Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Monday, October 29, 2007

Perfect 10's (Part 1)

Having been able to play a few of my most highest rated games over the past 2 months or so has led me to contemplate if they are still worthy of the "10" that I've given them at BBG. I'll attempt to evaluate them on how I feel about their merits TODAY and not let nostalgia or any other bias cloud my judgement.

First up: Colosseum - last played on 09/01/2007

Colosseum is still the new kid on the block. I played it an awful lot when it first came out and got all my family and friends hooked on it. I can specifically think of 3 people who I have directly influenced to get the game. Colosseum has many traits of other successful Days of Wonder games like Ticket to Ride, Memoir 44 or Cleopatra:

1. Its an easy game to play
2. The production values are very high
3. The game experience is varied enough to warrant repeated play
4. It's very fun to play - even if you are losing.

That being said, it's been 6 weeks since it hit the table and I find myself wanting to play something else when given the opportunity. That right there should be a warning sign, but I really think that it's more of a dynamic of the past few game nights than anything to do with the game itself. Lately the CVW has steadily been having 8-10 players show up for game night and I've been lobbying for games where we could all play at once as opposed to breaking off into two smaller groups. We had an 8 player Circus Maximus game a few weeks ago that was a lot of fun. We don't get the opportunity to play with that many very often and it was every bit the blood fest we expected and I loved it - even if I don't rate Circus Maximus higher than Colosseum.

The following week I pushed for multi player B-17 - as we had another group. Again, lots of fun was had from a game I rate lower than Colosseum - but the dynamics were just right to play B-17 on that night and we seized it.

Time will tell here. I think I'll need a few more games under my belt before I can tell if I've had my fill of Colosseum, or we've just had some unusual opportunities arise at game night.

Next up: Fury of Dracula - last played on 09/07/2007.

Where as I may be a little ambivalent about Colosseum, I'm 100% certain of my 10 rating for Fury of Dracula. I have yet to have a game of Fury od Dracula leave me wondering if my rating was too high or if I should re-evaluate it.

Fury of Dracula succeeds on many levels for me. The hunt/search mechanic feels as if it was designed specifically for Fury of Dracula - even if it has been used in other games before. The fantastic artwork and components enchance and enrich the immersive theme of traveling through old Europe as you conduct a desperate hunt for a nefarious villain. It is fun to be either a Hunter or Dracula, as each task has it's moments of tension, cunning and satisfaction when things go your way.

Update: - last played on 10/26/2007

As predicted, Fury of Dracula was played last Friday - before I had finished this post. We had a full 5 player game - one of whom had never played before. It was an amazingly close game ultimately, although Dracula had a quick 3 point lead after the first day had passed. It came down to the wire with us hunters emerging victorious after a very close pursuit across western Europe.

This game still does it for me completely. It is engrossing thoughout the entire game and even with 5 players, you never feel as if you are waiting for your turn. Still a 10.

I'll cover a couple more of my current games raed a ten in the next update... Seeya then!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Land Ho!

Here are those pictures I promised...

"A Great Black Ark of Naggaroth waits in ambush for the Imperial fleet."

"A Bretonnian patrol along the coast of Sartosa and Pirate's Cove."

It's been very slow at work for me lately so I've had a little time to catch up on some scenery projects that have been gathering dust for a year or so. The top picture shows some Chaos scenery that I've had for a long time that has been used in many, many games. It is stored in a plastic tub and has taken a fair amount of abuse over the years. With my Man O War O Rama coming up in just over a week, I needed to spruce up this scenery and get it up to par with the rest of the stuff I'm using.

Luckily, this was very easy to do. Black spray paint to touch up the worn corners, a little white latex paint for the highlights, re-glue some of the lichen and VOILA! - it looks like new again.

This is the same photo as above - before I Photoshopped it.

The lower photo shows some brand new scenery that I've added to the mix. I uses to have a piece of scenery that had a sheltered cove in it similar to this one, but it was very thin and flimsy and the two "arms" that made the cove broke off and I eventually tossed the whole thing. This scenery was made with 4" thick solid Styrofoam and it is very strong.

The process is very simple, but a bit time consuming. I start by carving the foam into the basic island shape with a hot knife. I've never had good luck with the electric wire type so I have an old wood handled long bread knife that I just lay on the stove burner or the BBQ grill to get hot and carve a bit at a time until the knife starts to cool.

The contours and cuts make this island appear to be very real.

After the basic shape is cut-out, I use the knife to make contours, depressions, hills, valleys, cuts and other shapes to make it look like real land. For cliff areas, I'll cut in a near vertical line so they can be very steep and convey the right look. After all the carving is done, you get various types of glue - such as contact cement or model airplane glue, and brush them on to eat away at the Styrofoam and create irregular patterns. I do this on the cliff faces mostly as I want some really random rock formations. Once that is done, use a diluted mix of white glue and spray the whole thing to provide a protective coat so the spray paint won't eat through the Styrofoam as you try and paint it. (You can also you a neutral color latex house paint, but that takes longer and it hard to get into all the nooks and crannies). Let the whole thing dry for a few days before you start painting.

Painting is the easy part. Pick the darkest color overall and coat the whole thing. Once that dries, add other layers in specific areas to give different effects. New layers should be lighter in color and should be "dry brushed" on to let the previous layers show through. For my cliffs, I'll spray paint black into all the holes created by the glue, then dry brush the base color and all successive colors on top of that.

Most of all, EXPERIMENT! I had some 'textured' paint in a gallon can that we didn't use in a house project and I ended up using it as one of the upper layers. It looks great and added additional texture (from the sand granules in the paint) to the overall look that looks fantastic.

You'll then need some Model Railroad scenery items. I use "Talus" and Bird cage gravel to simulate large rocks and smaller boulders. You'll want various colors of lichen (for trees) and a bunch of colors and sizes of ground foam to cover the terrain.

This part goes fast. Pick the spots to place the largest pieces of Talus and use drops of white glue to sit them in. Don't worry about being neat. User finer Talus (it comes in several sizes) around it to show boulders - just drop these over the large pieces of Talus you placed. Don't worry about the glue just yet. Finally grab a pinch of the bird cage gravel (or fine playground sand) around/over this whole area and then do the next one.

To secure everything, you'll need two sprayer bottles - one with a 50/50 mix of water and white glue and the other with plain water. Spray a light mist of water first to just make everything damp - you are only trying to make it slightly wet so the next step flows everywhere. Next, spray the diluted glue over all the "rock" that is lying there, making sure it has soaked all around it. All the water evaporates and the glue remains to lock it all in place.

Use this same process to do all the ground foam. DON'T BE NEAT! Just use pinches of ground foam over the wet/glue areas and mix and match the colors however you want. Spray the whole thing again with the diluted glue and then add clumps of lichen in drops of full strength glue to finish it off.

A better view of my Chaos scenery - with weird steam vents (seashells mounted on Styrofoam and painted).

This is a great way to make lots of EASY, nice looking scenery.

Have fun!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Man O War O Rama - ConQuest SF 2007

In just two short weeks, it's time for another fun-filled 3 full days of gaming for me. ConQuest SF will be August 31st through September 3rd at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel. I plan to be there from Friday around 12 noon through Sunday evening.

As usual, I'll be running a game - and as usual for ConQuest, it will be Man O War. I'm trying something different this year. Usually I create a special scenario for 6-8 players that runs from 6-9 hours and seldom gets finished - even with me speeding things along as the Game Master, but this year will mark the first ever Man O War O Rama!

What the heck is a Man O War O Rama you say? Well, I had a few specific goals in mind this year:

1. I wanted there to be more than 1 game.
2. I wanted the games to be 2 player.
3. I wanted the games to be fast.
4. I wanted to give the players the option to continue playing if they won.

So I decided to run 3 tables at once. Each table will have it's own scenery and will feature small fleets of up to 1000 points for each player. Games of this size should take 2-3 hours tops and some of the smaller games will be only around 500 points a side which should make them even faster.

Players will be given a similar sized random fleets (for balance) and turned loose at one of the 3 tables. I'm still working on the details, but so far I'm thinking it will work like this:

Points will be awarded by Battle Honors and you'll get the points you earned even if you lose. There will also be extra points for winning. If you win your game, you will have a good chance to stay at the table to take on the next player. A die roll will determine if you stay or go - players will roll a d20 and add in the Battle Honors they earned with the high roll staying at the table. If you are forced to sit out as a winner, you will be put into the rotation for the next available table and receive a few bonus points for having to wait.

This will continue for 8 or so hours at which time the person with the most points will be the winner and declared the "Best Admiral on the Sea of Claws". I'm hoping to be able to provide some sort of prize for the winner. Being this starts on Friday afternoon at 3pm and runs until 11pm, I'll have all day Saturday and Sunday to play whatever I want.

With all that in mind, I've been busy making some new scenery for one of the tables as well as touching up some of my older scenery as well. Making scenery is very therapeutic - it's been so long since I last did it, I forgot how enjoyable it can be. I'll add some pictures tomorrow of the work so far so you can get some idea of what the game is all about.

Until then...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gaming Galore!

This past weekend turned out to be a great one for gaming - all in all I played 6 different games and one of those 6 was played 3 times.

It started off on Friday night, my sister and her family was possibly going to show up early for their weekend stay, but their plans changed and they weren't able to make it until Saturday morning. I still managed to get in a great game of Railroad Tycoon (RRT) with my wife Mary, my daughter Jenna and my friend Shawn. He had only played once before and Mary and Jenna a few more times than that. RRT is one of my Top 10 Games of all time and I really look forward to playing it every time. There is always a multitude of strategic decisions to be made and the game really captures the feel of the early Railroading Era well I think.

I also introduced my RRT Event Deck (see previous post) to the others and everyone really seemed to like it. Their response was enough to motivate me to finish up the 2nd RRT Event Deck and upload it to BBG - it's still pending at the time of this writing as it awaits approval.

Jenna and I tied for 1st place, although a minor error on her part on the last turn actually cost her some points, so it was really a victory for her as far as I'm concerned. Mary seemed to really enjoy the game too, which is very satisfying as her original response to the game was considerably cooler. I think she enjoys it more now that she is more comfortable with all the aspects of it and can just plan on a strategy instead of trying to remember how to play the thing. All in all, this was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

Saturday my sister and her family arrived. After some lunch, shopping and chit chat, we sat down to play another awesome game of Colosseum. This game is continually a crowd pleaser and everyone was in it up to the final turn. My sister Jade ended up beating me by just a few points, but she had a good plan throughout the game and executed it perfectly. Ultimately the game came down to the Emperor being in her arena for the final show and not mine - which was only a few spaces away, just around the corner!

We had some unexpected company show up at dinner time and they ended staying late, so there was no big game, but Decio (my brother in law) and I managed to play 3 games of War & Sheep - a very underrated game on BGG if you ask me. This game has a lot of randomness to it from the deck of action cards, but the movement of the sheep and wolf is total strategy. I ended up with 2 victories to Decio's 1 and declared myself masterba aaaa aaa... um... the winner.

Sunday morning, Jade and I tried a game of Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation, something neither of us had played before. It was very interesting as the Sauron player has a completely different playing strategy than the Good player does. This one came down to the wire and Frodo made it to Mt. Doom just a few turns before the Shire was overrun.

Mid-day Sunday I convinced everyone to try another new game for us, Caylus. I had just played this the prior week at game night for the Central Valley Wargamers (The CVW) and I really enjoyed it. This was a good thing as the rulebook is a bit convoluted if you ask me and I was glad to have learned it the prior week. Teaching it to the family took about 20 minutes but I know it made more sense to them than the initial rule reading had made to me.

We jumped right in and played a couple of turns before everything became 2nd nature and then the strategies began becoming more and more obvious. Mary nailed this game as she had a lead from the midway point and never looked back. Even when she denied ending the game early from the provost moved back behind the bailiff every time on the last few turns, she STILL pulled ahead with continual points for more and more earned favors.

This one was a brain burner, but it is still very satisfying for a "Heavy" Eurogame - much like Die Macher is (which is another game I think they'd like).

Finally, we played a 6 player game of Citadels - this time with my daughter Kendra and my niece joining us. Kendra had several strong turns and quickly got to 8 districts ahead of everyone else. I think the next closest person only had 6 built. She also ended up having the most points and was happy to win the one game she played in all weekend.

The weekend was a tremendous amount of fun which is usually the case when my sister comes to visit. The kids get along great, the weather was perfect and the pool was warm. Having made gamers out of both my family and hers over the years, it was very satisfying to see that something I've always been passionate about has spread to the rest of the family and that they get as much enjoyment out of gaming now as I do.

Now to just get them interested in the German election process...


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Home Grown Variants - a Hobby in Itself.

In case you haven't heard of it, Boardgame News is another great site for information on the latest and greatest boardgames coming out in the near future. They also have a group of regular (and occasional) Bloggers there that comment on various aspects of the Boardgaming Hobby on a weekly basis.

One of their regular Bloggers, Kris Hall, sent me an email regarding a small expansion I made for one of my favorite games, Railroad Tycoon. He ended up doing a brief interview with me about it and it was posted on the site as part of an article he wrote about "Tinkering". Arkham Horror and War of the Ring were the other two games mentioned in the FULL ARTICLE that you should really check out as it was a very interestesting read.

With Kris's permission, I've reposted the portion that pertained to me below:



Kris: Just last week, I came across a set of Railroad Tycoon random event cards on BoardGameGeek that were invented by Scott Di Bartolo. These cards also try to create interest in the western area of the board by adding cubes there. They may also act as a subtle game-balancing mechanism. Because a card is turned up whenever the high-scoring player scores a multiple of ten, every player will probably have a chance to take advantage of an event card before the high-scoring player’s next turn. I haven’t played a game with these cards yet, but they seem promising.

I wrote to Scott to ask him about his variant. He was kind enough to respond.

Kris: What inspired you to create the RRT event cards?

Scott: My gaming group really took a liking to RRT and we played it pretty heavily for months from the day it came out. One thing that always bugged me was that there were large areas of the board that never were utilized for various reasons. Of course being on BGG all the time kept me informed about all the various ways people were trying to “fix” this issue, but one of the things I didn’t like about most of the methods were that they were then known factors and you could plan around them. What I mean by that is if you make a rule that makes Dallas a permanent Red city and you play that way all the time, the game is really changed at that point and the dynamics of people’s overall game strategy are very different. I typically don’t like to make house rules that fundamentally change the way a game is played.

There were a lot of various things that people had done at BGG to increase competition in the “dead” areas of the board and I wanted to incorporate them somehow without making them so people could plan on them occurring. This brought about the idea of an “Event” deck where every so often a card would be turned over that would have some small effect on the game. I took some of the ideas that others had posted and put them on a card instead—the Mexican and Canadian links are examples of that. The other card effects were ideas of mine that I thought would add some nice twists to the game. Having 1/3 of the deck have no effect on the game meant that the Event Deck would not drive the game as on average every third draw would not change anything. This reminds me, I really need to add some credits in the ReadMe file for those that came up with the rules that inspired certain cards in the Event deck.

Kris: Most of the cards place more cubes on the board. I could think of lots of other potential event cards, like discounts on purchasing track or train upgrades or building the western link. Do you think you’ll make a 2.0 version of the cards?

Scott: The various card effects were meant to mostly increase player interaction in the southwest and far northern areas on the board which are usually ignored in most games. In our games, Dallas has never been linked to, New Orleans very rarely and Duluth only if the Service Bounty came up. The Major Line card from New Orleans to Minneapolis never was awarded in any of our games—not once. Part of the problem is that the game can end too early as cube depletion occurs and people don’t have any incentive to build out into those areas before the game is going to end. I made a bunch of the cards simply add cubes to a group of cities in various areas—one of the two “Growth of the South” cards, for example, adds a random cube into Tulsa, Little Rock, Jackson and Shreveport. With that card, these 4 uncolored cities now look very enticing with 2 cubes on each of them instead of just 1. The other Growth cards also add cubes to the South(east), the North and the Midwest. Two new hotel cards also made these neglected areas more interesting and the unique thing is that the first person to BUILD to the city gets the card, not the one who draws the card. Adding more cubes is a simple way to extend the length of the game.

I also tried to add some cards that would help those NOT wanting to head into the south with things like “Bustling Economy” which adds 2 cubes to the red cities of Chicago, New York and Charleston. Then there are other cards that are beneficial to everyone like the “Empire Builder” card that gives everyone a 4th round to use in a turn or the “Stock Split” card that cuts Stock Certificate interest payments in half for the turn. That can be a real boon to a player struggling to get out from under his debt.

Dallas was a real issue, too, as there were many ideas being kicked around on BGG to try and make it a more viable option for people. I took the best of those and made three Dallas cards: “Dallas Metropolizes” (Turns Dallas into a Red City), “Dallas Urbanizes” (Dallas becomes a Purple City), and the “Mexican Link” (Free Urbanization and adds cubes to Dallas for each delivery made to Dallas). Then the problem was what happened if more than 1 Dallas card came up during a game? After much debate, the simplest solution was to treat any Dallas event cards after the first one as a “No Effect” card.

I had a long list of potential card uses and this first batch were the ones that I really wanted to see how they affected the game. I definitely have a bunch of other card ideas I have been kicking around.

Some of the better ones are:

Labor Dispute: Track Construction costs are increased by $1000 per hex this turn.

Boomtime: Track Construction costs are decreased by $1000 per hex this turn.

Westward Ho!: The cost for the Western Link decreases by $2,000 per turn from this point on. The Western Link may never cost less than $20,000.

Major Line: Dallas to Charleston: 10 Victory points.

The Depression: Remove two empty city markers from the amount needed to end the game. If this would trigger the end game, ignore this event.

Change of Management: The player who revealed this card may return his Railroad Tycoon Card to the deck and randomly draw a new one.

I have a few other ideas that still need a bit of tweaking, but there are about six others at this time. One nice thing about the deck is that you can print up more “No Effect” cards to change the ratio of how often an event takes place. Those that want a bunch of new stuff can simply remove the “No Effect” cards and you are guaranteed a new Event whenever someone gets to a multiple of 10 on the scoring track. Another interesting and very strategic option is to turn over an Event card at the beginning of each turn and the player that wins the bid can execute the card or simply discard it at his option (in addition to his regular turn). I’ve found that removing all the “No Effect” cards is a good way to use this option.

Kris: Have you made variants for any other games?

Scott: Yes. It’s a weird hobby of mine. I’ve made a few other variants for the games I enjoy playing. I made a Treasure Scoring Variant for Tikal where the type of treasure depicted on the discs determine the value of the treasure. This means that the “beaded necklace” is worth much less than the “Tikal Mask”. I believe I posted this variant in the Tikal BGG entry. The majority of what I’ve made is for my favorite game of all time—Man O War! I have created over 20 additional ships to supplement the various fleets—meaning rules, templates and the miniature to go with it, for each of those ships. I’ve also made lots of new rules for the game.

I’m also working on my own game from time to time. It’s based on a day at an Amusement Park and has elements of a lot of games that I enjoy in it. It introduces a new game mechanism that I have yet to see in any other game so I’m kind of proud of that. Unfortunately, I’m going to keep the details a secret for now, as people I have shown the game to think that it is probably a wise thing to do. I expect to have a prototype completed soon and then I’ll be playtesting it at the local conventions to see what needs to be changed or improved.

Thanks to Scott for answering my questions.


I really enjoy all the Blogs at Boardgame News and the site has a lot of other neat features (Gone Cardboard is one of my favorites!). Be sure to head on over there and check out all the Blogs and other news that pertains to this awesome hobby of ours!

Until next time...


Monday, July 02, 2007

Never Underestimate the Power of Having Fun.

The last few weeks have allowed me to play some really great games that have just recently come out. One thing that I really enjoy about boardgaming is that there is always something new to try and buy - a characteristic of this hobby that from an outward appearance may seem somewhat detrimental (You have to buy another game? What's wrong with the ones you already own?), but in actuality, is a one of the reasons I enjoy gaming so much.

Case in point. Colosseum by Days of Wonder. I was at game night two weeks ago and John (the host for the meetings of the Central Valley Wargamers), pulls out this new game that I had passed over at the dealer's booth of DoW at Kublacon. It's not that the game had anything wrong with it at first glance, the problem was that I never even glanced at it as I was drooling over Battlelore and the Memoir 44 stuff they had out.

So John sets up the game and we go through the rules in about 50-60 minutes as none of us have played - not a problem for me, but some of the guys can't sit still for more than 15 minutes at a time without fidgeting and losing focus.

Most of us treated this as a "learning" game - meaning we know mistakes will be made and just go with the flow. We play the first 2 turns and everyone is kind of getting the hang of it when we have 2 other members show up and we decide to restart the game so everyone can get in. We pair up the two new players with a couple of us that just ran through the 1st two turns to explain as we go and we restarted it.

The 2nd game went really smoothly. Basically, you are collecting tiles (assets) to produce "events" for the nobles of Rome who are travelling around the board visiting different Colosseums throughout the city. There are assets like Gladiators and Chariots and Scenery and Animals and various other things that you bid on in groups of 3 and then have the option to trade away to the other players for items you need.

Each of the 5 game turns you can produce just ONE event which can earn you points and money to expand your Colosseum, buy bigger events, or build special features which can attract the traveling nobles more easily to your Colosseum.

Colosseum has some great subtleties to it and there are various ways to work strategies even if you don't have the optimum assets to complete an event. The really cool thing is that your score is not cumulative - your score marker only is moved pass it's current location IF the event you just produce scored higher than any of your previous events. This is usually pretty easy to do, but there are reasons not to score higher which you will discover through a few plays.

We found out we still had a rule wrong in this 2nd game (we were not allowing people to produce the same event again in a later turn), but everyone still was engrossed by the game and I'm sure it will hit the table alot at our CVW game nights.

The next day was a Saturday and my sister came over (a converted gamer of mine) in the afternoon with her family to swim and spend the rest of the day with us. Food was first on the menu, and everyone wanted something different so we split up into groups - she came with me because I had told her about this "great game" I played last night and we planned to sneak over to the local game store to see if they had it. She assumed it was a purchase for me and I was pleased to see that they had a copy and I grabbed it.

Once in the car, I handed it to her and said "Happy Birthday!" which caught her off guard. I could tell she was unsure about this blind purchase (for her anyway), but she was very gracious and said I had to teach it to her tonight before they all went home.

After dinner, I punched out everything and the four of us sat down to play. My wife, Mary HATES learning a new game, but I kept the explanation short and planned to just walk through a turn and let them catch on. I went first and we went step by step through all the phases and scored the first turn of the game. My brother in law Decio took and early lead, but everyone had a good grasp of what to do and the rule questions became fewer and fewer as the game went on.

My sister seemed to be falling way behind in the points, but she had a smile on her face regardless. Success I thought! Little did I realize how off I was.

We finished the game and an amazing thing happened. THREE of us tied for 1st place. My brother in law was in "last' place by just 3 points. Now it was about 10pm on a Saturday night at this point and they live about an hour and fifteen minutes away. I asked what the thought of it and all of them, my wife, my sister and my brother in law began raving about how much fun the game was. I was thinking to myself "This never happens on a first playing of a game!"

They sat there and discussed strategy and errors and new things they'd try for 15 minutes - all the while I'm putting the game away and smiling to myself. Then the big surprise occurred when Decio suggested we play again - right now. It was 10:30 at this point and usually he is the one that is chomping at the bit to get on the road because he hates driving at night. We always offer to have them stay, but they had to be somewhere in the morning at 9am. So he's pleading to all of us to play again and that he's willing to drink a bunch of coffee and drive home after the game so they can still make their son's soccer game in the morning.

Both my wife and sister immediately sit down and start setting up the game again. I was dumbfounded.

We ended up playing until 12:15 - this game went much faster now that we knew what we were doing and it was just as much fun as the first game. I managed to be the only one to produce a "mega" event and won the game by 10 points, but nobody cared who won and the table talk continued for another half hour until 1am.

They left close to 1:30 and I felt really good about the game as a gift - I was glad they both loved it and I knew that my nephew Zach (who had been working at couldn't come) was going to enjoy it too. The final part of this story occurred last Wednesday - not even a week since our games on the previous Saturday night.

I'm working on an report here at home when my phone rings. I look down and see that it's my brother - a big surprise since he rarely calls - even if it's an RSVP to a party or something. He is not a gamer at all - he usually avoids them like the plague, but recently, I have managed to get him to play (and enjoy) both Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. He actually got both these games as Christmas and birthday gifts from me the past year too.

Our conversation went something like this:

"Hey Jon, how are you doing?"

"I'm good, but I need some help if you have a minute."

"Sure, what do you need?"

"Well... I'm looking for this game... it's called "Colosseum", and they don't have it here."

I don't think I said anything for at least 20 seconds as I tried to get over my shock. He had showed up at my sisters the past Sunday and they literally had to force him to sit down and try the game. He and my nephew Zach both got into it and they "worked" the trading phase ruthlessly - something they both excel at!

I ended sending him over to another game store I knew about close to his house and ended our conversation with a smile on my face.

There really is something powerful in these games. I've seen it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Recent Trend - Part 3 (the final part).

The last two posts I've made were commenting on a trend I had noticed in my gaming habits a few weeks back. In the span of three weeks, I had played A Game of Thrones, then Fury of Dracula and finally Doom: The Boardgame - all Fantasy Flight games and all rich with theme. This week's blog is about the last of the bunch I played, Doom: The Boardgame.

Doom is similar to Fury of Dracula in that it pits several players working as a team against another lone player trying to thwart the groups efforts. In Doom, up to three players are acting as the Marines, and another player is controlling all the invaders. Like the previous games mentioned, Doom: The Boardgame is dripping with thematic elements and it has some similar elements to those other games that enhance the game play, increase the overall intensity and drive the game forward.

Doom is based on the series of computer and video games of the same game and the design is such that is includes rules to simulate the experience of playing a computer game. In most first person shooter computer games, your character typically has several "lives" so if you meet an untimely death, you don't need to start the game all over again. Doom: The Boardgame is similar in that aspect as collectively, the Marine players can die ("fragged") by the Invader player a total of 6 times before the game ends. Like the video game, a sound strategy is often to take a risky action - knowing you may full well die, as you'll be able to then come back - or "re spawn" as it's called, in a better location. Most of the time however, a Marine's death is something to be avoided at ALL costs.

The Marines start out in a single room and must slowly explore the adjoining rooms and corridors to find their way out of the current "level" they are on. Only the new areas they explore are added to the actual game board (along with any new creatures) - another feature taken straight out of the computer and video games.

In the Doom computer games, alien invaders seemingly appear out of nowhere, often from corridors that you know were all clear just moments before when you were in them. This creates a level of fear and uncertainty no matter where you are, as you know there is no safe haven until you reach the end of a level. This element also makes every action of the Marines a crucial one as time is always against you and standing around and wasting it is a really bad thing to do.

Doom: The Boardgame incorporates this thematic element very nicely through the use of the Invader deck of cards. The Invader deck has many cards with a particular alien creature on them that can be spawned by the Invader player on his turn. They can be placed ANYWHERE that the Marine players don't have clear line of sight to - which is usually everywhere else on the exposed map except for the current room(s) the Marines occupy. Half the excitement for the Marines is not knowing which direction they should head and what will be waiting for them when they get there. The Invader player also scores an additional frag each time he cycles through the deck as well.

The other half of the excitement for the Marines (and the Invader too actually), comes from the combat. The Marines are all unique, each having several special abilities (cards) that they receive at the beginning of the game. They may be able to heal fellow teammates, gain extra movement and combat dice or any other of a multitude of cool attributes that can help them defeat the Invaders. Giving each Marine a personality makes each game a different experience for the Marine players too. The dice used in combat in Doom are also very cool as a single roll determines the range, damage and ammo usage for each weapon in a very clever way. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush a Marine player can get as he takes down a huge Cyber Demon knowing that a miss would most likely mean he himself would get wasted.

There are also a lot of special tokens that are used to mark new weapons, ammo, keys, encounters and other fun items on the board. All of these things help to create the atmosphere of a claustrophobic and deadly Mars research facility that the Marines desperately need to escape. Fantasy Flight took some flak when the original game came out as it was touted as being way too hard for the Marine players to win most of the included scenarios in the game. The expansion addressed all of those concerns and added new monsters, corridors and optional ways to play to an already tremendously fun game.

Eventually, the Marine players will learn the layouts and key spots of the included scenarios and be more likely able to "waltz" right through the levels, but the beauty of the design is that the Invader player is free to create his own maps and create his own story line for the Marines to follow. This is very similar to your typical RGP (role playing game) and undoubtedly this design aspect will have crossover appeal to some of those RPG gamers as well.

All in all, Doom is a very solid entry into Fantasy Flight's "large" box line of games. It is an intense experience for both the Alien and Marine players due to the rich thematic elements that contribute to the overall experience. I definately would play it whenever I can round up 3 other players who are also looking for a fun way to spend 3 or so hours in an completely immersive game.


So there ya have it. Three weeks, three theme heavy games. If I were to rank the games for my favorites, I would have to place Fury of Dracula in first place as it is extremely well done in all areas and the game play is like none other. Next, I would place A Game of Thrones just slightly over Doom and only because I absolutely love the source material for it. I ran two games of the 9 player variant for it - A Feast for Crows, over Memorial Day weekend and it was a huge hit. Doom: The Boardgame brings up a VERY close third position in the rankings but I can see that changing back and forth depending on my mood.

Hope ya enjoyed my insights, see ya next time!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Recent Trend - Part 2.

If you read part 1, you already know what this entry is about, for the rest of you here is a brief summary.

I noticed over the past few game nights that I have been playing games that are thick with thematic elements that drive the game. I'm talking about each game individually and discussing what about each of them is appealing to me.

Next up is Fantasy Flight Game's Fury of Dracula.

Fury of Dracula was one of the few games I've bought without at least seeing it played somewhere first. Of course I had read about it on BBG and the original game from Games Workshop has a devoted following that were also looking forward to this one coming out. I ordered it from Boulder Games as soon as they had it available and anticipated it being a good game. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be a great game.

The game pits 1 player as Dracula against up to 4 others who control the group of 4 hunters tracking Dracula across Europe as he tries to sire more vampires to dominate mankind. Dracula moves in secret using a deck of cards that correspond to every possible space on the board. These cards are laid out in sequence along the edge of the board - one card per turn (Dracula's Trail). As each new card gets added, the other cards shift to Dracula's right and the new card goes into the left most spot slot - which is Dracula's current location. Each turn, the hunters get to move individually to a new location as they scour across Europe to search for Dracula. If they end up on a space that is the same as one of the cards Dracula has already played on his trail, they have to resolve the encounter there before anything else occurs.

The encounters are actually small chits that Dracula can play from his hand on top of each card as he places that card on the board. Most encounters are only meant to hamper the Hunters, while a few of them are actually Vampires that Dracula is trying to mature to gain points. Whenever a location card is shifted off the board (as a new card gets placed), Dracula can either mature the encounter chit on top or place that card and encounter into the catacombs - meaning they stay active and are additional threats to the hunters if they land on them. Vampire chits that mature earn Dracula 2 points and considering he only needs 6 points to win, letting one mature is fairly risky for the hunters.

This is a really clever mechanism as Dracula is trying to stay one step ahead of the hunters and evade them long enough to mature Vampires as well as let enough time pass to gain points. The longer the hunters fail to sniff out his whereabouts, the more time passes and the more chance that one of the maturing encounters will be vampires and score points for Dracula. This cat and mouse game is what drives Fury of Dracula and it creates some of the most intense moments I've ever experienced in ANY game.

Thematically the game is even richer than A Game of Thrones is. There is a time marker that is half day and half night and Dracula is much stronger at night than during the daylight hours. The hunters desperately want to catch him somewhere when the sun is out and because of this, they often will overlook some key element when trying to deduce where he is, as they they know time is running out as Dracula gets an additional point for every full day that passes.

Dracula on the other hand, must use his cunning and stealth to avoid the 4 hunters as they track him down - he only wants to fight them in the black of night when he can use all of his devilish powers to weaken them. The momentum in the game is constantly changing back and forth in favor of each side and there has yet to be a game played that wasn't talked about for hours after it was all over.

The hunters have item cards they can collect and there is an event deck that can help both sides as well. The cool thing about this deck is that only the hunters ever draw from it - the deck is 2/3 cards for them and 1/3 for Dracula. The other really neat twist is that the cards are drawn from the bottom and any Dracula cards must be given to the count!

There are all kinds of card effects, some make Dracula reveal cards in his trail, other cards let each side gain allies (alter an existing rule), and others let Dracula slip through the hunters fingers to name just a few. The flavor text on each card is very appropriate to the card's effect and as the game is played, it really feels more like a fantastic story is being told than a board game being played.

For me, this is Fantasy Flight Game's best effort so far, BY far. My gaming group is a bunch of 30-50 year old men and it quite amusing to see them argue over who is going to play Mina (who can be hypnotized to reveal Dracula's location from their unholy blood link). The graphics and artwork REALLY contribute to the dark atmosphere in the game and FFG is to be commended for such a fantastic job.

I've played 4 times as Dracula and 3 as the hunters and I've enjoyed myself immensely each time. Our group leader ended up buying his own copy so he wouldn't have to depend on me to bring mine each time. Fury of Dracula is a great game that I can't recommend enough. As a matter of fact, last week Fury of Dracula was played again by half of our group while the rest of us played DOOM: The Boardgame.

Which is what the next entry is about. See ya then.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Recent Trend - Part 1.

Taking a look at my most recent played list over there on the right and you'll notice that for the past 3 weeks, I've been hitting the Fantasy Flight games pretty consistantly. First was A Game of Thrones, then Fury of Dracula, and finally DOOM: The Boardgame this past game night on Friday. One thing I realized that all three had in common was a heavy theme to each of them. I think I can safely say that this is probably my biggest draw to a new game - a good theme.

Of the three, A Game of Thrones is probably the weakest theme-wise, but only just barely. Set in the land of Westeros from the fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, up to 6 players each represent one of the major Houses fighting over control of the right to be King and claim the Throne. The theme in this game is brought to life through the various abilities of the individual Houses. Each House starts in a unique area, with varying troops and resource, and each set of House combat cards are unique with different strengths, weaknesses and abilities.

There are a few other game mechanisms that contribute greatly to the implementation of the theme, most notably the gradual build-up of a threat of a Wildling attack, the constant struggle for better positions on the Game of Thrones track, and the use of the order tokens to hurt others and help yourself. The heavy politcal intrigue and backstabbing from the books naturally finds its way into the game during the brief impromptu, negotiation phase that usually occurs before everyone places their order tokens.

Although not required for enjoyment of the game, the enjoyment level soars to new heights if you have read the series as characteristics from the characters in the books inevitably get brought up and players will tend to make comments to each other in a context from the books.

"A Lannister always pays his debts" usually gets uttered after the Lannister player retaliates against some other players transgression against them. "Winter is Coming" is often heard from the House Stark player.

A Game of Thrones is simply a great game when you want some conflict, diplomacy, and intrigue all tied up into an appealing package that you can immerse yourself in.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

REVIEW: The Settler's of Catan Card Game

I found myself with some free time last Saturday and the wife and I decided to play the Settler's of Catan Card game - something we hadn't played in probably 18 months or so. I had purchased both the original expansion as well as the most recent one that adds a 6th theme deck as well as replaces a bunch of cards in all the decks to newer versions for clarity and improved game play.

I spent a few minutes replacing the affected cards in the main deck and then quickly perused the rules to re-acquaint myself with the way the game works.

Basically, each player has a series of small, square cards laid out in front of him that represent his principality. You have two settlements with a road in between and 6 regions that each produce a different resource based on the die roll. The regions get placed on the 4 diagonal corners to each settlement leaving a space above and below each settlement (and in-between each set of 2 regions) that is used to make buildings or add knights to each settlement.

Image from BGG - Click on the picture to read about this game at Boardgamegeek
Settlements can only have 1 card above or below them , cities (which like the board game are upgraded settlements) can have 2 cards above or below them. Also, the cards are color coded red and green and the red cards can only be built in the cities.

Each turn two dice are rolled, 1 production die (the number rolled determines which region in each player's principality produces a resource) and 1 event die (various things happen depending on who controls certain tokens or an event card is drawn from the stack between the players).

Resources are marked on the square region cards as a 0,1,2 or 3 and the card is simple rotated as the resources are gained or spent - very simple.

Finally there are 5 stacks of cards which contain all the green and red cards (buildings and knights) as well as yellow cards which can be used to directly hinder an opponent or help you in some way. Yellow cards once played are removed from the game.

Image from BGG - Click on the picture to read about this game at Boardgamegeek

The game is very similar to the Settler's board game as you collect resources from your lands, you build roads to expand your principality and you build settlements and cities to gain points (again 1 or 2 points like the original). The game is played to 12 points and there are certain buildings that will either give you direct victory points or will help you improve, defend or maintain your settlements and cities. There is no robber, instead one face of the event die is the Brigand Attack which means each player counts up all resources on all of his region cards - if you have over seven total, you lose ALL of your ore and wool! This is a little harsher than the regular game, but then again you are guaranteed a resource on every roll in this version too.

Image from BGG - Click on the picture to read about this game at Boardgamegeek
Trading amongst players is pretty non-existent, but that is OK, there is plenty more you need to concentrate on during your turn anyway.

Instead of the Largest Army or Longest Road bonuses, some buildings have a windmill (commerce) point on them and whoever has the most gains control of the Windmill Token which is also on a face of the Event die. Whenever it is rolled, the player controlling the Commerce token steals a resource from the other player. A similar thing happens with the building of the knights in the game except that now you are totally up their "Tournament Points" which is one of two values on each Knight card. Instead of stealing from your opponent you get a free resource of your choice from the "bank".

That's basically it. There are some other rules that don't come up a whole lot, but this hopefully gives you the general idea of the game.

Now about that game we played...

We both muddled through our first few turns as we slowly remembered how to play. Mary took an early lead as the resources she needed kept coming up on the die again and again. Yes, I was gaining resources too, but the "6th" resource in this version is gold which is pretty useless until you get certain buildings or until you have 3 to trade in. Guess which number kept coming up? Yep. I had a lot of gold that I couldn't use, while she received a lot of clay which is very useful early on. Within a few turns she already had 5 points to my original 2.

We also went without a 1 coming up for nearly 3/4 of the game (believe it or not!) - and since this was wheat for me, I was hurting! Mary was sitting confidently in the lead the entire game as I was playing catch-up from the very beginning. This game has plenty of ways to mess with the other player however - something which I really like in a 2 player game.

The yellow action cards can destroy opponents buildings, force knights to leave a player's principality, steal an opponents cards and various other things to hurt an opponent. When you initially start the game each player selects one of the 5 stacks of cards to pick the 3 cards they will begin the game with. You may look through the stack and take any 3 cards you want without disturbing the order of the cards. This method also allows you to see if what cards are in that stack as at the end of each turn you replenish your hand back to a minimum of 3 cards. Knowing what other cards are out there can be very important!

I was lucky to know that 2 of the 3 yellow SPY action cards (which allow you to look through your opponents hand and take any 1 card and use it) were on top of the stack I had initially picked from. As I replenished my hand, I grabbed both of these and waited for the right opportunity to use them (I had already built an Abbey card which increased my hand size to 4 so it wasn't like I was at a disadvantage in hand selection either).

I picked the prefect opportunity to play my initial SPY card too, as Mary had just drawn the 3rd one in the deck. I selected hers and then immediately played it to steal a 2nd card from her - much to her chagrin. I grabbed a high value Knight card and then was able to build it. This gave me more Tournament Points and I stole the Knight Token from her and tie her in Victory points at 9 each. I already had the Commerce Token at this point by the way.

The tension was building as we neared the end game and things were pretty even - although 2 of my points could be taken at any moment. I made a mad dash to build the last settlement hoping to get an even larger advantage on resource production, but Mary managed to get the resources she needed first and she built the settlement before I could.

The last few turns I did all I could with Action cards to try and slow her down, but she was able to rebuild a building that doubled all of her commerce points that were from her fleet cards which stole the Windmill Token from me and gave her the 12 points she needed to win.

This game is every bit as much fun now as it was when I first got it back in 2003. There are a lot of different paths to victory and the game play is fast - there is very little down time when your opponent is taking their turn. Some have criticized the game for being too long or for the lack of trading amongst players, while others have called it "multi-player solitaire" as you have few ways to affect the other player during the game.

I personally don't see most of these issues in our games - we took about 90 minutes to play and in the last 1/4 of the game the victory point tally went up or down each turn for one of us. Granted there is little or no trading, but there are other elements that make up for that that are not in the original game. The many different effects of the buildings give lots of variety to the game play and there are combinations of buildings that are very powerful if you are lucky enough to pull them off. I really think that being different in some aspects from the board game makes this version a better one in some ways.

All in all, the Settler's of Catan Card Game is a lot of fun and after a few games, players will have all their rule questions answered and be able to just play and enjoy it. Strategies will slowly develop and the many subtle tactical nuances will become more apparent as players become more familiar with the many different cards.

If you are looking for a great 2 player game with all the flavor and fun of regular Settler's look no further than this great alternative.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What to play? What to play?

I've been itching to play a few games lately and I wanted to jot them down as a reminder to myself. The Central Valley Wargamers (The CVW) meets tomorrow nite, so maybe I can squeeze one or two of these in then.

I'm going to be running our 9 player miniatures version of A Game of Thrones at KublaCon over Memorial Day weekend, so a good practice game is in order to get my gamemaster skills up to speed so I don't make any major gaffes. We also need to figure out what else we need to do to finalize the props and miniatures in the game.

This is our 9 player miniatures version of A Game of Thrones

Here is a close-up of a player's House Mat with all needed game information

Since I also ran the above game at February's DunDraCon in Dublin, I did not run my usual Man O War game - and that will most likely be the case at KublaCon as well since Im only there Friday nite and Saturday. I need to get the CVW over here and run another MOW fest - last time I had 3 games going with 8 players - but its been at least a year since we played here at the house. I did run MOW last Labor Day at Conquest, but I do have the desire to take to the high seas and kicks some Bretonnian butt!

For some lighter fare, I have a few boardgames I wouldn't mind seeing hit the table. Fury of Dracula for one. The last two times I played, Dracula got away (and won) so I want to extract a little revenge. Doom is another Fantasy Flight game that I'd enjoy playing soon. We've only played a few times and it really has a lot of theme to it.

I recently played Die Macher at DunDraCon, so that's out of my system, but El Grande would sure be fun instead - maybe I'll bring it to game nite tomorrow. My sister gave me Taluva for my birthday and I have yet to play it and I ordered The Traders of Genoa (Finally!) with a birthday gift certificate that should make it here by tomorrow as well. It's too bad little things like earning a living and house payments get in the way of my gaming!

On a side note, I've actually slowed DOWN a bit on my BF 2142 playing time (see the last Blog entry below). I don't want to get burned out on it, so I have been not playing it during every waking moment of free time.

Decisions, decisions!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Digital Addictions or How I Became a 21st Century soldier!

Wow. It's been MONTHS since I last wrote a blog entry here. Is there anyone out there who still may be reading this? Probably not, but that's ok, I'm going to post anyway.

So what has kept me from here?


I have MANY, MAAAAANY interests. Boardgames first and foremost, but I'm also an armchair Model Railroader, Miniature's Painter, Web Surfer, Wii (and PS2) player, and a Computer Gamer. It's that last one that has been the big time hog lately - well, at least since Christmas.

My lovely wife and I were doing some Christmas shopping at Target just a few days before the 25th and we're walking through the video game section as we were looking for the latest discounted PS2 games to consider getting. We walked past all the computer games and I pointed out a few titles that interested me in case she was looking for something to get me for Christmas.

"Sid Meyer's Railroads looks good." I said, cleverly combining two of my interests into one potential present. "Uh-huh." she said as she kept on walking.

"Oh this looks good too!" I said as I showed her something she was sure to be more interested in. "It's the new Lord of the Rings game for the PC - Battle for Middle Earth II." "Don't you already have that?" she asked? "No, I have the original only." She still kept on walking.

Then I saw it. My enthusiasm must have registered within her as she stopped, turned around, and came back to where I was as I announced with a bit too much excitement "BATTLEFIELD 2142!!". I spent the next few minutes explaining to her how this was the new game that was from the same guys that did Battlefield 1942 (which I also loved). I didn't mention the disappointment that was Battlefield: Vietnam or the next one that I never got, Battlefield 2.

She looked at me with an amused look on her face and we continued on our way. So much for that, I thought.

Well, Christmas morning came and after all the mayhem I had all THREE games sitting there. Gotta love the wife. I was most interested in Railroads initially as the graphics are stunning and it really is like building and operating a railroad in miniature. That basically took me took the New Year and around that time I decided to try BF2142.

For those of you who have never played this kind of game, it's what is called a "1st person shooter", meaning your screen is what your man sees as he moves around the battlefield in real time. You move with the keyboard and look around and aim with the mouse.

Set in the future after a new Ice Age occurs because of global warming, BF2142 pits two factions against each other in the fight for control of the last few places on Earth that are still habitable for the planet's dwindling population. There are multiple maps that you play on that range from cat and mouse games on wide open plains and deserts to claustrophobic and intense firefights in abandoned cities that are now just frozen remnants of what they used to be.

As you play, you move around the battlefield trying to "capture" control points by moving within their vicinity and survive long enough to raise your flag. Once it's under your sides control, anyone on your team can "spawn" (come back if you are killed), at any spawn point on the map - which are always the bases your side controls as well as certain vehicles and beacons that your side has in play. This makes it convenient to get back into the fight quicker instead of always starting over all the way back at your home base. It is the fight for possession of these control points that is the meat of the game.

(All pictures are actual screenshots DURING GAMEPLAY and are not staged or doctored in any way!)

Close-up of a typical player character during game play. This is the Port Bavaria map from the Northern Strike expansion. The Hachimoto speeder is flying throught the air while friendly soldiers defend a control point.
You have several styles of play available too. There is the standard conquest map, where each side controls one "uncap", or uncapturable base to start from and each has to take over the majority of the neutral bases to start their opponents "ticket" count to dwindle. Ticket's really just mean the number of times your side can die before the game is over. Each time you die costs a ticket for your team and if your side is losing on captured bases, they count down an extra ticket after so many seconds as well. Not good!

Assault maps have only one side with an "uncap" - they are the attackers, and the defenders control all the remaining bases. The attackers have more tickets initially, but the ticket count is already counting down against them as soon as the game starts. The attackers MUST gain control of a few bases very quickly or they may never catch up before their ticket count is expired.

Finally, there is the ultimate version of the game, which is new to this version: Titan Mode. Here the game play is two-fold and it is really where the game shines. Each side has a huge hovering ship over their end of the battlefield that acts as a hanger for their gunships and troop transports. The Titan is the only safe spawn point for each side as there is an energy shield that protects the Titan from all attacks that you can inflict upon it.

A ground view of an Titan defending itself from an enemy gunship.
"What's the point then?" you might ask. Well, instead of bases to capture, there are 5 missile silos around the battlefield instead. They are indestructible and can be captured like a base can. Once you capture a silo, it will continuously launch "anti-Titan" missiles at the enemy Titan to continually pound on it's energy shields. They are the only thing that will harm a Titan while it's shields are up. Control the majority of the silos and the enemy Titan's shield swill drop before yours does. Once those shields drop, the game takes a dramatic turn.

An anti-Titan missile launches while a friendly soldier looks on.
The Titan is basically a huge hovering cargo ship/hanger with gun turrets underneath and anti-aircraft guns on top. There are 4 interior corridors that can be accessed from the cargo bay (which in turn can be accessed from one of the two landing areas on the rear of the Titan). These corridors contain the reactor consoles which protect the reactor core which is what is powering the entire ship. The 4 consoles must be destroyed to gain access to the reactor core and the very vulnerable main reactor. The consoles must be destroyed in sequence too, console 1 must be blown up to lower the shield to console 3 and the same goes with consoles 2 and 4. Once the final console is blown up, enemy troops have a straight assault to the reactor core itself.

Entering the enemy cargo bay from the upper flight deck...looks like this Titan is not too heavily defended - YET.
Of course, that is easier said than done. You have to get up to the Titan to begin with and you have several ways to do that. You can fly a troop transport over and land on the rear flight decks - watch out for those AA guns waiting to shoot you out of the sky. You can also hop into an APC (All Personal Carrier) on the ground and drive it near the enemy Titan. Once close enough, you can launch yourself up in a self contained "Pod" that can be somewhat controlled to land up on the Titan! Then the fun begins...

A fire-fight erupts in one of the four console corridors.
The enemy team WILL have many men defending their Titan and their troops will fight you everywhere - on the flight decks, it the catwalks, in the cargo bay, in the access corridors and especially in the reactor core. This it where some of the most intense fighting (and gameplay) will occur. Some of the firefights that occur on the Titan's look like they are right out of a Hollywood movie. Oh and by the way... While you are trying to destroy the enemy Titan, they are doing the same to yours!

How does one make sense of all this during the game? What prevents it from being just a bunch of un-coordinated attacks back and forth that would quickly get old and boring?

BF2142 utilizes a command stucture during gameplay. Why run around and try and do everything on your own, when you can have 5 other guys helping you? Enter the Squad leaders. Each player can join up into an existing squad or make their own if they desire. Squad leaders give out basic commands and direct the squads to attack or defend bases and silos or simply to move to certain spots on the map. Members of their squad can '"spawn on them" so they can quickly get back into the fight in the right area if they die. Experienced squad leaders can also select special upgrades to further help his men.

A Battle-walker takes on an enemy speeder on the 'Bridge at Remegen' map in the Northern Strike expansion.Two Titan's clash over the bridge at Remegen.
Supervising the entire battle on each side is the commander. He has access to a special screen that allows him to scan the battlefield, drop supplies, order EMP strikes or orbital bombardments and give out orders to each squad as to where they are needed most. Commanders can also MOVE the Titan to pit the big behemoths against each other directly too. Most of these abilities are based on a physical structure at your home base (on the battlefield) that can be destroyed by the enemy. Luckily they can also be repaired!

A good commander can win the game for your side, a bad one can lose it just as easily. Commander's are selected by the game system at the start of each battle based on the rank of the applicants that apply for it. Ranks? Yes, in another brilliant twist to the game, players can earn "unlocks" - which are special items that can be selected for each of the 4 types of player "kits" you can select during the game. You earn points for kills, for following orders and you can also get various pins, badges, ribbons and medals during the game to further increase your score as you play. Initially, you start as a recruit and only have to earn 40 points to get your first unlock - and rank of Private. As you get better, the amount of points to get to the next level increases and it gets much harder to earn them . There are 51 unlocks available and almost as many ranks. Your rank is shown as a small icon next to your soldier as others on your team see your guy on their computers.

The BF2142 website allows you to track all your stats and see how you are doing compared to other players.You can select one of 4 kits any time you die and are waiting to come back (you can also select a spawn point if you want to change where you'll re-appear).

You can select the Recon kit - good for snipers and demolition experts. This is a great kit when you want to take out the enemy's commander "toys" or better yet, the enemy consoles and reactor cores. Earn unlocks to get special items like a super sniper rifle, scope stabilizer and an "active camo" package to virtually make you invisible as you run across the battlefield!

One of the many cool spots for a Recon soldier to snipe from...200 feet above the battlefield!
The Assault kit, is the basic soldier kit who gets the best basic anti-infantry weaponry and the potential to earn some really cool stuff to make them like Arnold in T2. The assault kit also is the medic of the 4 groups and you can drop medical hubs to heal friendly players that are wounded for extra points (and even more if you heal fellow squad members!) Be sure to get the defibulator unlock to revive "dead" teammates before the have to repsawn.

The Engineer class is the best for taking down enemy vehicles. Specialized weaponry like anti- tanks guns, AA rifles, portable enemy vehicle beacons and motion mines (mines that CHASE enemy vehicles that move nearby!) are just a few of the cool unlocks for this kit. The engineer is also able to conduct in field repairs to just about anything that can take damage - vehicles, commander toys and Titan guns - all of which earns him extra points during the game.

Finally, there is the Support kit. This is a good all-round soldier that has good weaponry and the ability to supply fellow soldiers similar to the Assault kit with the medic ability. You can drop supply crates to re-arm tanks, weapons and other items that your team may need. Popular unlocks for the Support kit are the shotgun (one shot kills if you are close enough), as well as the portable enemy infantry scanner, sentry guns (drop them to automatically protect an area) and energy shields to block incoming small arms fire.

A support soldier is protected by a personal shield as a sentry gun and fellow soldier covers his left flank.
Each kit offers a different style of gameplay and you can change them on the fly during the game as your team needs or your desire changes.

Topping it off is the latest addition to the game - the $10 add-on called Northern Strike, available as a download only from EA games. This adds 3 new maps, another style of play called Assault lines (you can't capture the last enemy base unless you have ALL the others under your control), two new vehicles, and more awards and unlocks to earn.

Did I mention that although you can play this at home, the game is meant to be played online with as many as 64 players (32 per side) fighting it out at once in real time? EA games has a master server that you log into that collects data on your soldier during the game to track your points, rank, earned unlocks, and a bazillion stats to obsess over after you are done. The EA server lists all the current games being played on all the other official "partners" servers so you can jump into any game you want at any time - specifically to your desires at the time. Want to play a 64 player Titan game on the Suez Canal map? Click on one from the list. There are usually 3 to 4 HUNDRED servers going at any one time.

Your online profile also allows others to see how you are doing and you can have other players become your "buddy" so you can join them in a game when you sign on. You can send and receive messages - even during the game!

So there ya have it. This is the reason I'm not blogging as much as I should be, or why I've been absent at times on BBG. This game is like digital CRACK. I have several friends that I have got to buy the game and we get online nightly to play. There is a built in, IN GAME, voice interface so you can talk to your squad members during the game - they have really made this easy.

The graphics and sounds will put you in the smack dab in the middle of a futuristic war that will be unlike anything you have ever played! Go buy this game now!

By the way... Add me as a buddy... my nickname is DEATHnMAYHEM.