My Top Ten Anticipated Games, Mid-2019 Edition

I actually started writing this list about two weeks ago thinking it would be a quick and easy top ten list to ease me back into writing more regularly, but it turns out I have a lot to say about games I am excited for.  5500+ words worth of excited, apparently.  Hopefully you learn about a game or two you hadn’t heard of!


#10 – SLEEPING GODS

3d cover_sleeping gods_square 09 flat.jpg

Designer: Ryan Laukat
Publisher: Red Raven Games
Status: Kickstarter launching August 6th

Sleeping Gods is a cooperative campaign adventure game where 1-4 players take on the role of Captain Sofi Odessa and her crew aboard the Manticore, a steamship lost in The Wandering Sea (some sort of alternate world/universe that you got sucked into) in 1929.  In order to win, you need to find eight totems of the gods hidden around the sea and islands to return home. How you go about  finding these totems is a mystery, and you will need to explore an entire atlas book of maps that comprise the Wandering Sea. You quest and adventure in an accompanying  choose-your-own-adventure storybook, all while trying to survive and stay alive (spoiler: if you die, you have to start all over, and you will die).

pic4650142

This game has obviously been inspired by The 7th Continent, and shares some similar elements of exploring and surviving in an unknown (but not random) land trying to figure out how to undo some sort of curse (it also plays like The 7th Continent in that it’s not so much a campaign as much as it is a single very long play session that you can quick-save your progress at any point and start back up where you left off).  Unlike The 7th Continent, the world of Sleeping Gods appears to be inhabited by other characters that you will interact with, and the storybook choose-your-own-adventure elements will add more narrative than The 7th Continent had. The core gameplay also seems to be a bit more rooted in Euro-style strategy games, with a major focus being on building up an engine/tableau of items and allies that synergize well together, and a combat system focused around covering up spaces in a grid on an enemy’s card.

Another interesting twist about Sleeping Gods is that while it is not a legacy game, the designers are encouraging players to actually write and take notes on the atlas maps themselves (although I’m sure you could just as easily write notes in a notepad instead if you want to keep your copy pristine, but what’s the fun in that?).  You will not beat the game on your first try through it, and much like TIME Stories and The 7th Continent, remembering where things are and taking notes will give you a leg up in subsequent playthroughs.

A writer on the team confirmed that there is 100+ hours of content in the game, and that there are many more than eight totems in the world, so there isn’t a fixed path you need to follow to win.  It sounds like there is some amount of replayability in the game after you beat it the first time, and Red Raven also has at least one expansion planned for the game, Sleeping Gods: Rising Tides, that will extend the world further with a whole additional atlas book to explore.

Sleeping Gods will likely be on demo at Gen Con next month, and will launch on Kickstarter the week after on August 6th.  Man vs Meeple already has a first look preview up on their YouTube channel that does a good job explaining the game with a lot of pretty visuals:

 


#9 – TAINTED GRAIL

Designers: Krysztof Piskorski, Marcin Swierkot
Publisher: Awaken Realms
Status: First act shipping to backers around September, expansions in mid-2020

Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon is a cooperative campaign adventure game where 1-4 players take on the roles of broken anti-heroes in a grimdark re-envisioning of Arthurian legend, exploring the secrets of a tainted island (presumably Avalon?).  The island comprises of 60 tarot sized cards that fit together to form a cohesive landmass as you explore it, similar to how exploration works in The 7th Continent. Each card/location has unique story encounters that you can trigger and are read out of a choose-your-own-adventure style journal.  Combat and diplomacy encounters in the game are played out with card gameplay where players try to chain actions together by linking up symbols on cards, which seems interesting. The game has a heavy emphasis on narrative that is told across a 15 chapter campaign, with a lot of branching in the story based on players’ choices in the game.  Choices made in one campaign also have an effect on future campaigns/expansions as well (more on that in a bit). 

ag1

Because of the $6+ million it raised on Kickstarter, Awaken Realms was also able to procure enough funds to produce the entire trilogy of games they envisioned for this series.  Act II: The Last Knight takes place 400 years after Act I, and Act III: Age of Legends takes place 1000 years in the past, and the choices you make in previous acts carry over to future acts (they have said they have some clever plan so that the choices you made in the first two acts somehow affect the third prequel act).  They also have a standalone expansion, Echoes of the Past, that adds a quasi-legacy element to the game, allowing you to unlock memories of the heroes by completing personal achievements in one campaign that unlocks special abilities for that hero in all future campaigns, which seems to imply they also envision people replaying this campaign multiple times to try different story branches.

Tainted Grail has the honor of potentially being the only game on this list to actually release this year, with the first act (The Fall of Avalon) slated to arrive to backers around September 2019, the rest of the content in mid-2020.  


#8 – ETHERFIELDS

Designer: Michal Oracz
Publisher: Awaken Realms
Status: Kickstarter live now until August 6, base game expected to arrive to backers in March 2020

Awaken Realms’ next big project coming up after Tainted Grail is Etherfields, another big epic cooperative campaign “dream crawler” adventure game.  1-4 players take on the roles of dreamers (I suspect they are actually meant to represent you, the actual player of the game) trapped in some sort of dream world.  They start off with no idea of how they got there or what they are doing there, and presumably will uncover this mystery over the course of the multi-chapter campaign.    From what I have gathered, each chapter requires you collect a certain amount of keys, and a key can be obtained by traveling around the world map completing one of many scenarios/scenes in a chapter, each scenario taking about an hour or two to complete, factoring in random encounters you may also have while traveling to scenarios.   Choices you make in a scenario can have lasting effects on the world and world map, and your character’s deck will grow and change over the course of a campaign.

ag2

Since this all takes place in a dream realm, all the scenarios are going to be wildly different from one another, feature all sorts of surreal environments and entities, and they can all introduce new rules/gimmicks specific to that scenario.  The core gameplay focuses around deck-building and using cards in your hand to complete various skill checks, fight, and perform actions in a given encounter/scenario, and the publisher has said increasingly complex cards will get introduced over the campaign that you can add to your deck.  The game also claims it will test a player’s “intuition, deduction, and emotional intelligence” in interesting ways. The example they give right off the bat is when you start the campaign, you are asked to pick two masks (which are represented as big cardboard tokens with beautiful artwork) based purely on their artwork/name, and it’s only after you pick them that you are allowed to actually see what benefits they give your character. 

The base game appears to come with a 4-chapter base campaign and 2-chapter campaign centered around a character/creature named Belshazar.  Each of these chapters consists of around 4-6 scenarios, and the core game comes with around 30 scenarios total. Additional campaigns have been teased as stretch goals and/or paid add ons.  The Harpy campaign, which will be included for free as a stretch goal, focuses around building up a base.  The Sphinx campaign, which sounds like it will be a paid add-on, focuses around navigating a labyrinth, both sound very cool.  

Etherfields is live on Kickstarter now until August 6.  For more details on gameplay, Rahdo has run through where he avoids going into any scenario/story-specific content to remain as spoiler free as possible:


#7 – TRUDVANG LEGENDS

Designers: Eric Lang, Fel Barros, Guilherme Goulart
Publisher: CMON Limited
Status: Kickstarter launching July 23rd

Trudvang Legends is a cooperative overworld adventure campaign game for 1-4 players that is based on the Trudvang Chronicles RPG.  Set in the Norse mythology-inspired land of Trudvang, players take on the roles of aspiring heroes across a multi-story campaign that spans generations in a “living world”.  While it isn’t a legacy game, the game allows for players to make persistent changes to the world over the course of a campaign via sleeved pockets on the world map and sideboard (CMON is calling this their “legends system”).  As a hypothetical example, if you burn down a village, you slide in the appropriate “burned down village” card into the sleeve on the map for that village, and it will have lasting effects on all future games in the campaign.  Monsters can evolve on the bestiary sideboard. Characters can reach a legendary status and retire, giving a permanent bonus to future characters on the sideboard. Even new rules can be unlocked and tracked on the sideboard. The game comes with 30 stories (scenarios), and the choices you make and the outcomes of these stories will unlock and close off future stories in the campaign.  Going back to my hypothetical village, you burn it down, you’ll never get to play the story that starts out of there, for example. Combat in the game is diceless, and uses a push-your-luck chit pull system where you want to pull runes to activate abilities from your bag without drawing too many demonic runes.

I have always been a fan of legacy games, but it’s cool to see companies finding clever ways to emulate the things we love about those kind of games (persistence from game to game, choices made in a game session affecting future game sessions, evolution of rulesets, surprise sealed content, etc) without the need to actually permanently alter contents, allowing for easier replayability.  If legacy games are hamburgers, then ideas like this are the Impossible Burger, and it’s cool to see CMON branch out and try new things besides dungeon crawlers and skirmish games with a ton of minis.

CMON just announced the Kickstarter will launch this upcoming Tuesday, July 23rd, so we will know more details about the game (and inevitable KS-exclusive stretch goals) then.  Eric Lang did a bunch of interviews with board game media at CMON Expo last month, Tantrum House’s interview was one of the better ones if you want to give it a watch:


#6 – SAGA

Designer: Cole Wehrle
Publisher: Leder Games
Status: More details to be shared about this project in late summer and fall

Following up on the success of Root, Cole Wehrle’s next project with Leder Games is “Saga” (working title), which has been described as an economic legacy game that explores the concept of history, specifically exploring the concept of what stories get passed down from generation to generation (and which get forgotten).  

From what little details I was able to glean from an interview Cole did with Heavy Cardboard, it is a legacy game with no scripted narrative/story/campaign.  It sounds like each game you play represents a generation of history, and each game builds a new layer of history that carries over to all future games in some tangible way related to the gameplay.  No details yet on how the game plays, except that it’s competitive and described by Patrick Leder as being an “economic” game. Based on Cole’s excellent design pedigree of deep and engaging strategy and economic games, I have high hopes that Saga will also be a great game at its core with the meta-campaign/legacy aspects on top of it.

What really excites me about this game is the idea of a sandbox legacy game that has no fixed storyline it’s trying to play out, and instead is effectively a board game that remembers what happened in previous games.  Risk Legacy is probably the closest legacy game to date to achieve this, but even that sorta had a “story” that got told through the sealed envelopes. At a very high level, Saga also reminds me of the concept behind Chronicles, the “not officially cancelled but it’s been 3+ years since we’ve heard anything about it” legacy game series by Artana that was going to be about the history of mankind.  I am sad those games never materialized, as the concept sounded amazing. 

Patrick Leder said that we will probably start hearing more about this game in the late summer and fall, as Cole always writes excellent design diaries for his games.  In the meantime, you can check out his interview with Heavy Cardboard for any additional details I may have missed:


#5 – SEVENTH CROSS

Designer: D Brad Talton Jr
Publisher: Level 99 Games
Status: Kickstarter launching in October 

Note: This game has been in development for several years, and designer D Brad Talton Jr has kept a design blog going for it since early 2017, but there hasn’t been an update since late 2018, so it’s highly likely some details I have about the game are out-of-date.

Seventh Cross is a cooperative adventure/dungeon-crawler-esque game for 1-4 players, heavily inspired by games like Castlevania, Bloodborne, and Shadow of the Colossus.  Players take on the role of inquisitors of The Church, a secret organization that goes around keeping the world safe from monsters and magic in some sort of alternate universe gothic horror 1929 (side note: both Sleeping Gods and Seventh Cross are both set in 1929, that is oddly specific).  Players traverse through various haunted castles, making their way to the end of it and defeating the big boss monster. The game will have a heavy emphasis on narrative, as you explore rooms in the castle you will encounter and talk to NPC’s, find clues, solve puzzles, and read numerous story beats from the corresponding adventure book.   And of course you will fight monsters and big bosses. Like other Level 99 games, combat will be all card-based, and each boss/monster will have its own unique AI. Monsters are very deadly and can kill a player in just a couple of hits, so a key part of the gameplay is planning your moves to avoid getting hit by bosses. Oh, and the combat takes place on a vertical board to emulate a 2D platformer.  And you can transform into a monster yourself.

A rendering of what the final rack may look like, courtesy of Fábio Fontes.

The game is expected to come with around 7 castles, each castle being its own self-contained campaign with its own unique monsters and combat mechanics, each taking around 7 play sessions each to get through.  Players will start a character from scratch at the beginning of each castle, and will gain new skills and level up through that castle/campaign. I’m not sure if there is a meta-campaign or story that carries over from castle to castle, but the idea is that each castle/campaign is its own self-contained experience, and you would only need to play with the same group of players for a given castle.  Given that campaigns are self-contained and “relatively” short (I mean, 7 play sessions can still be several months of planning game sessions with friends…), characters can die in a campaign, you can get a bad ending, or even lose mid-way through the castle. Castles will have multiple physical paths you can take through it, and there was talk of unlocking a hard mode to the castle, so there may be reasons to go back and replay a campaign again.   One of the reasons may be Heirlooms, weapons and relics that you can unlock for use in all future campaigns by completing certain achievements/goals in castles!  

A rough look at the map board, where the players will choose their destinations between battles. The large numbers represent boss stages, while smaller numbers are exploration stages where you might discover new allies or keys to the story.

Level 99 has been delaying launching a Kickstarter for this game for a while, but the last we heard was that it would be demoed at Gen Con 2019 with an October Kickstarter launch.  


#4 – OATHSWORN: INTO THE DEEPWOOD

Designer: Jamie Jolly
Publisher: Shadowborne Games
Status: Kickstarter launching October 8th

I knew nothing about Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood about a month and a half ago, and now it’s my #4 most anticipated release!  Oathsworn is a cooperative legacy RPG adventure game for 1-4 players, set in a dark fantasy world where players take on the role of the Free Company, mercenaries sworn to an oath to defend humanity from big scary monsters and reclaim the Deepwood.  The game is effectively two games in one: half of the game will be a narrative adventure (which they call a “twisting tales” game), the other half will be big boss fights, and I love me some big boss fights!

Bosses will be 3-phase fights with unique AI decks, with the triggers for each phase being different for each boss (ie one boss may require hitting some damage threshold, another boss may require you perform some specific action to trigger the next phase).  Bosses will have different hit locations and reactions based on what you hit/damage, so this is all sounding very Kingdom Death-ish (yay!).  Player combat will be card driven.  I’m not 100% sure how it all works, but a key focus of the cardplay is cycling cards in and out of your hand.  Actual damage mitigation is determined either by the roll of dice or drawing cards from a fixed damage deck, your choice how you want to play, and you can even use both in a single attack!

The game will feature a large narrative story with legacy elements.  Before you go out on a fight, you will explore locations on a map, resolving story events out of a storybook.  Depending on how you traverse the map and the choice you make, the story will unfold in different ways.  It sounds like there will be several locations/maps in this game, and they’ve hired a professional map artist to draw all the maps.  The one we’ve seen so far looks gorgeous!  Also, for those that don’t want to read, there will be a companion app fully voiced by James Cosmo (Jeor Mormont from Game of Thrones).

ag3

Shadowborne Games’ website has a countdown clock for their Kickstarter set to launch on October 8th.  Until then, check out this interview the designer did with Beasts of War:


#3 – AEON TRESPASS: ODYSSEY

Designer: Marcin Welnicki
Publisher: Into the Unknown
Status: Kickstarter launching Q3 2019

Aeon Trespass is set in the Greek mythology-inspired Ancient World where The Eschaton happened (think Ragnarok, the Apocalypse, etc) and all the gods on Olympus died.  Players take on the role of the Argonauts aboard the Argo, adventuring and battling Primordial monsters with Titans (effectively giant monsters that you enslave/control). The Argo will serve as your base of operations, and you will be able to build it up via a tech tree over the course of a campaign.  The game feels very inspired by Kingdom Death: Monster, at least the monster battle portion of it, but the designer assures us it isn’t just a straight clone.  Aeon Trespass will have branching narrative, personal stories for player characters, adventures, questing, exploration, ship combat, allying with factions, and more.  The game is set to have multiple campaigns, called cycles, each lasting about 40-50 hours long. The first one, which I assume will be part of the base game is called The Truth of the Labyrinth, with others being teased. They apparently have designed or are currently designing a standalone 6-8 hour long Prelude campaign to send to content creators for Kickstarter previews, not sure if that will be made available to backers or not.

No photo description available.

The art and model design for the game is gorgeous, and I love the world-building they have done in all the lore they have written up for the various monsters and creatures in the world.  Details have been pretty sparse on actual gameplay so far, which if I’m being honest is a little bit of a red flag for me, but they’ve started to tease some of the card art and the battle board on a more regular basis. They promise that we will have a much better sense of the actual gameplay when the Kickstarter launches.  

The Kickstarter is planned to happen sometime in Q3 2019, and an exact date will be announced on or before next Friday, July 26th.  The designer/publisher had hinted previously that they would announce the Kickstarter launch date a month out from launch, and the publisher has historically launched their Kickstarters on Mondays, so my best guess is that the Kickstarter will go live Monday August 26th.  Hopefully as we get closer to the Kickstarter we’ll learn more details about the game (apparently a big interview about the game is going to be released on July 26th as well), and it will live up to the hype it has built up in my head!

Update 7/19 – The King of Average posted a preview video that has some additional details about the game, along with new card and title art we haven’t seen before!  Also as part of this video is a puzzle for the launch date of the Kickstarter.  If I’m solving the puzzle correctly, twelve points in the video are timestamped with a number from 1-12.  The 5 is tilted and the 8 is upside down, which leads me to believe the Kickstarter launch date is actually going to be August 5 (which still lines up with my theory that their Kickstarter would launch on a Monday)!


#2 – KINGDOM DEATH: MONSTER – GAMBLER’S CHEST

Designer: Adam Poots
Publisher: Kingdom Death
Status: In development, expected to get a status update the week of Gen Con 2019

My #2 most anticipated game actually isn’t a game, but an expansion to my favorite board game of all time, Kingdom Death: Monster.  The Gambler’s Chest was part of KD:M’s 1.5 Kickstarter campaign in late 2016, and was effectively a “stretch goal box” where every day a new item was revealed for it.   A lot of the reveals were just narrative survivor sculpts and promo sculpts, which are nice to have, but don’t add anything to actual gameplay. There were also some new gear cards, disorders, fighting arts, etc also sprinkled in with these minis, but the big gameplay additions boiled down to three things:

  • The Gambler nemesis monster
  • Atnas the Child-Eater nemesis monster
  • Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster rulebook

Let’s talk about the two new nemesis monsters first.  The Gambler is the namesake of this chest, and is effectively a god in the KD:M universe.  One can only assume this is going to be a tough fight, based on both his god-like status and his ridiculous god-like model.  That’s 250+ humans sculpted in that ball!

Image result for gamblers chest nemesis

Atnas started off kind of a joke encounter, the KD:M equivalent of Santa Claus that went around eating naughty children, but Adam has assured us that this will be no joke of a fight.  In fact, Atnas may be the deadliest encounter we’ve ever faced, so deadly in fact that his body has been chopped up into pieces that you have to re-assemble over the course of a campaign in order to fight him.  And you will deeply regret doing so.

Related image

Finally, we have Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster.  Adam has kept most mechanical details about Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster very close to his chest, apparently even employees in his office knew very little of what he was working on, as he took all of the design and development work on for it personally.  During the Kickstarter campaign, he teased out only a few details/subsystems, the two big things being what he was calling Philosophy of Death and Scouts of Death. Philosophies are an overhaul to Fighting Arts, allowing settlements to “level up” an ability for the entire settlement (ie, Timeless Eye doesn’t just get better for Zachary, it gets better for every survivor that has the Timeless Eye ability), to put more of an emphasis on the settlement and less on specific survivors.  Scouts are an additional character that go along with the survivors on a hunt, allowing you to do things like reveal hunt events on the hunt track, pick terrain for a showdown, or even participate in the showdown as a fifth survivor (at the risk that if there is a total party kill, the party loses all their gear since the scout can’t bring it home!). Adam’s hinted that there may be some sort of tech tree system related to the scouts, but details are scarce.  There was also going to be a new innovation tree related to cooking, and two new encounter monsters you might encounter during the hunt phase: Bone Eaters and Smog Stalkers (encounter monsters also show up in some Wave 4 expansions like Oblivion Mosquito).  All the individual pieces sounded interesting, but it all sounded like a giant mish-mash of disparate sub-systems, it was never clear how it all integrated into the game.

ag6

In his Black Friday 2018 update (and just this week in the Kickstarter comments), Adam teased more details about Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster that make it clear that it’s entirely new way to play the game.  Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster is it’s own unique story arc campaign that tells the story of an advanced settlement of survivors with super-charged brain cells.  To earn the right to even play Advanced mode, you have to hit some sort of milestone/achievement in the core game to unlock it.  Advanced KD:M might not integrate with all expansion content (ie, you may be able to add some quarry  monsters to an ADKM campaign, but you likely can’t combine it with other campaign variants).  The Fighting Arts deck is completely replaced with two new decks, Character and Knowledge decks as part of the Philosophy system, and there is a system of leveling up and unlocking new cards to these decks as you work your way through an advanced campaign. There’s some new game system called Collective Cognition that deeply incentivizes you hunting higher-level monsters, possibly used as a currency to unlock cards in your Knowledge and Character deck. There’s at least one new monster, the Crimson Crocodile, who has been confirmed as a Node 1 replacement to the White Lion.  There are teases about further changes to monsters in the core game beyond what was in the 1.5 update. Based on how personally invested Adam is into AKD:M, and the fact that he is willing to delay the release of the Gambler’s Chest indefinitely until AKD:M is perfect, makes me think this could be the coolest campaign mode to come to Kingdom Death.

ag4

In the Black Friday 2018 update, Adam let us know that Wave 3 of the 1.5 Kickstarter (aka the Gambler’s Chest) wouldn’t be released until it is ready.  Just this week in the Kickstarter comments, he said he was hoping to have had Wave 3 on the boats by now, but they aren’t yet. We’ll know more details about the status of Wave 3, what Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster is, what Atnas looks like, and more when he posts a big Kickstarter update in late July or early August (no later than August 4), so there is a possibility we may actually get it this year if it’s at the printers already.


#1 – KINGDOM DEATH: MONSTER – CAMPAIGNS OF DEATH

Designer: Adam Poots
Publisher: Kingdom Death
Status: In development, expected to get a status update the week of Gen Con 2019

I had a hard time deciding which of the two upcoming Kingdom Death Wave 3 expansions I was most excited for, but I am giving the #1 spot on my list to Campaigns of Death, if only because we have a little bit more concrete information on what it is, and I can confidently say that if it delivers on what it promises, it’s going to be amazing!  Maybe it really shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody that the guy obsessed with campaign games is most excited about the expansion all about campaigns.

Campaigns of Death is a rulebook with three new 30-year campaign storylines, similar to the People of the Stars and People of the Sun that came with the Dragon King and Sunstalker expansions.  These new campaigns introduce unique rules, story events, milestones, innovations, etc to the game, adding a lot of variety beyond the default People of the Lantern campaign that comes in the base game. Adam has revealed the names of two of the new campaigns, People of the Eclipse and Slaughterhouse (sounds easy!).  The expansion comes with only one new model, the Ancient Butcher, which I presume is the final encounter of Slaughterhouse. It also comes with two mini 3-5 year campaigns, perfect for introducing groups to the game without committing them to a huge campaign. Another big feature it comes with is the Node System, a formalized rules set for integrating expansions into campaigns.  

ag8

Since this expansion wasn’t very heavy on plastic, a lot of people weren’t excited about it and passed over it initially, but not me! I love new campaign variants, so this was always one of my more anticipated expansions to come out in Wave 4. But then something happened that got people a lot more excited for Campaigns of Death…

ag7

Campaigns of Death has grown significantly in size and scope since the Kickstarter.  In his Black Friday 2018 update, Adam revealed that Campaigns of Death would also contain 1.5 updates for all 12 original expansions.  Examples of what this included:

  • Balance tweaks to monsters and gear
  • Cross-expansion content, such as gear and items that require multiple expansions to craft
  • “God Class” AI deck for Lion God on tarot-sized cards
  • Four different breeds of the Lonely Tree
  • Improvements to People of the Sun campaign

Adam only teased a couple examples from about half of the existing expansions, so there’s plenty more we don’t know about, but this all sounds very exciting!  This will hopefully breathe new life into some expansions that don’t get a lot of love, like Spidicules and Lonely Tree.

ag10

Arguably the even bigger reveal Adam made about Campaigns of Death was the Strain System, an evolution of the initially pitched Node System.  The Node System as envisioned gave players a framework for building custom campaigns, which assigned a number value of 1-5 to each monster and gave players some basic guidelines for building out a campaign such as “you can have at most one Node 5 monster in a single campaign”.   The Strain System replaces this with a card-based system of procedurally (or deterministically) populating a story arc template in (ala Mad Libs style) with quarry monsters, nemesis, story events, milestones, etc by drawing/choosing cards from randomizer decks.

ag9

The Strain System also adds a quasi-legacy element to the game in the form of Strain milestones, which are optional challenges and side-stories that once achieved have a permanent impact on all future campaigns in some way.  These campaign-to-campaign changes will be tracked via a sheet of paper called a “death world”, no actual permanent changes to components if you ever wanted to revert everything. This could be as small as adding a new Fighting Art to the game, or as big as unlocking a new campaign story arc (I actually suspect that unlocking Advanced KD:M is a Strain milestone).  This aspect of the Strain System had actually been soft-launched as part of the Echoes of Death promo at Gen Con 2018, which added 4 new fighting arts to the game via Strain milestones. It sounds like the existing expansions will be retrofitted with some Strain milestones as well, as will all new expansions going forward. This reminds me a bit of the Heirloom system I talked about in Seventh Cross, and sounds very cool!

ag11

With three new 30-year campaign story arcs to play through, it’s likely going to take me years to fully experience everything that this one expansion has to offer, and the introduction of new cross-expansion content and the Strain system will add additional variety beyond that.  If I could only buy one expansion for Kingdom Death Wave 3 and 4, this would be it, and for that it’s my #1 most anticipated release.

Given how much it enhances existing expansions, Adam moved the release of Campaigns of Death up from Wave 4 to Wave 3 alongside Gambler’s Chest.  As I mentioned in the Gambler’s Chest entry, we should hopefully have more details about the status of both these expansions and more details on Campaigns of Death as part of the big Kickstarter update the week of Gen Con.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

OK, I probably could have just ended this article with these 10 games, but I just wanted to briefly mention a few more games that I am very excited about, but left them off the list for one reason or another:

Kingdom Death: Monster Wave 4 – I am all-in on my 1.5 pledge, and am absolutely pumped to one day get to play through all of that (I’m most excited for the Abyssal Woods and Inverted Mountain campaigns), but given that we still don’t have Wave 3, it feels premature to get hyped about the next wave of content, which could be years away.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 3 – We know it’s happening.  We can pretty safely guess it will release the first day of Essen Spiel, October 26.  It will likely get announced at Gen Con 2019, or in the week leading up to Gen Con.  This will be a must-buy and must-play for me, but given we know absolutely nothing about it, I left it off the list.

Post Curious’s next project – I’m currently finishing up the last chapter of The Tale of Ord by Post Curious, and I will almost certainly write up a review of it, but I will just spoil my thoughts a bit right now and say this is a 10/10 experience for me, hands down the best puzzle/escape-room-ish game I’ve ever played.  Rita is currently working on her followup project, and has teased out some artwork for it, and this also will be a day-one purchase for me when it is available, but until I know a little more information I’m leaving it off this list.

OK, I’m done writing.  Oh, what’s that, I finished Aeon’s End Legacy and should write a review for it?  Back to writing…

Kingdom Death Pre-Update Update!

It has been 237 days since we have gotten an official Kickstarter update for Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5, which is… a while… to go without an update for a project.   After a very lengthy update on Black Friday 2018 (where Adam said that Wave 3 and 4 of the Kickstarter were indefinitely delayed until he was happy with them), Adam went more-the-less completely radio silent for the first half of 2019.   What little communication we got from him via Twitter and Kickstarter comments was that he was focused on getting Wave 3 content done, and the next official update would be in early August to coincide with Gen Con 2019.

Related image

The average gestation period of a hippo is 237 days, just saying.

To my and others’ pleasant surprise, Adam actually logged on to Kickstarter a couple of days ago and ended up answering a bunch of questions people had.  While he didn’t get into any specifics had about the status of Wave 3 and 4, he did confirm that the big Gen Con update was coming and what we should expect in it, as well as answered a couple miscellaneous questions people had about upcoming expansions.  I went through each of them and categorized/summarized them here, and thought I would share them for your reading pleasure:

THE BIG GEN CON UPDATE

The Gen Con update is going to go live either right before the KD:M team leaves for Gen Con, or on the floor from Gen Con.   The update will have details on the status of Wave 3 and why it’s taking so long.  Adam said the update will have updates on every single expansion in Wave 3 and Wave 4, which by my count is 17+ expansions, more if you also include promo and crossover content.  The update may end up being so massive that he may split it into two separate updates.  If that’s the case, the pre-Gen Con update would focus just on Wave 3 content (Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death), and a second update in August after Gen Con would focus on Wave 4 (the 15+ other things).

Adam posted this picture as part of his anemic Kickstarter update the night before Gen Con 2018 opened.

At the very latest, we should expect the update by August 4, which is 18 days away (likely earlier), the wait is almost over!

WAVE 3

Adam was hoping to have Wave 3 printed and on boats by now, but it’s not.  He will give more specific details in the big update.

The Gambler’s Chest has been expanded significantly beyond what was initially pitched.  Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster tells a specific story about an advanced group of survivors, it sounds like it is its own story arc campaign, and it may not integrate with all expansion content.  The Crimson Crocodile is 100% confirmed as a new Node 1 quarry monster that is part of Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster and comes in The Gambler’s Chest.  The previously to-be-revealed monster encounter that comes in The Gambler’s Chest is still a thing and they are called Smog Stalkers.

ag4

Not a joke, like many people thought

 

The Strain System will track campaign-to-campaign changes on a meta layer sheet called a “death world”, so you can theoretically reset everything if you wanted to (no permanent changes like a legacy game).  The Strain system allows Adam to release smaller content that is more meaningful. Changes introduced by a Strain milestone could be as small as a new fighting art to as big as a new campaign story arc.

ag5

Prediction: Unlocking Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster is a Strain milestone related to eating Black Lichen

Adam feels that both Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death are must-haves, and set the stage for what’s to come.  There is no plan to make 1.5 reprints of the original expansions, you will need to buy Campaigns of Death for the 1.5 updates to them.

WAVE 4

Wave 4 may get broken up into smaller waves, with some of the smaller expansions and promo content coming sooner.  Some expansions are close to being done, while others have barely been started on. The Abyssal Woods is the furthest out, but Adam has promised that it and every other expansion will get made.  The Abyssal Woods is the expansion he is most excited about. There have been no major overhauls to what was pitched for the Wave 4 expansions, Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death were the biggest changes.  They have gotten better at engineering for plastic production, so there may be additional models in some of the expansions.

Image result for crimson crocodile kingdom death

Adam also answered some miscellaneous questions about some Wave 4 expansion stuff:  

  • Campaigns of Death is not required for using Spidicules/Flower Knight/Dung Beetle Knight in the Abyssal Woods expansion
  • Super Saviors vs Perfect DBK takes place in a survivor’s dream, so it’s going to be more ridiculous than a standard showdown.  Dung Beetle Knight does not integrate with this expansion in any way.
  • Parasite Queen is an optional encounter in the Screaming God expansion, but may end up becoming a final encounter
  • There is a story related to the Survivor Satan model in the Ivory Dragon expansion

THE FUTURE

Future projects beyond the 1.5 Kickstarter are not a top-priority for him at the moment.  He might end up letting somebody else develop Kingdom Death: Titan (his deckbuilder) if and when that gets made.  He might revisit The Lantern Festival at some point in the future (haha okay).  No plans to make new dice variants.  He wants to update the FAQ for the 1.0 expansions after Gen Con.

MISC

Adam acknowledged that he has been bad about updates and apologized for the lack of communication, but we’ve heard this all before, so don’t take this as any sort of promise we’re going to see more regular updates.  For what it’s worth, he did log back on the following day and answer a few more questions.  

WHAT DO I THINK?

I’m guessing that the update on Wave 3 will get posted the night of July 31, the night before Gen Con opens, so he can include a picture of the booth as part of the update.  I do expect that he will split the update into two sections as he alluded to.  I’m alright with that, as all I really care about at this point is the status of Wave 3.  Given that he was hoping to have Wave 3 on boats by now, that gives me some sliver of hope that it may currently be at the printers and we might actually get it by the end of the year.  I’m not holding my breath for any sort of release date announcement, but if he gives us some sort of status update as to where it is in production/assembly, that would give us some insight into when to expect to get it.

I’m not really sure what to expect in terms of gameplay and content details of the expansions, since Adam typically doesn’t spoil much in advance.  He typically shows all the models in advance, so we should see renders/pictures of Atnas, Crimson Crocodile, Smog Stalkers, and any other monsters not yet revealed that are part of Wave 3.  It would be nice to get some updated manifest of what is in The Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death, since they have changed so much since the Kickstarter.  It would also be great to get a high-level pitch of the changes being introduced to Spidicules, Dung Beetle Knight, Lion Knight, Dragon King, Slenderman, and Green Knight Armor, as he did with the other 6 expansions in the Black Friday update.

As for what’s beyond Wave 3, I fully expect it to get broken into smaller waves.  I think this would be a good thing, as that means we may get some content sooner than we would if we had to wait until it’s all done.  Specifically, I think it’s going to break up into 3 waves:

  • Wave 4 – This will be the promo/crossover content and expansions that don’t tie into the Inverted Mountain or Abyssal Woods campaigns.  First Hero for sure will be part of this wave.  I’m not sure if all of these would be part of this wave, but other candidates would be Screaming God, Ivory Dragon, Silver City, and Death Armor.
  • Wave 5 – Inverted Mountain, and all the associated expansions: Frogdog, Oblivion Mosquito, Nightmare Ram, Black Knight, Pariah, Red Witches, and Gryphon
  • Wave 6 – Abyssal Woods and Honeycomb Weaver

I’ll be sure to post my thoughts about the big Gen Con update and any other information we hear from the floor at Gen Con.  We’ve waited so long, what’s another two weeks?

The Future of The Campaign Log

Things have been pretty quiet on The Campaign Log.  Things got busy for me in real life, and the free time I did have I wanted to spend more on playing games than writing about them.  I started to lose interest in this blog, and it eventually got to a point where I decided I wasn’t going to continue it going further.  At least, it’s not going to continue as I initially envisioned it.

I started The Campaign Log because I love campaign/narrative games, and over the past couple of years we have seen an explosion of them.  I wanted to start a blog to share my love of this sub-genre of the hobby, but I think I took the wrong approach to it.  I came in treating this blog like a second job: I was going to release content on a regular basis, I was going to build up relationships with people in the industry, I was going to gain followers on social media, etc.  Because that’s what content creators do.  Unsurprisingly, it started to feel like a job very quickly.  I felt pressured to release content on a regular basis, and felt guilty when I missed arbitrary deadlines I set for myself.  And I was completely aware that almost nobody reads this blog.

Board game “content creators” (video/audio/written reviews, tutorials, playthroughs, etc) has become a more and more crowded space over the past 7 years.  For every Dice Tower, Watch It Played, and Shut Up & Sit Down there are dozens (if not hundreds) of content creators out there making stuff that nearly nobody is paying attention to.  Go to a popular game’s page on BGG, go to the “Videos” section for that game, and just look at the countless video reviews from channels you have likely never heard of.  Some of those guys have been putting out content for years on a consistent basis, and don’t even crack 200 views per video.  I imagine that bloggers get even less traffic than YouTube channels, but I don’t have any real solid data to back that up aside from general observations.

So why do these content creators (myself included) spend so much time on something that nobody is really following?  I would hope the answer is “because they are having fun with it,” and that’s going to be my attitude going forward.

I’m going to keep going with the blog, but I make no promises about the frequency of the content or the kind of content.  I might continue to post “formal” reviews and news articles if I feel like it, or I might just post about what I’ve been up to or what’s on my mind.  Who knows, I might even talk about non-campaign board games, video games, books, etc.

So for those reading this, thanks for stopping by!  For those that aren’t, I don’t blame you 🙂

A Dispatch: On the Run Review

Dispatch: On the Run

Publisher: Breakout Games
Players:
 1+
Playing Time:
90-180 Minutes
Campaign Mode:
7 boxes, each shipped monthly via subscription 
MSRP:  $124.99 for entire series, or $24.99 per box
Logged Plays:
Played and completed all 7 boxes
Copy Purchased By Reviewer

A growing niche within the tabletop hobby has been what could best be called “narrative tabletop puzzle experiences,” to steal the term from PostCurious.  Part tabletop escape room game ala the EXIT/Unlock! series, part mystery game ala Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, part alternate reality game, these kind of games aren’t meant to be rushed through in an hour, but instead worked through at a more leisurely pace.

Breakout Games, the tabletop gaming branch of Breakout Escape Rooms (a large escape room company with locations all across the eastern United States), launched a subscription service in 2017 called Dispatch.  Every month, Breakout Dispatch will send you a small box about the size of a book, filled with documents and objects that you must read through, find hidden clues, and solve puzzles within.  Each box eventually leads you to a website where you typically must answer questions related to the mystery or puzzles contained in the box.  Upon answering those questions correctly, a short video is played summarizing what you did in that box and sets up the plot for the next box, which you then anxiously wait another month to receive and play through.

20181026_121104

THE FIRST BOX IN THE SERIES

 

“On the Run” is Breakout Dispatch’s first series (they are currently on their third series at time of writing, but you can still purchase/subscribe for any of them).  Your best friend James has been wrongfully accused of murdering his wife (and copper mining heiress/socialite) Victoria on their honeymoon in Hawaii.  Over the course of 7 installments, James will hop across the globe escaping authorities, sending you packages that you must decipher and solve to help get to the bottom of who killed Victoria.  Some components and documents contained in earlier boxes may not make much sense at the time, and may be referred to in later boxes to solve puzzles, so make sure not to throw anything away.

I found that boxes took typically around 2 hours to work my way through solo.  Some were a little shorter, maybe clocking in around 90 minutes, and some packages took closer to 3 hours to work my way through, depending on the amount and difficulty of the puzzles in a box.  If you get stuck on a puzzle, you can email a character in the game, a private investigator, and he will give you hints/solutions in-character.  They got back to me within pretty quickly during normal business hours, but if you were to get stuck during a game night, you might need to pack it away and come back to it another night.

Components are made to look and feel authentic.  Newspaper articles are printed on newspaper, magazine articles are printed on magazine stock, etc.  Over the course of the subscription, you will get props made of actual metal, wood, and more.  Some of the props you could probably keep as souvenirs and/or use outside of the game when you are done.  Compared to escape room games that are almost entirely just cards (EXIT, Unlock, etc) or even ones that may have some cardboard props in them (Escape the Room, Escape Room: The Game, etc), it was nice to play a game with higher prop quality.

Each box will also have you going online to looking for clues.  Most are fictitious websites, but there are times where you’ll need to visit a character’s social media profile on Twitter/Instagram, research Wikipedia, or use other online resources to solve puzzles.  There are even points in the story where you will need to make phone calls and text/email in-game characters (they’re just pre-recorded messages or bots).  I enjoyed the blend of physical, digital, and augmented reality elements.

20181026_121241

CONTENTS OF THE FIRST BOX IN THE SERIES

 

There are definitely puzzles in every box, but the quality and quantity per box varies.  The first box in particular is very light on puzzles, and the shortest box to work through, as it focuses more on the backstory and narrative of the series.  This may unfortunately give some players a false impression of what the game has to offer.

The game series relies a lot on using cryptographic messages that you will need to decode.  Once you solve how to decode a message, it can be a bit tedious to actually decode the message.  There is one cryptography puzzle in a later box that is incredibly slow and tedious to decode, and then they use the same exact cryptography puzzle in later boxes!  This felt more like busywork than solving an actual puzzle in later boxes, and kind of lazy design on their part to re-use the same puzzle multiple times.  But aside from those cases, I found the quality of the puzzles to be pretty good.  I was able to solve all the puzzles on my own or with a few hints, I never had to brute-force my way through a puzzle or accidentally solve a puzzle without actually knowing the logic behind the solution.

The story for On the Run is serviceable.  I think they were going for the feel of a globe-trotting thriller, but instead feels like the plot of a soap opera.  This isn’t a turnoff for playing the game, as I was playing primarily for the puzzles, not the narrative, but it’s just a little unfortunate that sometimes puzzles took more of a backseat to the narrative in some of the episodes.  You also have to suspend your disbelief a bit that your friend would go through all the effort of hiding his messages behind a series of puzzles that take the average person an hour or two to solve, as if that would be sufficient to prevent people besides you from decoding/intercepting it.

I should also bring up the cost of this game series.  Given the production value of the props, and the fact that these boxes are probably assembled by hand by the Dispatch crew, the resulting costs are going to run higher than your average hobby game mass-produced overseas.  Buying the entire 7-box series outright will cost you $125, or you can pay for a month-to-month subscription of $25/month.  There are Groupons to get the first two months cheap and 6-12 month subscription packages that can bring down the monthly cost, but ultimately I can see the price point being a turn-off for some people. That said, the price-per-hour is comparable to hour-long escape room games that cost $12-$15.

I played through the whole series solo.  I think it would work for couples to play together, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a group experience unless you are playing it as a group to split the cost.  Like many other escape room games, the more people you play with, the few puzzles each individual is going to experience, and there may even be times where some players are sitting around doing nothing.

 


FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience going through On the Run.  It scratches a similar itch to escape room games, but introduces a narrative/deduction element that a lot of escape room games often lack.  I also appreciated working through the box at my own pace without any sort of artificial time limit that similar escape room games impose.  The high price point might be a barrier to entry for some people, so I would suggest trying the first month or two at a discount on Groupon and see if it’s something you enjoy before investing any more money into it.

Since finishing On the Run early this year, Breakout has released a 2 box mini-series called “Marlow’s Game”, and is in the middle of their next series “I, Spy” which will last a total of 5 boxes/months.  I have played through Marlow’s Game, it was more puzzle-heavy than On the Run, so you may want to start with that series if you are looking for more puzzles and less narrative.  I have not started I, Spy yet, but I can’t wait to get my first box in a couple of weeks!

REVIEW SCORE: 8 out of 10 (Great)

icons8-plus-24 PROS

  • Nice blend of mystery, narrative, and puzzles
  • Prop quality is much better than a typical “escape room in a box” game
  • I look forward to getting my next package in the mail every month

icons8-minus-26 CONS

  • Expensive to pay month-to-month, really have to commit to a longer subscription to bring down the price to something more reasonable.
  • Repetition of some crypto puzzles from month-to-month felt tedious
  • Some months were much lighter on puzzles than other months, especially the first box
  • Plot was kind of cheesy

 

The Curse of Immortality: A Sword & Sorcery Review

Sword & Sorcery: Immortal Souls

Designers: Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace
Publishers: 
Ares Games
Players:
 1-5
Playing Time:
120-180 Minutes
Campaign Mode:
6 quests, branching narrative, replayable with no permanent modifications
MSRP: $79.90
Logged Plays:
10 games solo, full base game campaign completed as well as first two quests of Arcane Portal expansion
Copy Purchased By Reviewer

In 2017, we saw two high-profile fantasy dungeon crawlers hit the market: Isaac Childres’ Gloomhaven and Gremlin Project’s Sword & Sorcery.  While Gloomhaven in many ways revolutionized how we think about dungeon crawlers, Sword & Sorcery is at a surface level about as boiler-plate of a fantasy dungeon crawler as you can get.  You have your standard fare of humans, dwarves, elves, and orcs.  You resolve combat and skill checks with dice rolls.  Even the name of the game, “Sword & Sorcery”, is just the name of the fantasy sub-genre the game is an homage to.

DESPITE UNDEAD MONSTERS BEING FEATURED ON THE BOX ART, NONE ARE IN THE BASE GAME.

Perhaps “homage” is the best way to describe Sword & Sorcery.  It’s not necessarily trying to revolutionize dungeon crawlers, or trying to draw in a new audience to the genre.  It’s a dungeon crawler for gamers that like 3-hour long dungeon crawls.  It’s a dungeon crawler for gamers that like the swinginess of dice chucking.  It’s a dungeon crawler for gamers that like to track half a dozen status effects and wounds with a ton of little tokens.  But having played through the full campaign that comes with the base game, as well as part of the first expansion, I’m actually not sure if I’m one of those gamers.

Sword & Sorcery is the spiritual successor to Ares and Gremlin Project’s Galaxy Defenders, the 2014 fully cooperative campaign based sci-fi “dungeon crawler.”  The majority of Sword & Sorcery’s mechanics are a refinement of Galaxy Defenders’, including the red and blue D10’s with icons instead of numbers, enemy AI system, event deck, and more.  It simplifies the hex-based grids in Galaxy Defenders with interlocking tiles composed of larger areas, making it much easier to determine line-of-sight and enemy AI movement paths.  I know some people prefer the hex grid, but I found it too fiddly for my tastes to be constantly determining LOS and enemy pathing in Galaxy Defenders.  I appreciate how much easier it is to determine what an enemy will do on their turn and what player character they will target.

20180906_122024

EXAMPLE OF A SCENARIO IN PROGRESS.

Players take on the roles of ancient heroes that were brought back to life, and are effectively immortal. The base game comes with 5 heroes, each of which can be played with their Law or Chaos soul alignment, so you have 10 different hero classes in the box.   As an example, Thorgar the dwarf can be played either as a lawful Cleric or chaotic Runemaster.  Some of Thorgar’s skills are shared across both these classes, but their base powers, stats, and a few skills will be unique to each of the two classes.  Each hero and Law/Chaos variant feels unique.

When a player character dies, rather than be eliminated from the game, they revert to their spirit form.  Spirit form heroes can perform special spirit actions on their turn unique to their character/alignment, and/or can resurrect at a shrine at the beginning of a round if players spend enough soul shards.  What this means is that as long as you don’t have a total party kill, you can keep resurrecting heroes and bringing them back into the fight.  The drawback to this is that every time you die, you lose a level.  When you are Level 1 in the game, this is a non-issue, but as you level up into progressively more expensive levels, losing a level can be very costly in terms of lost souls shards (XP).  Death effectively becomes a currency that players will have to manage, as sometimes it is worth it for a hero to sacrifice themselves.

Sword & Sorcery uses an enemy AI system similar to Galaxy Defenders for how enemies act.  Each enemy type in the game has their own unique AI script that determines what they will do based on their distance to the nearest hero.  Gremlins may run up and attack, raiders may want to keep their distance and shoot heroes, orc shamans may heal wounded enemies, etc.  Harder versions of enemy types don’t just hit harder, they also have additional abilities and logic included in their AI scripts.  Enemies react intelligently to the current board state, providing a challenge for players.  Players know how precisely how enemies are going to act on their turn as well, so they can use this information to their advantage as they plan out their turns, providing some tactical depth to the game.  Enemy AI orders are also very clear and easy to execute, there’s little ambiguity in what an enemy will do on their turn.

20180906_122104

ADVANCED VERSIONS OF ENEMIE TYPES WILL HIT HARDER, DEFEND BETTER, AND TYPICALLY HAVE MORE NUANCED AI SCRIPTS.

As I eluded to earlier, Sword & Sorcery isn’t a quick or streamlined game.  It’s a beast of a game to setup, play, and teardown.  You’re looking at easily a 3+ long game depending on player count.  The rulebook is massive at 56 pages long (here is a link to it if you dare give it a read).  There are half a dozen status conditions that work differently depending on whether a player or enemy has them.  Individual enemies have their own unique powers and defenses that you will need to keep track of.  Scenarios, events, and story passages can introduce additional effects and triggers that you’ll need to keep track of, such as reading a later story passage when a certain monster on the board is killed.  Story passages may require you to place out new tiles to expand the map, spawn specific enemies, seed cards into decks, etc.  As a solo player, I found it to be a bit of an information overload to keep track of.


IMMORTAL SOULS

Sword & Sorcery: Immortal Souls is the first act in larger campaign that spans multiple expansions: Darkness Falls is the second half of the main storyline, Arcane Portal is an optional side-campaign that can be played between the two acts, and Vastaryous’s Lair is an optional epilogue to the campaign.  I should point out for retail customers that Kickstarter backers received all this content last year when their pledges shipped in 2017 and Arcane Portal is available in retail markets, Darkness Falls hits retail next week on Oct 23, but there is no official announcement/confirmation of a retail release for Vastaryous’s Lair at this time.

20180906_122433

LOTS OF PLASTIC.

All-in-all, playing through the entire thing will take you across a 12-to-20 quest campaign (depending on what expansions you get), but Immortal Souls is only the first 6 quests.  The base game comes with 7 quests, with the storyline branching in one of two directions for the final quest depending on choices and actions you take in the first five quests of your campaign.  I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t just boil down to whether you were playing Law or Chaos, and that smaller choices/actions I took in earlier quests caused a butterfly effect that led me to my ending (I ended up getting Quest VI for my final scenario).

I was less pleasantly surprised to see that at least in the base game and Arcane Portal, losing a scenario requires you replay it (either resetting back to the state your party was at the beginning of the scenario, or the state your party was in when you lost).  This can be frustrating if you lose 2-3 hours into a scenario near the end of it (and more often than not, if you’re going to lose, it’s going to be near the end).   I would have preferred if the game had a branching narrative for if you lost similar to games like SEAL Team Flix, or the story carried forward even if you lost like in Arkham Horror: The Card Game, or if the game provided some sort of checkpoint system through a scenario.  Better yet, I think a lot of these scenarios could have been broken into 2-3 smaller scenarios that were 60-90 minutes each with some minor tweaks.  In doing so, not only would have have made the game more accessible and losing more palatable, but they could have advertised having 2-3 times as many scenarios as they currently have!

The underlying story for Sword & Sorcery is pretty generic, and largely forgettable.  You’re brought back to life to stop some bad guys from doing some bad stuff.  The most memorable thing about the story unfortunately is the designers’ constant pop culture references to movies and video games, which at best got an eye roll out of me, and at worst pulled me out of the experience.  Some of these are just throwaway lines, but some of these pop culture references end up being major characters in the storyline.

The story paragraphs are in their own separate book from the scenario book, which is a nice touch, as it allows for surprises as you play through a scenario for the first time.  You may know opening a door will trigger reading a paragraph in the Book of Secrets, but you won’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that occurs until you do it (no accidental peeking ahead as can happen in other dungeon crawlers’ scenario books).  The Book of Secrets also allows for more “choose your own adventure”-esque narrative moments in the story, such as asking NPC’s questions, visiting locations in a village, making story decisions, etc.

20180906_121420

LOTS OF PAPER.

Over the course of the campaign, your characters will gain soul shards (XP) that will allow you to level up and gain new abilities, allowing you to not only get more powerful but also customize your character further.  In the base game and Arcane Portal, you can level up to Level 4, in Darkness Falls up to Level 7.  Each level gets exponentially more expensive to level up to, so while going from Level 1 to 2 costs 4 soul shards, Level 6 to 7 will cost 49.  As mentioned before, you lose a level when you die, so it gets progressively more and more expensive to die in the game, and can be frustrating to see a lot of time and effort killing monsters lost.  I’ve had sessions where even if I won the scenario, I ended up losing more levels/shards than what I started with, Even though I was progressing through the story I felt like I was making negative progress with my characters.


FINAL THOUGHTS

20180919_123359

LOTS OF TOKENS.

Mechanically, this is a solid dungeon crawling experience.  The enemy AI is streamlined, yet intelligent.  Scenario design is varied and challenging.  Player character classes feel different from one another, and the differentiation between good and evil versions is a nice touch.  But having played through the full base game campaign and half of Arcane Portal (8 scenarios in all), I don’t think I’m going to be continuing any further into the campaign.  Between the amount of time it takes to setup and play through a scenario and the sheer volume of things you have to track (especially as a solo player controlling multiple characters), it just didn’t really feel like the game was giving me that amazing of an experience back in return, just an OK one.


REVIEW SCORE: 6 out of 10 (OK)

icons8-plus-24 PROS

  • Character progression and customization with skills and gear
  • Enemy AI system clear and easy to follow, each enemy type has unique behaviors
  • Challenging scenario design

icons8-minus-26 CONS

  • Game is fiddly and requires tracking a lot of information
  • Scenarios are too long for my tastes, have to replay from the beginning if you lose
  • Constant enemy spawns and the death/resurrection cycle of player characters feels grindy
  • Story isn’t memorable, full of unnecessary pop culture references
  • No retail plans currently to release final expansion of the campaign

Top 10 Anticipated Campaign/Narrative Board Games of Q4 2018

We saw a ton of amazing campaign, narrative, and legacy games released at GenCon 2018 this year, but even more are going to get release over the next 90 days.  So many, in fact, that I was able to populate a Top 10 of my most anticipated, and even had a couple more that didn’t make the list!


 

#10 – ADVENTURE ISLAND
Designed by Michael Palm and Lucas Zach
Published by Pegasus Spiele
Release Date: October 2018

This one could have potentially been higher on my list if we knew anything about it.  Based on the BGG entry and back of the box, Adventure Island is a co-operative narrative campaign game where players take on the roles of shipwrecked survivors on a mysterious island that must explore the island and make their way home.  It appears to primarily be a card-based game.  LudoCreatix has been teasing card art on their Facebook page, but no details about actual gameplay have been given (sounds like they will give more details this week).  I’m a big fan of games like Robinson Crusoe and The 7th Continent, so I’m hoping this scratches a similar itch.  The game is expected to release at Essen SPIEL at the end of October.

 

#9 – HOLDING ON: THE TROUBLED LIFE OF BILLY KERR
Designed by Michael Fox and Rory O’Connor
Published by Hub Games
Release Date: October 2018

Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is a fully cooperative narrative game about an dying man in a hospital with a mysterious and troubled past.  Players take on the role of the nursing staff for Billy Kerr, a man who suffered a heart attack on a flight from Sydney to London, and has been diagnosed with only days to live.  Players must balance keeping Billy comfortable (and alive) while also trying to figure out more about him and his past over the course of a 10-scenario campaign.

It’s always interesting to see games try to tackle more “serious” subject matters, I’m hoping that Holding On is able to pull it off.  I have some major concerns going into this game regarding the treatment of the subject matter, the premise is a bit shaky (has anybody ever been diagnosed to only have days to live after surviving a heart attack?), and the whole mechanic of having to choose whether to keep a patient alive or pry into their past doesn’t sit right with me.  We’ll see.  The game is going to release at Essen SPIEL at the end of October.

 

#8 – GLOOMHAVEN: FORGOTTEN CIRCLES
Designed by Marcel Cwertetschka Isaac Childres
Published by Cephalofair Games
Release Date: December 2018 (hopefully)

Gloomhaven: Forgotten Circles is a “small” expansion for Gloomhaven that introduces 20+ new quests, 1 new character class, new monsters/bosses, and more.  Scenarios will contain branching paths, “choose your own adventure” moments, puzzles, and alternate endings.  I love Gloomhaven, but I still have like 60-70 unplayed scenarios between the base game and solo scenarios, so it’s not like I really need more Gloomhaven… but I’ll take it!

Originally planned for a retail release at Essen, the game is now expected to come in December, possibly January.

 

#7 – COMANAUTS
Designed by Jerry Hawthorne
Published by Plaid Hat Games
Release Date: December 2018

Comanauts is a fully cooperative narrative campaign game about an old man in a hospital with a troubled past… wait, is that you Billy Kerr?

Dr. Martin Strobal, one of the greatest scientists to ever live, has fallen into a coma.  One of his inventions has malfunctioned and threatens to destroy the world, and only Dr. Strobal can stop it.  The only way to revive him is to enter his subconscious and help him defeat his inner demons.  Over the course of a campaign, players will travel through various comazones based on Dr. Strobal’s memories and imagination.  The game is an adventure book game similar to last year’s Stuffed Fables, but aimed at a more grown-up audience.

Plaid Hat’s website switched its status to “On the Boat” last week, so it should be available sometime in December by my estimates.

 

#6 – DAWN OF PEACEMAKERS
Designed by Sami Laakso
Published by Snowdale Design
Release Date: October 2018

I know cute cuddly creatures fighting each other is all the rage in boardgaming in 2018, but what if instead they made peace?  Dawn of Peacemakers is a cooperative narrative campaign game set in the same world of Dale of Merchants (although about a thousand years in the past), where the armies of the scarlet macaws and ocelots are at war with one another.  Players take on the roles of adventurers attempting the quell the hostilities between the two factions by effectively weakening both sides’ morale so that they don’t want to fight anymore.  The game is played across a 12-chapter evolving campaign with unlockable content (not a legacy game, it can all be reset) that will introduce new rules, components, and other surprises.

Warehouses in various countries should be receiving their copies and shipping out to backers this month, so hopefully backers will be getting their copies by late October.  Not sure what the plan is for retail release.

 

#5 – AEON’S END: LEGACY
Designed by Kevin Riley and Nick Little
Published by Indie Board & Cards
Release Date: December 2018

Aeon’s End is a cooperative dark fantasy deck builder where players take on the role of “breach mages” trying to defend their home Gravehold from The Nameless.  The game and countless expansions feature various bosses each with their own unique rules and mechanics to them, something I always love in games like Kingdom Death: Monster and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

Aeon’s End: Legacy is, as the name would suggest, a campaign/legacy adaptation of Aeon’s End.  In the legacy version, players take on the roles of students in training to become breach mages.   Over the course of the 7-chapter evolving campaign, new rules and components will be introduced, and other aspects of the game will be permanently modified.  At the end of the campaign, you will have developed your own custom breach mage that can be played in normal games of Aeon’s End.  A number of other aspects of the legacy game can be integrated into the base game as well as expansion content.

The latest update is that the game will release in December 2018.

 

#4 – DISCOVER: LANDS UNKNOWN
Designed by Corey Konieczka
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Release Date: November 2018

Discover: Lands Unknown was teased by Fantasy Flight Games leading up to Gen Con, but strangely wasn’t revealed until a week after Gen Con wrapped.  The premise of Discover is similar to other cooperative/solo survival games such as The 7th Continent, where you must explore and scavenge the wilderness to survive, eventually finding a way to escape.  The game is a campaign played across a 4-chapter story, but also comes with a competitive scenario.

This is also the second title in FFG’s new line of Unique games, meaning that each individual copy of Discover has a unique combination of characters, enemies, environments, items, and even the story chapters themselves, making no two copies of the game the same.  Some people cracking open their copy may find themselves trapped on a deserted island, while others may find themselves stranded on a mountaintop.  I have been trying to keep most of the details of this game a surprise to me, so the thing I’m most excited about is cracking my copy open and seeing what I get!

FFG set the status for Discover to “On the Boat” in early September, so we should expect to see this game hit retail in November by my estimates.

 

#3 – THE WILSON WOLFE AFFAIR
Designed by George Fox
Published by Simulacra Games
Release Date: October 2018

I don’t know if I would define The Wilson Wolfe Affair as a “boardgame” in the traditional sense, but it is a tabletop experience that I’m super excited about.  Part puzzle hunt, part “escape room in a box”, part mystery, The Wilson Wolfe Affair is a giant box of memorabilia from a fictional 1920’s cartoon series that you must search through to solve an underlying mystery about messages hidden in the cartoons.  I love escape room games like Exit and Unlock!, but a lot of them lack the physicality you would get in a real escape room experience.  Wilson Wolfe has you digging through articles, books, photos, toys, and other memorabilia looking for clues and solving puzzles.  Everything looks gorgeous.  Promising 50-75 hours of gameplay at the full platinum level, this game is going to keep me busy through 2019 most likely!

The designer/publisher has finally gotten all components for the games, and is preparing to package all the copies of the game up and ship them out to backers.  It’s a lengthy process, but he hopes to have them shipped out in October.

 

#2 – GEN7: A CROSSROADS GAME
Designed by Steve Nix
Published by Plaid Hat Games
Release Date: December 2018

Gen7 is the long-awaited followup to Dead of Winter in Plaid Hat’s series of Crossroad games.  Rather than fighting off the zombie apocalypse and potential traitors in the frozen north, Gen7 is set on a interstellar colony ship in the far distant future.  Players take on the roles of officers in the seventh generation of a 13-generation journey to a new star system.  A mystery has emerged that threatens the entire mission, and the fate of humanity rests on the choices you make.  The game is played across a 7-episode campaign with a wildly branching narrative.  New elements will be unlocked as the game progresses, but can be entirely reset and played again.  The game uses the Crossroad card system where certain actions taken by players in the game will trigger story events that will require the player or group to make difficult choices.  Unlike Dead of Winter, the game is fully cooperative and has no hidden traitors, but players are given incentives to be greedy by completing personal objectives to gain merit points.

Plaid Hat’s website switched its status to “On the Boat” last week, so it should be available sometime in December by my estimates.

 

# 1 – BETRAYAL LEGACY
Designed by Rob Daviau
Published by Avalon Hill
Release Date: November 9, 2018

Betrayal Legacy is the much-anticipated legacy adaptation of Betrayal at House on the Hill, designed by Rob Daviau.  Betrayal Legacy plays across a 14-chapter campaign starting in 1666 and ending in 2004 (when Betrayal at House on the Hill was released).  The game comes with 50+ haunts, but in a particular chapter you will only encounter one from a subset of haunts specific to the time period of that chapter (ie, you might see a Frankenstein-inspired haunt in the time period when Mary Shelley was alive).  At the end of your campaign you will have a customized and fully-replayable copy of Betrayal, with a number of scenarios that can only be played post-campaign.

Besides being a legacy version of the game, it feels like Rob and JR took this as an opportunity to also improve some user experience elements of the game.  Clearer and better laid out rules and scenario descriptions, common terminology between scenarios, etc.

I have a group of co-workers ready to play through this campaign with me, and I am super-excited to get started on it.  The game hits retail on November 9th, so not that much longer of a wait!

News: September 2018 Edition

September, that month between Gen Con and Essen where we are so overwhelmed with all our new games to play that we have little time to hear about the news.  Thankfully, you have me!


REVIEWS (OR RATHER, REVIEW)

Still working on being more frequent with reviews, but it was a busy month for both work and games!  I did get one review done:

Duct Tape Won’t Fix It: A MacGyver The Escape Room Game Review (4 out of 10)


NEW GAME RELEASES

Not a lot of new releases this month, as most big titles either already came out at Gen Con in August, or are coming out in October at Essen SPIEL.  But there are a couple to report on.

Ultimate Werewolf Legacy
Designed by Ted Alspach and Rob Daviau
Published by Bezier Games
Players: 9-16
MSRP: $59.95

Ultimate Werewolf Legacy hit retail in early September after a couple hundred copies were sold early at Gen Con.  Ultimate Werewolf Legacy is, as the title suggests, a legacy version of the classic social deduction game Werewolf, co-designed by Ted Alspach and Rob Daviau.  Players take on the roles of villagers in a New England village in the late 17th century that is plagued by werewolves.  Over the course of the 16-game campaign, aspects of the game will change based on the win-loss ratio of villagers from chapter to chapter, as well as story decisions that villagers must vote on.  Due to the high player count, I don’t think I will ever get it played, but I did buy a copy and read through the diary to see how the campaign plays out and evolves.  I may do spoiler-free writeup of that in the future.

Fallout: Wasteland Warfare
Designed by James Sheahan
Published by Modiphius Entertainment
Players: 1-8
MSRP: $79.99

The core set and several expansions for Modiphius’s Fallout tabletop miniatures game finally hit retail in late September.  The game can be played competitively or solo/co-op against an AI opponent, and can be played in a campaign mode where you build up a settlement from game to game.  The base game comes with a scenario book including 5 scenarios that link together, but it feels like for the most part its up to the players to build out their own campaigns and storylines.

Folklore: The Affliction 2nd Edition
Designed by Will Donovan and Nick Blain
Published by Greenbrier Games
Players: 1-5
MSRP: $69.95

The second edition of Greenbrier’s Folklore: The Affliction was shipped out to Kickstarter backers this month (along with the second edition of the Dark Tales expansion), and should hit retail soon.  Folklore is an DM-less “RPG in a box” boardgame in a gothic horror setting.  Players take on the roles of flawed anti-heroes and villagers trying to stop the supernatural afflictions plaguing the land.  The game is a hybrid of a pen-and-paper RPG game where you read through a story making choices and skill checks, and a tactical skirmish game for resolving fights in the story.  The game comes with 6 stories that players can make choices in how it plays out, and characters can be leveled up and carried from story to story.


 

CLOUDSPIRE FIRST DETAILS RELEASED BY CHIP THEORY GAMES

Chip Theory Games have been teasing their next game, Cloudspire, for months (including sending all Too Many Bones: Undertow backers with a promo chip with the Kickstarter launch date on it).  But up until very recently, little-to-nothing was known about the game aside from that it was going to be their take on tower defense games.  Chip Theory finally gave us a little more of a peak behind the curtain this month in their blog.

Cloudspire is inspired heavily by tower defense video games, and can be played competitively, cooperatively, or solo.  The game takes place in the floating realm of Ankar, featuring four unique factions that will have some degree of asymmetry among them.  The solo mode will feature a narrative campaign broken into episodes that follow each of the factions, telling the story from multiple viewpoints.

Cloudspire will be coming to Kickstarter soon on October 16.  Pricing details have not been announced yet, but they say this game is similar to Too Many Bones in its scope and depth, so it will probably be just as pricey.


 

ASSASSIN’S CREED: BROTHERHOOD OF VENICE SNEAKING ONTO KICKSTARTER NOVEMBER 2018

Triton Noir is re-envisioning their stealth WW2 co-op V-Commandos in the Assassin’s Creed universe.  Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood of Venice is a simplified and streamlined adaptation of V-Commando’s stealth mechanics, focusing more on short range and melee combat.  The game will feature a narrative campaign of 20 branching scenarios, including sealed envelopes that players will unlock over the campaign containing new content (not a legacy game, everything can be reset).  Between scenarios, players can upgrade their equipment and headquarters.  As inferred by the name of the game, this takes place roughly during the events of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and it is teased that Ezio will make an appearance in the story.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood of Venice will launch on Kickstarter in November 2018.