Sunday, 28 June 2015

Argent: The Consortium, Part 1: Box Contents

The hardest part about reviewing any game with a colon in the title is having a double-colon article headline.  That really is quite frustrating.  However, we're going to push through the pain as we bring you the latest review from our mighty game pile: Argent: The Consortium (oh God, we've done it again!) from Level 99 Games.

This had been sitting in a box for the last 3 months, with every intention of using it for our next unboxing podcast.  Unfortunately it seems that assembling the team for a game is considerably easier than assembling for a recording session, so eventually the decision was made to just open the damn thing and actually get some games out of it!  So here we now are, with this article for your reading pleasure as a result.

You lucky lot.

Anyway, 8am caffeine-fuelled ramblings aside, Argent: The Consortium  is a Euro-style resource management game for 2-5 players.  The game is set in a magical university, and the university chancellor's seat has been left vacant.  Each player takes on the role of a high-ranking member of the university faculty, and through resource-gathering and worker-placement they must win as many votes as possible over the course of 5 rounds, securing themselves as the next chancellor.
As is our usual MO for board games, we'll be vigorously studying (see what we did there?) the box contents in this article, before a thorough exam (okay, we're done with school puns now... maybe) of the gameplay mechanics in part two.
So, wands down, time for first period, and let's see what's inside the box of delights.

Before getting into the box, let's talk about the box itself.  With Kickstarter projects we like to talk about how professional the overall presentation of the game is, and the quality of the game components.  Obviously most Kickstarter games are run by very small companies or even just a couple of enthusiastic individuals, so at prototype stage we never scrutinise the physical quality of the game, just the gameplay.  Once it's been published, however, the rules change - small company or not, if you're putting your game on the shelves then you're throwing down with the big boys, and should be offering up a product which can hold its own!  The podcasted, but currently un-reviewed CLASH! Dawn of Steam was an example of a Kickstarter project which didn't result in a retail-quality product, whereas 404: Law Not Found showed us all how it's done!

We're happy to say Argent falls into the latter category.  It's a big-box game of a similar kind of size to the likes of Arkham Horror, Smallworld, BioShock Infinite: TSoC and so forth.  When you pick it up for the first time you notice the weight straight away - this is a game with a lot of content and it's not shy about it!  The box itself is nicely illustrated, cleanly printed, and of a solid build.  This is something which can end up in the middle of a big game pile and not come out any worse for wear on the other side.
It straight away gives you an idea of the overall styling of the game as well, which we feel is going to prove a divisive point amongst gamers and possibly harm Argent's potential audience.  As an American game built on Euro-game mechanics, Level 99 have interestingly chosen a Japanese Anime/Manga style for the character artwork.  It's bold and certainly very colourful, but will be less likely to strike a chord with the older generation of gamers, instead aiming much more towards the younger crowd.  Time will tell whether this will impact the success of Argent in the long run, but we can't help but feel that a more classical illustration style would probably have appealed to a wider audience.

Anyway, enough about the box, time to delve into the contents!

If you're going to vie for chancellorship of the university then you're going to need a suitable candidate.  In Argent there are 12 candidates to choose from: 2 each from 6 colour-coded departments within the university, which consist of Planar Studies, Divinity, Mysticism, Natural Magick, Sorcery, and the Department of Students.   Each department can only have one candidate in the running for the chancellor's role, so each of the 6 Candidate Sheets is double-sided giving the players the choice of a male or female character from their chosen department.
The sheets themselves are relatively simple, featuring an illustration of the chosen character, a summary of the turn sequence, a space for discarded cards, a list of starting items, and a track across the top of the card for storing the player's apprentices when they're not out running errands.
A fair few games these days - such as Zombicide - choose to print their character boards onto thick, board-quality card stock, whereas many are content to just use a standard card thickness.  Argent goes for the latter, but frankly the Character Sheets aren't really going to be getting handled, so there's no real risk of them becoming tattered in any hurry.

One of the unusual things about Argent is that it's a big-box board game without a standard board.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a break from the norm.  Instead there are 15 smaller boards, each of which represent a room in the university.  Depending on the number of players, 8-12 of these boards will be used during the game, with the white-bordered rooms always in use, and the remaining rooms drawn at random, or selected based on one of the pre-set layouts in the rulebook.  Each board is also double-sided, with side B featuring slightly more advanced rules for more experienced players.
During each round, players will send their Mage tokens on errands to the various rooms throughout the university, and reap the rewards for their success (or failure) by way of various resources.

Well if we're running errands then we'd better have some minions to do it with!  There are 6 different colours of Mage tokens, and the game comes with a set of reference cards to remind the players of the different Mages' abilities.  The red Mages, for example, can wound an opponent's Mage and send them off to the infirmary.  Green Mages are immune to wounding, and so are good for placing in key areas around the university.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that there only 5 reference cards.  Well the poor little yellow Mages (or beige, if you believe the rulebook... we don't) are neutral Mages - they have no special abilities, but when push comes to shove you might find yourself needing all the help you can get your magical hands on.

The actual models themselves are of decent quality.  Many board games these days treat their players with tabletop-quality miniatures, which look amazing on the board but often result in a higher price tag.  The models in Argent aren't particularly intricately detailed, but do the job, and at the end of the day they are simply playing pieces rather than miniatures.

You can't have a game called Argent: The Consortium without a Consortium.  Well, you could, but it would be maddeningly illogical.  It'd be like having a game called Billy The Space Penguin and basing it around a dinosaur named Joe.  That way lies madness.
As mentioned earlier, the aim of the game is to secure votes for your candidacy, and the Consortium cards represent the movers and shakers of the university whose votes you'll be canvassing.  There are 18 Consortium Voters, but only 12 used in any particular game.  As with the room boards, there are 2 white-bordered Consortium cards, which are always in play, and the remaining 10 are drawn at random.  Each of the voters has a different voting criteria - one may vote for the player with the most gold, one for the player with the most mana, one for the player with the second-highest influence, and so on.  Where the game becomes interesting is that only the white-bordered Consortium cards begin the game face-up, so at the beginning of the game the players will not know 10 of the win conditions.  As the game progresses, they'll earn the right to peek at the face-down voters, and can then start to tailor their tactics to this new information.

The Consortium Voters need a place to hang out while the players are engaged in their House of Cards-esque political maneuvering, and so the Consortium Board becomes their home.  The 12 voters take their places in the centre of the board, and the players' influence is monitored on the track around the edge.  One of the constant, white-bordered voters always sides with the player with the highest influence total, so it's an important resource to chase after in the early stages of the game.

Without magic, it would be a fairly ineffectual magical university, and so the players are going to need some spells!  The oversized Spell cards each feature a different spell, and each spell has 3 levels, which can only be unlocked through research.  The first level allows the player to take a card from the deck and opens up the most basic capabilities of the spell, whereas further levels unlock its full capabilities.  Depending on which Consortium Voters are on the table, it could be beneficial to have a wide range of low level spells, or just one or two which are fully tricked-out.  Spells can usually only be used once per round, and can be used to gain resources, hinder your opponents, or give advantages to your own Mages as they scurry about doing their master's bidding.
Each player begins the game with a spell specific to their character, with the other spells having to be earned as the game progresses.  There are also a limited number of Legendary Spells, but these have been sealed in the university vault where only the players' Mages have hope of locating them!

More cards!  The other two major sources of resources are Supporters (top) and Vault Cards (bottom).  Both can be secured by your wandering Mages to add to your arsenal during the round.  Some of the Vault Cards are classed as Treasures, meaning that you can reap their benefits every round gaining gold, mana, influence, or bonus abilities.  Others are classed as Consumables, which tend to offer a more powerful benefit but as a one-time thing.  Supporters work in much the same way as Consumables, but again both of these can contribute towards the favour of particular Consortium Voters.

The final remaining type of card - the Tower Card - is an interesting addition to Argent.  During each player's turn they are granted one action, and for that action they have the option of taking a Tower Card.  Each player may only have one, and once the last one has been taken, the round ends.  Each card bestows a different reward, from influence to the First Player token for the following round.   This means that the round won't end until every player is ready for it to proceed, and so if you have a grand masterplan to implement, no one can rush you through it.  They can also force players into difficult choices - do you place one of your Mages into a prime location on the board, or do you give up Mage placement for a turn in order to claim the Tower Card which adds to your influence?
Once the round has been completed, all of the Tower effects are resolved, and then the cards return to the table for the next round.

This then just leaves the usual plethora of tokens.  Once again these are cleanly printed onto good quality stock, so should stand the test of time as the games wear on.

One thing (or two, more accurately) we were disappointed with were the upgraded coins and mana tokens.  Originally the coins were going to just be more card tokens, and the mana tokens would have been acrylic cubes, but these were both upgraded as Kickstarter stretch goals.  If we're being completely honest, we can't help but feel they would have been better left in their original incarnations.
Many games use card tokens for coins, and as long as they're cleanly printed then they don't detract from the gaming experience at all.  The upgraded plastic coins are of the same sort of quality as the kind you'd find in a childrens' shopkeeper playset, and if anything actually lower the overall quality, feeling cheaper than the other game components.  We may at some point further upgrade ours to metal roleplay coins, but would rather that we hadn't felt compelled to take that step.
The decision to give the more random shapes to the mana tokens was understandable, giving them the general aesthetic of formless arcane energy, but the downside to this is a purely practical one - they don't fit in the box as well, and are a little more chaotic when you've amassed a decent number of them and they're piled all over your Candidate Sheet!

So those are the physical components of Argent: The Consortium.  Our overall thoughts are definitely positive at this point.  Aside from the plastic coins, everything seems to have been produced to a very high, professional standard.  If this was handed to us and we didn't know it was a post-Kickstarter game, we would have thought it to be from a big game developer.  The cards all have the satin finish which seems to be popular lately, which means that sleeving will probably be in order, but as the cards aren't cycled through as often as you'd expect, this isn't particularly urgent.  Obviously the style of artwork will be very hit-or-miss with people, but regardless of opinions on the overall aesthetic, it's all definitely of high quality.

We've already played through a number of 3 player games, so over the next week we're aiming to try it out with different player numbers and then we'll be back with the gameplay verdict shortly!  Stay tuned!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Guild Ball - An Overall Sort-Of Review, Part 1: Team Lineups

Last year we mentioned a new tabletop system we were backing on Kickstarter, named Guild Ball, and a couple of weeks back we posted a brief article showing off the contents of our pledge after they'd arrived.  To summarise, we were extremely impressed with the components, and were left feeling excited about our impending first games.
Now in that article we mentioned that we wouldn't be reviewing the gameplay of Guild Ball, wanting to keep the focus of Games & Tea on out-the-box games, but frankly we were so enamoured with the gameplay that we couldn't resist putting together another article giving it our overall thoughts.
The reason we've never been interested in reviewing full tabletop systems over board/card games is that there are too many variables to go into - we like to talk about turn sequences, game components and so on, but when there's an infinite possibility of actions to choose from each turn, and the components are determined by the shopping habits and play style of each individual hobbyist, it can be a struggle to keep the article at a decent length!  As such this will be slightly different from our usual review format, and we hope you bare with us and still find it an enjoyable and educational read.

So for those who missed the Kickstarter, and missed our fanboy gushings over the game, and haven't seen it at the UK Games Expo (and so on and so on...), Guild Ball is a tabletop miniatures game which is half way between a sports game and a skirmish game.  It's set in the fictional Empire of the Free Cities, where the great guilds all play each other at the titular game - a medieval mob football style game.
The guilds are all based on areas of industry, and at the time of Season 1 there are 7 guilds to choose from; Butchers, Fishermen, Brewers, Masons (the Teamaster's personal favourites), Alchemists (the Tea Boy's personal favourites), Morticians and Engineers.  While not a guild, there is also the Union, which can be fielded as a team, but who's members are also free to play for a selection of the other guilds.

Each team consists of 6 players.  The captain and the mascot are both mandatory, and whilst we expect that later seasons will give us a selection, at this early stage in Guild Ball's life each guild only has one to choose from.  The remaining 4 places are where players get to customise their teams, and tweak them to match their preferred style of gameplay as they start to build up experience.
This is where Guild Ball stands out from the only other major sports-based game on the market right now - Dreadball.  It isn't simply a case of "These are your strikers, they kick the ball," and "These are your defenders, they stop your opponent from kicking the ball", each player has unique stats and abilities.  So instead you have "This is Harmony, she can do all of these wonderful things", and "This is Mist, he's basically Batman".  While the Union players are free agents and as such work as individuals, the guild-specific players all tend to have abilities to work off eachother.  In the Masons Guild, for example, the team starlet - Harmony - gets an armour bonus when close to their heavy hitter - Brick - as he's protective over her.  The team captain - Honour - gets an attack bonus when going after the same player as the mascot - Marbles.  Now this does mean that it will take a few games before any new players even begin to squeeze the maximum potential out of their lineup, but the trade off for this is that the team rosters have an incredible degree of flexibility, helping players to become invested in their chosen guild rather than having to go down the route of collecting multiple teams to get any kind of replay value from the game.

Just to give an example, here are two of the starting lineups for the Teamaster's Masons Guild.  The top team is pure Masons, and so there's a lot of synergy going on there.  In the bottom team, 3 of the players have been dropped out in favour of Masons-compatible Union players, so while the team no longer gels quite so well, it's now much quicker and favoured towards fast strikes.

At the point of Season 1, most guilds have 7 players on their own roster, with 4 compatible Union players to choose from as well.  So with the captain and mascot slots filled, this leaves 9 choices to fill the 4 remaining spaces, giving the players plenty of freedom to build a team to suit their style of play.
And speaking of style of play, how do they work?  Each player comes with a stat card, which tells players what they can do whilst at the same time allowing them to keep track of the damage done to that player...

The top bar of each card gives the player's stats, which come under 6 categories:

  • MOV determines their base and maximum move distance, so for example 6"/8" means they can jog 6" or sprint/charge 8".  The higher this number, the quicker the player.
  • TAC is the number of dice in their dice pool when attacking another player, so a higher TAC means a stronger attack.
  • KICK is the size of their kicking dice pool and the maximum kick distance, so 3/8" would mean an 8" kick range and 3 dice to try and succeed in that kick.  The higher these numbers, the better chance of scoring goals and successful passes.
  • DEF is the player's base defense, and is the target number an attacker must roll in order to hit the player.
  • ARM is the player's armour, and dictates how much damage is deflected before getting through to the soft and squishy player underneath.
  • INF determines how much influence the player generates, and how much they can be allocated.  So 2/4 means they'll generate 2 influence, but can be allocated up to 4.  We'll go into influence in detail in the second part of the review, but in a nutshell it's the currency used to perform almost any action.  Attacking, sprinting, passing, shooting - all of these require influence.
The Character Traits on the front of the card address any passive abilities the players possess, such as DEF boosts in the presence of other player, MOV bonuses, and so forth.  The bottom of the card shows the players damage boxes - once these have been depleted then the player is knocked out.
The rear of the card tells you their base size and melee range, the details of any activated abilities, and explains how they cause damage in combat.  Again, this will be further addressed in the next article.

Before we wrap this article up, we should also take a moment to talk about the quality of the miniatures, as this is a tabletop system and so the hobby element is a key part.

First of all, the sculpts themselves.  Long gone are the days of hunched-over Space Marines, shuffling awkwardly around the battlefields of the 41st Millennium.  These days, most miniature-based games do provide nicely detailed and dynamic models for hobbyists to enjoy.  Guild Ball is no exception, and in fact has left us salivating over some of the nicest models we've ever had the pleasure of owning.  The poses are incredibly dynamic for the best part, and even the ones which aren't don't feel disappointing.

In terms of casting quality and assembly, Guild Ball's quality shines through.  There's very little cleanup work required on the miniatures, with mercifully few mold lines and little to no flash on those we've built so far.  They also fit together very nicely, and don't generally require the fine tools of a NASA engineer and the steady hands of a neurosurgeon to assemble them correctly.  The only criticism we'd put forward is that the blisters include character artwork, but not an image of the built miniature, so we have on a couple of occasions found ourselves wondering where pieces go.  In fact one of our Union models - Snakeskin - came with a dagger sheath which ended up in the spare bits box, as it didn't have an obvious place to go and the model seemed complete without it!

So that's all we really have to say on the subject of the teams.  The model quality is astounding, the player lineup happily full of variety, and the synergy throughout the teams works to give Guild Ball an excellent learning curve.
Tune in for the second half of the review, where we'll talk about the gameplay, including how that influence works, gathering momentum, and the consequences of beating an otter into unconsciousness.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Batman Fluxx: A First Impressions Review/Preview

As most UK-based gamers will be well aware, this weekend is the 2015 UK Games Expo: an annual event held at the Hilton Metropole Hotel at Birmingham's NEC.  This year was the second year that we were in attendance, and whilst a general write-up will be forthcoming, there was something else we wanted to report on first and foremost.

A couple of weeks ago whilst pootling about on Twitter, we saw a retweet of an announcement for Batman Fluxx.  As fans of both of those words, this got pulses racing a little here at Games & Tea HQ.  It's scheduled for release in early August, so it was put right at the top of our shopping list and no more was thought of it.
What we didn't realise was that this weekend Looney Labs would have a table at the UK Games Expo, and that Batman Fluxx would be one of the games available for demo (along with a couple of other Fluxx prototypes, which we can't mention due to the copyright negotiations still ongoing).  So we had the opportunity to have a look through the deck, play a game with Fluxx creator Andrew Looney himself, and take a few photos along the way!  Seeing as we completely overlooked the fact that is was Games & Tea's 2nd birthday just a few days ago, this felt very much like a belated present!

The head Looney himself - Andrew Looney - proudly showing off one of the latest additions to the Fluxx family!
Now whilst we have done reviews of games in development before, this is the first time we've reviewed a game after just a single playthrough, and without a reference copy in front of us.  For this reason we've branded this as a first impressions review/preview, and will be putting up a full review once we've gotten our grubby mitts on our very own copy, and put it through its paces to determine its replay value etc.

As with our last few Fluxx reviews, we'll be dispensing with the basic gameplay mechanics, and just address the elements of Batman Fluxx which make it stand out from the rest of the family.  For those unfamiliar with Fluxx on the whole, take a quick look at our Monty Python Fluxx review, in which we explained the game's core mechanic.

So to start with the basics, Batman Fluxx is Fluxx with a Batman theme - yes, this may sound like we're stating the obvious, but the point we're getting at is that you'll find the familiar New Rule and Action cards in the deck which are fairly universal, eg. Draw 4, Trash a New Rule, Draw 2 and Use 'Em, etc etc.  And - as with all other Fluxxes - the backs of the cards are of the same universal design, meaning that they can be integrated into other decks.

Yes, this means you can have Pirate Batman Fluxx.

"Bring me the Jokarr!"
On the front of the cards, the first thing to notice is the illustration style.  Fluxx has always had a cartoony element to it, which both adds to its charm and serves to remind players that it's supposed to be a casual, fun game at its heart.  Whilst the recent Love Letter: Batman Edition featured illustrations from the New52 comics series, such serious imagery would look very much out of place in a Fluxx deck.  Instead, Batman Fluxx is filled with illustrations in the style of Batman: The Animated Series, which fits in very well with the general Fluxx feel.  Combined with the classy art-deco style sidebar and font, and Batman Fluxx is a game which is aesthetically very pleasing to play.

The Keepers in Batman Fluxx cover a range or characters, gadgets and locations.  As with most recent Fluxx incarnations, many of the Keepers have additional rules and abilities, just to keep the game moving at a more interesting pace.  Bruce Wayne, for example (above), must be discarded if Batman ever hits the table.  The Batmobile can be discarded to take an extra turn.  The Bank increases your draw by 2, and so on.  Other Keepers we remember off the top of our heads included Robin, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, the Bat Signal, and Wayne Manor.

The Creepers (of which we sadly forgot to take any photos, due to being so caught up in the gameplay!) are where the game truly becomes interesting.  Each Creeper in Batman Fluxx is one of Gotham City's famous supervillains, and so there are a fair few of them in the deck.  The Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, The Penguin and The Riddler are all out in force, to name a few, so the chances are your favourite villain will be in there somewhere!  Now the most Creeper-heavy Fluxx edition to date is Zombie Fluxx, and it worked very well because many of the game's Goals required Creepers in order to achieve victory.  Batman Fluxx works in a similar way, with Crazy Love, for example, giving the win to the player with The Joker and Harley Quinn.  Now the interesting thing with Batman Fluxx - and the thing which makes its Creepers unique - is that if the active Goal doesn't include Creepers then no one can win if there are Creepers on the table.  This is a wonderful mechanic, first of all in that it gives players a Batman-style task of cleaning up the crime in Gotham City, and secondly in adding a whole new tactical element, as win conditions generally become harder.

That's basically all there is to say at this point about the new additions to the game!  In terms of how it all works, it does really capture the Batman theme while keeping things casual.  Things like the "no one can win" rule with the Creepers, Bruce Wayne's exodus from the table as soon as Batman appears, and the Bat-Signal's ability to 'summon' the dark knight from an opponent all fit together nicely.  The Goals we saw during our game were all nice little references to the cartoon/comics lore, such as Secretly His Daughter for having Commisioner Gordon and Batgirl (we are fans of Babs over here).  And of course the overall aesthetic is very pleasing, feeling very much like the cherry on top.

If we had to nit-pick (and as game reviewers, we do feel it's our duty), the win-condition difficulty increase as a result of the Creepers did feel like it would steer games of Batman Fluxx more towards longer play times than shorter ones.  Fluxx has always been renowned for games lasting anywhere from 90 seconds to 90 minutes, but the Creeper rule does seem to skew things more towards the latter, which may put off a few players who would normally consider Fluxx to be a filler game.
One thing we will be interested to see, however, is whether it can convert a few non-Fluxx fans.  It's always been a Marmite game in the gaming community, and we come heavily down on the 'love it' side of the line.  With Batman being so wildly popular, we can genuinely picture a few folks being swayed over onto our side, where we will be ready to greet them with hugs, cake and "I told you so's".

With a normal review this is where we'd do a summary breaking down the pros and cons, the price, average play time and so on, but seeing as this only a first impressions review we'll dispense with that until the full review in a couple of months time.  We will, however, quite happily give it a preliminary score based on our overall feelings from the day...


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Diary of a Roleplay Beginner #4: Taking Charge

Teamaster Rob here!  It's been a while since I last posted an article in the DoaRB series.  When I penned the first article in the series, it was intended as a shared experience to help new players see that taking a step into the big old hobby-world of roleplay needn't be so scary and overwhelming. There are so many systems out there, and so many people who take the hobby so seriously, that to someone starting out it can seem very intimidating, and this series of articles was intended to show the story of my own personal introduction into it all.
Article #1 in the series was an introduction, talking about my initial interest in the hobby, how I fell upon my first roleplay system (Privateer Press' Iron Kingdoms, if you were wondering), and the first session I ever sat in on, despite not participating.  Article #2 told the tale of my first session of active involvement, and how I slowly got to grips with the "Seriously, you can do ANYTHING!" mechanic of roleplays.  With my first session being purely narrative, Article #3 focused on the following session, which was my first taste of roleplay combat, as well as a few comments on my first negative roleplay experiences.
With those basics covered, the series dried up as I quite simply no longer considered myself to be a roleplay beginner.  Not a veteran, by any stretch of the imagination, but at the very least an enthusiastic amateur.
In the following year I had the pleasure of trying out another couple of systems; Firefly and Through the Breach, albeit with just a single session in each.  Again, I enjoyed the systems, and it was great to experience different rulesets, different GMs and different settings, not to mention the opportunity to play radically different characters.  But there was one feather left to add to my roleplay hat, and that's the topic of this article...

Enter the GM

That's right, the Teamaster is now the Gamemaster.  I've always enjoyed writing, and since getting started in the roleplay hobby I've been aching for a chance to get behind the wheel and run my own session, but - just like my entry into RP - the question of where to start reared its ugly head.
In terms of system, Iron Kingdoms seemed the logical choice - it was, after all, the system I was most experienced with.  From what I've gathered from my limited experience of the various systems, it does seem to be fairly standard practice to provide an example scenario with the rules, and Iron Kingdoms was no different.  There's a decent-length one shot session available to download from the Privateer Press website, providing a multiple-ended scenario, and all player characters, NPCs, and encounters laid out to take the bulk of the work off a new GM.  As I started to assemble a team of players, this scenario was the one I planned to use for the evening.

But, fortunately, my brain never ceases to run with new possibilities.  As tempting as the easy option was, it's always seemed like it would be more fulfilling to be capturing the imagination of your players and holding their attentions with a story of your own making, and so the Iron Kingdoms plan began to slip away in favour of something a little more ambitious, a little more exciting... a little more spacey...

Just because I adore board and card games, doesn't mean I don't enjoy my share of video games as well, and none more so than Bioware's Mass Effect trilogy.  Not only do I love the story of the games and the characters, but it's an incredible universe in which the games are set, and so I decided it would be a wonderful setting for my first roleplay.
This then moved me on to a brand new problem: which system should I use?
Iron Kingdoms may have been my most familiar, but it's not exactly compatible with a futuristic space adventure.  Storyweaver's High Space was a logical option, but would have required a fair chunk of reading and it wasn't a familiar system to any of my prospective players, so would have been slow going.  So I did the smartest thing any geek with a problem can do in this day and age: I threw it out to the internet!
Within 24 hours, @N20Games on Twitter threw back a suggestion of Fate - a name which vaguely rang a bell with my limited roleplay experience, but which I'd never looked into.  And ye gods, I was grateful for the suggestion!

Fate, from Evil Hat Productions.  For those unfamiliar with Fate, it's a rules-light, narrative-heavy roleplay system, designed to be generic enough to fit into any genre.  Unlike other systems which have their own established universes, Fate is meant for gamers who may want to run a roleplay set in their favourite franchise (Star Wars, Marvel, Game of Thrones etc), or simply based upon their own original concept.
For those who are absolute beginners to the GM world, there's also Fate Accelerated Edition (or FAE for short), which is effectively a set of quick-start rules for the system.  They're quick to learn, quick to teach, and seem quite fluid to play, so FAE ended up being the template upon which my Mass Effect one shot would be based.

So that left the small matter of the story!  At the time of posting this article the session is still a week away (and I will be uploading a follow-up article to talk about the results after the event), so I'm being cautious not to issue spoilers just in case any of my players may be reading!
Being good friends with The Hobbynomicon's Caustic Triton, we very often talk about roleplays, and some advice he gave me a while back about writing a session came back to me very quickly.  With a notepad and pen handy, and a decent knowledge of the background material already rattling around my grey matter, I started to write.
One of the worst things a GM can do to their players is make them feel railroaded.  A roleplay should feel like an open world to players, and if the GM is clearly funneling them down a narrow pathway then nothing they do will make the experience a good one.  With this in mind, I wrote out a nice, descriptive opening scene to set the tone, and then proceeded to set out a series of bullet-points, with branches off a number of them to account for player decisions.  To start with it seemed difficult, but once I'd got a very basic overall plot in my head, additional ideas started coming every hour or two, no matter where I was.  Within the space of a week I'd got a pile of maps drawn up, NPC details, and a list of key events.  I was pretty much ready to go on the story front, although more ideas continue to get added to the list of possible events for the session!

With a week and a half until the session, this left me with just enough time to indulge one of my favourite elements of the gaming hobby in general: miniature painting.
As much as I'd love for it to be the case, no one has released a series of Mass Effect miniatures to this date.  Mantic Games, however, have done some pretty damn good proxies in their Deadzone game.  Seeing as many of my Deadzone miniatures were assembled but unpainted from my release-day purchase of the game back in 2013, I dug out the box and began to paint.  With a week still to go, the lineup of player characters is starting to look pretty sweet...

Two humans, an asari, a quarian, a salarian and a turian are ready to report for duty, with a krogan next in line on the painting table.  A handful of NPCs are also lined up in case I have time to paint them, but if not then I'll be happy with each player having a painted miniature to use.

The Fate system (and FAE in particular) is quite easygoing when it comes to combat, so most of the session's going to be descriptive, but I am planning a couple of epic moments for the toys to come out and shine!

So I think that's all I can say for the moment without risking spoiler posts!  The session will be taking place next weekend, so hopefully I'll be able to come back with another update shortly afterwards, and talk about how well (or otherwise) it went!  So for now, keep rolling, and may the dice be ever in your favour.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Guild Ball: An Unboxing (...sort of)

Those of you with more impressive memories may remember us mentioning last year that we were backing a new tabletop game called Guild Ball.  Games & Tea always has been and always will be a card and board game blog first and foremost, but we are still tabletop hobbyists as well and couldn't resist sharing our enthusiasm about the whole thing when it first hit Kickstarter.

At the time we backed it we had the feeling it was going to be something special - everything from the overall aesthetic to the gameplay seemed beautiful - but we didn't realise just how much it was going to attract the attention of the hobby community.  Now, with the retail release date just weeks away (April 27th) and introduction days cropping up all over the country, our Kickstarter pledge has arrived and we just felt compelled to show you all some photos of our shiney new toys!

Guild Ball is primarily a sportsball game with a bit of combat thrown in, and is based very much on grass-roots medieval English football.  For our pledge level we went in for two teams (6 miniatures per team) all in metal, and resin base inserts were included for both teams.  Once the game passed its funding goal and stretch goals became unlocked, we were also eligible for two additional "Union" models, which are affiliated with a couple of teams, so can hop around and give a bit of flexibility to the rosters.
We also threw in a little extra for some additional bits and pieces - a printed rulebook (the standard pledge just came with a PDF), some Guild Ball dice, and templates and markers.

The rulebook was at the top of the box when we opened it up, so it was the first thing we noticed.  On the original Kickstarter page it was listed as an A5 rulebook, so it was a very pleasant surprise to see a full A4 landscape-oriented book.  Opening it up it's got gorgeous full colour artwork on almost every page, is clearly printed and laid out, and is just basically done to an excellent and professional standard.

Your eyes do not deceive you - this is an otter.

Oh balls...

Once the rulebook had been salivated over it was time to rummage through the packing chips and fish out the miniatures (fairly appropriate, as one of our teams is the Fisherman's Guild).  We had the option of going with metal miniatures or resin, and we ended up going for metal.  Throughout our hobby years we've simply had overall bad experiences with resin, whereas we've always been comfortable working with metal, so it seemed the logical option.  Now the advantage of resin is that it does allow for finer detail, which left us wondering if we'd slightly regret our metal decision, but after having a look at the models today we can assure you we don't in the slightest!  Obviously as with all miniatures of any material there is some flash to trim back and some mold lines to remove, but the casting quality is absolutely amazing, the detailing is going to be a painter's dream, and the dynamic poses of the miniatures will give them pride of place in the display cabinet.

It's all about the base.

The goals and the base inserts for the models were only available in resin, so we had to bite the bullet and hope for the best with these, and we weren't disappointed.  Normally we make our own bases, but the inserts are cast to a great quality, and it'll be nice to have consistency across both teams.

A lot of tabletop systems these days utilise character cards, both as a quick-reference of their abilites and to keep track of their health.  Guild Ball is the latest system to take this approach, and the character cards are printed onto good quality card stock, with nice clear print and more beautiful character illustrations throughout.

And then that just leaves those last few odds and ends.  The dice - embossed with the Guild Ball logo - and templates keep up with the manufacturing quality evident throughout the rest of the components.

To sum things up, there isn't a damn thing in this box which we've found fault with.  Now we just need to assemble our pretty toys and play a few games!
We probably won't be putting up a gameplay review, simply because there starts the slippery slope away from being a board/card game review blog, but if any of our readers were thinking about giving Guild Ball a closer look then we hope this unboxing has helped!  And once we've got some painting on the go then we'll upload some completed models into our miniatures gallery as well for your enjoyment.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Podcast: CLASH! Dawn of Steam - First Impressions

With International Tabletop Day having been just yesterday we had a great day of playing games, drinking tea, and just having general fun.  As part of the day's hijinks we recorded another 'First Impressions' podcast for a recently received Kickstarter game: CLASH! Dawn of Steam from Mad Ape Games.  We'll hopefully have a full review up and running within a few weeks, but in the meantime we hope you enjoy listening to our first impressions of the game quality, as well as our photos of some of the card which caught our attention for one reason or another!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Happy Tabletop Day!

Happy Tabletop Day, fellow gamers!  That's right, it's that time of year again when people all around the world get together to celebrate their love of board games, card games, miniatures and roleplay, and we'll be no different.  Now whilst you might expect a slew of content on such a prestigious day, the fact is this will be our only update.  Why?  Well because we're gamers too, and we'll be enjoying our hobby on Tabletop Day just as much as the rest of you!  We do have quite the roster of playtesters at Games & Tea, but we're having a mini-reunion of the intrepid piratical trio from last September's trip to Amsterdam for the release of Pirates! Card Game.

That said, we aren't going to let this massive gaming opportunity go to waste, so we just want to give you some idea of what's to come from us off the back of this...


A couple of weeks ago we uploaded our first ever "First Impressions" podcast, opening up our newly arrived Kickstarter game 404: Law Not Found.  Well we have just received another Kickstarter game in CLASH: Dawn of Steam, so we'll be recording a First Impressions podcast of that today, which will be up for your listening pleasure soon.  Being just a card game, the CLASH unboxing is going to be much shorter than 404, but still we'll be taking a look at the quality of the materials, print quality, artwork and so on, and seeing if the physical game lives up to our donation.


As you've hopefully realised by now, we've got our review mojo well and truly back, with three new reviews uploaded within the last two weeks; Space Alert, Pirate Fluxx and Love Letter: Batman Edition.  Well we'll be playing a whole host of unreviewed games throughout the day, with Coup, Firefly: The Board Game404: Law Not Found and Small World all already being looked at as potentials, so off the back of Tabletop Day we'll inevitably be bringing you our thoughts on something new.


We've been listening to YogsQuest on Youtube quite a lot recently, and if it's taught us one thing it's that some games can be almost as much to listen to as they are to play.  Obviously this isn't going to be applicable to all games - Arkham Horror, for example, would make quite a dreary 3 hour listen.  Something along the lines of Gloom, on the other hand, might make for a nice bit of entertainment, so we're going to record ourselves playing a few games, and if we think they end up interesting enough then we might just release them to the general population.


We'll be drinking tea today - we are Games & Tea, after all.  This won't have any effect on our upcoming content, but we thought this still deserved a mention.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Love Letter: Batman Edition Review

Good day to you, ladies and gentlegamers! As we've mentioned in the past, we thoroughly enjoy every review we bring to our readers, but we get an extra bit of joy from reviewing a new release - purely because of the fact that it allows us to feel as though we're on the ball for once!  So, brace yourselves for probably the shortest gameplay walkthrough we've ever brought you, as we take a look at Love Letter: Batman Edition by Seiji Kanai, from Alderac Enterainment.

Love Letter itself is a very popular and well-established casual card game, and has been a staple of many gamers' collections for quite some time.  Even with comic book heroes very much ascendant in recent years, this is probably one of the most surprising games to receive a superhero paint job!
To date we haven't actually played the original Love Letter so will be unable to draw direct comparisons, but we're chalking this up as an advantage as it leaves us able to dissect the Batman Edition on its own merits, and give it an unbiased score.

Love Letter: Batman Edition is a competitive card game for 2-4 players, in which each player takes on the role of the Dark Knight, and has to outshine the other Batmonei (we established this as the plural of "Batman" on a Hobbynomicon podcast!) in recapturing the escaped inmates of Arkham Asylum.
At the beginning of the review we mentioned that this would probably be our shortest gameplay explanation to date, and this is entirely down to the fact that Love Letter: Batman Edition is a mind-bogglingly simple game to play - to such an extent that we were left wondering why we never picked up a copy of the original version.  Before you click away though, we like to think our Cards Against Humanity review proved that simple mechanics do not a bad game make, and similarly our Arkham Horror review went to show that complex mechanics don't necessarily pave the road to a good gaming experience.  So stick with us as we go through Love Letter: Batman Edition and see how it plays out...

Contents-wise, Love Letter: Batman Edition is a very light game.  There are 16 Game Cards, each printed with lavish artwork depicting either Batman, Robin, or one of the many major supervillains from the Batman universe (for those DC fans interested, with the exception of The Joker they're all New 52-based).  Each of these cards contains a nice, plain-English explanation of how that card functions, which we'll go through shortly, and a number in the top-left corner which dictates the card's value (the higher, the better).

As an extra little assist for players, there are also four card lists included in the box, explaining the value of each character, the card's abilities, as well as a reminder of how many of each card are in the deck (there may be five Batmonei, but there is only one Mr J!).

"I'm Batman!" "No, I'm Batman!" "I'm Batman, and so's my wife!"

This just leaves a bag of small wooden Batman tokens, which are used to keep track of the scores across each round, and the rulebook.

And that's it!  Not a great deal to look at (although certainly very pretty), but let's put them all together and see what happens...

The aim of Love Letter: Batman Edition is to gain 7 Batman tokens before any of the other players, through rounding up the highest-valued Arkham escapees.
To start the game the Game Cards are shuffled and then one card is randomly discarded face-down, not to be used throughout the rest of the game.  Lover Letter: Batman Edition is a game of bluffing and deduction, so having one unknown card missing from the deck adds an extra challenge to the latter.
Each player draws a single card to create their starting hand, and then the round begins.  During each players (very quick) turn, they draw one card off the top of the deck, and then have to discard one from their hand,  Some of the cards have positive effects, some have negative effects, either of which can be used to try and misdirect the other players about the remaining card.  Some can be used to eliminate other players from the round, whilst some eliminate the player who discarded it, and one way to win the Batman token for the round is to be the last Batman standing.
If the deck is depleted then the round finishes, and the player with the highest value card in their hand wins the Batman token, or - in the event of a tie - the player with the highest value of discarded cards wins.

Confused?  That's fair, it's a far simpler game in practice than on paper!

For example...

Going back to Batman himself from the earlier photo, his discard ability allows a player to guess at the card in another player's hand.  At the beginning of the game this could be an outright guess, but as more cards are discarded deduction can start to creep in.  Of course players do have to rely on complete honesty from one-another, but frankly anyone who can't be trusted through a casual game has no place in any gaming group, in our opinion!  Batman is the lowest value card in the deck, so keeping him in hand serves very little purpose in the long-run, so he will usually get discarded/activated a lot.

Harley Quinn is a high-value escapee, with a value of 7 (second highest only to her puddin' - The Joker - himself), so keeping her in hand is usually going to be a good play.  However, her ability forces her to be discarded if Two-Face or Poison Ivy are drawn.  In the example above the player has just drawn Bane, who allows players to basically play a quick game of Top Trumps!  Now whilst the obvious play would be to discard Bane and hope Harley's 7 is enough to knock out an opponent, a sneakier play might be to discard Harley, leading the other players to believe either Two-Face or Ivy is in your hand.  Throwing the other players off the scent for a turn like this can be a devastating move, especially with such high card turnover and fast deck-depletion.

Each character in Love Letter: Batman Edition serves a different purpose, and learning how and when to use them most effectively is the key to victory... that, and a good poker face.  Catwoman, for example, allows a player to look at an opponent's hand.  Two-Face allows a player to trade hands with an opponent altogether.  Robin allows a player to ignore the effects of other cards for a full turn.  And The Joker (a personal favourite) puts the player who discarded him out of the round - you are playing as Batman, after all, so allowing Gotham's most notorious criminal to slip through your grasp is grounds for immediate dismissal.

As mentioned above (although now with a bit of context!) being the only non-eliminated player wins a Batman point, or after the deck is depleted, having the highest-value inmate in your clutches snags you that little wooden bat-symbol.  At the end of each round the deck is shuffled and the process is repeated until one player has 7 of those coveted points.

So that's Love Letter: Batman Edition.  With a learning time of roughly 90 seconds (no kidding, that's actually how long it took us to get a game going!) it's one of the quickest and easiest games to pick up on the market, but with some light-hearted theatricality and deception, it's still incredibly fun to play.
The physical components of the game are manufactured to a high standard, and the artwork - as mentioned earlier - is very nice to look at.  Being a quick game to play, it makes an excellent warm-up, wind-down, or intermission game to any games night, and the turns rotate so quickly that it feels more like a party game, as you always seem to be taking an action of some sort.  It's simplicity and short play-time make it an excellent game for younger gamers with shorter attention spans as well, so if you have a young Bat-fan in the family and you want to draw them into your gaming hobby, this might be a good place to start!
Criticisms of the game come very few and far between, however we've always prided ourselves on our impartiality, and so will work to find any negative points we can.  First of all it's not so great with just 2 players.  Even with the mystery card removed at the beginning of the game, the deductive side of Love Letter: Batman Edition falls a little short when you only have one opponent to outfox.  The only other criticism (and ye gods we're having to scrape the nitpicking barrel here!) is that there will inevitably be people getting upset over the choice of villains in the deck.  With a limited-sized deck and so many Arkham alumni to choose from, some people will end up having their favourites missed out.  (On a personal note, the inclusion of The Joker, Harley Quinn and Catwoman was enough to keep me happy, anyone else is purely a bonus!)

The Good Points
  • Quick to play.
  • Even quicker to learn!
  • An excellent entry-level game for younger gamers, or those new to the specialist game scene.
  • Nicely tactical, in spite of the simple mechanics.
  • Very well presented, with nice artwork throughout.
  • "I'M BATMAN!"
The Bad Points
  • Limited appeal with only 2 players.
  • No Riddler or Penguin, to name but two, so Nigma and Cobblepot fans will be disappointed.
  • Very difficult to resist the urge to growl "I'M BATMAN!" with the Batman card in hand.  Anyone?  Oh, maybe that's just me then.
Recommended Number of Players: 3-4
As mentioned, Love Letter: Batman Edition struggles a little with 2 players, but it comes to life with 3 and excels with 4.

Average Game Time: 20 minutes
Each round of Love Letter: Batman Edition only lasts a couple of minutes, but with a target of 7 Batman points a full 4 player game has the potential to cap at 25 rounds!  However, this is unlikely to happen, and 20 minutes is a good average game time, which can even be shortened if needed by reducing the number of required points.

Replay Value: High
With its short play-time, this is a good game for filling gaps, whether a lunch break, or a pause between bigger games on a game night.  As a result, it's likely to be a game which is played little and often, and so will be very easy to keep coming back to.

The Future: Darkest just before the dawn...
Okay we have to admit that comment wasn't really relevant, but we just thought it'd look really good there!  Love Letter: Batman Edition is a standalone game, so really doesn't have anywhere further to go.

Price: £14
The RRP on Love Letter: Batman Edition is £14, and there are two versions available.  We've shown you the boxed version (as we like having pretty boxed games filling our shelves), but there is also a bagged version, which doesn't come with the box, but includes a Batman-embroidered canvas bag for ease of transportation.  Both retail for the same price, and with both Love Letter and Batman being very popular, we imagine it will be readily available on the shelves of most gaming stores before long!

 Tea consumed during this review: Typhoo, milk and 2 sweeteners.  Brew Rating: 7.5/10

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