Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Space Alert, Part 1: Box Contents

Well at this point we certainly can't be accused of keeping on top of our game reviews!  For many and varied reasons we've dropped off the face of the gaming earth for the last several months, but just because we haven't been reviewing doesn't mean we haven't been playing!  Obviously the downside is that our readership numbers have dropped off, and we can't blame anyone for that, but on the plus side it now means we have a bunch of games which we have well and truly played to death, which we're ready to approach with a reviewers mindset now!
So to end our reviewing drought, we're going to be taking a look at Space Alert by Vlaada Chvatil, from Rio Grande Games.

Space Alert is a co-operative board game for 1-5 players, set on a short-range interstellar exploration vessel which is apparently entirely crewed by people dressed like Cyclops from X-Men.  The role of the ship is a simple one: execute a hyperspace jump to a nearby sector of space, spend 12 minutes scanning the area, and then hyperspace jump back to Earth to report the findings.  The ship is pre-programmed to carry out its mission.  The ship knows what it's doing.  The ship is valuable.

The crew are not.

That's right, Nostromo-wannabes, you're expendable (not to be confused with The Expendables, although if you're the captain I suppose you can order everyone else to call you 'Stallone').  The job of the crew on this noble voyage is to make sure that the ship stays in one piece for long enough to make that return jump, although with giant space jellyfish, malfunctioning robots, saboteurs and nuclear warheads, that's not going to be an easy task!

But we'll be getting into the real gritty details of the gameplay in the second part of the review.  For now, as always, we're going to be taking a look at the box contents so you know what to expect when you... well... examine the contents of the box.

Now just to be a bit different we're not going to start with the board, but with the rulebook.  Or, more accurately, the rulebooks.  As any self-respecting game should do, it comes with an in-depth (though, mercifully, not lengthy) rulebook with all of the gameplay mechanics clearly explained.  It also includes a second rulebook, entitled "How to be a Space Explorer in Seven Lessons".
Seeing as Space Alert is quite a complex game, it has a fantastic method of teaching new players how to play.  The "How to..." book is laid out and annotated like a training manual for space cadets, and slowly introduces players to the rules over a series of short training missions, by the end of which they'll have absorbed the full set of rules and are ready to play the game in full.  In fact the "How to..." book encourages new players to put the full rulebook to one side and start with just the guide, and everyone at Games & Tea has found it to explain the game perfectly, and trained us all up into fully expendable space explorers in no time.

Next up: the board.  The board in Space Alert gives an overview of the ship's layout, with the various ships systems, access doors/elevators, and so forth.  We were unsure earlier about whether to class Space Alert as a board game, as typically a gaming board features some kind of goal or endgame.  Here, the board is basically there just to keep a visual track on the chaos, as your crew desperately fights to keep the precious company property in spaceworthy condition.

We then come to the Threat Vectors.  Whenever an obstacle appears to threaten the ship, from within or without, its progress is tracked on an appropriate Threat Vector.  The threat vectors determine how quickly the threat reaches a catastrophic state, and how many times it deals slightly less catastrophic damage to the ship in the process.  One is assigned to the left-hand (red) side of the ship, one to the center (white), one to the right (blue), and one to the ship's interior.  There are seven of these in the game, but only a maximum of four are ever used, which allows for an element of randomisation.

If you're going to have Threat Vectors then you'd better damn well have some threats!  There are two Threat Decks in Space Alert, which are shuffled to add further randomisation.  The green deck consists of internal threats, so you'll find things like boarding parties, robot malfunctions, hacked shields and so on within this deck.  The purple deck consists of external threats, so this is where you'll be faced with stealth fighters, juggernauts, meteors, and the previously-mentioned giant space jellyfish.  The threats have various strengths and weaknesses, so it's up to the crew to work together to combat these before they tear the precious ship apart, and the bill for damages gets sent on to their next of kin.

So if you're going to combat these threats then I guess you're going to need to be able to move around the ship?  And push buttons?  And generally just do space-ship-type things?  Throughout the mission, each player can take 12 actions - these are determined using the Action Cards, and are planned out using each player's Action Track.

Generally it's a good idea to physically represent the players on the board.  Space Alert features 5 colourful crew tokens, which correspond to the colours of the Action Tracks.  Those grey-looking fellows at the back are the ship's combat robots, and can be led around the ship to fight off invaders... at least until they malfunction and start killing the crew.  Swings and roundabouts, eh?

No board game is complete without tokens, it seems, and Space Alert has them in spades.  The various tokens are used to keep track of internal threats as they move throughout the ship, the progress of external threats, and the damage dealt to the ship itself - that's right, the ship takes damage!  So if you don't work hard to keep it up and running, then that mega-laser you were counting on to save your skin at the last minute might not actually work so well.

And there are some assorted jelly cubes.  Okay, we were a little disappointed to discover they weren't actually jelly cubes.  These translucent plastic cubes and cylinders are used for various purposes in the game, but usually for keeping track of the ship's energy, which can be transferred between reactors, and assigned to weapons and shields.

We were thinking of leaving this out of Part 1 of the review, but seeing as this is a box contents article and this was in the box, we feel we should include it, but feel free to ignore it for now.  This overly-complicated-looking track is effectively the ship's black box recording, and all will make sense in Part 2!

At this point you may be thinking "Okay, you're keeping the ship in-tact, things are attacking you, I get that... but how do you know when/where the threats come from?"  This is one of our favourite parts of the game, and one that makes it quite immersive...

The CD!  Now we've played games with CD soundtracks before (most notably Last Night on Earth), and the soundtrack has done little to enhance the gameplay - in fact, if anything, it's detracted from the experience.  With Space Alert, however, things are different.  This is not a CD of cheesy music, but the audio track of the ship's computer.  Once you've selected a track and pressed play, the designated communications officer has to listen closely to know when and where the threats are approaching from, when players are allowed to exchange or draw new Action Cards, or can even cause a communications blackout, wherein players have to continue without communicating until the blackout resolves.
This makes Space Alert a real-time game, as opposed to turn-based, which adds to the chaos and tension of fending off attacks from all sides!  The CD only contains around 10 tracks, not including the training mission, but a free Mission Generator app can be downloaded for smartphones, which randomly generates missions and is a highly recommended addition to the game.

Well, that's quite a lot of content, isn't it?  Come back shortly to see how the gameplay breaks down and find out our final score on the game!  Until then, drink up, and game on!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Podcast: 404: Law Not Found - First Impressions

Hello, gamers!  We've been out of the game (excuse the pun) for quite some time, but feel it's about time to get back into the swing of things, and to take a tentative first step into the world of podcasting while we're at it!  On top of our usual review format of "Part 1: Box Contents" and "Part 2: Gameplay & Verdict", we're having a go at a "First Impressions" unboxing recording, seeing as those first impressions can count for a lot, and are often lost by the time the full review has been written up.

So, with that in mind, our first podcast is available below, in which we'll be taking a look at 404: Law Not Found; a recently published Kickstarter project from 3DTotal Games!  We hope you enjoy!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

We're still at least 17% alive!

Well we can't really deny that Games & Tea has been quiet of late, so we figured an update was about due - this post is part apology, part explanation.
A few months ago you may remember we posted a review of Pirates! Card Game, a Kickstarter project by Jules Prick.  It was our utmost pleasure to see the project reach its funding goal, and knock through its stretch goals on the sprint to the finish line!  We've mentioned in the past how when you ramp up your Kickstarter pledge you start to get jucier rewards, and one of the rewards for Pirates! was a pirate sloop tour around the canals of Amsterdam - the birthplace of the game.  Always eager for a chance to dress as pirates and terrorise a European capital city, we jumped on board (see what we did there?), and as things spiralled out of control it's ended up basically becoming a Games & Tea holiday!  Unfortunately, holidays are expensive things, and as a result a large portion of the last few months has been dedicated to scraping together enough pennies to actually see this thing through (an £80 pledge has now turned into a £700 city break!).
However, the funds are now raised, costumes bought, flights and accommodation booked, and some semblance of normality is starting to be restored!  We're jetting off towards the end of September, so when we get back you can expect an in-depth report on our experience of a Kickstarter launch event, and tales of any other game-related shenanigans we manage to get up to while we're there!
We're also hoping to get back to a decent reviewing rate fairly soon - one of the downsides to spending so much time raising holiday funds is that we've been unable to get together for fun game times.  We're very eager to get reviews of Space Alert, Firefly: The Board Game, and Space Cadets: Dice Duel on the go, so please bear with us, we promise we're doing our best to restore our former glory!
We figured we might as well end this article with a couple of impending releases which currently have us salivating!  Free advertising is not what Games & Tea is about, so it's just a coincidence that these are both from Fantasy Flight.
If you're one of those rare people in the world who have heard of the Star Wars franchise, this might just grab your interest.  StarWars: Imperial Assault is a strategy board game set in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, immediately following on from the destruction of the first Death Star (yes, this means you get to play as non-robohand Luke).  Fantasy Flight do seem to be fond of the "1 vs many" gaming style, and they've gone with this approach for Imperial Assault, with one player controlling the Imperial side whilst up to four other players assume the role of the Rebel Alliance.
As you'd expect from Fantasy Flight, the game components look lavish, with no expense spared in production values.  The thing which really caught our attention though is that as well as just setting up for a single game, there is a full narrative campaign of missions which players can enjoy as they watch an unfolding story.  With 59 double-sided map tiles there should be no shortage of battlegrounds, so in theory this should be a game with a high replay value.
 Again, sticking with the Star Wars universe (Fantasy Flight do love making the most out of their licenses!) we have Star Wars: Armada.  The X-Wing Miniatures Game took the world by storm upon its release last year (check out our review of it here), with demand for more ships far outstripping Fantasy Flight's supply.
Whilst X-Wing did have a few mid-scaled ships such as The Millennium Falcon and Slave-I, the scale of the fighters made larger ships unfeasible, and even though many players were keen to see the release of Star Destroyers and other such capital ships, most knew it was an unrealistic hope.  But Fantasy Flight are never ones to let down their fans and turn down a money-making opportunity in the process, and as a result we have Armada on the way!
Unlike X-Wing, Armada operates on a much smaller scale.  Whereas its predecessor gave players individual fighters to operate, Armada gives you squadrons of fighters which operate as one, and the mid-scaled ships are replaced by the Star Destroyers we all always wanted!  It's not just a case of making everything smaller and keeping the rest of the system identical though - for on thing movement is very different, as players find themselves having to compensate for inertia when piloting such hulking masses around the gravity-free abyss of space.
Due for release later this year, Armada does have us very excited, and we're certainly not the only ones hoping it lives up to the hype!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

How We Get (more) Kicks...

Last year we did a short article entitled "How we get our kicks", just talking about some of the projects we were backing on Kickstarter at the time.  Well since that time we've thrown in support for a few more games; the very nearly due 404: Law Not Found, the resource managing Argent: The Consortium, the highly anticipated miniatures game Guild Ball, and the pirate card game aptly named Pirates! The Card Game - which we had the pleasure of previewing back in April.
We haven't been backing too much lately, as we're currently saving our hard-earned pennies for a Games & Tea trip to Amsterdam to meet the team behind Pirates! (which we will be bringing you full details of), however we have been keeping an eye on the Kickstarter horizon.  With this in mind, we thought we'd put together a little compilation of games which have caught our attention on Kickstarter - some for the right reasons, and some for the wrong.  These are all live projects at the time of writing, but obviously these will all be completing soon.

First up, we have Ophir: a resource management game from Terra Nova Games.  The first thing which attracted us to the project was the box art - it may sound shallow, but there are so many Kickstarter projects going on at once that we skim them as though we're browsing shelves in a game store.  When you're browsing games the fact is a nice box will make you stop and take a look at the game, and Ophir succeeded in grabbing our attention.  Once it had done that, the lavish artwork across the board and game components continued to impress us - and a nice touch (which wasn't instantly obvious) is that it's all done in colourblind-friendly colours.
In the game, players assume the roles of influential merchants, who must work and manage their resources to fund the building of a temple in the titular Ophir.  There seems to be a decent amount of depth to the game, with players having to plan efficient trade routes and make use of their influence, before pushing on to build the temple and clock up all-important victory points.  It's been generally met with very positive reviews, applauding its strategy, and it seems to have managed to avoid the pitfall of becoming unnecessarily overcomplicated.  Sadly we don't have the funds available to back this project ourselves, but if we did then we definitely would, and we sincerely hope to see it on the shelves of our FLGS next year!
Ophir's funding period ends on July 14th, and more details can be found here.

Next up: The Captain is Dead from The Game Crafter.  Now we have to admit the artwork doesn't do much for us, but on this occasion it was the name of the game which grabbed us.  We've always been fans of shows such as Star Trek, and love things which take a light-hearted look at the genre as a whole.
The Captain is Dead is a co-operative game - and we do like our co-op games here at Games & Tea - wherein the captain of your starship has been killed (obviously), and it's up to the varyingly competent remaining crew to get the ship to safety.  Our first thought was that it reminded us of the awesome Space Alert, and so had some fairly large shoes to fill.  The board and components do look nice, although the in-game shots from the Kickstarter page do make it look a little busy.  We're also not too impressed by the way they're tagging two extra, unrelated games onto this game's campaign - we've seen a few companies do this in the past, and it's always felt as though they're not giving their all to the actual advertised project.
That said, we would love to give this a go, and seeing as it's already smashed its funding goal we're hoping we'll have a chance to pick up a copy when it hits the shelves.
The Captain is Dead finishes on July 12th, and its project page is here.

Castilion is next on our list from Castili Games, which you may remember from our recent preview here.  In Castilion, players take on the roles of warring factions, starting with a royal, a general, a castle and an army, and given the task of wiping their opponent off the face of the map!
In the early preview copy we received, Castilion did feel a little rough around the edges, but certainly had a lot of potential.  Our feedback to Castili was well-received and taken on board, and the game has now launched with a few revisions from our copy - the most significant being an increase in the number of players.  Castilion boils down to a game of strategic hand-management, were either outmaneuvering or out-punching are viable methods to secure your victory!
Castilion is open for funding until August 2nd, and its full page can be found here.

Next to grab our attention: Clash! Dawn of Steam from Mad Ape Games.  Now there's no point lying, we clicked on the project because it contained the word "steam" (and we do like a bit of steampunk) and there was a pretty girl.  We're shallow, shallow people.  That may have just been enough to warrant a passing glance, but when we took a closer look at it our collective jaws dropped.  The artwork and overall aesthetic of this game is absolutely gorgeous.  In fact, we'd be happy to back this game just to have something nice to look at, regardless of how well it plays!
Anyway, underneath the lavish artwork there is actually a game, so we really should mention that.  Clash! Dawn of Steam is a duelling card game, but it's a non-collectible card game.  We've been fans and collectors of Magic: The Gathering for around 4 years now, and whilst we do enjoy it, it is often overshadowed by the fact that it can be won or lost at the deck-building stage before any cards are even drawn.  As a result, games like Clash! have fallen further and further into our favour, giving a balanced duelling game out of the box, where battles are won by skill and strategy, rather than by the player who spent more on eBay last week.
Clash! Dawn of Steam finishes on July 16th, and we certainly hope it reaches target so that we might bring you our thoughts on it next year!  Its page can be found here.

And finally we had to give a mention to Zombicide Season 3 - a game which has got our attention for all the wrong reasons.  Now the hardcore Zombicide fanbase have already bashed us on Facebook for our opinion on this matter, but that's not going to keep us quiet.  This is a game which we absolutely don't believe should be on Kickstarter.  The first two Zombicide games were tremendously successful, and as such Cool Mini or Not should be able to produce the latest incarnation without resorting to crowd funding.  The very point of Kickstarter is to get independent projects off the ground, not to be a lazy pre-order system.
Of course it is tempting to back - the fact of the matter is Zombicide Season 3 will hit so many stretch goals (having hit its $100k target in 6 minutes) that any backer will end up with more free stuff than they'll know what to do with.  However, the fact that Zombicide is now a game that everyone just buys at the Kickstarter stage means that very few real gaming stores stock it, and the knock on of that is that in our experience no one wants to play it!  We bought the first Zombicide off the shelf post-Kickstarter, and have only been lucky enough to squeeze in two games - and the fact of the matter is, it's not a great game.  It's above average, and the miniatures are lovely, but it's very repetitive, has a lot of set-up and packing away, and comes with a high price tag.
Putting Zombicide Season 3 on Kickstarter feels a bit like if Disney decided to crowd fund the new Star Wars trilogy - they have the resources to do it themselves, and they know it's going to be popular, but they'd rather not dip into their bank account.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Castilion Kickstarter Review, Part 2: Gameplay & Verdict

This review is for a project still at the Kickstarter stage. As such, final game contents may vary from those shown here.
Welcome back, gentle readerfolk!  In our last article we dissected the contents of the Kickstarter project Castilion: a 2 player strategy game from Joe Mellanby for 2 players.  Now it's time to draw our swords, nock our arrows and... umm... wave(?) our spears, as we march to battle and bring you our verdict on the gameplay!

In Part 1 of the review we looked at the various different decks of cards which make up Castilion, as well as the gaming board.  Once both players have selected their Castle, General, Royal, and army, there's nothing left but to take to the field and let battle commence!

Each player has 2 playing pieces - one representing the General, and one representing the castle (we didn't show these in Part 1 as we were playing with prototype pieces) - and these both begin the game on their castle's respective spaces on the board.  The castle piece actually remains there for the game, just to mark out the players' strongholds to each other, whilst the General piece tracks the movement of the armies.

Both players have their own gaming area, where their troop deck, movement deck, and graveyard are all kept.  At the beginning of their turn, they draw 3 cards from the troop deck and 2 from the movement deck, and add them to their hand.  Armies can be moved up to 2 spaces per turn, after which they players can discard as many movement cards as they wish out of their hands to continue moving up to the number of spaces on those cards.  Now the rules of the game didn't specify a hand limit, so when we raised this issue with Castilion's creators they suggested we try out a hand limit and see how it plays.
Eventually we settled on a hand limit of 8, and this really did seem to work.  This gave players the options of either filling their hands with movement cards and having light hit and run armies, or letting them load up with troop cards, restricting their movement but allowing their army to pack a wallop when they finally reach their target, which brings us to the main aspect of the game...

Unoccupied castle spaces on the board are effectively safe zones, meaning players can't be attacked as long as their army is occupying one of those spaces.  Those safe zones aside, if a player ends his movement in the same space as their opponent's army - or their castle - then it's time for battle to commence!

Battles are resolved using the troop cards in each players' hands, which is why it's important to find a balance between troops and movement!  All of the cards in the coloured troop decks feature Attack and/or Defence stats in the top-left corner, and these are used to determine the outcome of the battles.

The coloured decks, as mentioned in Part 1, are broken down into Troops, Actions, Formations, and Items.  In order to attack an opponent's army or castle, a player must have at least one Troop-type card.  They can then add to that any other cards from their hand (or their General if they wish), as long as they are of the same colour, up to a maximum of 5.  This makes hand-management essential, as having one colour of Troop in a hand full of a different colour's Actions/Formations/Items means that you're not in as strong a position as you may hope for!
The defending player must defend their army in the same manner - first of all needing a minimum of one Troop, and then adding defensive equipment and formations as they see fit.  Once both players have chosen their cards they are revealed to each other, and total Attack and Defence values compared - the highest total coming out victorious.

In the example above, the green player has attacked using four cards, with an attack total of 60.  The red player was fortunate to have a defensive hand though, and has countered with a defence of 95, resulting in defeat for green!

When defeated in battle, all of the defeated players cards go to their graveyard, including the general if they took part!  Once a player has no more Troop-type cards left in their deck, they can no longer attack or defend, and so must surrender to their opponent - this prevents players from attacking recklessly, forcing further tactical hand-management to ensure their precious Troops remain in play.

Of course, this only happens if two armies meet each other face to face!  If a player manages to attack an opponent's castle whilst their army is preoccupied elsewhere, they effectively get a free swing at the stronghold!  In this instance the defending player cannot submit any cards to the battle, and so the attacker's total attack value is dealt as damage to the castle, before they retreat back to their own stronghold.  If a player's castle defence value is reduced to 0, they are defeated and the game is over.  This is where having a light but fast army can come in useful - chipping away at a castle a little at a time.  Of course, there are also merits to a slow moving sledgehammer of an army!

So that's the basic breakdown of the gameplay mechanic, but what did we think of it?
Well first of all we enjoyed the overall feel of the game - the map, the troop decks, the terrain cards and so on... basically we didn't feel like we were playing a re-hash of another game.  There do seem to be a fair few projects on Kickstarter which look as though the designer has just piggybacked onto a successful game, whereas Castilion does feel very much like it's own thing, which is good.
The gameplay itself is easy to pick up.  In spite of the fact there are lots of different card types in the game, it's not actually too taxing.  We were furnished with a quick-start set of rules and a full set, but we ended up leaping straight in with the full rules and finding ourselves in full swing fairly quickly!
The castles having different defence values based on their proximity to resources is a nice touch, although in 2 player games we felt that allowing players to pick their castles was better than random selection, purely to prevent them from ending up right next door to eachother!  In larger multi-player games it wouldn't be an issue, but as a house rule we preferred choosing our own.
The troop decks/battle mechanic were one of our favourite things about Castilion - especially after we'd experimented and settled on a hand limit.  Each coloured deck only contains 3 Troop cards, giving each player a total of 6, and seeing as you can't attack or defend without one it forces players to think carefully before charging headlong into battle.  The fact that the attack/defence cards need to be of the same colour also adds a nice hand-management element to the game.
Using cards to move is another well-done element once a hand limit has been put into play again.  As mentioned previously, it's great to be able to choose whether to have a light/fast or heavy/slow army at your disposal, or even to switch half way through the game to throw off your opponent!
And we did like the fact that there are a few different win conditions - obviously the destruction of the enemy castle is the main one, but depleting your opponents troops will also secure a win, as does defeating their General and Royal.  This gives players a few options on how to approach the game, and allow it to fit their play style.

No game is without flaws though (our first ever 10/10 rating is still up for grabs!), and we'd be neglect in our reviewing duties if we didn't mention the downsides.  Whilst we did enjoy playing Castilion, we really do think it's a game which would benefit from more players.  We did bring this up with Joe Mellanby, and if the Kickstarter raises enough funds then extra cards/players will be introduced as a stretch goal.  We do very much hope for this, as frankly it would take the game to a whole other level!  When playing the game we really did think it would great as a 4 player free for all, rather than a 2 player grudge match.
Our other little niggle was the text size on the cards, which older players may have problems with.  The attack and defence values are printed quite small, so it may be a struggle for some to actually read the stats on their cards.
And our final nitpick is that of the troop cards.  We like that you can only attack or defend with at least one Troop (after all, just having a sword is no good if you've got no one to carry it!), but it seems a shame that the Actions/Formations/Items all work in the same way rather than having something to make the categories matter, such as a bonus of +15 if you use one of each, or something along those lines.  Perhaps this will come up in future expansions of the game.

We do have to say though, that Castilion does seem to be a Kickstarter project being done the right way.  Too many large companies approach Kickstarter with a finalised project which backers have absolutely no influence over.  With Castilion, the creators do actually respond to constructive criticism and shape the game accordingly!  It's for this reason that we're forgoing our usual "Good Points/Bad Points" quick list at the end of the review, as it's an evolving project and so unfair to fire bullet points at!

For further details about Castilion visit their website here, and to back the project at Kickstarter level click here!

Recommended Number of Players: 2 (Hopefully 4!)
In it's current base state, Castilion is a 2 player release.  However, pending Kickstarter success it will be expanded for further players (even up to a total of 8 - one for each castle), and our gut instincts have been telling us that 4 players would make for a very good gaming experience.
Average Game Time: 45 minutes
We found that our Castilion games often started with us tiptoeing around eachother before one player became gutsy enough to make the first strike.  Once first blood had been shed, however, the pace soon picked up, and our games usually took around the 45 minute  mark.
Replay Value: Medium
It's difficult to gauge the replay value on Castilion due to the fact it's still in development.  Obviously the different castles, Royals and Generals add some variety across repeat plays, but the grudge match nature of the 2 player game may wear thin without a range of opponents to take on.  Again, we do feel that having extra players will help in this matter.
Price: £30
Castilion has just gone live on Kickstarter, now as a four player game!  Unless you manage to snag an early bird, a copy of the full game will set you back £30 - a fairly standard price for a specialist game.  Backing on the project ends on August 2nd.
(With additional players we'd push this up to a 7.5, maybe an 8)
Tea consumed during this review: A wide range of Twinings herbal teas, gratefully received with our review copy of Castilion! Average brew rating: 7.5/10

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more of the same, come and like us on our Facebook page to keep up to date with our reviews, as well as our general day-to-day ramblings!


Castilion Kickstarter Review, Part 1: Contents

This review is for a project still at the Kickstarter stage. As such, final game contents may vary from those shown here.
Kickstarter is continuing to throw a whole plethora of interesting looking offerings into the big old melting pot that is the specialist games market.  We do keep an eye on the scene as often as possible and do frequently see a lot which catches our interest, but due to financial restrictions (as mentioned in the past, Games & Tea is a labour of love and we have no gaming budget to speak of) we usually have to just wistfully watch them pass by.  More frequently, however, we're being apporached by creators of games in development (such as the recently funded Pirates! and Good Cop, Bad Cop) to give our thoughts on the game before it hits Kickstarter.
Such has been the case with our latest review, as we take a look at Castilion: a board game of strategy and bashing your opponent's stronghold to smithereens from Joe Mellanby.

Castilion is a game for 2 players (with potential for more pending Kickstarter success), in which each player must manage their army in a campaign to bring down their opponent's stronghold.  Whilst technically a board game, it does have a very card-heavy element, so let's take a look at the contents before delving into the gameplay...
First of all we have the board.  Now, the more eagle-eyed of you may have noticed the lack of biscuit crumbs and cat fur in this image, giving away the fact that this isn't our photo.  This is an image of the artwork from the final board - kindly provided by the game's creators.  Seeing as the board in our review prototype was missing the outside edge, we figured we may as well show you the proper thing.  The board takes the form of a map, featuring 8 castles, and a few other resource pick-up points, and it's upon this map that the players' armies must face off against eachother.  Around the outside of the map there are points to stack the various decks of cards, so this seems as good as time as any to take a look at them...
Fist of all we have the castles.  You can't really have a game called Castilion without castles (well, we suppose you could, but it would be maddeningly illogical), and here we have a fine selection to choose from.  as mentioned above, there are 8 castles on the board, and each one has a corresponding card.  Each castle starts with roughly 200 damage points, although these vary from one castle to the next - the weaker castles tend to be much closer to resources, whereas the stronger ones are further out in the wilderness where they generally have to take care of themselves.  Each player draws one castle at random to act as their stronghold for the game, and the rest are discarded.  But a castle is a seat of power, and if you're going to have one then you'll need someone to... well... sit in it!  So let's move onto the Royals and the Generals!

Castilion features one deck of Royals and one deck of Generals, each with slightly differing attack stats (we'll move onto these when we come to gameplay).  The Generals lead the players' armies on the battlefield, whilst the Royals largely stay hidden away in their castle, lording it over the small folk.  Should the general ever fall in battle, however, the Royal has to take over command and continue the campaign until either death or victory!  As with the castles, each player randomly chooses one Royal and one General to start the game, and the rest are discarded.
 So you've got a castle, you've got a Royal and you've got a General - looks like you'll need an army!  The armies in Castilion are formed of two coloured decks of 11 cards, with each deck containing Troops, Items, Formations, Actions and a Hero and Heroine.  Each player takes two deks, removes one Hero/Heroine from each colour to place face-down beside the board, shuffles them together, and places them face-down in their gaming area.
No, we're not talking about the waterworks and the electric company.  There are three utility cards in Castilion, all of which are one-shot uses which can change the tide of battle.  These all begin the game face-up next to the board, and can be claimed by any player who heads to their corresponding map location.
As any battle-hardened general can attest to, knowing the terrain can make all the difference when it comes to besting an opposing army.  The Terrain cards in Castilion simulate that, slowing players' armies to a crawl, or even reducing their battlefield effectiveness at a crucial moment.
And finally we have the movement cards - a static army is rather easy to outmaneuver or avoid altogether, after all!  Each player's army can move up to 2 map spaces per turn under their own steam, but the Movement cards are where players can start to use hit and run attacks, giving their armies the speed needed to pull off their grand plans.
Phew!  So you certainly get a fair old whack in the basic Castilion game!  Head on over to Part 2 of the review, and well go through how the game works, and give our final verdict on the gameplay!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Creating a Warmachine BioShock Army, Episode VI: Anna DeWitt & Little Sister

I have to admit I've taken a week off from the WarmaShock project, and have been indulging a bit in my love of Batman.  However, the enthusiasm for the project is still very much there, so I thought I'd mention the last couple of models to join the team whilst I'm in between bouts of painting the dark knight!
For those who have just joined the article series here, WarmaShock is an ongoing project to create a BioShock army for Privateer Press' Warmachine tabletop system.  So far the army has seen Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth Comstock from BioShock Infinite, and the security bots and Eleanor Lamb from Bioshock and BioShock 2 - all of which can be seen through the Article Archive tab at the top of the page.
In today's article we're going to be looking at two new additions; a Little Sister from the first two BioShock games, and Anna DeWitt from BioShock Infinite.  It might seem odd to feature two completely different characters in the same article, but I'm doing this for two reasons.  First, neither miniature needed much (if any) customisation, so if they had individual articles they'd be very short.  And secondly, the miniatures used for both characters come from the same Malifaux box set, so it makes sense to put them both together.
Thanks, once again, to GMorts Chaotica for allowing the shameless theft of the photos from his unboxing articles!
Little Sister
So the box set in question was the No Shelter Here set - Pandora's crew from Malifaux's Neverborn faction.  Straight away from looking at the front of the box it was obvious that I'd gone to the right place for a Little Sister!
Way back before this was a project to build an army - instead being just a plan to paint some BioShock-y miniatures - I'd actually taken a look at the Pandora box, but couldn't justify buying the entire thing just for a single model (it isn't availably individually, unfortunately).  However, once it became an actual army-build and I started throwing money away faster than I could burn it, the No Shelter Box became a more viable option - after all, what's a sixth Malifaux crew when you've already bought five?  Besides which, I'd undoubtedly be able to find use for some more of the miniatures.
So with the box set finally in hand, it was time to get a Little Sister onto the painting table!
Assembly was nice and straightforward - the newer plastic Malifaux minis tend to be exquisitely detailed, but the trade-off is often that they have tiny fiddly bits which make them a nightmare to assemble!  Candy avoids this nicely, with just three pieces to de-flash (which is minimal) and put together.  The only non-Little Sister thing about this miniature is the basket, containing candy canes and a human skull.  Not exactly fitting with the Little Sister aesthetic, but it's built into the model in such a way that it was beyond my skills to remedy.  I've no doubt a more skilled hobbyist could trim off the basket with a good knife and use green stuff to complete the dress (and perhaps even sculpt a Big Daddy doll into her hands), but at this point I'm not that hobbyist!
With Candy/Little Sister built, I needed a suitable base to attach her to!  Normally when I do tabletop armies, I just grit and paint the bases to look like a battlefield, but seeing as that wouldn't really work for Rapture (and only in a limited capacity for Columbia), I've been going for more scenic bases with the WarmaShock project.
For the Little Sister, my basing plan came from one particular area in BioShock 2: the Little Sister Orphanage.  In Rapture, Little Sisters are walking ADAM factories - the substance which allows the creation of the superpower-granting Plasmids - but they start their lives as ordinary little girls, and these girls come straight from the Little Sister Orphanage.  In large parts of Rapture, the flooring consists of lavish carpets or polished marble, but the orphanage is all wooden floorboards and other such typical orphanage furnishings.  Wooden floorboards are certainly easy enough to replicate, but whilst bits box-rummaging down at Titan Games I actually found a resin base which would work even nicer, as it featured a little more detail.  So I nabbed this base, stuck Candy onto it, and one paint job later, I had a Little Sister to add to the army...
The head popping out of the broken flooring was actually part of the base - presumably meant to be some kind of apparition arising out of a vortex, but being Rapture I just painted the vortex to look like water (with the addition of some clear resin effect), and just made the head into a melty-faced splicer, who had presumably just met his end at the hands of the Sister's Big Daddy!
In gameplay terms, she'll be using the card of Gaston Crosse - the new Mercenary journeyman warcaster.  It's a bit of an odd one, I admit, but I liked the idea of the Little Sister controlling her own Big Daddies, so in terms of gameplay it should actually be quite fitting.
Anna DeWitt
Warning!  This section of the article contains spoilers!  If you haven't yet finished BioShock Infinite then only continue at your own risk.
The other model in the No Shelter Here box I was planning to use was Baby Kade, the baby with the knife in his hand and demonic look in his eyes.  I wasn't sure what to do with him, apart from make him another resident of the Little Sister Orphanage - obviously the Sisters we always see in the game are probably around 6-7 years old, but one would assume the orphanage takes them in at a younger age.  This would also work with my plan to use him as Reinholdt, as he could then toddle along with the Little Sister and lend her a hand!
However, before I could get started on him, a good friend and fellow Titan Games regular suggested that he could be used to make Anna DeWitt - Booker's missing daughter from BioShock Infinite.  Always susceptible to suggestion, I immediately seized this idea and ran with it, and that very evening I started working on ideas of how to turn Baby Kade into Anna DeWitt.
The main problem with a baby in this scale is that there isn't much to work with in terms of conversion options, which meant that I'd have to get creative with the base to ensure that this ended up clearly being Anna DeWitt, and not just some random baby I'd thrown into the army for no discernible reason!
In BioShock Infinite, the protagonist, Booker DeWitt, is a man with a fair degree of inner turmoil, having sold his daughter to pay off a gambling debt (as you do).  Many years later he is sent on a job to capture/rescue Elizabeth Comstock from Columbia, and on this job discovers that she has the unique (and often helpful) ability to open up tears between parallel worlds.  Well, in a dramatic twist of events at the end of the game, it's discovered that Elizabeth Comstock is, in fact, Anna DeWitt, after Booker sold her to the game's main antagonist Father Comstock.  In a further twist, Comstock is, in fact, a parallel world Booker, and Booker-prime's attempt to back out of the deal as Anna was being passed through an inter-dimensional portal resulted in the loss of Anna's little finger, and Elizabeth's subsequent abilities years down the line!  Phew!
To make the model embody Anna, I decided to try and capture the essence of that moment in the base, so with a rough plan in my head, it was time to get started!
If only he'd used one extra "O", maybe Comstock would have listened...
First of all I assembled Kade, which was again nice and simple.  The teddy stayed on the sprue, as it had no place in this scene, and the knife was clipped out of his hand, but aside from that he was simply assembled as normal.
Then it was time to start the all-important base!  I started with a resin street-base which I had on-hand - one of many I'd bought for my Batman miniatures.  It was important that the base had a kerb, for reasons we'll come to in a moment...
Next I needed a wall.  It would be very difficult for Anna to be passed through a portal in the wall if there wasn't actually a wall, otherwise the portal would just be in thin air.  Actually, that would have been just as feasible, but from a modelling point of view it would have been a nightmare, so I was very grateful for the wall.
I simply used a piece of plasticard for the wall.  It was a little bit smooth for brickwork though, so I scored some lines on it to represent bricks, and then gave it a light sanding to try and give it a rougher finish.  The other side of the wall I left smooth, as this was going to be the interior of a room, and so was going to be wallpapered.  Then I just needed to create the portal itself, which I did by simply drilling a hole in the plasticard and gradually working it wider with a knife.
Then I just glued the wall onto the base, flush against the kerb, and used some wooden coffee stirrers to make some floorboards for the other side of the wall.  This is where the kerb was important, as that raised level meant that once I'd added the floorboards, both sides of the base were even with eachother, and it also sandwiched the wall in place, preventing it from being knocked off in an inevitable bout of clumsiness later!
With the base and the miniature both assembled, all that was left was to combine the two and paint them!  Again, the paint job did help to bring the scene together a little bit...
As Anna lost her left little finger in the incident, I wanted to add this to the grizzly scene, so I added a small pool of blood around her left hand, along with a streak of blood running down from the postal.  Now you could nit-pick at this point, as she wouldn't have lost that finger while the portal was open, but I'm playing the artistic license card here, as it captures the overall scene a little better.  On the pavement side of the scene, there is a small patch of blood on the ground, and I even added a dot of flesh for the severed finger.  Again, I used artistic license and scrawled the words "Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt" on the wall - these words weren't present in this scene, but they are the words that prompted Booker's sale of Anna, as well as his eventual rescue of Elizabeth, so I felt that including them added to the scene as a whole.
So that's the latest two miniatures for the army!  The splicers are almost done, so they will probably be the next article, but in the meantime thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this!