Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Descent 2nd Edition

Yesterday, I managed to catch up with some old friends I don't see enough of anymore for a board games evening, wherein we ate pizza and played Descent: Journeys in the Dark (second edition), a sort of Fantasy Flight updating of the classic Advanced Heroquest concept.

Descent is a scenario-based game with a modular board consisting of about 25-30 sturdy, reversible card tiles. On one side of each tile is a dungeon section, on the other is wilderness. Coupled with entrance and exit tiles and a range of connectors and 'dead ends' to cap off unused junctions, these can be assembled into who knows how many possible variations. Each scenario - the game provides plenty, but you could easily write your own - has a map showing which tiles to set up, and what other bits to include.

Naturally there are bits, it's a Fantasy Flight game. The bits which you set up on the board include, but are not limited to: Search tokens, Objective tokens, Villager tokens, Lieutenant tokens and monster miniatures.

There are also hella cards, but we'll get to that.
As an Advanced Heroquest descendant, Descent includes actual plastic minis in the box. There is one for each of the eight hero characters, and a whole bunch of monsters. For reference, assuming you don't paint them all, the heroes are dark grey, the regular monsters tan and the boss monsters red. Aside from the goblins, there's little chance of mistaking the monsters for your characters, however, as the rest of them are all either spiders or simply immense. They are pretty nice miniatures, and those what paint could probably have a good time just gussying them up to look extra shiny on the tabletop.
Down the middle: Movement, Health, Endurance and Defence.
At the bottom are Attributes. On the right are your ability
and your feat.

Each hero also has a card detailing their abilities (each monster has the same, although theirs are half the size because they pretty much just move and attack.) In addition to a picture, the card gives the character or monster's movement rate (in squares), health and defence (represented by a die or dice,)  and any special abilities. Heroes also have endurance and attributes, and a special heroic feat that they can use once per encounter.

The game can be played with up to five people: One Overlord, controlling the dungeon and the monsters, and up to four players, each controlling a hero. The base set has eight heroes in four classes - fighter, scout, mystic and healer, I think they were. You aren't supposed to double up classes, and you customise your character by picking one of two decks of starting equipment and skills for their class (scouts, for example, can be 'thief' or 'wildernessy type'*.)
The hands at the bottom indicate how many hands are
needed to equip the thing. They're all left, indicating
that heroes in Descent are probably southpaws.

Once you get into the game, there are cards for searching, cards for further equipment, cards - and matching tokens - for being stunned, immobilised, poisoned or something else; possibly cursed. The Overlord gets a deck of cards that he draws from once per turn and that can be played to do bad things for the heroes or good things for the monsters. Rather than just killing everything in sight, you have an objective for each mission, which typically feeds into the next encounter in the scenario.

In play, each hero has a turn, followed by the Overlord. Each model gets two actions, which can be chosen from options including, but not limited to, move, attack, search and rest. Heroes can also take extra movement or use some skills by accruing fatigue, limited by their endurance. Resting clears fatigue, and is a more important action than you might think, because you build up fatigue at quite a pace and once you hit your endurance it starts becoming damage.

Dice, dice, baby!
This being a fantasy quest game, combat is the meat of the thing, and is done with dice. Each weapon allows you to roll the blue die and one or more of the yellow and red power dice. As you can see from the picture, each side contains a mixture of symbols: numbers are range, and a ranged attack has to accumulate enough of this to reach the target. Hearts are damage, while the lightning bolt is a surge, which can be used to activate special abilities (usually increasing damage or range, although Jon's character's hero ability meant that we could spend them to heal, which was very important.) The defender rolls one or more defence dice - brown, white or black in ascending order) which are marked with shields which cancel damage. Damage is your goal, but attacks may have other effects; in particular 'stun' was very important to us in the intro games, allowing us to tie up big opponents while we whittled down the little attackers.

This is a later and larger scenario than we played, with the
heroes in  a strong defensive position, yet simultaneously
A key difference between this and Heroquest (Advanced or otherwise) is that the entire dungeon and its denizens are laid out to begin with, which means that everything starts to converge on you early. In addition, there is often something you have to stop happening which means that the slow and steady kick-and-search approach is rarely practical. This makes for a pacy game, as the heroes hurry to wrangle the Overlord's forces.

As an observation, fuck goblins. They run like greased pigs, can't be blocked, and invariably need to run somewhere in the scenario, which is something that you basically can not stop from happening, as they tend to be in and out of your line of sight in a single turn, or to have done what they needed to do before you can even get to them. Fuck those little bastards.


A final aspect of the game is progression. Heroes gain experience which allows them to buy additional skills from their class-type deck, and any equipment they pick up from searching can be retained or sold for gold which can then be used to buy more equipment. This is matched against Overlord XP and more powerful monsters and decks of Overlord card to create escalation.

On the basis of the first few scenarios, Descent is a nice little game with a lot of room to grow, even without the inevitable expansions. We - the players - won through the first few scenarios, but it was a close run thing (and mostly happened due to a) blessed stun lock, and b) James forgetting his trap cards during our turns,) which is pretty much what you want in a game like this.

* One of these two may not be the official name on the cards.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Rook City Blues

Forget it, Jake. It's Rook City.
The first full update of the Sentinels of the Multiverse computer game is Rook City, bringing a spiffed up dynamic interface along with four new villains, two new heroes and two new environments. The Villain decks in particular each have a unique variation which alters the pace and strategy of the game significantly.

The Chairman is the ultimate crime boss of Rook City, a shadowy figure protected by his Operative and a network of criminals. As the handler for all of his gangs, the Operative plays out lesser Underbosses at a rate of knots - many of whom also play out other cards - and hits heroes as villain cards go down. The Chairman is invulnerable until flipped, and then smacks anyone who strikes him, making him hard to whittle down.

The Matriarch makes the card progression in the Chairman's deck look slow. Her minion cards (mostly corvids, some other birds) just keep playing, and while all relatively weak she attacks heroes each time one is destroyed and there are cards in her deck that play every Flock card back out of the trash, just to fuck with you. One of the nice things about the deck is that the Matriarch's nemesis, Tachyon, has one of the most effective cards to use on her.

Drug-fuelled super serial killer Spite is the Wraith's nemesis (the Chairman, the other obvious choice, is paired with new hero Mr Fixer.) His deck is mostly made up of drugs and victims. Victims can be rescued, if not destroyed first, and placed under the safe house card, dealing damage when Spite flips. The drugs make him tough to kill, however, and he heals each time he does damage or destroys a victim. I find him especially tough as I have to quit when he destroys one of the Lost Child victim cards.

The last villain is Plague Rat, a mutated drug dealer who can infect Heroes with his vile plagues and drive them to attack one another. He's not too hard a kill, but overbuffed heroes will quickly start beating one another down.

The Chairman and the Matriarch are tough; like, really tough. Spite and Plague Rat are just regular nasty.

The first hero is Expatriette, gunslinging daughter of Citizen Dawn. She's a damage monkey, and her deck gimick is a mixture of Gun and Ammo cards; the latter attaching to the former for one-shot bonuses. Her 'use one power for every gun you have in play' is potentially hilarious; as long as Spite doesn't have his 'take damage when you use a power' drug in play.

The second is Mr Fixer, janitor and kung fu master, who thus combines Style and Equipment cards which modify how he does damage with his basic 'punch you in the face' power. He is only allowed one of each, so he is more about choices than buff stacking.

Finally, Rook City brings out the scum of the streets to harry your hard-working heroes, while the Pike Industrial Complex is all about the Vats, universal buffs and prospective bombs all.

To add a further challenge, Mr Fixer and Expatriette each have a variant to unlock, and the update adds a new Legacy unlock, America's Greatest Legacy.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Tools of the Trade - Roll20

Most of my current gaming is online, as a result of a scattered friend base, limited budget and the demands of childcare. I started out doing this sort of thing over Skype or Google Hangouts, using various online blackboards for illustrations until I stumbled onto Roll20 (which I have mentioned before in terms of seating plans.)

Screenshot from the virtual tabletop for Operatives of CROSSBOW (the rebooted series*.) Due to non-tech issues, games often start late or not at all, hence the link to a video about ROM: Space Knight in the chat window.
The map of the zoo is legitimately for the game.
Roll20 is a virtual tabletop, designed to provide a user-friendly interface for online gaming. The bulk of the screen is the map, with a sidebar which can be switched between chat window, asset library, journal, jukebox and decks and tables tabs. There is also a dropdown bar for switching between your map screens.


The Map
The heart of the virtual desktop is the map. Key features for Roll20 include:

  • Layers - You can place any image or object in one of three layers. Anything in the map and background layer is locked in place by default, while tokens and objects can be moved freely as needed. There is also a GM overlay, allowing the GM to add notes that the players can not read. Objects can also be popped between layers if need be (say by keeping a tap icon in the GM overlay until it is set off or detected.)
  • Grid - The grid is highly customisable, allowing square and hex arrangements.
  • Fog of War - You can hide the map and then reveal rectangular or custom areas as the PCs explore. This is especially fun if you hide a monster in a space you are about to reveal.
  • Ping - Click and hold and you mark a ping for other players to see. I can not count the uses we've had from this as an alternative to 'over there. No, I mean there, by the thing.'
  • Draw and type - You can also use the space as a straightforward whiteboard.

Chat Window
A little extraneous when using voice chat, but this does provide a good place to share links, and also incorporates a dice roller (including Fate dice.) It also has a 'whisper' function for note passing.

The asset library contains an array of free-to-use images. There are also paid images, which tend to be higher quality, but you can live without them if you're on a budget. In fact, there are a fair few premium features which a less penurious GM might want to check out. I can not speak for the features, but I certainly don't begrudge the makers a paid option.)

Provides a place for handouts and character sheets, although I use a wiki for a lot of this.

Plays music from an eclectic selection to all players; pretty neat, and I really ought to get a credit sequence organised some day.

Decks and Tables
Highly customisable content for card decks and roll tables. Potentially a godsend for OSR-type games or systems making heavy use of cards.


The Map

  • Snap-to-grid - I haven't found a way to turn this off, and it means that if you use a hex grid in particular there is a good chance of people jumping into walls when you move them. It can also play silly buggers with the scaling.

Voice and video chat
There is an inbuilt chat system, but we've not managed to get it to work yet. Instead we used the Hangouts integration, which is fine except that it limits the screen space available for the map.

I find that Roll20 has greatly enhanced my online gaming experience, not only by clarifying positioning, but by providing a central focus for the group on to of our various videopresences. It's not a perfect product, but it's pretty good for the no money I pay for it and I might consider checking out the premium features if I were wealthy enough to do so, but not wealthy enough to just travel more.

* Basically, Operatives of CROSSBOW got 'rebooted' once I'd got a bit more experience with Fate Core under my belt, less like Battlestar Galactica and more like Witchblade season 2 where they rewound time and did things differently.