!

Now that you have a book all about Monsters, and an Adventure Guide to give you all new quest material, how could they possibly add anything else? Well, as we all know having visual aides can greatly improve any Role Playing Experience. Shanna and the Cook gang continue to over deliver! The fun and imaginative art of the original game is very present in the extras. Hand outs for your players? Check. A deck of cards that correspond to the new monsters? Check. Monster Stand-ups for them as well? Check. This set is absolutely complete.

The Wrap-up

I normally do not rate expansions nearly as high as I do their core content. This is one of those rare moments where all they did was add more depth and flavor to an already amazing game. They didn't break the game with overpowered additions. They didn't anger anyone by nerf-ing their favorite classes or items. For once there is an expansion to a game that knew not to mess with perfection, nor to attempt to do anything less than fulfill the quality and imagination standards that they themselves have set.
Bravo, Shanna. Bravo, Monte Cook Games. I am impressed. I am awarding Five very well earned stars. I look forward to many hours spent around the table with my family joyfully romping through all of the brilliance you have created.

Until next time ...Game On!

Friday, May 19, 2017

MK Presents: The Four Cardinal Rules Of Gaming

 Hey Folks! MK here. 

Allow me to introduce to you our newest guest blogger! I have had the honor of knowing and playing Tabletop Games on and off with Taylor for over five years now. His knowledge and dedication to the game is a solid asset to have on your side! 
Taylor Hubler is a long time RPG player, with about 20 years of experience. He is also a published freelance writer (I can connect you if you want to hire him!) for the Pathfinder RPG through Raging Swan Press, Fat Goblin Games, and Flying Pincushion
Without any further ado, MK Presents to you...

The Four Cardinal Rules Of Gaming

By: Taylor Hubler

I use these rules for my gaming life to try and avoid future issues or resolve current ones. These rules can apply to any type of gaming event, but because I am a hobby RPG player I used language like campaign, GM, and dungeon crawl. If you don't play RPGs, that's fine! Just apply the advice as if it was an organized board game night or a party game.

Most problems people end up having with games, especially long term games, stem from two main issues. Either there was a misunderstanding related to the expectations of one or more people or someone hasn't been having fun but nothing is being done to help them. All of the rules, except maybe #4, require communication as soon as something is a problem or even before it becomes one. This is the rule 0 of my cardinal rules: Always be willing to communicate. It doesn't matter if you think there will be conflict, because if you say nothing about a problem it will only grow and become worse. Also, be willing to communicate with the people most effected by the issue. If someone is a problem, it is okay to feel out the situation with other people first but you need to quickly bring the problem person into the conversation. Excluding them from searching for a solution, and keeping them in the dark, only breeds opportunity for resentment and further problems.

Rule #1: Always make expectations known, on both sides of the table.

Nearly all issues that happen at the table can be prevented by following this rule. This is the communicate, communicate, communicate rule. Everyone starts the campaign with their own set of expectations related to every element of the game. Most of them don't actually need to be, or rather shouldn't have to be, stated. For example, it shouldn't have to be said that cheating isn't allowed, or that nobody enjoys terrible body odor. However, sometimes important details just don't get said. An extreme example could be that the player starts the campaign with a psychic detective that focuses battling ghosts, but the GM has prepared a steampunk adventure with almost no undead or supernatural phenomenon. In this case, neither the player nor the GM expressed their expectations related to the content of the campaign, and made assumptions that will end up creating problems later. This happens a great deal with simple theme campaigns ("It's a pirate game!" or "It's dungeon crawl!") because simple themes can mean so many things. Is the pirate game going to focus on boarding actions or exploration? Is the dungeon crawl strictly hack-n-slash or does it deal with Drow politics?

This also applies to what the GM expects of a player and what a player expects of a GM. Will the player need more help understanding the rules? Is there a concern about scheduling, behavior, or transportation? What about music, food, and supplies, and who provides them? If anything related to a specific player needs to be addressed, always try to address it directly to them first and then move to addressing it as a group if needed. Of course, as expectations change, as they do, let people know.

You shouldn't see very many issues come up as long as everyone starts and plays the campaign understanding the expectations of everyone else.

Rule #2: If you aren't having fun, change things until you are.

This always includes leaving a group, or asking someone to leave the group. In extreme cases it means ending the campaign entirely and starting a new one. Sometimes, people have started a campaign with all of the expectations expressed, but unfortunately those expectations couldn't be met. Maybe the GM is too new to the hobby and took too much on all at once. Maybe everyone thought it would be cool to do a horror game but discovered they preferred a more standard kick-in-the-door dungeon crawl. It's fine! Make the change and move on. This also means that it is okay to change the expectations placed upon a player, GM, campaign, or some other element.

Most of the time though things can be changed with little adjustments. The GM should always take point in making sure everything works out, because one of the main roles of the GM is to make sure everyone is having fun and on the same page at the same time. If a rule needs to be changed to make things easier, faster, or more balanced, change it. If a character was built for crafting but it turns out there aren't enough resources or time, let the players change their character. The music selection seems to be annoying or ruining the mood? Change the music or remove it completely from play. People showing up hangry? Organize a community food fund for pizza or push game back a bit so people have time to grab food.

The key to this rule is to admit as soon as you are not having fun. If you are a GM, admit it to the whole group. If you are a player, admit it to the GM. Work together, and make the change that is going to let everyone have fun. As always, do it respectfully and calmly.

Rule #3: If you are ruining someone else's fun, change things until you are not doing so.

This includes walking away from a campaign if you are a player or ending a campaign if you are a GM. This is the hardest rule to follow because you are often blind to your own sins against others. GM's and players can both be guilty of ruining the fun of other people. Hopefully everyone is following Rule #2 and speaking up when they aren't having fun, but the main key to this rule is admitting your fault and making the change. For example, maybe a GM has been making all of the encounters super deadly and the players feel frustrated with losing characters or spending all of their resources raising dead companions. Maybe a player is too aggressive with their role-playing, or is hogging the spotlight. In each of those cases, as soon as the problem is known the guilty party just needs to make the change needed to fix things.

The worst offenders of this are people who have been told that someone isn't having fun and refuse to make a change. Ignoring a problem won't fix things either. This isn't to say that you need to sacrifice your fun for everyone else's, but you have to at least be willing to make compromises.

Rule #4: Your Experience Isn't Everyone Else's. Respect That.

This is the rule that allows you to break #2 and #3, but only rarely. Sometimes people do something that just bothers you. They aren't doing it on purpose, they aren't malicious, and they aren't trying to cause problems. It is just how they are. Maybe they are getting a little too excited about something, or too passionate. If it is a problem for you, try to talk to them about it but keep in mind that they may be doing this because that is just who they are. The person who is super quiet and secluded in their little corner, only speaking to say their actions but still showing up for each session could be having a great time just hanging out with everyone. As long as they are contributing and not ruining the campaign, just respect that. Maybe it can be a little annoying when the slightly autistic guy is trying to offer you character building advice, but as long as he is being helpful and not overly disruptive just respect that.

This also applies to the different types of play styles. Not everyone wants to be a power gamer, just like not everyone wants to be a storyteller. Some players want to play around with the rules or want a technical challenge to work out while the guy next to them happily role plays with an NPC. Don't push someone to be the type of player they don't want to be, that breaks Rule #3. At the same time, gauge yourself and try to make sure people get their own preferred moments. Don't take an hour to role-play a single scene while the guy who loves combat is silently sitting in the corner itching for action.

These rules are, of course, not the only rules of gaming, they are just the four that should always be included and reviewed. There is a set of rules that I have that are rules that shouldn't have to be said, like don't cheat, be excellent to each other, and don't be a jerk. Then there are rules that change with the games, groups, and situation; always go left or only one piece of pizza until everyone has had a chance to get some. These cardinal rules, then, are the rules to use if you want to avoid problems and drama. They can be applied to all games, not just role playing games.

So the next time you find yourself on a message-board looking for advice for the most recent bit of drama in your group, look over these rules. Did you make your expectations clear? Where their expectations clear? Is everyone having fun? Are you the one ruining the group's fun? And, lastly, is this related to something you just need to learn how to respect? Ask the questions, apply the rules, and then all should be well.

-Taylor Hubler