The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: Deluxe Edition

The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: Deluxe Edition

From: APE Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

One of the more prominent gaming webcomics out there is Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick. Part of its longevity can be attributed to its successful transition from a basic gag comic poking fun at the tropes and mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons to a tale with an elaborate storyline, while never abandoning its humorous roots. The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: Deluxe Edition revisits the dungeon crawling antics from which it originated.

From the rulebook:
The members of the Order of the Stick are a band of deeply incompetent and dysfunctional fools who are more interested in proving who is the best than in working together as a team.

The game is a modular board dungeon crawler of the semi-cooperative variety where the objective is to explore the Dungeon of Dorukan and defeat the evil lich Xykon. As the above quote implies, everyone is out for themselves in spite of their common goal. One turn you could be helping another player lay a smackdown on some goblins, and the next you could be bushwhacking that player and taking their stuff.

Players interact with the game through their Shticks. Each of the six characters has their own Shtick deck providing a wide range of abilities themed for the character in question. For instance, Elan’s Shticks lean towards aiding other players while Haley’s are geared towards Loot acquisition and Belkar’s encourage him to attack other players. Some Shticks are flipped when you use them, leaving them unavailable until you get an opportunity to unflip. New Shticks are gained primarily by cashing in either Loot cards or XP gained from killing monsters. If you draw a duplicate of a Shtick you have in play, it provides a Boost. A Boost grants an additional bonus for the Shtick, which are cumulative if multiple Boosts come into play.

A player’s turn begins by taking any number of non-combat actions desired, such as looking for stairs or collecting Loot cards in the room. The player may then choose to move up to three spaces, though movement must end if a newly discovered room is entered. If there are no other characters or monsters in the room, players take turns playing monsters from their Battle hands, starting with the one to the left of the active player. The number of monsters that get played are based on factors such as how deep the player is in the dungeon as well as relevant monster abilities. If there are any monsters in the room the player must engage in combat. Once combat is over, any available non-combat actions may be performed.

As is appropriate for a dungeon crawler, slaughtering monsters is a key element. The player starts by selecting a Battle Shtick. If a valid Shtick isn’t available (typically due to a monster being immune to certain Shtick types), the battle must be done Shtickless. For the first battle, the player must use Defense if he moved earlier in the turn and Attack if he didn’t. If desired, you can request aid from another player on the same floor. This is done by offering Loot cards with Drool icons matching the character used by the player being petitioned. If accepted, a +2 is gained for each Drool icon. Unused characters hang around in the lowest floor revealed, where they’re always willing to provide aid. The modifiers from the Shtick and any aid are then applied to a die roll and compared to the monster’s Attack or Defense rating as appropriate. If the result is higher, the Shtick’s listed effect is applied. If the result is lower, the player takes a Wound (counter-intuitively called losing a Wound in the rules and game materials), moving the Wound token one space down the track and ending combat. A tie results in a draw, as does getting a higher result without a Shtick, which also ends combat. If a Shtick’s result inflicts a Wound on the monster, it gets removed from the room and saved for its XP while placing the indicated number of Loot cards in the room. If there are still monsters in the room, you can choose whether or not to continue fighting. However, you can’t collect any Loot until all the monsters in the room have been defeated. Another advantage to continuing combat is that you can choose to Attack or Defend, whichever is more advantageous.

You don’t necessarily have to be in the same room to fight a monster. If a Battle Shtick is listed as having a Range of 1 or greater, you can use it to Attack a monster in another room on the same floor. The only requirement is that there are no monsters in your current room and you haven’t moved. The main advantage to using a ranged Attack is that if the die result is lower than the monster’s Defense, it counts as a draw so long as the monster’s Range stat is lower than the distance between the two. However, unless you have a Shtick that allows otherwise, you can’t collect any Loot cards that get dropped on the same turn.

There’s more to managing your Battle hand than just slapping down the toughest monster you have available. Several monsters will have one or more special abilities which can prove more troublesome than a high Attack or Defense. The most powerful of these are those that make the monster immune to a specific type of Battle Shtick. Monsters can also have Support abilities, which function similarly to a Shtick’s Boost. In this case, the Support’s effect is applied for each monster of the indicated type that’s on the same floor. In addition to the monsters, the Battle deck contains several “Screw This” cards. These are one shot abilities which allow you to bend the rules in your favor. However, it doesn’t pay to hoard them, as you must discard your Battle hand and draw a fresh one if you’re called on to play a monster and don’t have one.

Monsters aren’t the only things that can hurt you. Some of the Loot cards are actually traps to ensnare unwary adventurers. When a trap is revealed, the player must roll higher than the trap’s listed Evade or suffer its effects. Players can also fight each other so long as the player initiating the combat isn’t in a room with monsters. The procedure is much like that of monster combat except that both sides roll a die and add on the relevant modifiers, with the higher result applying its Shtick effect. Should the attacker win, he also gets to take one of the defender’s Loot cards.

With all the ways you can get hurt, your Wound track can easily drop to the bottom before you know it. Should this occur, on your turn you must flee in a cowardly manner by using your full movement to head towards the Dungeon Entrance. What’s more, before moving, you drop one of your Loot cards in your current room. Once at the Dungeon Entrance, your Wound track resets and any flipped Shticks become unflipped. However, there are ways to avoid this ignominious fate. One of the best is to ask that Durkon’s player use his Healing Shtick on you, healing a number of Wounds based on the amount of Boosts it has. This requires that both be on the same floor and you pay Durkon’s player with a Loot card. Should this not be an option, you can always choose to Rest as the sole action for your turn, so long as there are no monsters at your location. This allows you to move your Wound tracker up one space and unflip all your flipped Shticks. But it does entail a risk. Until the beginning of your next turn, you suffer a -4 penalty on your Defense rolls should any players choose to attack you.

From the side of the box:
Banjo the Clown commands you: Play this game!! Obey the will of Banjo!

There are two ways to play the game. The default method has the dungeon generated on the fly. The number of floors that can be generated depends on the game length the players agreed upon at the beginning of the game. In this version, the lowest floor uses a special deck of room cards to represent Xykon’s lair. In addition, each room gets a draw from the Xykon deck. These can either stick the room with an additional feature or provide a unique monster (one of which is Xykon himself). But before the lair can be entered, a player must possess a minimum number of Shticks and Loot cards. The second variant has three floors worth of room cards dealt out face down at the beginning of the game. But instead of the dungeon crawlers coming to Xykon, Xykon comes to the dungeon crawlers. Every turn a die is rolled to see if Xykon comes out of his lair based on the number of Shticks in play. Once put in play, Xykon’s turn will occur after that of the player who made the offending roll. On his turn, Xykon will move two spaces towards the closest player so long as he hasn’t just successfully wounded him. The Wandering Xykon has a Wound track like the players, so he won’t be going down with a single hit. Once he’s one wound away from being taken down, Xykon will flee like the dastardly coward he is back to his lair. Should the players fail to score the final hit on Xykon before he makes it back, his Wound track will reset. Of these two, I find the Wandering Xykon more enjoyable. In the base game, Xykon goes down with one wound like any other monster. As mentioned above, the Wandering Xykon can take multiple wounds, making for a more dynamic boss fight. And since there is no Shtick and Loot card minimum like in the base game, it’s less likely to drag on for hours on end. The one negative is that an unlucky roll can result in Xykon coming out before the players are ready. This can be especially brutal in a two player game, with Xykon bouncing back and forth between them.

Once Xykon has been slain, some idiot will activate the self-destruct and the dungeon starts collapsing. At this point, all monsters are removed and have their listed Loot left behind (which can be collected by players on their way out). At the end of each turn, a Room card from the lowest floor that hasn’t completely collapsed is removed, saving a room connected to a stairs card for last. Once everyone has cleared out, it’s time to total up Bragging Points, with the highest total winning the game. These are based on the number of Shtick cards you have in play, possessing Loot cards with Drool icons matching your character, the order in which you exit the dungeon, and if you killed Xykon (as well as wounding him in the Wandering Xykon variant). An optional source of Bragging Points comes from the Backstory cards. At the beginning of the game, three of these are dealt to each player. While some will score by meeting a specified condition, the bulk of them will give points for the number of monsters you’ve slain that are of a particular type or possess a specific ability.

In conclusion, despite a couple of niggling quirks (particularly the troublesome Wound phrasing issue), the mechanics employed stand out from other modular board exploration games while being fairly easy to grasp. The way the Shticks decks encourage players to act like the web comic characters they selected also helps establish the theme.

Rating: 17

Product Summary

The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: Deluxe Edition

From: APE Games

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Kevin Brusky and Rich Burlew

Cover Art by: Rich Burlew

Additional Art by: Rich Burlew

Game Components Included: Rulebook, Quick Start rules, 54 Dungeon Room cards, 7 Xykon’s Lair cards, 6 Character cards, 6 Quick Reference cards, 1 Xykon Character card, 156 Shtick cards, 210 Battle cards, 10 Xykon cards, 136 Loot cards, 48 Backstory cards, 5 Wandering Xykon cards, 8 Stairs cards, 1 Dungeon Entrance card, 7 Movement tokens, 7 Wound Tracker tokens, 2 twelve-sided dice

Retail Price: $54.95

Number of Players: 2-6

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 90 minutes+

Website: http://www.apegames.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Battle Merchants

Battle Merchants

From: Minion Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Fantasy literature is replete with accounts of massive armies clashing against one another in epic conflicts. But have you ever stopped to think about the logistics behind fielding so many troops? There’s a reasonably good chance that you haven’t, and a greater likelihood that the author didn’t either. Battle Merchants focuses on one of the factors in this complex equation.

From the rulebook:
It is a time of conflict, The Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Hobgoblins all hate each other with a passion, and are ready to declare war. All they need are weapons.

As implied by the above quote, the players are arms merchants in a typical fantasy world ready to supply all sides with their weapon needs. Over the course of four seasons, players will attempt to amass more gold than their competitors so as to dominate the weapons market.

On a player’s turn, one of four possible actions can be taken. Upgrading your Craft levels will be an early priority. This is done by selecting one of five face up Craft cards. While the majority can be taken for free, some require that you spend gold on them. These will offer benefits like providing multiple Craft levels or reducing the cost of forging a weapon. You can also select from one of three face up Kingdom cards. Each Kingdom card provides either an immediate or long term benefit. However, there’s a limit to how many Kingdom cards a player can possess based on the current season. In addition, players cannot discard any of their current Kingdom cards to gain a new one. So be very sure when you take one.

The real meat of the game comes from the production and sale of weapons. To forge one of four types of weapons (swords, axes, hammers, and maces) requires at least one Craft level in the weapon type. The more powerful and profitable vorpal weapons require at least five Craft levels in the weapon type to forge. Up to three weapons may be forged per turn so long as the player has enough gold to cover the production costs. Selling weapons requires that you cater to the current demands. The game board consists of three or four regions (depending on the number of players), each with a line of six battlefields. At the beginning of the game, all but the centermost battlefields will be locked, as indicated by their Demand tokens. Each battlefield has two icons consisting of an outline of a weapon type. Selling one of the weapons you have forged involves placing a Weapon tile and an ownership cube on a matching icon in an unlocked battlefield and gold from the sale is collected. Once both icons in a battlefield have been claimed, its Demand token is moved to an empty space in the current Season area and the Demand token of the next battlefield is flipped to the unlocked side.

From the rulebook:
As a Battle Merchant, your goal is to make as much money as you can. Fortunately, none of the races seem to notice that you’re selling weapons to their enemies at the same time…

Once the final spot in a Season area has been filled, it’s time for the races to duke it out. But before that happens, each player except the one who removed the last Demand token gets one more turn (with any Demand tokens that get removed at this point going to the box). Each battlefield with two Weapon tiles in place is then resolved. Victory goes to the player who has more Craft levels for their weapon. Vorpal weapons also defeat standard weapons automatically, regardless of how many Craft levels are backing it up. The winning player then takes the losing tile (which get used to determine any bonus gold received at the end of the game) and gains two gold. If the battle results in a tie, both tiles are removed from the board and returned to the supply pile, with their respective players gaining one gold each. When the battles have concluded, all currently face up Craft and Kingdom cards are discarded, with new sets being dealt out.

If there’s one weak spot, it’s the two player game. Like many economic games, the dynamics work better when at least three players participate. However, a fix is provided in the form of Salesman Steve. Whenever a player sells a weapon, on the same turn Salesman Steve will make a sale as well. This is done by placing a matching Weapon tile on the empty battlefield space pertaining to a specific race (which alternates) closest to the center. Salesman Steve’s wares are of poor quality and always lose in battles against weapons sold by players. Though this is an improvement over using the rules as written for two player, the predictable nature of Salesman Steve still makes it less than satisfying.

In conclusion, the moderate array of options is such that the gameplay has considerable depth while not being so overwhelming as to induce analysis paralysis. Just be sure that you can get at least two other players before setting up.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Battle Merchants

From: Minion Games

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Gil Hova

Graphic Design by: Chuck Whelan

Game Components Included: Rulebook, Game board, 4 Player mats, 101 Coins, 24 Demand tokens, 80 Standard Weapon tiles, 40 Vorpal Weapon tiles, 68 Reward tiles, 28 Kingdom cards, 56 Craft cards, 4 Craft Bonus cards, and 64 Ownership cubes.

Retail Price: $54.95

Number of Players: 2-4

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 90 minutes

Website: http://www.miniongames.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Battle For Oz

Battle for Oz

From: Pirate Press
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

battleforozthrone-233x300Battle for Oz is a new RPG setting book from Pirate Press.

A couple of years back, while at the Charleston SC convention, StormCon, I had the chance to meet the writers of Battle for Oz. Dan Smith and Dave Hardee are stand-up guys and very passionate about gaming and their product.  They work together at each and every con to run as many slots of their game as possible.  They have run for me at MACE events several times now and their game has been very well received.

The following year at StormCon, I finally got a chance to sit in one of their games.  It was an absolute blast.  I love it so much that I bought into their game.  After a rough year of conventions, family issues and health issues, I finally am grabbing a chance to read through the book, plan a game for it and review it at the same time.

From page # 9: “You’re not in Kansas anymore”

First and foremost I must say that this is not your classis Judi Garland Oz setting that we all grew up watching.  It is one part fantasy, one part steam punk, and one part real world, all meshed together.  It is much more mature and dark, taking elements of the Baum series and reimagining them into a epic fantasy world.  It takes place 100+ years after the events of L. Frank Baum’s books.  It integrates all of what he created in a much more serious, less whimsical world of sword and sorcery, mystery and conspiracy.  The world of Oz, a world of crystalline based magic, wizards and witches, is now ruled by an evil tyrant, Ozmandias the Second.

The major kingdoms and its multitude of their people live under the oppressive rule of this tyrant, but there is hope.  A rebellion has formed from the remnants of the previous ruler’s allies.  The daughter of Dorothy Gale, Amber is one of the leaders of this resistance, along with Solomon Straw a.k.a. the Scarecrow and King Blacktail the Brave, formerly the ‘Cowardly Lion.’ Magic primarily stems from the great emerald (which was later shaped into the Emerald City that we know) found at the center of the continent.  Other gems also have magic powers as well.

The history of Oz says the continent of Nonestica was once part of our world, a grand continent with a mysterious giant emerald at the center.  The magic of the emerald influenced all that settled there.  Through a series of unfortunate events one can read in the background, the continent of Nonestica was eventually transported through dimensional space and enveloped in a shield of time, where it can be found today.  Things like the lost continent of Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle are linked to Oz now, opening an endless possibility of real world and fantasy mash ups.  The history in the book briefly covers a mixture of original work as well as some of Baum’s work, integrating it all into a cohesive, inspiring and fascinating setting.

There are many options for playing a character in the world of Oz.  Nothing ever dies of old age in Oz, rendering all its denizens immortal.  Anyone teleported there by the various dimensional holes between Earth and Nonestica also inherit this immortality.  This aspect of the game fascinates me and subtly creates amazing opportunity for a GM and players to explore.  You can play Outsiders (people originally from Earth, like Dorothy), one of the native races of Oz like the Evain and the Niave (roughly elven-like creatures, high and dark respectively) or other human Kinfolk (Munchkins, Gillikins, Pastorians, Winkies or Quadlings).  There are also gnomes, beastmen (lions, tigers, bears and more), Clockwork tik-toks (something like the Tinman), or Patchworks (something like a scarecrow).

At the core of the campaign setting is a single plot point – Ozymandias has conquered most of Oz (still trying to conquer the Gilkins) and the players are part of the resistance who seek to unlock more of the secrets of Oz in an effort to defeat the tyrant.  Ozymandias has his army of dragon men, evil tin men soldiers, undead pumpkin head terror squads, straw men assassins, as well as (of course) flying monkeys to help in his efforts.

From page # 65: “Just follow the Yellow Brick road…”

The rule system is at its core Savage Worlds, primarily from the Savage Worlds Deluxe edition.  But it expands on those rules considerably to make the game system very unique in itself.  Not only does it add a considerable number of skills (mostly Knowledge skills needed for the various magics in the setting) as well as a good number of Hindrances and Edges including special Arcane background for the various arcane aspects of the setting, it also adds new rules to the game that make the setting more epic as well as deadly.  Just as a highlight, the damage system based on a raise is changed.  In standard Savage Worlds, one raise gains you a single extra d6 and additional raises do not add anything.  In Battle for Oz, extra raises beyond the first increase the die type… 2 raises increase it to a d8, etc.  I not only highlight this because I like it but I also think it is smart.  They do not add extra rules that seem out of place or are cumbersome.  They compliment an already good RPG system and make the game a unique experience.

The book layout gives you a lot to get started with.  The first two chapters give you the basics of the setting and then what you need to know to make a character, respectively.  The character generation portion includes 18 different races or subraces, 22 archetypes, and an expanded list of equipment, armor and weapons.  After that is the rules section explaining the various expansions and additions to the base ruleset, as I explained above.  After that is a well written and extensive overview of the Land of Oz, giving a little more detail about the various locations contained within Oz and the denizens within.

The remainder of the book delves deep into the plot point campaign, game mastering the setting and gives the GM tools to help make it easy.  This includes a list of encounter tables to be used when the adventuring party is wandering the lands of Oz, and a campaign adventure.  This plot point adventure is a little more than a one-shot.  It not only introduces the players to the setting but it also delves them deep into the fight against Ozymandias.  If played out completely, it could change Oz forever, which is kind of at the core of a plot point campaign.

“Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!” contains a wide variety of creatures, enemies and allies that a GM can use against his players.  Some are based on original Baum works while others were inspired by Kickstarter contributors.  Some are familiar while others are very unique and interesting.  Just to highlight some of my favorites, creatures like the demonic Claw Biter, the steampunk-like Machacorn, and the hideous Spider-folk.  Also contained in this chapter are a number of NPCs with stats including Dorothy, Jack Pumpkinhead, Glinda the Good and many others.

The book ends with a short adventure called the Garden Thicket of Blood, The trouble with Weeds.  This is more like a classic one-shot or convention game, if a GM is looking to try it out without getting too deep into the mythos of the setting. It still portrays much of what the setting is about in a classic format that most players would be familiar with – a dungeon delve.

In conclusion, Battle for Oz  feels like the perfect merge of the Oz series with elements of Lord of the Rings  as well as any fantasy steampunk settings you would want to add.  It has some very unique aspects to it and it is brilliantly presented.  The art in the book is phenomenal and what I like most about it is the integration of some of the Kickstarter contributors faces into the art.  Many of the Kickstarters paid to have their faces in the book as major characters and they are done brilliantly.  It is a very inspiring setting and I look forward to running it.

For more details on Pirate Press and their new RPG setting bookBattle for Oz” check them out at their website http://pirate-press.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Battle for Oz
From: Pirate Press LLC
Type of Game: RPG setting book
Written by: David Hardee and Dan Smith.
Additional Material: Clint Black, Paul Coulter III and many of our Kickstarter backers.
Editor: Steve Gabrielli
Original Artwork by: Dan Smith (Pencils) & Jennifer S. Lange (Colors), with contributions by Robert Bossinger, John Mohlenhoff, Helen Scorpio, Zackary Smith
Layout and Design: Mike Chaney, Alida Saxon and Gayle Reick
Number of Pages: 200
Game Components Included: 1 PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core system book, Savage Worlds Delux Edition
Retail Price: $20 PDF, $50 hardcover (US)
Website: http://pirate-press.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Interview with Ether Dev

Ether Wars is the new game being Kickstarted by Ether Dev.

Provide a brief description of Ether Wars.

Ether Wars is not something easy to describe. It’s a new concept of board game that mixes things rarely or never mixed before into an abstract strategy with a deep sci-fi and fantasy space theme.  It also has a new dice troop system that combines abstract strategy with probability as well as inspiration not only from board games but from video games.

The result of the mix (and lots of testing and modifications) is a game of strategy in which each player represents a unique species who fight each other using a wide range of possibilities to acquire the power of the Ether. To win, you have to anticipate the intentions of the other players, surprise them, and count with the favor of the gods. It is a truly new experience in the strategy board game world.

The tagline on your Kickstarter page says that Ether Wars is, “An RTS videogame experience translated to the tabletop.” How so?

It’s a rather strange story of how we started with board games. We played more video games during years, but we rediscovered this world after coming back to our city and started to understand better the magic of playing face to face, with the players being the ones who interiorize the rules and not a machine.

Because of this we wanted to translate our video game experiences to such media, creating something different and fresh, and disrupting a bit in the board games development. Some of the game genres that we used to play were real-time strategy (RTS) games, like StarCraft, Command and Conquer, Warcraft and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, like League of Legends. Because that was the objective, we still maintain that it is the principal point of our creation.

We must say that Ether Wars is not a video game, and therefore it is not an RTS or a MOBA in a strict way. We take a lot of our inspiration from them and tried to create a similar experience on the board, merging those ideas with the board game mechanics we enjoy from other board games. Those mechanics will be more easily recognizable for the board game community, but Ether Wars is not represented by any of them separately.

What aspects of Ether Wars do you believe cause it to stand out from other worker placement games on the tabletop game market?

The main aspect is that Ether Wars is not strictly a worker placement game; worker placement is just one of the core mechanics in the game, but is not enough to describe Ether Wars. The workers are also soldiers. The players can attack each other directly and indirectly, and extraction is only a tool to win the Ether and gain advantages for your strategy, not a victory requirement. Worker placement is just part of the mix, the jam on the cheesecake, so to speak.

If Ether Wars proves to be successful, are there any expansions you would like to release?

Ether Wars truly has a lot of replay value. There’s always a different experience depending on several factors, including the players involved. However, we have thought on many possibilities for future developments. We’ve already worked on some possibilities for expansion material, such as new species, new resources, new cards, and even an up-to-six-players game expansion.

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion is a new Board Game Expamsion from Fantasy Flight Games.

Talisman is one of those games I always seem to buy for.  I enjoy it with my kids and with my friends.  In past editions, it did get repetitive but what I like most about the FFG version is the variety they seem to be injecting into the game.  Unlike past editions, FFC has put out various sized expansions so as to control the bloat a game like this can develop.  I bought two expansions recently – The Firelands and The Nether Realm – that are very small but have significant impact on the game.

The interesting thing about The Nether Realms expansion is that it is designed by a fan.  I like when a company pays attention to its fans and gives them opportunities to grow the product.  This speaks well of Fantasy Flight Games.

From the website:
“Journey through the realm of Talisman on your quest for the Crown of Command but beware the fiery Pyrochanter, fearsome Titan Wraith, and other Nether Deck enemies that seek to thwart your plans in The Nether Realm expansion.”

The Expansion itself is very simple.  It contains Alternative Ending cards as well as new Nether Realm cards.  The Nether Realm is an expansion that specifically applies to the Alternate Endings contained within.  Each Alternate Endings instructs various uses of the Nether Realms cards.

The Nether Realm cards are alternate Adventure cards that pack quite a punch.  The majority of cards are very nasty monsters, ranging from Strength 1 to Strength 12!  Depending on what Alternate Ending is chosen, these cards can present a consider challenge to the players.

From the website:
“The Nether Realm was designed by Jon New, the man behind the Talisman-dedicated fansite Talisman Island. The Nether Realm offers three new Alternative Endings for Talisman, along with new Nether cards.”

In conclusion, although I like more challenge in my games, I am not sure I would choose these kinds of challenges.  Your character definitely needs to be ready for the Nether Realm challenges. 

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Board Game ExpamsionThe Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com , and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 14

Product Summary

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Board Game Expamsion
Expansion Design: Jon New
Additional Development: Samuel W. Bailey
Talisman Revised 4th Edition Design: Bob Harris and John Goodenough
Producer: Christopher Hosch
Graphic Design: Evan Simonet
Cover Art: Ralph Horsley
Interior Art: Bruno Balixa, Massimiliano Bertolini, Joao Bosco, Mark Bulahao, Christopher Burdett, Joshua Cairós, Felicia Cano, JB Casacop, Sara K. Diesel, Guillaume Ducos, Raymond Gaustadnes, Matt Larson, Alexandr Shaldin, and Joe Wilson
Managing Art Director: Andrew Navaro
Art Direction: John Taillon
Number of Pages: 3 pages of rules
Game Components Included: 36 Nether Cards, 3 Alternative Ending Cards
Game Components Not Included: Talisman 4th Edition Revised Core Set
Retail Price: $14.95(US)
Number of Players: 2-6
Player Ages: 9+
Play Time: 60+
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com  

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion is a new Board Game Expansion from Fantasy Flight Games.

Talisman is one of those games I always seem to buy for.  I enjoy it with my kids and with my friends.  In past editions, it did get repetitive but what I like most about the FFG version is the variety they seem to be injecting into the game.  Unlike past editions, FFG has put out various sized expansions so as to control the bloat a game like this can develop.  I bought two expansions recently – The Firelands and The Nether Realm – that are very small but have significant impact on the game.

Firelands is an Western Asian culture influenced expansion, with desert and fire themes.  It comes with a bunch of Adventure Cards, Spell Cards, and a new type of card called Terrain Cards.  There are new Alternative Ending Cards, and new characters.  Special to this expansion as well are Firelands tokens.

From the back website:
“The appointed time has arrived, and Talisman lies in peril with the fiery onslaught of the Ifrit. Your quest for the Crown of Command just became a lot hotter …”

The Adventure Cards have a strong fire or western Asian theme throughout.  These introduce several new concepts including the Fireproof symbol.  As you would imagine, this symbol makes the card immune to fire effects.  This includes a new effect called Burn.  Various effects from the Adventure cards or spells allow players to burn other cards on the board.  Any burnt card is taken out of play.  At times, character may suffer a burn effect and survive, but the card may instruct the player that any item or follower not Fireproof is considered burned.  This can be even worse than death late in the game.

The primary theme of the expansion is that legendary Ifrit have returned to exact fiery vengeance on the land of Talisman.  Throughout the adventure cards, players face various challenges related to the Ifrit as well as finding items related to him.  Ifrit Gold, for example, is fireproof gold.  A Flame Rift is an event that destroys Adventure cards in the space and the top 3 cards on the Adventure Deck, and leaves the space with a Firelands token.

Also in the Adventure cards are nasty creatures called Noble Ifrit.  These are 14 creatures that are special to the Firelands expansion.  They have specific on-going effects while in play and marked with a special border. For example, the Ifrit Sultan burns either the space or one of your cards in your possession, your choice. Or the Ifrit Raider that gains a bonus for every Firelands token in the region.

Fireland tokens are the newest aspect unique to this expansion.  When a space is marked with a Firelands token, it makes the space very deadly.  The more you have placed down, the more deadly the characters’ journey gets.  This represents the continued influence of the Ifrit as it exacts his revenge.  Fireland tokens cannot be paced in the inner region.

From the website:
“The Firelands introduces a host of danger to the realm of Talisman, and if you take too long on your journey, you may feel the fire licking at your heels. The Ifrit – once enslaved to create the Crown of Command – have risen to attack the land of Talisman, burning everything in their path.”

The Terrain cards are another addition to the game that is interesting.  From the rulebook – “Under the influence of the Ifrit, the land irrevocably shifts and changes.”  There are 3 Ruins cards, 3 Desert Cards, 2 Woods cards, 2 Crags cards, 2 Forest cards, 2 Hills cards, 2 Fields cards, 1 Plains card, 1 Chapel card and 1 Graveyard.  All the cards have similar art to the corresponding space with the same name on the board.  There are certain game effects that will ask the players to place a Terrain card on a space, which changes the nature of the space until the end of the game (or something changes it further).  Terrain cards cannot be placed in the Inner Region, but they can be placed on the Chapel or the Sentinel which totally changes the game in those respects.

There are four new characters added – the Dervish, the Warlord, the Nomad, and the Jin Blooded.  The Jin Blooded is the magic user of the group, very strongly tied to magic.  He even is able to spend a fate to gain a spell and vice a versa.  The Nomad is sort of the rogue type character, able to travel through the Outer and Middle Region freely, turning any space she chooses to a “draw 1 card” space. The Warlord is the fighter of the group, obviously.  The Dervish is stylish sword fighter, with a lot of finesse and able to fight with two weapons.

Finally, there are three Alternate Ending cards, two of which have a fire theme and the other plays to the heart of what Talisman is.  My favorite of the 3 is the latter, A Hero Rises.  It revokes the Fate limit and evokes a condition where a character gains Fate when they win a battle and loses fate if they lose a battle. First character to 13 wins.  I like that one a lot.

In conclusion, this is the kind of expansion I like in this incarnation of Talisman.  It changes the game to a degree that it is not repetitive but at the same time really plays to the heart of what Talisman is.  Let’s face it, Talisman is nothing more than a beer-and-pretzels Dungeons & Dragons.  There is not a ton of strategy to it.  It’s more thematic than anything else.  So the designer play with that theme and bring in more story and challenges for players to experience.  I really enjoy it for that.

My biggest concern as with most FFG games is the price.  For a small box, it is a little pricey. But I still bought it, so it was obviously not too much.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Board Game ExpansionThe Firelands, Talisman Expansion” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Board Game Expansion
Expansion Design and Development: Samuel W. Bailey
Talisman Revised 4th Edition Design: Bob Harris and John Goodenough
Producer: Christopher Hosch
Editing: Brendan Weiskotten and David Hansen
Graphic Design: Evan Simonet
Cover Art: Ralph Horsley
Interior Art: Aaron Acevedo, Aaron Anderson, AndriusAnezin, John Ariosa, Erfian Asafat, Bruno Balixa, Dimitri Bielak, Nora Brisotti, Mark Bulahao, Felicia Cano, JB Casacop, Trudi Castle, Jacqui Davis, Sara K. Diesel, Jon Hrubesch, Nicholas Kay, Kristin Kest, Dan Masso, Joyce Maureira, John Moriarty, Juan Martinez Pinilla, Jorge Carrero Roig, J. Edwin Stevens, and Frank Walls
Managing Art Director: Andrew Navaro
Art Direction: John Taillon
Production Manager: Eric Knight
Production Coordinator: Megan Duehn
Executive Game Designer: Corey Konieczka
Executive Producer: Michael Hurley
Publisher: Christian T. Petersen
Number of Pages: 4 page rulebook
Game Components Included: 81 Adventure Cards, 18 Spell Cards, and 20 Terrain Cards, 3 new Alternative Ending Cards, 4 new character cards and plastic figures, 34 firelands tokens
Game Components Not Included: Talisman Core set
Retail Price: $24.95(US)
Number of Players: 2-6
Player Ages: 9+
Play Time: 60+
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

 

77 Thrones – The Theological Codex

77 Thrones – The Theological Codex
From: RAW Immersive Games
Reviewed by: Joey Martin

77 Thrones- The Theological Codex is a new RPG supplement for Within the Ring of Fire from RAW Immersive Games.

Magic, a major concern missing in the Within the Ring of Fire main book is delivered to gamers in this book. Rules on making magic wielding Catalysts and descriptions of all 77 of the divinities make this a much-needed addition to the game.

From the back cover: “Learn the names and secrets of those that sit on the Thrones of Divinities.

In the lands of K’Vega-Thale a divinity is not necessarily a God or Goddess. There are 77 thrones for the divine. Most are Gods and such, but dragons, powerful spirits and more make up the remainder.

As with the Within the Ring of Fire Saga book, this work is fantastic looking. Well laid out and illustrated for the most part, it is an impressive looking work.

Building upon character creation and advancement, a Catalyst has to spend some of their advantage points to become a caster. This is called the Cleric’s Calling. There are three basic types of Clerics – Druids, Priests and Shaman. Each type has a minimum skill requirement. A Catalyst picks a Divinity to worship or serve. Each Divinity may not have all three types of Clerics. Under the Divinity description there are further minimum requirements. Your Catalyst has to be determined to follow this path, as they will be giving up a small amount of flexibility to do so.

Each type of Cleric has a listing of rituals. In this section there are no descriptions of how to acquire these rituals. Under the Divinity descriptions chapter there is a note stating that when a Cleric achieves the listed Status (level in most games) they automatically receive the rituals of that level.

A selection of Precepts is also given. These would be called ‘Domains’ in other games. A note in the text preceding the descriptions states that allowed Precepts are listed in the Divinity description. It is not. There is a note that Ahriman controls the Precept of Darkness and all his children have access to it. There is also a color-coded list of the Divinities on pages 26 and 27. I assume this list tells you which Precepts are allowed for Clerics of that Divinity. The legend to that color-coding is missing, at least in my review PDF.

Most of the book consists of entries on the Divinities. A dearth of information is given, making this a wonderful addition to anyone wanting to Flame Tend or play a Catalyst in this game. The only problem here is that they are listed in order of throne number and not alphabetical order.

The main rulebook mentioned Warlocks. They were described as dangerous and a threat to all that lives. They make their appearance as the Clerics of Ahriman, the Shadow King. In addition to rituals, Warlocks get access to maledictions. These guys are the definition of evil in this setting.

A short addition gives Catalysts a few more advantages to choose from. Only seven are given and a few are Warlock only.

From the back cover page 6: “Clerics are the servants of the divine. They create holy sites, build churches, preach to the believers, and attempt to recruit new followers for their divinity.

In conclusion, this is a much-needed addition to the main rulebook for the Within the Ring of Fire game. If you play or are interested in playing the game, this is almost a necessity. If you are looking for an interesting and different set of deities for your homegrown campaign, this is a good option. A few flaws such as the list of allowed Precepts for each Divinity and some organization issues do not ruin the experience.

For more details on RAW Immersive games and their new RPG supplement “77 Thrones – The Theological Codex” check them out at their website http://www.youtube.com/user/woodwwad or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RawImmersiveGames , and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 14

Product Summary
77 Thrones – The Theological Codex
From: RAW Immersive Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Written by: Ander Wood
Cover Art by: Alex Guillotte
Additional Art by: Andrew Bampton, Alex Guillotte, Tilen Javornik, Aleksander Kostic, Sebastien Allard, Ed Cawlo, Jennifer Irene Gordon, Lindsey Douglas, Tim Harper, Jessica Pink
Number of Pages: 184
Retail Price: $39.99 Hardcover, $19.99 PDF(US)
Item Number: none
ISBN: none
Email: None given
Website: http://www.youtube.com/user/woodwwad

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Within the Ring of Fire – Saga Book

Within the Ring of Fire – Saga Book
From: RAW Immersive Games
Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Within the Ring of Fire – Saga Book is a new RPG from RAW Immersive Games.

Within the Ring of Fire is a tough read. Contained within is a reflection of a rich world in the author’s mind. The best way to review this work is chapter by chapter.

From the back cover: “Within the Ring of Fire is a deep immersive Dark Fantasy roleplaying game designed to allow players to explore passions and politics as members of strongholds, ambitious mercantile guilds, rigid theocracies, blasphemous covens, exploratory expeditions, and more.

First off, this book (and PDF) looks wonderful. The artwork is of good quality overall and the layout is very professional.

Chapter one is the ubiquitous chapter on roleplaying. The author does a very good job explaining the concept of a roleplaying game and character creation. A good portion of the chapter deals with the duties of the ‘Flame Tender,’ the name this game gives for the Game Master. Player characters are referred to as ‘Catalysts.’ Again, many games drop the ball a bit on this chapter, assuming (correctly in many cases) that players already know these concepts well. This chapter is worth a read even for an experienced gamer.

Chapter two deals with species. These are the races that players can use for their catalysts and interact with in the world of K’Vega-Thale. The author states that some are reimaginings of classic fantasy races. In addition to new races, fresh ideas on classic Elves, Dwarves and more make an appearance.

This is where the game began to break down for me. A dearth of information is given for each race. Everything from social structure, diet, population, physical description, relations with other races, religion, information on mating and childbirth, a creation story, currency, languages and names. It is a lot of information, almost an overload of it, some very useful, some not. One oddity is that each species has a very similar list except for Humans. Humanity gets it’s own distinct list of ethnic groups. The real problem here is the interspecies relations. Played as written, your Flame Tender would have to give you a short list of allowable species for their Saga. Every species completely hates about half of the other species. Most of this is a kill on sight thing. This makes it hard for most gaming groups I know that like to have a diversity and try new mixes of races.

Chapter three is Catalyst creation. This system uses only eight-sided die. Any roll needed will use 2 eight siders. Basically any result of ‘1’ is ignored, any ‘8’ will ‘explode’ and be rerolled and rolling double ‘1’s is a critical fail.

A point-based system is used to build the stats. Beginning stats range from 5 to 12.Human average for any stat score is listed as an ‘8.’ Racial bonuses and subtractions are added after the fact. The stats are Strength, Dexterity, Vigor, Intelligence, Enlightenment and Presence. Secondary stats are derived mainly from the primary stats. These are Reaction, Defense, Defense Capacity, Armor Rating, Attack and Speed. Catalysts are fleshed out using advantages and disadvantages, skills, passions, opulence, possessions and personality.

For a story-based game it does have a good bit of number crunching. In the middle and at the end of this chapter there is additional terminology for the game. A little bit of renaming standard ideas and tropes can be refreshing. In my opinion this game takes that a bit too far.

Chapter four is titled ‘Extras.’ While player characters, or Catalysts, are called ‘Stars’, what you would normally call NPC’s are called ‘Embers.’ It’s a neat title that goes along with the name and flavor of the game, but again it is just too much overall. Basically this chapter tells you that non-catalyst or Star level beings are what you might refer to as minions, easy to deal with in battle or any kind of competition in which your Star Catalyst is even moderately decent at.

Chapter five lists all the Advantages you have access to during catalyst creation and beyond. These include basic skills with weapons, armor and items along with possessions, ideals, special attacks and other concepts that make your catalyst unique.

Imperfections are covered in chapter six. The opposite of Advantages, each point of imperfections gives you more points to spend on Advantages. Some are quite debilitating and the list is rather short.

Chapter seven covers skills. Skills levels range from zero to fifteen. If you have zero ‘grades’ in a skill you receive a penalty of -4 to any related rolls due to being non-proficient. All the standard fantasy skills can be found here.

Chapter eight covers Weapon Skills. These are skills you buy in addition to the standard skills in chapter seven. For a novice gamer this might be easy to miss. The chapter begins with several pages of color illustrations of numerous weapons. Basic weapon terminology used in the game is also given. Each weapon has three numbers listed after its name. The first is the weapon damage, the second its Armor Surpass and the last is its Boost number. The Boost number was defined back in Chapter three. It is listed as “a term which describes superior success.”

Armor is also covered in this chapter. While the name of the chapter is ‘Weapon Skills’ and skills are needed per weapon or weapon group, the section on armor reminds you that you need the appropriate advantage to properly use armor without penalty. Each armor listed gives you the Armor Rating and Skill Penalty. Shields give you a defense bonus.

In chapter nine we visit combat. A note at the beginning of the chapter states that this is the Accelerant system and is designed for Deep Immersion style roleplaying. Basically when combat starts everyone makes a reaction roll for initiative. Order goes highest to lowest. Each turn a player gets a normal, a move and an accelerated action. A normal action is basically anything but a move and an accelerated action is a quick action that is described as most likely coming from advantages. An attack is a roll of two eight-sided die plus your dexterity plus any weapon skill grades plus any advantages or other bonuses. The defender has a few options on their side. The Static Defense is the dexterity plus shield defense bonus or parry bonus plus Status. I missed that I think. Status (back to Chapter three!) is basically the ‘level’ or ‘hit die’ of the target. In practice a Star or Catalyst (a character) is going to hit a static defense just about every time. Remember that chapter on Extras? This is where the minion reference comes from. Extras can only use static defense. Others can use Active Defense. Active Defense is a 2d8 roll plus your evade skill plus any shield bonus plus any parry bonus plus any fortes. In practice it all really depends on the dexterity ratings. If they are close, it’s a 50/50 type of deal on success. Active defense can only be used a certain number of times per round but unless you are being swarmed by a horde, you shouldn’t have to worry about that. You can also parry. This takes away your normal action but should pretty much negate the incoming attack.

Damage is calculated as the weapon’s base damage plus strength rating plus advantages plus one point per Boost. This is where that Boost number comes in. Some more menacing and vicious weapons will do a good deal of damage on a hit. This system also deals with armor damage. Armor damage also depends on the Boost so those nasty weapons will not just hurt your opponent more but also destroy their armor faster.

Damage is applied to your Health Gauge. Here we have another extra term. If your health gauge falls below 7 you are in “The Quick” and have to deal with a difficult recovery and a penalty to pretty much all your actions. Again, making a quick character and fighting with another, this game in practice is deadly. In most role playing games a party can work together and deal with more mundane threats without worrying about losing members in every fight. In this system unless you are dealing with those practically helpless extras, be ready to face death in every confrontation.

At the end of the chapter we are given a section on combat narrative, describing actions and such. A nice addition and something I see even the avid ‘hack and slash’ players doing.

Chapter ten covers poisons and disease. It is a very short chapter listing just a few of each. Poisons are handled with an active roll, poison versus your defense. Failing multiple times is serious. The listed diseases are generally nasty as well.

Divinities are covered in chapter eleven. This is another short chapter with a brief description of the major higher beings.

The history of the setting is covered in chapter twelve. The concept of this setting, the ‘world’ itself is bright, fresh and wonderful. It’s history is not quite as amazing. Written mostly as excerpts from ancient texts it lists numerous names of divine beings, creatures or various types and races that are not explained. It’s a tough read. As it comes to more modern times it does get more detailed.

Also tied into the setting as a whole is its geography. While a nice detailed look at all the major areas and cities in them is given, once again there are details that leave you scratching your head. Population demographics include beings you will likely see if you visit but are not described in any shape or form in the book. Once again when thinking back on the general hatreds between many of the races, there are very few ‘cosmopolitan’ areas where a truly mixed adventuring party could be based in.

The last chapter is titled ‘Other Worlds.’ A few lands mostly outside K’Vega-Thale and a spiritual realm have short descriptions. This is basically just an informational only sectional. I would assume this and much more of the information in this book is to be fleshed out at a later date.

At the end of the book we get two appendices related to the calendar, a full color character sheet, and a beautiful one-page map of the setting.

From page # 65, “First, consult your FT so you can make a Catalyst based around their Saga concept.

The above quote, while prevalent in many games, highlights the major downfall in this one. If a group of players is willing to limit themselves to just a few races for their Saga, give it a try. I feel this game would be much more fun with a very small group. The changes to standard nomenclature went a little past ‘new and rich’ into ‘a little too much’ territory. I think too many will be a little disappointed in that manner and with combat in general. The other major missing point is magic. No rules on it at all. While this may be covered in a later book, a nod to it or basic rules would have been nice.

In conclusion, you can tell when an author has a great vision in mind. While this was definitely the case here, the execution, while good, was not perfect. The overall concept for the setting is fantastic. If you have the extra cash I would suggest purchasing just for the basic setting and the interesting changes to the races. As for the play within that setting I would suggest modifying it for your own needs and using a more ‘role player’ friendly system such as FATE or a crunchier system like D&D per your preferences.

For more details on RAW Immersive games and their new RPG “Within the Ring of Fire” check them out at their website https://www.facebook.com/RawImmersiveGames, and at all of your local game stores. If you want to purchase any books from RAW Immersive games, you’ll have to search various online retailers

Codex Rating: 9

Product Summary
Within the Ring of Fire – Saga Book
From: RAW Immersive Games
Type of Game: RPG
Written by: Ander Wood
Cover Art by: Alex Guillotte
Additional Art by: Andrew Bampton, Alex Guillote, Tilen Javornik, Aleksander Kostic, Lux Pulcher, Ed Cawlo, Lindsey Douglas, Sebastien Allard, Jessica Pink, G.D. Woods III
Number of Pages: 207
Retail Price: $47.99 Hardcover, $24.99 PDF (US)
Item Number: None
ISBN: None
Email: None given
Website: https://www.facebook.com/RawImmersiveGames

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Arcana Revised Edition: Look at all the Shiny!

Arcana Revised Edition
From: Fantasy Flight Games, Dust Games
Reviewed by: Steve Constant

In the City of Cadwallon, only one game can be so pretty but so confusing to play!

Everyone knows the game of Poker, I assume? Players use a standard fifty-two card deck, known as a French deck, to create combinations of cards that are partly or completely hidden for the duration of the game and revealed to determine a winner. The rules can be simple or complex. Bets are placed. Averages-to-win are employed. Fooling your opponent is sometimes required to win.

Now, give each of the players a motif of a Guild, the betting system doesn’t use real money but collects Stake Cards, and drape the cards in the most beautiful modern fantasy artwork. This is Arcana Revised Edition.

Arcana Revised Edition, and its predecessor Arcana, are deck building games that are along the lines of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer and Dominion. To be honest, I knew nothing when I picked up Arcana Revised Edition except for the outstanding art that covers every inch of the game. There are individualized art pieces on the game box, the rulebook, and over three hundred cards.

‘But!’ You say, ‘Magic the Gathering cards have unique artwork on each card? Why not play Magic?’

Because I value eating and having a bank account. Also, Arcana Revised Edition’s art keeps it unique styling through each piece even though they used nine artists. It doesn’t look drawn-together from a last minute on-a-shoestring budget. I appreciate that aspect of game design.

When I started playing Arcana Revised Edition I needed all my experience in gaming just to try and figure out what was going on. For starters, I didn’t know the name of the city the game is based in until I started writing this review. It just doesn’t matter. And for a lot of the fluff of the game, it is just that – fluff. Relic cards? No, they are just 1-point victory cards. Personality cards? Nope, they are used to win stakes. The ‘Ducal Jubilee’ Card? Please, just means I need to go all out in this round because the game is over.

In the most basic rules of Arcana Revised Edition the objective of the game is to be the leader of guild, that comes with a unique power and followers, in attempts to win stakes. The number of stakes depends on the number of players at the table. Stakes between opponents are always played blinded and one-on-one, where the opposing players do not know what cards they are playing against each other. There is also a ‘Neutral’ stake between all players at the table that is played with all cards placed face-up. Each round players draw four cards from their deck and assign them as they see fit. At the end of the round all cards are revealed and stakes are rewarded. Stakes are won by playing the most Arcana that is on the stake card – Staff, Sword, Cup, or Ducat. Stakes won are added to the winning players deck and the process is repeated until the Ducal Jubilee card is uncovered from the ‘Neutral’ stake.

The expanded rules allow for customization of the player’s guild, adding of guildmasters, adding of the city militia, adding of objectives, adding of random events, and adding of tactical discards. All or none of these rules can be used during the course of the game.

Conclusion? If you got lost reading my description of how the game is played, you’ll be lost playing the game. It is best to have an experienced player at the table to help new players into this card game. The Game Designers recognized this fact. They created a lettering system to help new players know which cards to use. Though, I would have figured they would realize it was a bit too much when they reached the ‘F’ rules set.

But! When you are familiar with all of the rules this game it is extremely enjoyable and fast to play. Anyone who knows Fantasy Flight Games knows that are infamous for games that last an incredibly long time.

Note: The first major difference between Arcana and Arcana Revised Edition is the expansion of guilds from four to six. The second major difference is the labeling of cards for all of the difference rules sets available. I highly suggest purchasing the revised edition if you are interested in picking up this game, though the packaging is larger.

Codex Rating: 14

Product Summary

Arcana Revised Edition
From: Fantasy Flight Games, Dust Games
Type of Game: Card Game
Game Designer: Damien Desnous
Cover Illustrator: Nicolas Fructus
Graphic Design: Mathicu Harlaut and Franck Achard
Illustrators: Paul Bonner, Gary Chalk, Miaguel Coimbra, Nicolas Fructus, Edouard Guiton, Florent Madoux, Paolo Parente, Goulven Quentel, and Marc Simonetti
Number of Pages: 12 page rulebook
Game Components Included: 6 Guild Crest cards, 120 Guild cards, 116 Stake cards, 1 First Player cards, 1 Ducal Jubilee card, 6 Militia cards, 18 Guild Master cards, 24 Objective cards, 12 Event cards
Retail Price: $34.99(US)
Number of Players: 2-4
Player Ages: 13+
Play Time: 60 min

Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com

Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)

Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)
From: Wizards of the Coast
Reviewed by: Ron W McClung

dndphb1Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition) is a new RPG Core Rulebook from Wizards of the Coast.

Much has been said about the staggered release of the new D&D rulebooks and as much as I understand the complaints, I don’t really think it is all that big of deal in the grand scheme of things.  Some say that the staggered release will hurt D&D’s chances of gaining any ground lost to Pathfinder but I seriously do not see it.  Come December when the DMG is finally out, people are going to forget all about the staggered release and invest a lot of time in whatever game they choose.

The first of this staggered release is of course, the Player’s Handbook – the much anticipated herald of the three book series that preports to ring in a new era for Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying in general.  While I am not sure I totally believe that, the new version of D&D does give me a lot of hope for the industry and for D&D in general.  I have already reviewed the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and in fact, have run it a couple of times already.  You can also read in that review my limited experience with D&D in the past and how it has evolved to this point.  You can also see a review of the free Basic Rules here in The Gamers Codex, exploring the basics of the system and what changes WotC previewed there.

From the back cover:
“The Player’s Handbook is the essential reference for every Dungeons & Dragons roleplayer.”

The new Core system to D&D has been talked about enough in the other two reviews.  The basics are similar to 3rd edition but with some extra fun mechanics like Advantage and Disadvantage.  What this review will cover is what new things the PHB brings to the table that you did not see in the previous products and perhaps give you some reasons to buy the product.

The book is divided up into 3 major parts – Creating a Character, Playing the Game, and Rules of Magic.  All three are fairly straight forward.  Comparing the three PHBs I have available to me (2nd Edition, 3rd Edition and 5th Edition), it already appears to be more organized and is more robust with equal elements story, role play options and statistical information.

DND PHBs
DND PHBs

First and foremost, the PHB expands the number of races the player can play.  The Basic Rules provide some basic races – Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human.  Rest assured, that is not a complete list of races available in D&D.  A total of 9 races are presented in detail.  Along with the Basic Rules races, it adds the less common races – Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, and Tiefling.  Some races have subraces including a few more for the Basic Rules races.  Humans, for example, include 9 different ethnicities (and typical names) native to the Forgotten Realms setting.

The races I am least familiar with are the Teifling and the Dragonborn, although my diehard and veteran D&D friends are familiar enough with them.  They were introduced in the PHB in 4th Edition, as part of the further embracing of Forgotten Realms as the default setting.  Some diehards are not pleased with that embracing.  My opinion of it really doesn’t matter but it is one of the more intimidating parts of getting into D&D for the first time.  I never ran it until 5th edition but there is so much about Forgotten Realms I know nothing about.

The Classes in the PHB are Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard.  Classes look a lot their 3rd edition versions.  They have been simplified with new elements like the Proficiency bonus replacing skills and attack bonus, as mentioned in previous reviews.   The customization options of each class are what stands out to me.  The Barbarians, for example, have Primal Paths, Bards have Bardic Colleges,  Druids have Circles and Fighters have Archetypes.  No two Barbarians, Bard or Fighters will be the same and the same holds true for the rest of the classes.  Of course, you can easily see future books with more options for each class.

From the back cover:
“The world needs heroes.  Will you answer the call?”

The D&D (5th edition) Player’s Handbook has many elements in it to help the player not only build his character statistically, but also his character’s story and role playing aspects.  Personality and Background are two aspects that are expounded upon a little further.  Relating Backgrounds to something I am more familiar with, 5th edition Backgrounds are very similar to the aspect of the same name in d20 Modern.  It expands on your class a little further and gives you a little more about where your character came from.

Backgrounds are also helpful in determining Personality Traits, although a player is not restricted to the ones provided in each Background.  Personality Traits are divided up into three primary aspects – Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws.  Barrowing from games like True20 (Virtues & Vices) and the like, these three items round out the character and add a little dimension to the character.

Sadly, this is something a DM would hope his players would come up with on their own, but as many know, not all players are that creative in making a background.  Some players simply don’t get the purpose of the background and make it boring and absent of plot hooks.  They see it as something the DM uses to manipulate the character and that is so wrong.  One of my favorite products of all time is the Central Casting background generator books (Heroes of Legends, Heroes of Tomorrow, and Heroes Now!).  I used to make it a mandatory thing to use them because my players never really gave me multi-dimensional characters.  The difference between a sheet with numbers on them and a living breathing character is usually the background and the various hooks that can come from it.  I am very encouraged that the Player’s Handbook in this edition of D&D has some focus on that.

This is one area I wish the book spent a little more page-count on.  Although there is ample background and related personality trait tables to get started, it did leave me wanting more.  I hope there will be future focus on this.  This is the first time I really felt like a D&D character was more than a sheet of numbers and words.  Of course, this is highly tied to the setting, sometimes, so I hope the setting books that are released (or the subsequent Player’s Guides) include more background and personality trait options.

Tying all this back into the game mechanic is a concept called Inspiration.  This is of course mentioned some in the Basic Rules as well as the Starter Set.  This too has been covered enough, but I do want to say that I like this aspect a lot.  Having played many other games where the players has a means to save himself (Savage Worlds with Bennies, True20 with Conviction Points, and D6 System with Character and Force Points), this was needed badly in the world’s most famous role playing game.

What I find interesting about Inspiration is that you are limited to one at any given time.  You have to spend it to get another.  Unlike other games where players can sandbag points like this and unload them on the DM at the “boss fight”, Inspiration puts the character in the dramatic dilemma of when to use that one favor from the gods.  Although I did not initially like that aspect of Inspiration, in practice, it is very fun to play.

A player can do further customization of one’s character, as explained in the Customization chapter of Part 1.  This is where multi-classing is explained and this gets into the least favorite part of the book.  It seems to me they made multi-classing a little more complicated, especially for magic users.  Spell casting and Spells slots, especially if you multi-class into more than one magic user class, get understandably complex.  There is some simple number crunching and logic to work through.

Feats return in this edition.  At the heart of 3rd edition bloat, Feats are one of those things that D&D fans loved or hated.  How the designers decided to work them into the mechanic really shows they listened to the fans.  First, they mitigate the bloat a little by limiting how often you can get feats.  They also make it an optional rule, keeping those that hate Feats happy.  Of course, over time, as more and more expansion books come out, the Feat list will grow but characters won’t be overloaded with a ton of them to keep up with.  You can choose to gain a Feat in exchange from the ability score bump you get each at certain levels. At most, a character will have 5 or 6 Feats.

Now these are not your typical 3rd Edition feats, however.  These pack a little more of a punch, since they are the alternative to something you only get every four levels or so.  There are a total of 43 Feats and the only thing I wish they had added was a table list of them with summarized notes of their benefits.

Part 2 dives into the mechanics of the game, which was partially revealed in the Basic Rules but expanded upon a little more in the PHB.  Ability Scores, Proficiency Bonuses, Saving Throws, and Passive Checks have all been pretty well covered in other reviews.  They are basically a logical simplification of 3rd edition concepts, with a lot of influence from other editions as well.

The Combat section is noticeably different from previously editions.  The tactical complexities of Full Actions, Standard Actions and Free Actions are far more simplified.  There is less stuff about the tactical options available players and more general information about what can be done in a round.  Combat in past editions felt like a strict table top board game or miniature game and in this, it feels more like a role playing game.  However, don’t get me wrong, I like some of the tactical complexities and as I understand it, they are going to be presented as options in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Advantage and Disadvantage is also a new mechanic introduced and although we have talked about it some in previous reviews, I have run D&D 5e now a couple of times and have seen it in practice.  I am not sure of the mathematics of the system – if it truly does give a significant advantage or disadvantage to the player (a much more math-inclined person than me can figure that out) but in game, it has a great effect.  It is dynamic and creates a very tense situation when a person has to roll more than one die.  It is a fun mechanic and that is what a game is all about.

Part 3 ends the book with the much maligned or anticipated (depending on your perspective) new magic system, that is not exactly new but at least better than the last one.  To many 4th edition fans chagrin, it is a return to the Vancian style magic system that seem to take the back stage in 4e.  But with Spells lists and Spells Slots, it is much more simplified and logical than past editions like 3rd editions (and its other incarnations).  I avoided magic users in previous editions (when I played) because it was too complex for me to deal with.  And the session by session maintenance of Spells Known vs.  Spells per Day was frustrating.  I can wrap my head around this system a little better.

The Vancian system returns the magic users to the thematically roles they were meant to be – scholars of magic and arcane knowledge and restricted by the nature of magic and the source they are gaining it from.  Thematically, I felt that D&D was not D&D without Vancian magic.  As I understand it, the previous edition all but abandoned Vancian magic and most that adhered to that edition are angry about the return.  To that, all that can be said is that the market has spoken.  Right or wrong, Vancian magic is D&D and D&D is Vancian magic.

Is it balanced?  So far, I see a lot of attempts to not only balance it at low levels but keep it balanced as the characters goes up in levels.  The Spells Slots and Casting at Higher Levels is at the heart of this balancing effort.  Sure you can cast a Magic Missile that causes 12d4 but you have to spend a higher level spell slot for that spell.  Suddenly, Magic Missile becomes that level of a spell.

Ritual Spells is another aspect that is refreshing.  You don’t always have to have a spell prepared to caste it.  If you have time, you can cast it as a Ritual Spell.  Only certain spells can be done that way, but most are logical.

In conclusion, I think it is clear I am a fan of this new edition.  Until this edition, I have either not had a chance or purposely avoided playing D&D and this edition has pulled me in.  My only major complaint is the price tag.  Where their competition is able to put together a huge book that virtually includes both the PHB and DMG in one, for a lower price, the fine folks at WotC put a larger price tag on a smaller book and stagger the release so it won’t hurt the budget as bad.  Is it worth it?  I say it is, but I am not sure everyone is going to agree.

Outside the monetary issues, the book is hardy and the art is phenomenal.  The layout is on par with other editions although I would have liked to see a few more lists then they provided.  The index is really tiny print, and forces this old man to use his reading glasses.

I give this a Codex Rating of 19 because this is a big hit for me.  It not only revived my faith in the guys behind D&D but also in the D&D line in general.  It has pulled me in pretty strongly and for the first time, I am running a fantasy game. It is enjoyable and I look forward to a whole new bookshelf of 5e books as they put them out.

For more details on Wizards of the Coast and their new RPG Core RulebookDungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)” check them out at their website http://dnd.wizards.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)
From: Wizards of the Coast
Type of Game: RPG Core Rulebook
D&D Lead Designers: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford
Rules Development: Rodney Thompson, Peter Lee
Writing: James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwalb, Bruce R. Cordell
Editing: Michele Carter, Chris Sims, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Christopher Perkins
Producer: Greg Bilsland
Art Directors: Kate Irwin, Dan Gelon, Jon Schindehette, Mari Kolkowsky, Melissa Rapier, Shauna Narciso
Graphic Designers: Bree Heiss, Emi Tanji, Barry Craig
Cover Illustrator: Tyler Jacobson
Interior Illustrator: (Entirely too many to list, see handbook for list)
Additional Contributors: Kim Mohan, Matt Sernett, Chris Dupuis, Tom LaPille, Richard Baker, Miranda Horner, Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, Steve Winter, Nina Hess, Steve Townshend, Chris Youngs, Ben Petrisor, Tom Olsen
Project Management: Neil Shinkle, Kim Graham, John Hay
Production Services: Cynda Callaway, Brian Dumas, Jefferson Dunlap, David Gershman, Anita Williams
Brand and Marketing: Nathan Stewart, Liz Schuh, Chris Lindsay, Shelly Mazzanoble, Hilary Ross, Laura Tommervik, Kim Lundstrom, Trevor Kidd
Number of Pages: 321
Game Components Included: Core Player’s Handbook
Game Components Not Included: Monster Manual, Dungeon Master Guide (to be released later)
Retail Price: $49.95(US)
Website: http://dnd.wizards.com/

Reviewed by: Ron W McClung