Thursday, 28 February 2008

Dunwich Horror

Dunwich Horror isn't an expansion to Arkham Horror; it's an integral part of Arkham Horror.

I have 3 problems with Arkham horror. Sometimes there's no good move to make (which can be especially frustrating if you can't do anything because of one unlucky die roll). The game gets easier after a certain point (closing a certain number of gates). One Great Old One is basically the same as the next. Dunwich solves my problems.

There is always something that can be done with the new expansion. Maybe try that task or mission you've gotten. How about heading to Dunwich to keep the Dunwich Horror under wraps? Or even take insanity or injury instead of losing the critical items and clues you need to seal the next gate. With Dunwich there is a choice between different strategies. Is it better to head to Dunwich? Close a gate? Do that mission?

Gate bursts prevent the feeling of safety given from sealing gates in the original game. Now a sealed gate is just a temporary stop-gap before the Great Old One awakens and everything destroyed. This does make the game harder, but saving the world from eldritch horror should be hard.

Speaking of Great Old Ones the 4 new ones change the dynamic of the game more than the original ones. These aren't like Ithaqua (street locations are slightly more hazardous).

Shudde M'ell destroys buildings forever. No more pat strategies relying on trading monsters at South Church for blessings or newspaper for money. And if there are too many monster surges (from open gates) too many buildings are destroyed and the Great Old One arises and everyone loses. Open gates are a big deal now.

Glaaki's strength lies in his undead servants. Each time one enters play it triggers bad effects for investigators. If all of them enter play Glaaki awakens and go immediately to the end game. It might seem like a good idea to always kill Glaaki's servants, but you don't get a trophy and they just go back on Glaaki so their negative effects hit the investigators when they come back into play. Also Glaaki's attack raises the terror level. If you ignore terror during play (focusing on arming for a fight with Glaaki) then the last fight might end before it begins. Servants enter play when allies die which makes the terror track more important with Glaaki.

The upcoming Kingsport Horror expansion sounds like it will add event more diversity to the end fight with the Great Old One (although, hopefully, it shouldn't come to that). Epic Battles sound like another welcome addition to the game.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Unfair Comparison: Runebound with All Expansions Versus Base Arkham Horror

Runebound isn't so much a game as it is a gaming system. With so many different rules tweaks and expansions (even a second edition) it is a hybrid role-playing game/board game.

Just like RPGs there is a lot of customization. Each group can play Runebound differently. Some groups play as multiplayer solitaire. Others add class decks for more interaction. Don't like the default fantasy setting? Play in Arabian deserts with Sands of Al-Kalim. Tired of the same old monsters, use a challenge deck expansion. Play an all against one game with Midnight expansion. Sail around with the Isle of Dread. Don't like fighting Dragon Lords, there are Giant Lords, Storm Lords, members of the dire Cult of the Rune, and so forth available in adventure variants.

Arkham horror is based on the Call of Cthulhu RPG. There are 8 different Ancient Ones in the base game. Everyone always works together to stop the Ancient One from doing whatever evil it wants. The Ancient Ones do give a bit of variety to the game, but each Ancient One is basically trying to open Gates. The differences between them are minor game effects and different number of gates needed to open.

I like Runebound better than the base version of Arkham Horror. There always seems to be something to do to get closer to the win in Runebound. Maybe save up money for that nice item in Dawnsmoor (it is nice to see what you will get so you can try to manage your money). In Arkham, I frequently find myself without a viable option on my turn (maybe I'm just bad at Arkham, but having no good moves is boring).

You can also level up your Runebound character and improve their stats. What makes the game work is leveling your character, moving on to harder encounters (as you level). And trying to keep ahead of the other players leveling. In Arkham there is no leveling. Monsters just come out at random (easy and hard mixed).

How do they compare on story? There is an effort at giving flavour text which has a story to encounter cards in Arkham. These cards are randomly drawn and typically give a boon or just bad stuff depending on the location you are in (and if you need to roll against stats).

In contrast, Runebound has story progression. It does have random stuff (not tied to location) called Encounters, but it also has Events. Events are global effects which give the game a progression, and sense of story. Even games where Event text is ignored have this sense of progression (seeing the Cult of the Rune spreading its corruption across the land, experiencing increasingly worse Storm cards, and so on).

This is not to say that Arkham is a bad game. I love it with expansions, but the base game is sorely lacking fun for me.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Why I like Marvel Heroes

Marvel Heroes is one of my gaming "guilty pleasures". It is extremely fun to play with the right people (I've never played it with the wrong people). It took me several games to realize that the designers at Nexus did an excellent job on this game.

Marvel Heroes is an odd game. It is highly abstracted in some areas (almost no tactical dimension), but in other areas it almost seems like a simulation (literally hundred of different superpowers for heroes and villains intersecting). It seems too detailed for a Eurogame, but too abstracted for Ameritrash. I had a hard time figuring out what my "role" was in the game, the first few times.

Then I realized my role: a "Marvel Heroes coach". You feel like the coach of a sports team. Deciding who to bench and who goes out on the field each round. Some characters are also forced to the bench because of injuries. While you don't call the tactical details (that's abstracted by dice rolls), you do get to call the major strategy for each fight.

The field of play is different each game because the "headlines" (problems that need super hero help) are generated by a card deck. The difficulty of a headline depends on which heroes are sent to investigate. Do you send a weaker character who is better at the type of activity happening or a stronger one who will have more challenge (but might overcoming said challenge easier)?

The dice for this game are brilliant. They allow for a "realistic" power spread between a hero like Electra (not too powerful) and someone like the Hulk (unbelievably strong) to be represented in the same game. I can't run the numbers for different dice combinations in my head so I just go with the different power names, and the dice results fit the names of the powers being used (if you are familiar with the comics).

The other stroke of genius is that you play the villains as well as heroes. This means that there is little downtime. However your primary focus is on the heroes, the villains can only react to hero activity. Playing villains well means managing your resources (villain cards) well. It took me a long time to realize that sometimes not playing a villain to allow for an easy hero win is sometimes better than spending all your villain cards (leaving nothing for the headlines which really need blocking).

If the feeling of playing as Charles Xavier (of X-Men fame), leading your team to glory, is appealing then this is the game for you. If you wanted more tactical feel (less abstraction of powers) then Marvel Heroscape might be the ticket (I prefer grand strategy so I've never played Marvel Heroscape).