Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Hey, That's My Fish! A Sub-Zero Game of Fishy Strategy

A few days ago we decided to try and make the Christmas shopping of some of you lovely folk a little bit easier with a short gamers' gift guide.  One of the games featured was Fantasy Flight's Hey, That's My Fish! by Alvydas Jakeliunas and Gunter Cornett.  At the time of that article we had played a couple of games but hadn't had the time to write a full review, so we're here now to rectify this issue and bring you our full thoughts on the game!
Hey, That's My Fish! is a strategy game for 2-4 players, the aim of which is to gather more fish than your opponents.
There were two things about Hey, That's My Fish! (we'll abbreviate it to HTMF! for the remainder of the review!) which instantly appealed to us.  The first was the title/box art, which struck a chord with our daft sense of humour, and the two penguins on the box were soon given the permanent nicknames of Smug Penguin and Shatner Penguin.  The second was the price (which we'll address at the end of the review as always), which made it too good to pass up.
Upon opening the box, we were greeted by a noticeable lack of gaming board, which might seem a severe oversight for a board game at first glance.  Whilst we do still consider HTMF! to be a board game, the playing area is actually made up from a series of modular hexagonal Ice Floe Tiles, 60 of which are contained in the box.
These tiles are each illustrated with 1-3 fish which form the overall object of the game.  The only other elements in the box aside from these tiles are the playing pieces...
While it's nice to support smaller, indie games, the nice thing about buying products from larger companies such as Fantasy Flight is the quality of the overall product.  We were overjoyed the first time we opened the HTMF! box and saw that there were no wooden pawns or anything of that nature, but actual models of both Smug Penguin and Shatner Penguin for us to use during our games.  There are four colours to choose from, and four penguins of each colour.  During 2 player games each player will use all four of their penguins, for 3 players they will each use three, and in 4 player mode only two of each are used.
This summarises the box contents in their entirety!  Simple?  Of course.  Does this mean it's a poor and unchallenging game?  You should know better than to ask us that by now!  Let's take a look at the gameplay...
Before HTMF! can start, the gaming area must first be laid out.  The Ice Floe Tiles are shuffled up and placed in a grid as demonstrated above, with alternating rows of seven and eight tiles.  The rules dictate that the tiles should be placed face-down to assist randomisation, and then flipped face-up afterwards.  This seemed to us like an unnecessarily fiddly and time-consuming addition to the set up process, and we found that by simply selecting the tiles blindly from the box whilst constructing the grid meant that they could just be arranged face-up from the outset.
This is a little bit of a slow process, and if playing on a smooth surface it can get quite frustrating as the slightest knock to a single tile can upset the entire layout.  We'd thoroughly recommend trying to find a nice, high-friction surface to play on - the rubberised back of a card-gaming mat has saved us a lot of aggro during our games.
With the gaming area set up, players must squabble amongst themselves over their favourite colour of penguins, and then they're ready for their initial placement...
At the beginning of the game each player must place their penguins on Ice Floe Tiles containing only a single fish.  Players alternate, placing one penguin at a time until all of them are on the board, and then the game is ready to start!
As mentioned earlier, the aim of HTMF! is to gather more fish than your opponents.  Each player takes it in turn moving a single penguin.  Penguins can move as many spaces as they want in a single turn, but must move in a straight line, and cannot move through other penguins.  When the penguin has completed its move, the player collects the Ice Floe Tile on which it started its move, and adds it to their pile.  The next player then moves one of their penguins in a similar fashion, and the process repeats.
As Ice Floe Tiles are collected, the playing area begins to shrink around the penguins, limiting the players' movement options.  When a player can no longer move any of their penguins they are out of the game, removing their pieces from the grid and collecting the tiles they finished the game on.
This is where the strategic element of HTMF! comes into play.  The first instinct of any player is to start collecting as many fish as possible, but by cutting off your opponents' penguins you can cunningly find that you have the entire board to yourself!  In the picture above the blue penguin has isolated the red penguin in the corner.  Seeing as penguins can't move through eachother the red penguin has no movement options, and once the blue penguin moves away his Ice Floe Tile will disappear, stranding the red penguin on a little tile island until the end of the game.  The term "deceptively strategic" did get thrown around a lot during our review sessions, and it is an excellent way of describing the game.
HTMF! doesn't actually end when only one player remains in the game, but continues until that player no longer has any legal movement options.  This means that the key to victory is often outmanoeuvring your opponents, isolating and eliminating their penguins, and allowing you to slowly hop around the board collecting as many of the remaining tiles as is legally possible without backing yourself into a corner.
Although a group of strategically-minded players can give a game of HTMF! a very chess-like edge, the simple game mechanic and colourful, friendly game pieces make this an ideal family game, and for specialist gamers who want to introduce their young ones to the hobby then it's an ideal platform.  Whilst the temperamental nature of the tiles on a smooth surface can cause frustration, HTMF! is an excellent game in all other areas, being easily accessible, quick to play, deceptively strategic (we had to say it again), and fantastic value for money.
The Good Points
  • Visually, Hey, That's My Fish! is a very fun game.  Amusing and colourful game pieces and a nice cover make it appealing from the start.
  • The modular board keeps games nicely randomised, so that no two grids will ever be the same.
  • The simple mechanic makes it accessible to players of all ages, whilst at the same time a group of adults can delve into deeper tactical thinking to make the game more of a challenge.
  • Unlike many board games, HTMF! takes up a refreshingly small amount of space on the table, making it nice and easy to crack open for a quick game.
  • A game of HTMF! doesn't take too long to play, making it a good wind-down game.
  • It's such good value for money!!!
The Bad Points
  • The modular board is very prone to being knocked during set up or whilst collecting tiles.  We can't stress highly enough the benefits of playing on a surface with a little grip.
  • Hardcore "serious" gamers probably won't enjoy this game due to it's colourful and family-friendly theme.
Recommended Number of Players: 3
HTMF! can be played with 2-4 players, and frankly it works just as well with any number!  The number of penguins for each player decreases with the number of players, and so the gameplay runs just as smoothly.  2 player games can be a little bit more tactical as players only have to out-think one opponent, whereas 4 player games become more chaotic as the moves of three other people become harder to predict.  Our personal preference is for 3 players as it gives a higher penguin count (9, as opposed to 8 in 2/4 player games) and thus makes the grid seem a little busier.
Average Game Time: 15 minutes
HTMF! is a short game, running for around 15 minutes (20 when you include set up time).  This makes it good for younger players with short attention spans, and also for games nights when players just want a simple game to break up the evening.
Replay Value: Medium
The modular grid helps to keep HTMF! fresh across multiple games, and the simple nature of the game means that it's easy to introduce new players as well.  The difficulty of the game always boils down to the strategic skill of your opponent, so unless you're evenly matched or can provide a stream of new opponents it will probably start to lose its shine after a while.
The Future: n/a
HTMF! is a self-contained game, but let's be honest, there's nowhere it could really go with expansions.  Apart from the possibility of more tiles to expand the grid, and thus adding the option of a fifth or sixth player, HTMF! is very much it's own thing.
Price: £10
That's right!  We hinted at it being a bargain, and HTMF! will set you back a measly £10!  This actually makes it the cheapest game we've ever got our hands on at Games & Tea (technically Felinia and Sedition Wars cost us the same, but they were bought on clearence rather than having a low RRP), and we can't see why anyone wouldn't want to take a chance on it at that price.
Tea consumed during this review: PG tips with milk and 2 sweeteners.  Brew rating 6/10 (too much milk).

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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Games & Tea's Christmas Shopping Guide!

'Tis the season to be jolly, apparently.  Here at Games & Tea, on the other hand, we won't try to tell you how to feel based on the Earth's position relative to the sun, nor will we try to brainwash you with catchy songs.  However, we can't deny that this is the time of year that our capitalist culture makes us feel obligated to buy gifts for our loved ones/friends/people we vaguely know, so if that person in your life is a fan of board/card games, we're hoping that this little guide makes the process a little easier.
Now not all of the games in the following article will be ones that we've reviewed, but in the cases of those we haven't played ourselves, we've heard from trusted sources that they are worth a gander.
Stocking Fillers
So we might as well start with the cheap and cheerful options!  Have you almost finished shopping for the gaming geek in your life, but just want to add one more little item to the gift pile?  Then how about one of these pocket-sized and inexpensive offerings...
Looney Labs' Fluxx is a nice way to pad out a Christmas stocking.  This simple chance-based card game is a pocket-sized gem - quick to learn, easy to play, and something that the whole family can enjoy.  Some of the more complicated rules can easily be discarded for younger players, and it comes in around the thoroughly reasonable £12 mark.  With a wide range of variants, including Zombie Fluxx, Pirate Fluxx, Oz Fluxx and Family Fluxx, there's pretty much a Fluxx for everyone!

If you're more inclined toward something to give the imagination a good workout then you can't go far wrong with Gloom from Atlas Games.  Gloom is a storytelling card game in which players must weave a tale of woe for their family, heaping as much misery on them as possible, whilst bringing untold joy to their opponents' families.  It's quite a dark game, but the storytelling makes for a nice group activity, perfect for those who like their Christmas a little bit twisted.  A little more expensive than Fluxx, Gloom will set you back around £20.

Family Games

Fluxx has already been mentioned as a family-friendly offering, featuring easy-to learn rules and multiple editions to choose from.  Family Fluxx is the obvious choice for bringing the family together over the holidays, but regular Fluxx (or Fluxx 4.0) is the next logical stepping stone.

When it comes to family games, nothing has impressed us quite like Dixit.  It requires players to use their imaginations in a similar manner to Gloom, but with a much more innocent nature.  Once again this is a quick-to-learn game, and its beautiful styling and charming nature should make it a hit with family members of most ages.  Dixit costs roughly £30, but would be a fine addition to any family games collection.

Another simple family game is Fantasy Flight's Hey, That's My Fish!, a strategy game which is simple to pick up but deceptively strategic.  The aim of the game is to have your penguins collect more fish than those of your opponents', through collecting hexagons from the modular gaming board.  HTMF requires only a small area to play, features a nice, basic ruleset, and at £10 isn't going to break the bank!

Big Box Games

Big box games are great to give as Christmas gifts, with their bulk looking fantastic under the tree.  There are more big box games than we can even begin to imagine out on the market, so we're going to suggest a few of our favourites.

Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia from Plaid Hat Games certainly gives you a lot of components for your money, making for a hefty box and an impressive-looking gift.  For fans of the videogame it's a great board game experience, and even those unfamiliar with the setting should be able to enjoy the strategic element of the game.  It takes a good couple of hours to play through a session, and so two or four players will be able to war with eachother to their hearts' content on a chilly winter evening.  As with most big box games, it comes with a sizeable price tag, and will set you back approximately £60.
If co-op's more your thing, then Fantasy Flight steps up to the plate once more, with Arkham Horror  - one of their flagship games.  Arkham Horror sees a team of up to eight investigators working together to prevent the incursion of a mighty eldritch horror into the world.  It's another hefty game with a lot of components, and once again has a long run time, with sessions taking anywhere up to and beyond the 3 hour mark.  The co-operative nature makes it a nice game to bring people together (or cause riotous arguments) over the festive period, and the reasonable £35 price tag should make it seriously worth considering.  As the players are playing against the board itself, it can also be played solo, which can be handy when those family arguments have escalated beyond bursting point.
If you prefer you co-op games with a slightly competitive edge (make your mind up, will you?) then Fantasy Flight have another treat which may fit right in, in the form of Letters From Whitechapel.  Rather than playing against the board, up to five players must team up as Scotland Yard's best and brightest, and work together to bring down the other player who takes on the role of the notorious Jack the Ripper.  Dark subject matter aside, Letters From Whitechapel is a very strategic and challenging game, and is one of Games & Tea's favourite board games to date.  A copy of this will set you back roughly £45, and a session will take 1-2 hours.

For The Tabletop/Boardgamer

If the board game fan in your life has a penchant for tabletop games, there are some wonderful options on the market which combine the two.

For a game which has an element of mischief and whimsy, you can't go far wrong with Wyrd Miniatures' Puppet Wars Unstitched.  Set in Wyrd's fictional world of Malifaux, Puppet Wars allows players to build an army of puppets and voodoo dolls to fight a war for the future of their workshop.  There are plenty of miniatures to build and paint inside the box, but it still retains that self-contained board game essence.  Puppet Wars costs around £45 for the box set, and includes almost everything two players need to get going (a bag of dice or counters would also help).

Another one to cross that barrier between board game and tabletop system is Mantic's Deadzone.  Unlike Puppet Wars there is no whimsy factor here, as Deadzone is a gritty, hard sci-fi skirmish game.  The official release date for Deadzone is actually February 2014, but as it was a Kickstarter project, stores who backed the game will be receiving some stocks at the end of November.  Check if your FLGS was one of them, and you may be able to secure a copy for Christmas.  We've yet to play it ourselves, but have heard nothing but praise from our friends at The Hobbynomicon, and are very excited about picking up our copy next weekend.  The starter set of Deadzone costs approximately £60, and features everything 2 players need to get going.

Mantic once again tick both the board game and tabletop boxes with DreadBall.  Again, this is one we haven't played ourselves, but have watched a lot of games down at our FLGS Titan Games, and from listening to other players it does seem to be a lot of fun.  From the outside it looks like a cross between American Football and the various games from Tron, but played by a combination of humans, fantasy races and robots.  With extra teams available to buy, and additional players to augment the starting teams, it's a fully customisable tabletop system, but the beginners box features everything you need to get started (as every board game should).  DreadBall will set you back £30-50 depending on whether you opt for the Kick-Off box, or the better value Deluxe set.

For Horrible People

Christmas is a time for party games, so we'll wrap up this feature with a nod towards our personal favourite party game; Cards Against Humanity.  The hallmark of a party game is that it gives all players something to do on every turn, rather than each player taking their own turn whilst the rest wait.  CAH achieves this by presenting the group with a question or incomplete phrase, and allowing all players to attempt to answer the question/complete the phrase using one of the many non-PC cards in their hands.  Whilst not for the faint of heart or easily offended, CAH is great for a group of like-minded individuals, and is hands-down the most played game here at Games & Tea right now.  Cards Against Humanity costs around £20 for the base game, which is great value for the number of cards you receive inside the box.

Links to reviews (where appropriate)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Star Fluxx: The Ever-Changing Card Game... In Space!

In our last post we mentioned some of the games we have our reviewing eyes on for the coming weeks.  Well since then we've actually managed to get our filthy mitts on a few more games to add to our ever-growing review pile, so we thought we'd start the ball rolling with something nice and casual; Star Fluxx, from Looney Labs.
Star Fluxx is one of the most recent additions to Looney Labs' flagship card game, and in a similar manner to Zombie Fluxx or Pirate Fluxx, it follows a genre as a whole, rather than carrying the licence of a specific franchise (as with Monty Python Fluxx).  At its core it still runs off the same rules and mechanics of the original Fluxx, and so in this review we'll be focusing on the Star Fluxx-specific themes and new mechanics, rather than giving our usual walkthrough of the basic rules.  For those unfamiliar with Fluxx as a whole, our review of Monty Python Fluxx addresses the overall gameplay.
So as we mentioned, Star Fluxx covers a theme rather than a franchise, and (as you may have already guessed) that theme is science fiction films and television shows.  However, Looney Labs haven't let the absence of a franchise licence impede their choice of themed cards, and they've cleverly found ways to fit some of the most popular films/shows into the deck...
When releasing any product based on big cult sci-fi series, most fans would probably be that one of the big two has to be Star Trek.  Without making any specific references to any of the series or films, Star Fluxx has managed to make enough references to this cornerstone of the sci-fi world to keep fans happy.  The typical starship crew is all present and accounted for on the Keeper front, with The Captain, The Engineer, The Scientist, The Doctor, and even the Expendable Crewman - who must be the first to 'die' should an opponent ever steal or force a player to discard one of their keepers.  The Cute Fuzzy Alien Creature (a Games & Tea favourite) is a clear reference to the troublesome tribbles from the original series of Star Trek, spending the game happily wandering around the tabletop, and never going into the discard pile.  On top of these there are Goals such as Landing Party and Seeking New Civilizations, and Actions such as Beam Us Up!, which also represent their chosen franchise to varying degrees.
The other of the big two has, of course, to be Star Wars, and is also represented in force (see what we did there?) in the deck.  Whilst not as Keeper-heavy as their Star Trek counterparts, there are some wonderful Star Wars references amongst the goals in particular, such as The Power of the Dark Side, These Aren't the Droids... and That's No Moon... whilst the likes of Laser Sword and Unseen Force bulk out the Keeper pile, and Admiral Ackbar's infamous "It's a trap!" exclamation is represented by the Surprise card It's a Trap! (surprisingly!).
Whilst those two certainly make up the majority of the themed cards in Star Fluxx, there are a number of other franchises which make their way into the deck...

Fans of British science fiction will be pleased to see Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy represented (albeit lightly) by Forty-Two, The Intergalactic Travel Guide and I'm Depressed, whilst ongoing hit Doctor Who has a handful of cards in the shape of Time Traveler, What Doctor? Where? and the slightly more subtle Sonic Sledgehammer.
There are a few cards representing some of the older classics of the sci-fi world, such as the two above which represent the old Lost in Space series, and The Monolith flying the flag for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In addition to these franchise-specific cards, Star Fluxx also features a lot of generic sci-fi cards, including laser pistols, space stations, moons, and alien cities, so even players who aren't too savvy on these franchises can still enjoy a decent little sci-fi game.
One of the interesting additions to Star Fluxx over Looney Lab's previous instalments, is the wider introduction of special abilities on Keepers.  This was touched on lightly in Monty Python Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx, but with Star Fluxx they've quite happily run with the idea and pushed the boundaries a little.  The Captain allows players to steal other crew members from their opponents, the Laser Pistol allows players to kill Creepers, and the Holographic Projection even allows players to win the game using their opponents' Keepers!  The expansion of this mechanic causes Star Fluxx to lose some of the more casual nature of its predecessors, but in return it becomes a slightly more tactical game, and here at Games & Tea we found the exchange to be a favourable one.
Creepers are back again, having been standard fare since Monty Python, although in far fewer numbers than the colossal Zombie FluxxStar Fluxx has introduced a new mechanic with it's Creepers though, by causing them to attach to Keepers and remain with them until discarded.  For example, the Brain Parasites above attach themselves to any Keeper with a brain...
...so as soon as something like the Bug-Eyed Monster becomes available, the Brain Parasites attach straight onto it, neutralise any abilities of that Keeper, and remain attached.  This further increases the tactical element of Star Fluxx, by effectively taking some Goals out of the equation, making players think more cautiously about the order in which they play their cards, and making some Keepers prime targets for discarding or giving away to opponents.
There's one additional card type which we need to mention; the Surprise card.
These were first introduced in Pirate Fluxx (which we will be reviewing in due course), and make their return here.  Whilst they work the same way as Action cards in the players' own turns, Surprise cards are the first Fluxx cards which can also be played in an opponent's turn.  These can be used to cancel Actions, to remove a Goal, or to prevent Keepers from being stolen.  These don't so much increase the strategic edge in the same way that the previously mentioned mechanics do, but instead are more about increasing the length of the game.  This may prove to be a divisive idea, as casual games like Fluxx are often prized for their shorter length, so whilst hardcore fans may enjoy longer games, less committed players may find these to be something of a drag.
The Good Points
  • Each card tells the player exactly what they have to do with it, and so it's a very fast game to pick up.
  • It's a nice compact game, and can easily be taken to a park or pub to play with friends.  Nothing is needed except for the cards in the deck.
  • There are enough franchises references in Star Fluxx to keep most sci-fi fans happy.
  • Star Fluxx is a little bit more tactical than previous Fluxx incarnations, which may be able to sway the opinions of some of its critics.
  • With the right number of players it's quite a quick game to play, and is good to wrap up a heavy gaming session.
The Bad Points
  • Whilst slightly more tactical than other Fluxxes, Star Fluxx is still largely a game of chance, and this luck-based system will not appeal to all.
  • There simply aren't enough cards in the deck to cater to all franchises, and fans of some series (such as Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers to name but two) may feel a little bit cheated.
Recommended Number of Players: 3
Fluxx decks are always good wind-up or wind-down games on any gaming nights.  Star Fluxx loses a little of the fun with just 2 players, but with 4 or more (the box advertises 2-6) it can start to drag on as players forget their own Goals and desperately vie to just keep eachother from winning.
Average Game Time: 20 minutes
Star Fluxx is difficult to put an average game time on due to its random and unpredictable nature.  We've played games which have been over in a matter of minutes, and some which have gone on for over an hour.  20 minutes is a good, solid, average time though.
Replay Value: High
Star Fluxx is a good game, and not overly long.  It's appealing theme and wide range of franchises make it enjoyable to go back to, and it's probably the most-played of all the Fluxx decks here at Games & Tea.
The Future: n/a
Each version of Fluxx is its own game, and as such the contents of the box are all you'll ever get of Star Fluxx.  However if you've enjoyed the mechanic then there are several other themed Fluxx sets to choose from, including Zombie Fluxx, Oz Fluzz, Martian Fluxx, Cthulhu Fluxx and Stoner Fluxx.
Price: £12
Star Fluxx will set you back roughly £12, which is a thoroughly decent price for a stand-alone card game.  The various Fluxx sets seem to be standard fare in most specialist game shops, so even if they don't have the set you're after then they should be able to get their hands on it quickly.
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!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Coming up soon...

Good evening, ladies and gentlegamers!  It's been a couple of busy weeks outside of the world of board gaming.  We've been re-discovering our tabletop love, swelling our Khador ranks in Privateer Press' Warmachine, picking up the Children of December crew for Wyrd Miniatures' Malifaux, picking up some more Batman goodness for Knight Models' Arkham City, and picking up a sizeable beginner force of Brotherhood for Prodos Games' Mutant Chronicles Warzone Resurrection!  Yep, all in all it's been a fairly crazy couple of hobby weeks!
Will we be writing up blog entries about any of these systems?  We will not.  Our original mission statement was to make Games & Tea a board/card game blog, and that's exactly how we intend to stay.  If you are interested in reading about any of the above systems, then we'd thoroughly recommend checking out our good friends over at The Hobbynomicon, as they're much more into the tabletop scene than we are.
Our rediscovery of all things tabletop has not caused our board game love to wane in the slightest, however, and even though it's been a good few weeks since our last review (the wonderfully non-PC Cards Against Humanity), we just wanted to reassure our readers that we have a whole host of wonderful things to bring you in the world of reviews...
The most recent addition to our review stack is Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror, a classic Lovecraftian game and staple of many gamers' collections.  We may be late to the party with this one, but we're certainly looking forward to bringing you our thoughts on it.
Next up we have Star Fluxx from Looney Labs.  In the past we've brought you reviews on Zombie Fluxx and Monty Python Fluxx, and anyone who's read these will know that we have a bit of a soft spot for what is ultimately one of the Marmites of the gaming community.  Unlike some of its predecessors, Star Fluxx does not fit a specific theme, but instead touches on the sci-fi genre as a whole, and we'll be talking to you soon about just how well Looney Labs have managed to pull that off.
Sticking with the sci-fi theme for the moment, we have our review of Wizkids Star Trek Attack Wing to bring you.  This game is built around Fantasy Flight's Flightpath system, developed for their Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, and so the two play very similar.  In order to include some of the technologies from the Star Trek universe however, the gameplay has been tweaked slightly.  We concluded that X-Wing plays nicely as a game straight out of the box, so stay tuned to see whether or not Star Trek Attack Wing manages the same feat!
And finally, the game we're most excited about: Mantic Games' Deadzone.  This is fresh from Kickstarter, and due to arrive with us at the end of the month, courtesy of our FLGS Titan Games.  Deadzone, whilst really more of a tabletop system, looks set to bridge the gap between board game and tabletop wargame with it's fluid mechanics and complete starter box.  Much like with Wyrd Miniatures' Puppet Wars, we'll be looking at this with a board gamer's eye and seeing if it plays well straight out of the box, or if it needs to be augmented with further purchases.
So that's what you can expect from Games & Tea in the coming months!  On top of this there will be the continuation of the Diary of a Roleplay Beginner, with the introduction to a second roleplay system set to stir things up on that front in a few weeks!
For now though, we hope you're still enjoying Games & Tea, and happy gaming!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Gamers vs Hellfire: Emergency Fund Raiser

One thing we never wanted to do with Games & Tea was to turn it into a great big advertising board.  We enjoy playing games, and we'll talk honestly about our opinions on them, and leave it up to our readers whether they want to check these games out or not.  What we'll never do is shamelessly plug a game for no good reason, or flat out tell you "please buy this!" - that's quite simply not who we are.
However, we are going to bend that rule slightly on this occasion, and it's purely for a really good cause.
The folks over at StoryWeaver have put together a bundle of one of their flagship RPG products - Rapture - to help raise money for the Bush Fire Appeal, working to combat the devastation caused by the bush fires in Australia.  This bundle contains $52 worth of RPG product, and is being sold as a special offer for just $10 here, with 100% of the proceeds going to the appeal.
Of course it'd be nice if folks just blindly threw their $10 in for the good cause, but it's only human to want to know what you're spending your money on.  Here at Games & Tea we still haven't had a crack at Rapture yet, seeing as we're still dipping our toes into the roleplay water with Privateer Press' Iron Kingd.oms, but our friends over at our favourite hobby blog The Hobbynomicon have been trying it out, and The CausticTriton's thoughts on the system can be found in one of their articles here.
And if you still need convincing, here's a video review on the system from Let's Level Up

So that's our little advertisement/charity drive over with.  If you're a roleplay fan and fancy trying out a new system, then why not gamble 10 measly dollars and support a good cause whilst you're at it?  You might just feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Diary of a Roleplay Beginner #3: LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!

This diary entry is perhaps a little bit overdue, being a good couple of weeks after my last roleplay session, but there are two reasons behind this gap.  The first is a simple matter of time contstraints; it's been a busy couple of weeks (hence the long silence on the review front), and the roleplay diary was in a perpetual state of being on the back-burner.  The second is that emotions were running quite high amongst a few of the group's participants after the last session, and I didn't want to start posting things to Games & Tea until I'd had some time to look back on them with a clear head.
But I fear I'm getting ahead of myself!  In the last entry I mentioned how much I'd enjoyed taking part in my first roleplay session - a purely narrative experience - and how I was looking forward to my first taste of combat in the next session.
The first major difference between a combat session and a narrative session is the tabletop element of gameplay.  Now from what I've gathered as a novice overhearing talk of other systems, this does vary from one roleplay to the next.  However, only having experienced Privateer Press' Iron Kingdoms thus far, I can only comment on its mechanic.  With the combat system represented by miniatures on a tabletop laid out by the Game Master, each player needs to provide a miniature to represent their character, allowing everyone to keep track of their place in the action.
Finding a miniature for my character proved to be trickier than expected.  Being a Gun Mage/Rifleman I obviously needed it to be a male character with a long rifle, but with my character's backstory being one of 25 years of mercenary work, I particularly wanted a model which looked like it was not to be trifled with.  The obvious answer would have been Kell Bailoch from the Mercenaries range of PP's Warmachine, having a grizzled look, a long rifle, and even an armoured greatcoat just like my character.
In fact the model was, frankly, perfect for the part.  If anything it was too perfect, and upon inspection I decided he was a little bit too grizzled, and I'd rather go for someone with perhaps a few less scars and a slightly more sinister look to him...
...and so I said farewell to Kell Bailoch, and hello to Lazar Grigsov; a Khadoran rifleman from the actual Iron Kingdoms miniatures range.  Aside from the cloak instead of the greatcoat, Grigsov fit the bill just as well, and had a little bit more of an edge in my opinion.  After speaking with the GM the "artistic licence" card was played, and I happily went ahead and ordered him in.
Sadly the miniatures range from Iron Kingdoms has been discontinued, so I had to pick him up from an eBay seller in the US, and as a result he didn't arrive in time for the required session (in fact just to rub it in, he arrived the following day!).  However, the GM knew I was waiting for my model's arrival, and so he approved my choice of proxy model...
Yes, I went with Batman, from Knight Models' Arkham City tabletop system.  Now at this point I should mention that it's fairly common courtesy to play WYSIWYG - or as close as you can get - with roleplay models.  It helps to keep track of which characters are where, and it creates an altogether more involving experience.  With this in mind I wouldn't recommend to any beginner to just show up with such a drastically out-of-character model, but in this case it was actually something of an in-joke amongst our roleplay group, and so the GM gave it his blessing for this one session :)
Anyway, I'm getting slightly carried away with the miniature selection aspect of the game!  With my far-from-obvious Gun Mage/Rifleman chosen, I turned up for our session, ordered myself some Chinese food and we all got started...
The session began with us all preparing to enter the town's sewer system, hot on the trail of the missing arcanist we'd been scouring the town for in our previous session.  We all knew there'd be something nasty awaiting us down beneath the city's streets, but in spite of a fortnight's guesswork, no one quite managed to anticipate quite what that something would be.
...almost no one ;)
As it turned out, during a chat on Facebook the GM let me know about what we'd be facing, on account of the fact that I'd be getting snatched by one of them at some point in the adventure!  For those familiar with Iron Kingdoms, we were facing up against Thrullgs.  For those unfamiliar, we were facing up against 10-foot tall, hulking, purple, tentacly monsters which prey upon magic users.  Obviously I had to keep this information to myself, and it did feel very good to know that the GM had faith in me to keep this nugget from the rest of the group.  At this point you might be wondering why he clued me in at all, but it makes perfect sense as it was my responsibility to describe these big tentacle monsters to the rest of the group after the event.  I did have a good laugh to myself at one point in the days leading up to the session, when two of the group started speaking to me about their theories regarding our imminent enemies, to which I just had to smile and nod and pretend I was as clueless as they were!
Anyway, I'm digressing again!  We entered the sewers with a couple of NPCs to carry on our search for this arcanist chap.  Now even though this was my second session, this was a slightly new experience for me in comparison to the previous outing.  In our last session we were splitting up and searching different areas of town, whereas down in the sewers we were working together as a single group.  This made me feel quite at ease, as it meant that I could tag along for a while at the back of the pack, waiting until I found my novice roleplay feet again!  Being one of only two characters with a rope and grappling hook, I was called upon quite early on which kept me feeling part of the team, but aside from that I was able to just sit back for a while and let the more experienced players guide the action.
In all honesty I did find navigating around the sewers a bit of a struggle.  I've always had a problem creating mental images of locations, whether it's a passage in a book or someone verbally trying to set a scene.  As a result, in spite of some good descriptive work from the GM, I really couldn't picture the location we were searching, and so sometimes needed a bit of prompting from the other players (a perfect example was an occasion I neglected to investigate a balcony, on account of the fact I forgot it was there!).
After we'd done some solid investigative work, and I'd failed rather spectacularly on some skill-based dice-rolling, we began backtracking the sewers when suddenly...
"You hear a scream.  Rob's no longer there."  I have to confess to a smug little grin at these words from the GM.  Okay, my character's life was suddenly in danger, but I was hit by this wonderful feeling of "Yep, I knew this was coming.  Now who's going to throw themselves in to help me out?"  As it turned out, most of the group suddenly rounded on the unfortunate Thrullg, and it quickly dropped me and fled deeper into the sewers.  I recovered my rifles which had been picked up by one of the NPCs, drew my magelock rifle (the heavy-hitter of the two), and it was time for us to get stuck in!
We all gathered around the sewer layout which had been pre-prepared for us, arranged our miniatures, and then started to spread out.  At this point there were no enemies around, so we were very much scouting the area.  Being a ranged attacker my first instinct was to get to an elevated position to sweep the area, and so along with two other party members that was exactly what I did.  Although I still feel out of my depth from time to time in the narrative element of roleplaying, I'd customised my characters skills and loadout very specifically, so when it cam to combat I knew exactly what I wanted to be doing, and so wasn't afraid to head out and get started.
As it turned out we didn't encounter our first enemy for a few activation turns, spending a few minutes pursuing a ghost around the sewers instead!  The ghost soon vanished though, leaving a Thrullg in its wake, and me with a nice juicy target.  One of the interesting things about combat in a roleplay is making sure that you look at things from your character's perspective rather than your own.  Obviously you can see everything that's going on across the entire field of battle, but your character can only see in front of his or herself.  Obviously the GM can override the decisions of any player who ignores this fact, but if all players respect it and work to it anyway then it just makes for a much smoother-flowing game.  In fact when that first enemy appeared I actually had my back to it, but it was a warning shouted by another party member which alerted me to it and allowed me to move my miniature into a better firing position.
I won't go into too much detail about the combat itself, but I can confirm I had some abysmal dice-rolling luck to begin with (three 1's off three dice is pretty poor!), but once I switched dice (any experienced tabletop gamer can confirm the validity of this tactic) things started to change, and I was able to make the kill-shot on two of the three Thrullgs.  I like to think that my character was so enraged at their audacity of trying to grab him that he went on a kill-spree worthy of Schwarzenegger.  The experience was a very good one in the way that we worked together.  Once I cottoned onto the fact that they were attracted to the nearest magic user I stowed my magelock rifle and switched to a bog-standard repeater, allowing me to keep dealing damage as another mage kept it distracted with a sustained fire spell.
With the beasties all subdued, the ghost was chased into another room, with some cracking roleplaying by two of the group - a warrior priest who was hell-bent on destroying the ghost, which he saw as an abomination, and another mercenary-type who was trying to bring the priest under control.  The exchange between them was frankly a masterclass of how to stay in character, and made a fantastic bit of entertainment for the end of the session.
The ghost turned out to be that of the arcanist we were searching for, and we soon left the sewers, reported back to our employer, and then wrapped the session up ready for next time.
At the end of the session the GM rewarded us all with some XP, allowing us to develop new skills or learn new spells.  Now whilst the rulebook itself gives a wide berth on this front, the GM insisted that any new skills had to be justified.  For example, a character who spent an entire session swimming won't have suddenly learned the skills needed for rock-climbing.  Or a character who has thrown themselves into combat all evening won't suddenly be a master of seduction.  We were only allowed to learn new skills relevant to our experience, and I thought this was a great way to ensure even character development.
At the beginning of this entry I mentioned emotions running high.  As much as I'd like to say this was because of intense gameplay or something along those lines, the sad truth is that it was down to something of a mixed session.  The ongoing story is still good, and the combat was a lot of fun, but this was my first experience of how other players can create a negative effect on the gameplay as a whole.  There was certainly a lot of good gameplay going on, but it was let down by some instances of someone actually taking issue with others for acting in character, some acting out of character entirely, some poor roleplaying which slowed the pace of the game, and some attempts by one player to dictate the actions of everyone else.
All in all it was still a very enjoyable evening, but it did definitely give me my first glimpse into the potential for a more negative experience.
But I'm certainly not going to lose faith at all!  I'm still loving Iron Kingdoms as a whole and our campaign in particular.  My Lazar Grigsov miniature is now painted up and ready to go for the next session, so hopefully I'll be able to report back in a few days about how things are going!