Saturday, 29 March 2014

Fireteam Zero: Inane Ramblings about Kickstarter

Okay, I don't normally do this sort of thing, but it's Saturday evening, my wife is about to head off to work, and I am bored, so screw it... I'm going to talk about a game I'm backing on Kickstarter. This is not a review, it's just some directionless ramblings about a game I liked the look of and threw some money at. Hell, the game isn't even out yet, and won't be for some time.

(If you don't know how Kickstarter works, it is basically a crowdfunding website: You give someone money, they use the money to make something, and then they usually send you a copy of that something. Or they run off with your money.)

(Oh, and fair warning: Everything that follows is my opinion based only on what I have seen on the Kickstarter campaign. I am not privy to any "behind the scenes" stuff. I may be wrong about everything. Caveat emptor. And so on.)

The game in question is Fireteam Zero, which is based on a series of books. The premise is simple: In World War II, an undercover team of badass soldiers takes on supernatural entities in a series of gruelling close-combat scenarios. The soldiers co-operate to achieve a mission, while grotesque, nightmarish monsters swarm towards them in never-ending waves. It's like being in a pressure cooker.

With teeth.

That right there is a hook to swing on.

So, the theme initially sold me on the game. Alternative history stuff is always interesting, and this game does some interesting things with it. I mean, the box art depicts the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, except the soldiers are driving that flag into a squirming mass of barely identifiable tentacled things.

However, there are two things I really like about the theme. I'm going to list them. Course I am...

1. It's not Lovecraft. At least, not as far as I am concerned.

I absolutely love the work of H. P. Lovecraft, but I feel his work has been used too often as a source for board games. While some people are comparing Fireteam Zero to Lovecraft, the themes are quite different. Fireteam's theme is a fusion of body horror and the supernatural. Having a few creatures with tentacles does not mean the theme is Lovecraftian. Or, at least, I don't think it does.

2. It's schlocky.

I am a big fan of horror movies, and when I look at the creatures in Fireteam, I see many things that remind me of cool, schlock-horror films I love. I see references to The Thing, Slither, The Devil's Chair, Blood Beach, Night of the Scarecrow, Infestation, Blood Glacier, and many other films. And that's just cool.

So, I was already hooked on the theme, and then I saw the gameplay. One of my favourite board games is Gears of War, which is a co-operative game in which a small group of marines work together against a horde of aliens. It is a superb game that allows you to act on an ally's turn by playing cards from your hand that have different "support" benefits. Unfortunately, Fantasy Flight Games never really ran with it, and apart from a small expansion, the game was pretty much neglected. Furthermore, the game is not without its problems: Namely, an ungodly setup time.

I always felt that someone could take the bare mechanisms from Gears of War and turn the dial up to 11, and I really feel that is was the designers of Fireteam have done.

The game also feels incredibly customisable, offering a wealth of replayability. As an example, consider the first mission:

The mission requires the team to search 12 spots for parts to fix a ferry. All the time, they will be harried by eight corrupted animal minions. Minions respawn every time they die, so the horde is endless. The twist is, over time, the enemies mutate. New abilities are drawn randomly from a deck of cards, and the mutations stack. So, you play the mission once, and you might be facing corrupted animals that spit poison, and swarm together in packs. You play the same mission again, but this time, you are facing corrupted animals that sprout extra legs, bleed acid, and swim. (Note: I just made all those abilities up. I have no idea what the real abilities are.)

Same creatures, different rules, different tactics.

But then you can mix things up, by playing the same mission, but swapping out minions for different types of minions.

And did I mention the non-player characters? You get to take two with you, and anyone who kickstarts the project gets a total of four to choose from. These NPCs provide special abilities, but you have to keep them safe from the enemy.

Basically, the combination of choice of heroes, choice of hero special abilities, choice of NPCs, choice of minions, and the random allocation of mutations throughout the mission mean each game should be quite different.

The last thing to mention is the pledge amount. For $85, you get the base game, an exclusive NPC character (a cute doggy), and all the stretch goals. Sure, there are not as many stretch goals as there are with campaigns from bigger companies, but there are still some nice extra plastic miniatures, and some new twist and hero power cards. Enough to make that $85 pledge look like a very nice deal as far as I am concerned.

In fact, people who care about miniatures should be quite pleased with the plastic loadout for this game. There are 52 plastic figures in total, including five heroes, four NPCs, three "families" of monsters, and some bonus beasties. There are 21 unique sculpts, including three massive boss monsters that tower over everything else. I believe they are all sculpted by someone who used to make miniatures for Heroscape, but don't quote me on that.

The company is actually so proud of the miniatures, they are offering a pledge level that just gets the miniatures.

Frankly, I don't care about that. I want the game.

And that's an important point to stress: I want the game. I am very excited about the game. And that's why this whole post sounds like an infomercial. My enthusiasm is going to have crept into every word, so take those words with a good pinch of salt. Go on. Salt makes everything taste better anyway. Stick some bacon on there too.

But, in the sake of being fair and even-handed, I'm going to mention a list of things that concern me about the project:

First of all, one of the stretch goals is a CD. I couldn't be less thrilled with the prospect of a CD to listen to while I play a board game if I tried. If they swapped that CD out for a copy of the first book in the series, I'd do a little Snoopy dance.

It seems like you only get four dice in the box. There should be six, because it is possible for some attacks to involve rolling six dice. I am not opposed to rerolling sometimes, but with four dice, it seems like rerolling will be required for most attacks. Seriously, put six dice in the box, and six dice in a paid add-on. Hell, put six in as stretch goal. Instead of that damned CD.

And then there is delivery time. The Kickstarter claims the game will be available in October. That's a pretty close deadline. I would like to know if that is at all feasible. Most Kickstarters slide a bit, but this is a smaller project than some others. I would at least like to know if it is realistic to expect the game before Christmas.

And there you have it. That's why I'm backing Fireteam Zero.

Thank you for indulging me. I promise I'll review something soon. Probably Dark Darker Darkest, which is another game I got through Kickstarter...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game - Core Set Booster

World of Warcraft


World of Warcraft: Miniatures GamePublished by Upper Deck Entertainment
Designed by a whole bunch of people
For 2 players, aged 14 to adult

What seems like a very long time ago indeed, I picked up the basic starter set for the imaginatively titled World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game. I thought it seemed like a pretty decent game, but it was hard to tell from the four miniatures provided in the starter.

I really wanted to get the deluxe starter, but that's like hen's teeth these days... Really pointy. Or something.

Anyway, I did the next best thing. I managed to grab two Core Set boosters for the princely sum of £2 each. Frankly, £4 for six prepainted miniatures and a bunch of cards (one character card and two skill cards per figure) is a hard deal to pass up, and I am a sucker for a bargain.

I wasn't really sure what I would get with these boosters. I knew the game had three factions (Horde, Alliance, and Beasts), but I didn't know anything about rarity levels, or how figures were distributed throughout the boxes.

As it turns out, the boosters are random, but all three figures in each booster come from the same faction, which is a really nice touch The two boosters I bought had different pictures on the front, but I have no idea if that is in any way related to which faction the booster is for. I happened to get one booster containing Alliance dudes, and one booster with Horde dudes, so when combined with my starter set, I ended up with five characters for each of those factions, which is just enough for a bit of variety. I would have really liked a set of Beasts, as they seem more interesting to me; but hey... You can't have everything.

Now, it may surprise some people, but I have never played the World of Warcraft computer game. It never really appealed to me, and I don't really have the time to invest in something like that. However, I do know a few things about the game, and I have heard the story of the infamous Leeroy Jenkins. So, it was with a great degree of pleasure, that I realised the first character to pop out of my Alliance booster was no less than the chicken-loving paladin.

Leeroy Jenkins
"Leeeerrrroooooyyyy Jeeeennnnkkkiiinnss!"


Honestly, that one figure alone made it all worthwhile.

As it turns out, my other alliance characters were pretty cool too. A chunky Drenai shaman (does David Gemmell get royalties for them using that name?), and a dark elf mage. Big, imposing characters, in cool poses. The elf even has translucent bits on her staff. I like that sort of thing. I'm weird.


World of Warcraft cards
Character cards.


After that, opening the second box was always likely to be a disappointment. And yeah... It was.

I got a wimpy looking blood elf archer, a forsaken (undead?) rogue that I had to bath in boiling water because she was a bit tipsy, and an orc shaman that is half the size of the awesome orc from the starter set.

Blah.

So, I was not particularly blown away with my Horde figures, possibly because they were all so small compared to the Alliance guys. I think of the Horde as the bad guys, so I always imagine they should look more imposing and threatening.


World of Warcraft miniatures
The rogue (front right) looks thoroughly annoyed with Leeroy, dontcha think?


Still, overall, I am happy with what I got from two boosters. If I can find more at a really good price I will buy them (I really want some of those Beasts), but if that never happens, I think the ten figures I have gives a good amount of variety.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Zombicide

Zombicide


Zombicide
Published by Cool Mini or Not
Designed by Raphael Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, and Nicolas Raoult.
For 1-6 players, aged 13 to adult

Zombicide board game


I've been staring at my computer screen for 10 minutes trying to think how to tackle this review, and the difficulty I am having really defines how torn I am about this big, bloody mess of a game. You see, I am so torn about how I feel about this game, at the moment, I don't even know if this review is going to be positive or negative.

So, let's flip a coin...

Ready?

I wouldn't be surprised if the coin landed on an edge, but it's "heads." So, let's start the review like this...

I love Zombicide.

I never got onboard the Kickstarter campaign that birthed this monstrous creation, but when I left my life of daily drudgery working as a magazine editor and became self-employed, the people in my office had a bit of a whip-round for me. Normally, co-workers tend to use that sort of money to buy a nice pen, or a carriage clock, or something; but my co-workers put one of my best friends in charge of the pot, and he used the money to buy me board game instead.

Seriously, the look on Ethel from Accounts' face was a picture when she saw that she had chipped in her good money to help buy a grown man toys.

So, anyway, Zombicide was a parting gift from my co-workers, and I have to admit, I was pretty damned pleased with that.


Zombicide rules
The Rules. Or a map of the London Underground. Not sure...


Anyone who knows me, knows I am a bit of a theme junkie, and Zombicide has got so much theme it almost drips off the box and makes an icky puddle on the floor. It has superb art, nicely sculpted miniatures, and detailed map tiles for creating a zombie-infested city block. When the game is sitting on the shelf, I want to take it down and set it up. When the game is on the table, I am excited to play.

In the first few turns, as the zombies begin to shamble into the rubble-choked streets, the adrenaline starts pumping and the game is an absolute joy. And, as the game unfolds, a real story develops as your small band of survivors desperately searches for supplies as the ravenous hordes close in.

You feel trapped. You feel helpless. You feel hopeless. You feel like you would feel if you woke up tomorrow and this was happening in real life, and that makes this game an absolute triumph.

But...

I hate Zombicide.

It is a cluttered mess of a game, with shonky rules, repetitive gameplay, and incredibly violent box art.

Yes, I'm complaining about the box art. Honestly, it is an amazing illustration, and it perfectly sums up the tone and theme; but there are heads flying off, people firing Uzis, and a horribly detailed bit of a zombie's brains exploding. When the box is stacked on the shelf, you still see a gloriously disgusting picture of a zombie being shot in the face with a handgun, which is something I don't want to have to explain to my three-year-old daughter.

The base game includes six player characters to pick from, and this just isn't enough variety. Every game has to have at least four characters in play, and if you play a three-player game, everyone is supposed to control two characters each. Almost all of my games are three-player games, which means we always have all six characters in play. There is never any variation on the team, so games often end up playing out the same way, using the same characters to pull off the same tricks. Besides, I really hate controlling more than one character in this type of game, as I feel it makes it harder to have a connection with what my character is doing. While I am playing, I want to BE a character; I don't want to be an omnipotent force controlling multiple characters.


Zombicide characters
The gang's all here.


Then there are the crazy escalation rules. As you gain experience (from killing zombies and seizing objectives), more zombies (and more powerful zombies) spawn every turn, or whenever you open a door. I have found that this actively encourages players to avoid killing zombies, as the increase in experience can be catastrophic in the next zombie spawn phase. It also encourages players to run around opening every door to every house before gaining any experience points, as that way, every house is populated with very few zombies, rather than loads of powerful zombies.


Zombicide zombies
Zombies - You get two trays of these bad boys (and girls).
More Zombicide zombies
All in their little sleep chambers. Cute...


And the crazy rule where, if you fire a gun into a space containing heroes and zombies you have to allocate hits to the heroes before you can allocate any to the zombies, is such a gamey, artificial rule, it completely undermines that incredible theme.

Ultimately, using the same six characters, and understanding how zombies become more powerful as characters level up, has meant that every game I have played ends up pretty much the same way. In the first few turns, the fast characters rush around and open doors, thus ensuring only a few zombies are present in the houses. Everyone searches until they get some good kit, and they actively avoid killing zombies or picking up objectives as much as possible, as this would raise experience and cause problems. Then everyone gets into position to snatch objectives, and the kid in the hoodie who has the ability to sneak through spaces containing zombies goes after the hardest to reach objective.

So, every game starts to feel a bit samey. The heroes do bizarre and unthematic things, and by about half an hour in, I am ready to pack up the game and do something else. The mechanisms of the game have ground away the theme, and I am all to aware that I am playing a game, doing something mechanical, rather than experiencing a gruelling experience in a zombie-infested city.


Zombicide boards
A nice place to visit.


Then I put the game on the shelf, and I take a long look at that awesomely awful box art, and I get this twinge... I want to set the game up again. I want to play again, because maybe next time things will be different. Maybe next time the theme won't evaporate. Maybe next time I will feel as enthusiastic at the end of the game as I do at the start.

Because I don't hate this game. Not really.

I mean, I do. It's awful.

But not really.

What it comes down to is I like the theory better than the application. In fact, this is currently the only game I house rule.

Want to know what my house rules are?

Simple:

When you shoot into a space containing heroes and zombies, hits cause a wound on a zombie, and misses cause a wound on a hero.

Any ranged weapon can be used to make a basic close combat attack (to avoid friendly fire).

You can select the turn order the heroes move in.

And that's it.

Those three little changes allow my group to enjoy the game a little more, but I would be lying if I said Zombicide was a big hit for us.


Zombicide - Phil
This guy looks familiar...


Zombicide is a beautiful game (in its own way), and I do have a strong desire to play it. It is easy to learn, and it does create a sense of palpable dread and growing despair as you play. I can see why people enjoy it as much as they do, and I would never suggest someone is wrong for thinking it is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon; but for me, the reality of every game never lives up to the potential.

I think, ultimately, if you put a gun to my head, I would have to say I do not like the game. Which is a shame, really.

I can only imagine what Ethel from Accounts would think if she knew that.