Monday, 28 April 2014

Zombies Keep Out, Part 2: Gameplay & Verdict

In our last article we headed back to the much-beloved world of zombies, taking a look at the box contents for Privateer Press' new release, Zombies Keep Out - a co-operative game for 1-6 players.  Now it's time to have a good look at the gameplay mechanics, and reward it with its coveted* Games & Tea final score (*Games & Tea final score may not actually be coveted).
In Zombies Keep Out, players take on the roles of the Bodgers - a team of tinkering goblins who find their workshop under siege from an approaching zombie horde.  The players must work together to fend off the zombie horde and cobble together 3 contraptions to stop them, before the zombies overrun the barricades and swarm through the workshop!
The zombies' shambling routes are arranged into nice neat columns (whoever said zombies are messy?), with the zombie pool at the bottom of the board and the workshop along the top.  To begin the game, the bottom two rows are filled with zombies, with one in each space.  There are four different types of zombies - Creepers, Leapers, Brutes and Runners - each of which are colour-coordinated with a certain area of the workshop.  The initial setup zombies are placed to match up with their corresponding locations, so the cellar (far-left) is faced with yellow Creepers, the front doors (centre) with a pair of red Brutes etc.  With the zombies places, the initial barricade tokens are placed on each workshop location, giving the Bodgers' stronghold a decent headstart over the horde.  Then a face-down contraption card is placed next to each workshop location, initial part cards are dealt out to the players, and then you're ready to go!  This is a nice, short setup sequence, meaning that players won't be left waiting for mountains of game components to be sorted and shuffled.
The player most prepared for a real-life zombie outbreak goes first - which in a crowd of zombie fans can lead to some arguing before the game even begins!  Once the argument has been settled (trial by combat is a favoured way of resolving things), the game can finally begin as the zombies get underway!
The first phase of each player's turn is dedicated to the zombies, as the active player draws a Terrible Things card off the top of the deck.  The Terrible Things cards throw new ever-changing challenges the players' way, ranging from minor annoyances to flat out disasters!  Terrible Things include adding to the number of active zombies on the board (as in the example above), moving zombies, backtracking on an in-progress blueprint, discarding all-important parts cards, or getting bitten (which is one of our favourite mechanics, and will be mentioned in more detail later!).
Each Terrible Things card contains three options, and the player must choose one of these actions to go ahead with.  Once the action is chosen, the player discards the card face-down and carries it out.  The rejected options are never revealed to the other players, which is a nice minor rule to keep players from second-guessing eachother.  The chosen action must be possible however, so a player wouldn't be able to choose a "All zombies in the rear row shamble forward" option if there were no zombies in the rear row.  In the event of none of the options being possible, then all zombies on the board advance!
Whilst there are four different zombie types, Privateer Press have kept things simple in terms of movement, and each zombie only moves one space when prompted.  The zombies always follow the path of the appropriately-coloured arrow, so the grey Runners always shamble straight forward, whilst the Creepers, Leapers and Brutes do their utmost to head towards the matching area of the workshop.  Now moving one space at a time may seem quite harmless and manageable, but once the zombie numbers begin to rise, chaos can ensue!
Each space can only contain a maximum of 3 zombies, so if there are ever any more than that, the active player must shamble some of them further on until only 3 remain.  Of course, this can have a knock-on effect of causing further spaces to exceed their zombie limit, and further shambling is called for!  In worst case scenarios, a simple shamble can cause a butterfly effect which brings the whole workshop crashing down!
"Avon calling..."
If a zombie needs to shamble whilst in the final space of a column, they deal damage to the barricade and are returned to the zombie pool, and this is where strategic zombie-placement comes into effect.  The grey Runners only ever deal 1 point of damage to their target, but if any of the other zombie types ever hit a section of the workshop which matches their colour, it deals 2 damage instead.  If an area of the workshop ever loses its final barricade token, it's considered to be overrun, and the contraption behind it is removed from play, and any further damage which would be dealt to that section is instead dealt to the next section across in the direction of the central doors.  If the doors are ever breached, or three of the contraptions are destroyed, the zombies have overwhelmed the workshop and the players lose.
Once the Terrible Things card has been resolved, the player then takes their action for the turn.
We'd just like to pause at this point to make a small note about the turn sequence.  We think it's a bloomin' good sequence!  Most zombie games involve the player taking their turn first, and then the zombies activating afterwards.  By reversing the process in Zombies Keep Out, players are given the chance the react to the unfolding events, rather than being left on the sidelines for a round until the turn passes back to themselves.  It may only seem like a little thing, but it makes a lot of difference to the way the game feels.
Anyway, moving swiftly on to the players' actions.  During each turn the player may only take one action out of five possible choices.  Three of those options revolve around the part cards, so this seems as good a time as any to take a closer look at them.
There are three sections to each parts card, relating to the three possible actions for which they can be discarded in exchange.  To use the card to Defend, the player selects one space on the board and can remove a zombie of the specified colour, returning it to the pool.  The card above is a versatile one, allowing the player to kill any of the zombie types.  Some are more limited in their zombie-killing options, whereas others may restrict players to one zombie type, but allow them to kill two of that zombie instead.
To carry out a Repair action, the player can add a number of barricade tokens equal to the number shown to any location in the workshop, as long as they don't exceed the starting number of barricades.
To Tinker, the symbol on the parts card must match the next symbol along on the blueprint track of any contraption card.  If it matches, the progress counter can be moved one space along the track.
Once the progress counter reaches the final space on the blueprint track, the contraption is complete, and it can be put to use on subsequent player turns.  The one and only win condition for the game is to complete three of these contraptions, so good hand-management is key to victory.
Which brings us to Push The Button actions.  When a contraption is complete, a player can take a Push The Button action to activate the contraption during their turn.  Contraptions have a range of effects, from allowing players to draw extra cards, to allowing them to destroy zombies without having to discard.  Completing a contraption at the right time can turn the tide of battle!
And then the final action is simply to Scrounge, which allows players to draw two extra parts cards.
In addition to their action, players may also trade cards with eachother, ensuring that the correct parts come up when needed.
Once the player has taken their chosen action, play moves onto the next player, and another Terrible Things card starts the ball rolling again.
So that just leaves biting!  The bite rules were one of our favourite things about Zombies Keep Out, so we'll go into them in a little more depth here.  The only way players can get bitten is as the result of a Terrible Things card, and upon getting bitten they receive a bite token.  If at any point every player has at least 2 bite tokens, the game is over and the zombies have won (but seeing as the players are turning into zombies anyway, it's a win-win situation really).  The number of bite tokens a player has reduces their action options, but the rules about behaviour are the most fun!
After one bite, players can no longer trade cards, and must slur their speech for the rest of the game.
After two bites, they can no longer tinker either (picture a mindless player who can only bash things and nail up planks of wood!), and their speech must become barely intelligible.
After three bites, they can no longer use speech at all, and can only communicate through grunts and hand-gestures (imagine the fun of trying to teach the game to new players at this point!).  Also the player has to choose their Terrible Things option before even looking at the card, by grunting and holding up the appropriate number of fingers before drawing it.
And after four (or more) bites, the player has fully turned into a zombie!  They can only communicate through zombie noises, and instead of taking an action in the second phase of the turn, they draw a second Terrible Things card instead!
And that's the basics of Zombies Keep Out.  It's not the most complicated game by any means, but is a nice casual take on the zombie board game genre.  The quick setup time and small board mean that it's an easy game to get out, play through, and put away again, making it a nice way to break up a long gaming session.  It's also quick to learn, and within a few minutes of our first session everyone confidently knew what they were doing.  Being a casual game, it does create a very good atmosphere with like-minded friends, but this is where the issues with Zombies Keep Out start to arise.
It's a good social game, and the bite rules are fun for those who have been bitten and entertaining for those who are watching, but the flipside of this is that the overall experience begins to diminish as player numbers decrease.  When you're only playing with 2 players, for example, and one player gets bitten, it becomes less fun for the healthy player as they no longer have a coherent teammate to communicate with.
The solo game suffers from the same setback, as you're left trying to play a social game without the social element.  There are many cooperative games on the market which can be played solo - some, such as Firefly, work incredibly well, and some, such as Arkham Horror, are a masterclass in futility as the game mechanics fail to translate to a single player.  In both of these cases however, you're still left feeling immeresed in the game, whether scraping together a living as a planet-hopping transport captain, or struggling against an unstoppable tide of eldritch horrors.  With a solo game of Zombies Keep Out, you aren't left feeling like you're boldly taking on the army of the undead single-handedly, but instead feel more like you're playing a game of solitare - simply hoping you draw the right cards from the parts deck for the blueprints in front of you.

Solo will not be needed for this game...

And finally we should touch on the replayability, of which there isn't a great deal.  It's certainly a fun little casual game, but there isn't much going on to make one playthrough different to another.  Sure, you don't know what the next Terrible Things card might yield, but when they all serve roughly the same purpose - and the entire deck is cycled through once per game anyway - repetitition creeps in fairly quickly.
So is this the zombie game we've been dreaming of to keep our undead fandom satisfied?  Alas, no.  But at the very least it's a nice little casual game which will tide us over until the next contender steps into the ring.
The Good Points
  • Zombies Keep Out is quick to set up and easy to learn.
  • Up to 6 people can play at once, so it can accomodate a decent-sized gaming group.
  • The bite rules lift the game up a notch, so as long as the group is willing to play along it creates a very fun atmosphere.
  • The box and board are relatively small, making it an easy game to transport and play.
The Bad Points
  • There's not a great deal to mix things up between playthroughs, and replayabilty suffers as a result.
  • Being a social game, a lot of the atmosphere is lost with fewer player numbers, and solo mode verges on becoming a drag.
  • Some variety in the zombie miniatures would have been nice.

Recommended Number of Players: 4+
Zombies Keep Out is a textbook "the more, the merrier" game.  The atmosphere doesn't hold up well with 2 players, and whilst 3 is a step in the right direction it's still not great.  6 players works very well, but anything above/including 4 should make for a decent session.
Average Game Time: 45 minutes (30 minutues solo)
For a casual game, Zombies Keep Out has quite a decent play time.  At 45 minutes, you're unlikely to be playing it more than once in a single gaming session, which is actually a good thing as it extends the game's otherwise meagre lifespan
Replay Value: Low
Whilst it's fun laughing at the grunts and frustrated hand gestures of your infected teammates, this isn't enough to hold up Zombies Keep Out by itself.  It's a nice little game for the first couple of playthroughs, but following on from that it becomes stale and repetitive, with nothing really to keep it refreshed.
The Future: Shambling
Zombies Keep Out is a new release, so the future is quite open at the moment.  The first expansion is already on the horizon in the form of Night of the Noxious Dead, but to be honest it doesn't look like it'll be enough to breath life into the core game.  The expansion features a new zombie type, new contraptions, new Terrible Things and new parts, but on the whole it looks like it's going to be more of the same, which isn't going to help an already samey game.
Price: £25
Zombies Keep Out will set you back around the £25 mark.  This is a decent price for a board game, but has to be weighed up against how much replayability you'll be getting out of it.  Being a new release from a big name in the miniatures world, it should be fairly easy to track down at your local gaming store if you fancy taking a chance on it.
OVERALL SCORE: 7/10
Tea consumed during this review: Typhoo, milk and 2 sweeteners. Brew rating: 7.5/10


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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Zombies Keep Out, Part 1: Box Contents

We've mentioned (more than once) in the past that zombies hold a special place in our hearts here at Games & Tea, and as such there is no shortage of zombie games in our collection!  With zombies as popular as ever though, it seems that a new zombie game is getting released every other week, and it can sometimes be hard to separate the quality from the chaff.  So far we've taken a look at Zombie Fluxx, which we thoroughly enjoyed (although Fluxx isn't everyone's cup of tea), Zombies!!!, which we found clunky and very repetitive, and the yet-to-be-reviewed Zombicide, which seemed to be using a lot of fancy components to hide a lack of depth.  Now Privateer Press have thrown their hat into the zombie ring with the latest game in their Bodgers series: Zombies Keep Out, a cooperative board game for 1-6 players.
 
 
Privateer Press are perhaps best known for their Warmachine/Hordes tabletop systems, but are no strangers to the world of board/card games.  The light-hearted Bodgers series always centre around a team of goblins, and the different games all have separate themes, with the theme of Zombies Keep Out obviously being the undead.  It's not a game that takes itself seriously, as evidenced by the box art, so if you're looking a gritty, immersive survival horror game then you're probably best leaving now.
The players take on the role of the Bodgers, who have barricaded themselves in their workshop in reaction to a zombie outbreak.  As the zombies advance on the workshop and attempt to tear down the barricades, the Bodgers must rely on their resourcefulness and mechanical skill to construct 3 devices to fend the undead horde off.  Part 2 of the review will go into how this works in detail, so for now let's take a look at what you'll find inside the Zombies Keep Out box.
 
 
The Zombies Keep Out box is very nice and compact, and in fact is the smallest box for a board game in our substantial collection.  As a result, the board itself is also quite small, requiring only a small amount of set-up space to play.  The board shows the front yard outside the Bodgers' workshop, with the numbered circles representing the path of the zombies as they shamble towards their intended lunch.  The swimming pool at the bottom of the board is the waiting area for the zombies (cleverly referred to as the zombie pool in the rulebook), and the five areas of the workshop are represented along the top row; the cellar, the front door, the balcony, and two windows.
 
 
Of course a zombie game wouldn't be complete without zombies, and there are four types in Zombies Keep Out; Brutes, Runners, Leapers and Creepers.  If you notice on the game board, the front door, balcony and cellar are all colour coded, so the Brutes, Leapers and Creepers all shamble in the direction of their preferred targets.  The grey Runners are a little more mindless and just shamble forward in a straight line.  The little zombie miniatures are of a nice quality, but we have to confess to being slightly disappointed that the same sculpt was used for all of the zombies.  Even if there were only two or three different designs it would have been nice to add a little variety, but as it stands, all 45 zombies are identical.
 
 
In order to fight off the zombies, the Bodgers need to build some suitably ramshackle contraptions.  Zombies Keep Out features 15 contraption cards, with a blueprint of the device on one side and its abilities on the other.
 
 
In order to build these contraptions, the Bodgers are going to need parts, and this (appropriately) is where the part cards come into play.  As players are only allowed to take one action each turn (more details in Part 2), these cards serve multiple purposes.  They can be used to advance the blueprint track of a contraption as long as the part matches next requirement on the blueprint, they can be used to repair barricades if the zombies have weakened one part of the workshop, or they can be used to kill zombies in one location on the board, buying the rest of the team some precious time!
 
 
A zombie apocalypse is generally considered to be an unfavourable affair, as represented by the Terrible Things cards - the final card type in Zombies Keep Out.  At the start of each player's turn they must draw a card off the Terrible Things deck, resolve one of the events on the card, and then discard it face-down.  The Terrible Things options always advance the zombies' cause, by either causing them to shamble forward, adding more zombies to the board, biting players, or moving the blueprint track on a device backwards.  One of the nice mechanics in the game is that the players don't have to tell anyone about the two options they didn't choose - as the rulebook puts it, you have enough to deal with without the other players second-guessing your every move!
 
 
This just leaved the tokens, which are present in Zombies Keep Out in mercifully small numbers!  Progress tokens (left) are used to keep track of how close the players are to completing one of their contraptions.  Bite tokens (centre) are used to track how many times each player has been bitten by a zombie (which can have hilarious consequences), and barricade tokens are used to represent just how well the fortifications are holding up in each section of the workshop.
 
And that's the entire box contents of Zombies Keep Out!  Or at least the entire box content relevant to the game itself.  It also contains a handful of cards which can be used to add a zombie edge to some of the other Bodgers games, but as we're looking at Zombies Keep Out as a standalone product, we won't be looking at these.
But before we sign off on the box contents and move onto the gameplay, we're just going to take a quick look at the inside of the box, to see how well these components are stored...
 
 
Well it's certainly not the worst box we've ever seen (that accolade still sits firmly with BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia), but it's not great.  The cards are just the right size to fit sideways into the box insert, so if you're careful about which way up you stand the box to store/transport it you should be able to avoid having them scatter all over the place.  The tokens and zombie miniatures, however, are free to rattle around to their hearts' content.  This can easily be addressed by the simple addition of a pair of resealable polythene bags, but it would have been nice if Privateer Press had included these as standard in the box.
 
So that's it for Part 1!  Come back for Part 2 where we'll be looking at the gameplay mechanics and revealing whether Zombies Keep Out has won a place in our cold, dead hearts...

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Creating a Warmachine BioShock Army, Episode IV: Elizabeth Comstock

Welcome back to the ongoing WarmaShock project!  Okay I just thought of that on the fly, but it's kind of catchy, so I think I might stick with it!
With my BioShock Warmachine army now standing at a warcaster and one solo, I decided to press on with one more solo.  Granted it'll feel like serious progress is being made once the force starts to bulk out with units and warjacks, but before I moved into that territory there was one more character from the series who I really wanted to bring to life...


Elizabeth Comstock; BioShock Infinite's female lead.  Back when this project was just going to be a small collection of BioShock-looking miniatures, Elizabeth was the first model I set my sights on, but once it became an army list I knew that with Booker DeWitt leading the force, Elizabeth had to be included.  The entire story of BioShock Infinite follows Booker's attempt to rescue her from the city of Columbia - initially as a job, and eventually out of loyalty to her.  A lot of Infinite's players became very invested in the Booker/Elizabeth relationship as the game progressed - myself amongst them - and so I wanted to try my damned hardest to bring justice to the character with her miniature.  All the more so since the Booker model turned out quite tidily!
Elizabeth does wear a number of different outfits throughout the main game and the Burial At Sea expansion, but I've always been a fan of the white corset and blue jacket/skirt look in the image above, so this was the outfit I wanted my Elizabeth to wear.

As per usual, the first order of business was to decide which model was going to be used as her base.  Unusually for this project, however, I was able to use an actual Warmachine miniature instead of having to plunder the dark world of Malifaux!


Madelyn Corbeau, Ordic Courtesan, seemed the perfect starting model for Elizabeth Comstock.  A few alterations to the model would be needed, but the corset was there, the long coat, and the hair was almost perfect.  My initial plan was to just leave the model as it was and just paint it up to look like Elizabeth, but ambition soon got the better of me and I decided to do everything in my power to turn Ms Corbeau into Ms Comstock!

The first thing I did was to start trimming and filing back the parts of the model I didn't need.  The cigarette in Madelyn's left hand was clipped off and filed back down - before any Burial At Sea fans pipe up, yes I know Elizabeth smoked in the expansion.  However, in the main game she didn't, and it's the main game from which I've taken the outfit, so I feel justified in this.  As the image of Elizabeth shows, she wears a short jacket, not long gloves, so I filed down the tops of Madelyn's gloves to make them easier to blend into the jacket when it came to sculpting time.  I also clipped and filed back the ruff around her neck, as again this wasn't part of Elizabeth's outfit.  This just left the jewelry on her forehead, which was a little tricky.  I couldn't get it entirely flat without damaging her hair, so I did my best to scrape it off with a sharp craft knife to give her a bare forehead.
I'd been lucky enough to get a cobblestone 30mm resin base for participating in a local Warmachine steamroller event a week previous, so with this acting as as the streets of Columbia it was time to crack open the green stuff and get sculpting!

To start with I needed to make Madelyn's coat into Elizabeth's skirt, so I rolled a nice thin piece of green stuff and blended it across the front of the coat, and along the slit at the back, making the skirt one complete piece all around.  That was the easy part!  The next part took a few attempts seeing as I'm still learning to use green stuff properly.  I needed to sculpt a short jacket on her upper body, covering her shoulders and blending into her gloves, and then coming to a stop around half way down her back.  As I said, this took a few attempts, but after a week the model had a jacket I could finally be proud of!  Or at least most of a jacket, for it was still missing one element: the cuffs.  Seeing as Madelyn is wearing long gloves, they blend seamlessly into the hands of the model.  With Elizabeth I needed the hands to be bare, which meant adding the cuffs to the miniature to separate the hands from the forearms.  This proved to be much simpler than the rest of the jacket, and I was happy with the result after my first attempt.

I've also been trying to do something a little more interesting with the bases.  With Booker I added a few drops of blood, which seemed fitting seeing as he spends the game rampaging across the city!  For Elizabeth I wanted to do something different.  I didn't want to throw blood all over the base, but I wanted to add something to make it look more like the city of Columbia.  That's when it struck me: flags!  Columbia is a very all-American city, and you can't turn anywhere in the game without seeing red, white and blue flags, banners or bunting.  So I decided to drape a bit of bunting across the base, as if it had fallen down onto the streets during all of the fighting.  This was just a simple matter of creating some green stuff triangles and then tucking them neatly in against the kerb stones.


With the model now assembled and heavily covered in green stuff, it was time for the fun part: painting!  I've never been quite so impatient to start painting a model, in fact I almost didn't leave the green stuff time to set properly before starting, which could have ended badly!  I also can't remember ever being quite so anxious about doing a decent paint job - the fact that Booker was already waiting for her to join him in the display cabinet at Titan Games just piled the pressure on even further.  But with a belly full of tea and the TV on in the background, I managed to steel myself and do a job I was pleased with overall, and here's the result...



So that brings my running total up to three!  I'm currently planning to use Elizabeth as Madelyn Corbeau for obvious reasons, but I may experiment using her as Alexia Ciannor.  This may sound odd, but bringing back Risen each turn could be a nice way to represent the way Elizabeth opens up tears to bring support through from other worlds to help out Booker.  It might work, it might not, but I'm keen to give it a try!

I think Elizabeth will be the last solo for a while.  I want to get Andrew Ryan and the splicers on the go soon, and I have a pile of Big Daddies waiting to be built!  So thanks again for reading, and keep checking back for the next addition to the army!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Creating a Warmachine BioShock Army, Episode III: Eleanor Lamb

For those who may have missed the start of this article series (you can catch up from the Article Archive tab above), I'm currently working my way through a project to create a Mercenary army for Privateer Press' Warmachine tabletop system based on the BioShock videogame series.  Seeing as this is quite an ambitious project, and one which will require a fair amount of conversion and artistic license, I've decided to chronicle this project from start to finish.  In the last article we looked at the creation of Booker DeWitt - the protagonist from BioShock Infinite and the army's warcaster.  In this article we'll be stepping away from the floating city of Columbia and heading beneath the waves to Rapture, the setting of the first two games in the series.
 
"BioShock Harder" ...or something.
 
Before I start to go into the creation of today's miniature, I'll just quickly address something about BioShock 2.  It is, unquestionably, the game that divides fans of the series.  Some think it's terrible, some love it.  At the end of the day, this is a tabletop blog and not a videogame blog, so I won't be delving into the details of whether it was a good game.  All I'll say is I thoroughly enjoyed playing it, and just leave it at that.
 
When this BioShock project first started out, there were just a handful of characters from the games which I wanted to bring to life in 30mm form - ironically Booker DeWitt was not amongst them!  Elizabeth Commstock from BioShock Infinite was one, a Big Daddy and Little Sister from BioShock were two more, and one of the Big Sisters from BioShock 2 was the last.
The Little Sisters from the first game became one of the most iconic images in modern videogame history.  One of the things I loved about the sequel was that it took place a few years after the original, and so we got to see what happened to these little monsters when they grew up.  Being a big fan of the series I had a copy of the artbook on-hand, so had not only plenty of images to work from, but also the designers' notes as well.
The Big Sisters never quite became as iconic as the Big Daddy/Little Sister pairing from the first game, but still I found the idea behind them quite fascinating.  Their design was based upon the idea that these little girls had grown up into young women, and in their own way were trying to emulate their Big Daddies.  Unlike the Big Daddies, however, which were specifically designed during the heights of Rapture, the Big Sisters were left to cobble together their own outfits, effectively attempting to recreate the Big Daddy look with whatever they could scrounge from the now-derelict city.
 
 
Now, whilst Booker was undoubtedly the most important model in the army, he was still a relatively simple build.  His skyhook may have required a bit of finesse, but the Lucas McCabe model at his core already had most of the work done for me.  With the Big Sister, things were going to be a little more of a challenge, as I really couldn't think of a model which came close to fitting the profile!
As usual, it was off to the Malifaux shelves to try and find something to use a starting point.  One of the things about Malifaux models in general is that they're more realistically scaled, as opposed to many systems which have exaggerated heads/hands etc. to emphasise certain elements of the model.  Seeing as the Big Sister is quite an emaciated figure, Malifaux did seem the best bet for a suitably slim female miniature.
After a bit of searching, it seemed that the best model to use as a base was to be Rusty Alyce from the old metal Leviticus crew  (most of the Malifaux box sets have been rereleased as plastics at this point).  I should point out now that if you do a  Google image search for "Malifaux Rusty Alyce" you'll actually find a much better Big Sister conversion than mine!  But I'm still very much a conversion beginner, so I'm happy enough with my outcome... I can always try again in a couple of years!
 
 
It was whilst looking at how to convert her that the idea came up to make her into more than just a regular Big Sister.  In BioShock 2 the player takes on the role of Delta - a Big Daddy who is trying to be reunited with the Little Sister who was taken from him.  It's not as gripping and heart-wrenching as the Booker/Elizabeth relationship from Infinite, but still made for a good gaming experience.  The Little Sister in question was a girl named Eleanor Lamb, and towards the end of the game, circumstances force her to become a Big Sister.  She's the only Big Sister who the player ever sees without her helmet on, so I thought it'd be a nice idea to turn Rusty Alyce into the Big Sister version of Eleanor, rather than a generic Big Sister.  Seeing as the plan was to use her as Dirty Meg on the tabletop anyway this worked quite nicely, as she could jack marshal a warjack which could be modelled after her Delta.
 
With the base model chosen, it was time to start turning her into a Big Sister.  As with the Big Daddies, the most distinctive part of the Big Sister is the helmet.  My original plan was to use an Attunement Servitor from the Convergence of Cyriss faction in Warmachine, but after opening up a blister of these I found them to be far too big.  Fortunately I was able to return these, but on the downside I ended up picking up something much more expensive in its place!
 
 
The M&SU crew from Malifaux contains Arachnid Swarms, which served perfectly as Big Sister helmets.  Seeing as I only needed the one though, the majority of the box set was left in tact, meaning I can still assemble and use it as a Malifaux crew if I so wish!


 
With the helmet chosen, I just wanted to concentrate on the oxygen tank and basket on Eleanor's back, and the large, forearm-mounted syringe on her left arm.  For the syringe I went back to the M&SU box, and took a part from the Joss model - the tank shown on the lower-right part of the sprue below.
 
 
Obviously the cable had to go, so I clipped it off, drilled a small hole in its place, and glued in a shortened sewing pin to finish the weapon.  Then I just filed it down a little to fit more snugly against Rusty Alyce's arm, glued it in place, and then used a little bit of Green Stuff to make it a more seamless fit.
This just left the oxygen tank and basket on her back, so for the oxygen tank it was back to the world of Malifaux, though this time it was for a new release!
 
 
The Flesh Construct had literally just arrived in at Titan Games on the day I was building Eleanor, which was an absolute stroke of luck.  I don't have a sprue photo for this one (as with Booker, Eleanor was done before the idea for this series was suggested), but you can see the syringe-like container on the back of the Construct from the box photo.  Seeing as the Flesh Construct is so much bigger than Rusty Alyce this was actually a very good size, and so with a little bit of trimming it served the purpose of Eleanor's oxygen tank.  The rest of the Flesh Construct won't be going to waste, as he'll be taking on the role of another BioShock character, but I'll leave you to guess which one for now.
This only left the basket, but with no suitable alternatives in any system, this was just built manually using thinly-sliced strips of plasticard.
 
So, here's the result...
 

 
As I said before, she's not the best Rusty Alyce/Eleanor Lamb conversion I've ever seen, but I'm satisfied that she met the designer's goal of "cobbled together Big-Daddy-esque outfit".
Many thanks to Gmorts Chaotica for use of his unboxing photos for The M&SU.  If you enjoyed this rambling insight then please go back and take a look at the Booker DeWitt article!  And of course check back in a couple of days, when I'll hopefully have Elizabeth Commstock ready to join him...

Friday, 18 April 2014

Creating a Warmachine BioShock Army, Episode II: Booker DeWitt

Hello again, lovely readerfolk!  If you had a nose at the last article you'll have seen that there are grand plans in motion to create a BioShock themed army for Privateer Press' Warmachine tabletop system.  In that article I talked about how the idea came about, so here we'll be taking a look at the first model to find its way onto the painting table and get the ball rolling.
 
 
The centre point of any Warmachine army is its warcaster.  With no warcaster there is no army, and generally the entire army will be built around the warcaster's spells and abilities so as to pull off the most effective combos.  This created a bit of a dilemma right off the bat: who should take on the role of the warcaster?  With a universe as rich and well-designed as BioShock's there are no shortage of characters to choose from, so who should get the honour of being the pivotal character when this army finally gets to march to war?
For many, the most central BioShock character is Jack - the protagonist from the very first BioShock game.  The player watched the story unfold through his eyes, and heard the tale of the rise and fall of Rapture through his in-game discoveries, making for quite a personal experience.  However, you never see more than his wrists in the game, and you never hear his voice, so he didn't give me much to work with in terms of fashioning a model in his image!
(EDIT: Having just finished the Burial At Sea DLC from BioShock Infinite I do now have a slightly better image of Jack, so he may well feature in the army at some point...)
In BioShock 2 you take on the role of one of the Big Daddies - a Delta - not as iconic as the classic "Mr Bubbles" Big Daddy, but much more human-looking, and therefore more relatable.  However, in spite of this, there's still an overall lack of the human connection.  His relationship with Eleanor Lamb in the second game was superb, but the lack of a face, a voice, and a real name still severs the human connection somewhat.  Delta will certainly be featuring in the army, but he didn't quite cut it as a pivotal character.
Then we move onto BioShock Infinite, where the player takes on the role of Booker DeWitt.  So straight away we have a full name for our protagonist.  His image dominates the box art.  He's the most vocal character in the game, whether he's muttering to himself or conversing with Elizabeth, so we have a very clear idea of his personality.  In short, he's real.  He's tangible.  He's someone we can connect with.  Booker has a tragic past, he's on a mission of redemption, and the developing relationship between himself and Elizabeth tugs at every heartstring from their initial meeting to the final scene of the game.  If there was ever a character who deserved to be the centre of a BioShock army, it's this man.
 
 
So the BioShock character had been decided, the Warmachine character had been decided in advance as Magnus the Traitor, so that just left the hard part: bringing Booker DeWitt to life in 30mm form!
It was quite obvious from the offset that I wasn't going to find a miniature in the Warmachine range which was even close to resembling Booker, so it was off to the Malifaux shelves to try and find a suitable doppelganger.  After looking through all of the crews on offer at Titan Games and coming up short, it was starting to look like I'd have to start trawling through the more obscure tabletop systems, until someone suggested Lucas McCabe of the Relic Hunters - one of the Malifaux crews not on the shelves at the time of my browsing.  As a stroke of luck, one of the regulars had an unpainted McCabe crew which they no longer wanted, and so a few days later I was able to see if he really had the makings of Booker DeWitt!
 
 
As soon as I had the miniature in my hand I knew I had the base for Booker!  I've always described McCabe as "Indiana Wolverine", and I'm sure I'm not the only one, but in terms of outfit he was pretty much perfect for the role, even down to the neckerchief!  So now came the task of converting him into the hero of BioShock Infinite...
It should be noted at this point that I'd like to post some photos from various stages in the process, but seeing as the suggestion for this article series didn't come up until after Booker was finished this wasn't an option, however GMorts has granted me permission to steal photos from his Malifaux unboxing articles to help ease things along!

 
The first thing I did was clip the whip out of his right hand.  I left the hand on at this point as I wasn't sure how I was planning to use it, but the whip was distracting me and had to go asap.  The second thing that had to go was the "stupid Wolverine hair" as I kept calling it.  This required some very delicate knife-work with a very sharp hobby knife, so I had a more conversion-savvy friend take on this task for me!  With the whip gone and Lucas' new haircut in place, it was time to move onto the weapons.
Now as awesome as Booker is, there's nothing particularly distinctive about his outfit.  Sure, at a convention I can spot a Booker cosplayer a mile away, but at the end of the day it's just a shirt, a waistcoat, a pair of pinstripe trousers and a neckerchief.  When people look at my warcaster I want them to know straight away that this is Booker DeWitt and not just a generic waistcoated character, so he needed something to make him stand out, and if there's one piece of equipment that defines BioShock Infinite, it has to be the skyhook...
 
 
Being a floating city, the best way to travel around Columbia is to ride the skylines, and to do that you need a skyhook!  This became the most iconic piece of Infinite equipment, and so I knew that my Booker had to be equipped with one.
Seeing as skyline riders obviously don't want to fall to their deaths 30 seconds into their journey, the skyhook is designed to fit snugly half way up the user's forearm.  Upon looking at the gun in Lucas McCabe's left hand, it seemed to me that the makings of the skyhook were right there!  The stock nestles in against his forearm, and the way the strap falls against it actually makes it look as though the stock is lashed to his arm.  I clipped the barrel off the gun, just leaving the trigger guard, and stock.  From this point on it was going to be a custom build, so I dived into the bits boxes at Titan and started searching.
For the hooks themselves I had it in my head that the best thing would be to find some meat hooks, and glue them at the centre with the hooks an equal distance apart.  A short distance in, however, I found a Dark Eldar sprue with some very fine hooks which would do the job perfectly.  It took a bit of trimming, dry-fitting, and trimming again to get them to a suitable size (originally they dwarfed the rest of the weapon!), but eventually I had them looking just right, and applied a spot of superglue to fix the formation in place.
At this point, however, my iconic skyhook was nothing more than a trio of hooks glued onto a trimmed back gun barrel.  It certainly looked as though it was heading in the right direction, but didn't yet look like the finished article.  It still needed something at the centre of the hooks, as well as something to hide the point where they attached to the barrel.  I did try a few bits and pieces from the bits boxes, but the thickness of the plastic on even the finest detailed pieces bulked the skyhook out far too much.  Fortunately Games Workshop have released basing packs which contain a selection of brass-etched cogs and gears, which were just what I needed to complete the skyhook without the bulk of plastic alternatives.  With one small gear attached to each side in the centre, and half of a larger gear hiding the joining point on each side, the skyhook was done!
 
This just left Booker's right hand, which needed a period-suitable firearm.  This took a mercifully short search, and I found a hand holding a revolver on World War 2 miniatures sprue (possibly Bolt Action, I can't say for sure).  I have to confess I wanted to give Booker a rocket launcher that was on the same sprue to increase his awesome factor, but a friend reigned in my enthusiasm and suggested the less-is-more approach!
Seeing as the hand with the revolver was the perfect size for the miniature, I clipped off the entire left hand from the Lucas McCabe model and replaced it with the new one.
 
The streets of Columbia are smart, white cobblestone, so I found a suitable resin base to attach Booker to, and all that remained was the painting!  So it's my great pleasure to present to you the first model in my BioShock Warmachine army: Booker DeWitt!
 
 
I hope you've enjoyed this article, and if so then please check back for future entries when I'll be putting together Elizabeth Commstock, Eleanor Lamb, Andrew Ryan, splicers, and of course those iconic Big Daddies!

Creating a Warmachine BioShock Army, Episode I: Conception

Welcome to Games & Tea, good readers, where the great will not be constrained by the small!!!
 
*ahem*
 
Excuse me, channelling Andrew Ryan there for a moment.
 
Good day, ladies and gentlegamers!  I'm afraid this is going to be the start of another one of those pesky tabletop article series which seem to be creeping into the Games & Tea lineup more and more often.  This won't impact upon our board game reviews (in fact our next one is due up in the next couple of days!), but as this is a very special project I've just decided to undertake, it was recommended by Gmorts Chaotica that I record the process.
 
 
So the project (as you really should have figured out from the title) is to create a BioShock army for Privateer Press' Warmachine tabletop system.  I don't play many videogames these days, but in the last few years there are two particular series which have left a major emotional impact and secured themselves a special place in the blackened cavity I call a heart.  The first of these is the Mass Effect series, and the second is BioShock.
My primary army in Warmachine is Khador, and within Khador my favoured warcaster is Karchev the Terrible.  Being mostly a warjack himself, he does favour very warjack-heavy army lists, which usually need to be complemented by a lot of repair crews, which in itself mens recruiting Mercenaries.  In a recent attempt to make his 50 point list even more jack-heavy and ridiculous, I decided to let some of the Mercenary fixers jack marshal their own warjacks, and that meant having to pick up my first Mercenary warjacks!  It only took a few moments on the Privateer Press website to decide which Mercenary warjack was going to be my first, as one glimpse of the Mariner immediately conjured up images of the underwater city of Rapture.  I knew I had to do something special with the model - I didn't want it to just be a Mariner, I wanted it to actually be recognisable as a Big Daddy, so with a bit of customisation, this was born...
 
 
Whilst I never intended for this to be the start of something greater, it did get me thinking.  Surely there must be other BioShock-esque models scattered amongst the many and varied tabletop systems?  Wouldn't it be a nice idea to collect and paint up some of these just to have a BioShock shelf in my display cabinet?  I popped into my FLGS Titan Games and spitballed the idea with the owner (who doubles up as my longest-serving friend and the man who got me into the tabletop hobby!), and he made a counter-suggestion that I build a workable Mercenary army around the BioShock characters.
I have to admit I wasn't instantly sold on the idea, but he always has a way of convincing me, and we were soon sitting down and penning a 50 point list.  Unfortunately there aren't a great deal of Warmachine models that fit the BioShock aesthetic - either for Rapture or BioShock Infinite's Columbia - so we had to start getting creative.  Being a Victorian alternate reality steampunk system, Wyrd Miniatures' Malifaux seemed to be the best place for us to find the characters of the BioShock series, so our list soon came to comprise of three sections:  The BioShock character, the Warmachine character they would be used in place of, and the Malifaux model used to represent them.
 
With many miniatures in need of some serious customisation, and several Malifaux crews required to complete this task, it's going to be quite a long and ongoing process (at this point I've bought 6 crews, totalling at over £150)!  However, I can't wait to see how the final army looks, and I'm looking forward to bringing you all updates as the months progress!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Pirates! Card Game 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.
In our last article we took a look at the box contents of our review copy of Pirates!, a card game by Jules Prick for 2-6 players.  Today we're going to break down the gameplay, give our thoughts on the pros and cons of the game, and give it an illustrious Games & Tea final score (yes, we've now decided our final scores should be illustrious ... it was bound to happen eventually).  As an in-development project it is reliant on crowd-funding, so if you like the sound of our review then please head over to its Kickstarter page and pledge your support.

The goal in Pirates! is to become the greatest pirate captain, either by being the first to accumulate 7 Pirate Points, or by simply eliminating the opposition.
To start the game each players is given a purple Big Sloop as their starting ship, as well as 11 crew tokens to man them.  The Pirate Card and Adventure Card decks are shuffled and placed within easy reach of all players, then each player is dealt 2 Pirate Cards and 3 Adventure Cards off the top of the decks.  Once all players have their starting hands and the beginnings of their pirate fleets, it's time to take to the high seas and find out who has what it takes to rule the waves!
Because sometimes a regular sloop just doesn't cut it...
Each player's turn consists of 4 phases: upkeep, adventure, re-organise, and draw.  The upkeep phase involves drawing 3 Pirate Cards to add to the player's hand, and adding new crew members to their fleets.  To do this, the cargo values (represented by the barrel in the bottom-right corner of the card) are added up across the player's fleet, and they receive that number of crew tokens to distribute as they wish.  The other values on the card are (from left to right) speed, cannons, and starting crew/maximum crew - all of which we'll address in due course.  The gold skull and crossbones icon represents a pirate point - most ships are worth just one, but some powerful vessels are worth more if a captain is ruthless enough to defeat them!
The adventure phase requires the player to place all of their Adventure Cards face-up on the table in front of them, and then decide which cards (if any) they will attempt to beat.  Alternatively, they can choose to attack one of their opponent's ships, which can come in handy when another player is getting close to their seventh Pirate Point!  Most of these cards are other ships which can be added to their fleet, but some are treasure cards which can have altogether different benefits!  Each ship in a player's fleet may only go after one Adventure Card per turn, so the players must decide whether to play the game cautiously or risk it all for gold and glory!  Seeing as combat plays a very large part in Pirates!, let's take a look at how it works...
This Big Sloop has decided to try and take on the David Le Roi for a very desirable reward of 2 Pirate Points.  The David Le Roi may not be tough, but with a speed of 7 she's fast, and so the Big Sloop must catch her first of all!  The player rolls the wind dice, and adding the dice total to the Big Sloop's speed, they must match or beat the David Le Roi's speed in order for battle to commence.  This may sound easy enough, but the wind dice features both positive and negative values, so if the Big Sloop is caught in a headwind then their quarry will escape unharmed!
Fortunately in this case the Big Sloop rolled a +1, allowing them to catch the David Le Roi.  Now they can engage eachother!
Before the crews go head-to-head, both ships get a chance to unleash a barrage of cannon fire upon eachother!  Each ship rolls a number of dice equal to their cannon value, and for each cannon icon rolled the enemy ship loses a crew member.  In this instance the Big Sloop has no cannons so must sit by whilst the David Le Roi fires two shots back at them!  Out of the two dice, one cannon icon was rolled, so the Big Sloop is reduced to 12 crew members before the hand-to-hand fighting starts.
Most pirates are not above using dirty tactics to win a fight...
Each ship rolls a number of dice equal to their remaining crew tokens.  This time, players are looking to roll crew icons on the dice, and for every one rolled the enemy loses a crew.  This process is repeated until one ship's crew is completely destroyed, and then the last man standing takes possession of the now empty ship!  This may sound like a lengthy and repetitive process, but the cap on the maximum crew of each ship brings this down to a manageable level.  The newly acquired ship is then given new crew members equal to its cargo value, and then it joins the victor's armada, adding to their Pirate Point total!
Some Pirate Cards can be played to give ships permanent upgrades, whereas others can give bonuses which last for just one round of combat.  These cards can also be stacked to give brutal combinations which can change the course of a game.  In the photo above, the Big Sloop has been upgraded with +3 cannons.  At the start of the battle, it was given the card "Chain Shot" - giving it a further +3 cannons - twice, and "Fast Reload", giving it x2 cannons.  All of these bonuses combine to give the Big Sloop a devastating +18 cannons for one round, giving it the chance to destroy an enemy ship's entire crew before the hand-to-hand fighting even begins!  This is a great example of how managing the Pirate Cards can be used to tremendous effect.
Following on from the adventure phase, the reorganisation phase allows players to redistribute their crew across their fleet, and sell any unwanted ships for their cargo value's worth in crew tokens.  Whilst this may sound counter-productive, selling ships to boost your total crew can prove to be a life-saving decision if players find themselves spread too thin!
Finally, in the draw phase players draw 3 new Adventure Cards to be played next turn.  You may be wondering why this is done at the end of the turn, rather than the beginning of the next one, and we have to admit we wondered the same thing when we first read the rules.  Once we started playing, however, we realised that this actually increases the strategic depth of Pirates!, as it forces players who are under attack to decide whether to use their Pirate Cards to help defend their ships, or to keep them in-hand to help complete their Adventure Cards in the next turn.
Play continues until one player secures that coveted seventh Pirate Point, or until only one remains in the game (the loss of a player's final ship results in their elimination).
So that's Pirates! in a nutshell!  So the all important question (and the one, we hope, for which you were awaiting an answer): what did we think of it?  Well to start with, we liked the fact that it's a card game with a little bit extra.  It might sound shallow, but the simple addition of some tokens and a themed-dice mechanic just makes it feel like it has a little more substance than a regular card game.
Looking beyond this, there's a lot about Pirates! which has been well thought out.  It's nice to see a card game which isn't a party game, but works well with more than two players.  It toes the line well between being a casual game and one which requires some slightly deeper, forward planning, giving an enjoyable experience without becoming too taxing.
The battle system works very nicely for the most  part - in the world of gamers there do seem to be a lot of anti dice-rolling voices, but in our opinion it adds a nice random element to any game.  Sure, no-one likes to just roll straight dice against eachother, but as an addition to a tactical element we believe it has its place in games, and it works well here - it's a great thrill when your opponent boards one of your ships with a larger crew, and some lucky dice rolls leave your crew heroically victorious against all the odds!  There's a nice variety of ships to chase down and plunder, from heavily-armed galleons to swift little sloops, and the wide range of Pirate Cards allows for some dramatic table-turning and devious thwarting of enemy plans.  Also - and this did surprise us a little - none of the Pirate Cards are drastically overpowered.  Many card games do suffer from having a few overpowered action cards which give the holder an unfair advantage, but Pirates! seems to have steered clear of this pitfall.
As mentioned earlier, the small touch of drawing Adventure Cards at the end of players' turns is another good mechanic, as it allows players to plan out their turn ahead, and forces them to decide whether to stick to the plan or use their cards to intervene if their own ships come under attack.
The victory condition of 7 Pirate Points seems spot on as well.  In many of our games, players would quickly reach 5 points as they each focused on their Adventure Cards rather than eachother, and then the game would become much more aggressive as they each tried to prevent eachother from scoring those final 2 points, whilst trying to edge their way there themselves!  This made those final points a very tough slog, only adding to the careful tactical planning of each turn.
This is something of a double-edged sword, however.  We did have a few games where a couple of players both reached 5 points fairly quickly, and then in the following few turns their attempts to keep eachother from winning ended up knocking both players back down to 2 points.  This was repeated a few times, making the game feel as though it was stuck in something of a "Groundhog Day" loop.
You may have picked up on the fact that we said the combat mechanic works "for the most part".  The only downside to it in our opinion came up when two large crews went up against eachother.  When you have two ships with roughly 20 crew members and 10 cannons each going head-to-head, the dice-rolling can start to become a little tedious.  This didn't come up very often, but during one battle over 80 dice were rolled before one heavily-battered ship emerged as the victor!  We did wrack our brains for a while to try and think if there was a way to streamline this mechanic for larger engagements, but we came up blank.
So, let's break it down into a nice, bite-sized summary...
The Good Points
  • Pirates! fits together very nicely overall, and works as a nice semi-casual game.
  • It's a quick game to learn, but has a tactical edge for players can develop.
  • Up to 6 people can play Pirates! at once, making it a good social game.
  • It doesn't require a great deal of space to play.
  • It's about Pirates!  Everyone loves Pirates!

The Bad Points
  • In larger battles the dice-rolling element of combat can go on a little too long.
  • Players can sometimes get stuck in a loop of mutual annihilation, although this lessens with higher player numbers.
Recommended Number of Players: 4
The first games of Pirates! we tried out involved just 2 players, which does work, although the odds of a mutual annihilation loop do increase!  3 players works nicely, but we found that 4 provided the best overall experience, giving players plenty of targets to choose from without spreading their attacks too thinly.
Average Game Time: 45-60 minutes
Pirates! isn't one of the quickest card games in the world, but that's entirely down to the tactical element of the game.  Unlike some card games such as Fluxx, which can feel like they'll go on forever, Pirates! always makes the players feel as though they're heading for their goal.  We found 2 player games lasted around 30 minutes, with that time slowly increasing with the player numbers.
Replay Value: Medium
There are enough combinations of Adventure Cards and Pirate Cards to keep Pirates! fresh for quite some time, although not forever.  The games do go on for long enough though, that a decent games night will probably only accommodate one or two rounds, so it shouldn't be a game that goes stale too soon, and the potential for future expansions (see below) can only enhance its longevity.
The Future: Bountiful 
Being a project currently in development, it's difficult to pin down the future of Pirates!, but we've been in touch with the creators to get a rough idea of where this game may go if it achieves post-Kickstarter success.  Whilst we don't want to go into too many details and make promises on behalf of the Pirates! team, ideas are currently bouncing around for future expansions which will include additional mechanics to give the game a little more depth.  There is certainly potential here for Pirates! to grow far beyond its humble beginnings.
Price: £20
Being a Kickstarter project, backers have the choice of how much they want to put in to try and help it on its way.  A small amount can go towards simply supporting the project, whilst larger amounts reap greater rewards, such as a sloop tour down the canals of Amsterdam!  To simply secure a copy of Pirates! upon its release though, will set you back £20.
OVERALL SCORE: 8/10
Tea consumed during this review: Our penultimate bag of Twinings green tea/every day tea blend, with milk and 2 sweeteners.  10/10


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Pirates! Card Game Kickstarter Review, Part 1: Box Contents

This review is for a project still at the Kickstarter stage.  As such, final game contents may vary from those shown here.
 
If there's one thing here at Games & Tea that really gets our blood pumping (other than games and tea) it's zombies.  Ironic, really, considering the lack of blood flow in the undead themselves, but each to their own.  If there's a second thing that does it, then it would probably be pirates.  There's a certain romanticism about the freedom of sailing the seven seas, going wherever the wind takes you, and stealing vast quantities of shiny things.  There's something even more fun about the notion of catching a good tailwind and pulling alongside your best friend's ship for a devastating broadside!  So with that in mind we were all too happy to receive a review copy of Pirates!, a card game for 2-6 players by Jules Prick, in order to bring you our thoughts for the Kickstarter launch.  The last game we reviewed with exclamation marks in the title was the distinctly average Zombies!!!, so we were trusting in those roguish seafarers to restore our faith in our favourite item of punctuation.
 
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho...
 
The goal of Pirates! is a simple one: to become the greatest pirate captain on the high seas!  It sounds simple enough, but when you have 1-5 other pirate captains with their eyes on the same title, things become a little bit tricky.  To become the greatest pirate, players must accumulate 7 Pirate Points, through feats of adventure and fighting prowess.  Alternatively, for the more aggressive player, victory can be achieved by simply annihilating the opposition!  But we're getting ahead of ourselves (as usual), so let's take a look at the contents and mechanics of Pirates! before delving into our thoughts on the game...
 
 
There are two main decks in Pirates!, both of which are communal, giving no player an unfair advantage right off the bat.  The first of these are the blue-backed Adventure Cards, of which there are two types: ships and treasure.  There are different types of ship in the game, each with different stats in terms of speed, firepower and crew capacity, and defeating these ships to add to your fleet is the main victory tactic.  The treasure cards are generally used to boost players' pirate forces by giving them extra crew members for example, as well as serving a second overall purpose: the player with the most treasure cards at any time takes possession of the oversized Treasure Cave card, giving them one additional precious Pirate Point.
 
 
The second deck consists of the red-backed Pirate Cards which are used to form the players' hands.  There are three different types of Pirate Cards; Your-Turn-Only and Battle Cards, which allow players to take actions which boost their resources or give them the edge during a battle, and Inventory Cards which are used to upgrade ships in their fleets.  Managing these upgrades and making the best use out of these actions can turn the tides (see what we did there?) of battle, and determine which captain is left standing when the smoke clears.
 
 
In addition to the two main decks, there are also the purple-backed Big Sloop Cards.  These are the basic starting ships, and each player receives one at the beginning of the game - even Blackbeard and Davy Jones had to start somewhere!
 
 
Pirates! also features some rather unique dice, which are used to determine the outcome of battles.  In our opinion these are the coolest things about the box set, with the sides of the black dice featuring cannons, cutlasses and compasses!  The blue die is used to determine the vital wind speed in ship-chases, and so features plus and minus values.
 
 
Finally, we have the crew tokens.  These are used (as you might have guessed) to keep track of the number of crew on each ship under the players' commands.  Each ship has a maximum crew compliment, and players will want to try and keep them as full as possible to ensure victory over their opponents!
 
Being a review copy our game didn't include them, but in addition to the oversize Treasure Cave card mentioned earlier, the full game should feature a few more oversized Fame Cards, as well as quick-reference setup and turn order cards to help speed the game along.
 
So that's the box contents of our review copy of Pirates!  Come back for Part 2 of our review to see how the game plays and our thoughts on it as a whole, but in the meantime check out their Kickstarter page here to find out some more information from the creators themselves!