CIOASIISAG Part 16 – Chaos Marauders

This was a funky little 2-4 player card/board game from Games Workshop. Of course it turned out it’s funkiness was due to it’s inspiration from the more established German boardgame Ogallala, and so it disappeared from the shelves when this was pointed out.

The aim of the game is to build three battle lines of your orcish army and accumulate more Victory Points that your opponents. The battle lines are assembled from cards representing different orcish army units that you draw from shared deck. You could also use any completed lines to attack your rivals.

The game design, wherever it came from, is really solid and for my small first gaming group this was a fun, quick, game to play. One other big appeal to this was, like a lot of Games Workshop’s board games at the time, unified consistent artwork. This had John Blanche at his slimiest providing a variety of mould encrusted cartoony orcs on the cards. Nothing’s worse than a boardgame where the artwork is done by many hands with styles that don’t gel. OK, maybe there are plenty of things worse, but you get my drift. This issue will raise it’s head again later in this series, when I get to a true abomination of games design.

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Cut It Open And See If It Swallowed Any Gems Part Fifteen – Dungeonquest

Right let’s get back on this horse, as I want to get to the entry on AD&D sooner rather than later.

This German boardgame, published in the UK by Games Workshop, was something of Talisman’s poorer relation for my first gaming group. And rightly so, as it’s even more random that Talisman, with little to recommend it in terms of tactical gameplay. You pick a character and then try and work your way to a dragon’s lair by picking random dungeon tiles that you lay on the board. I remember it being a fairly unforgiving game, as you’d frequently die before getting to the middle, and even more frequently run out of turns before getting back out the dungeon again. I think the add-on Heroes of Dungeonquest made it little more forgiving, and much more variable. While I’ve continued to play Talisman, I’ve not played this since probably 1990.

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CIOASIISAG Part The Thirteenth – Judge Dredd RPG

Now I’m moving into the realm of games that other people ran in my teenage gaming days. Though I did buy myself a copy of this later in life (and sold on ebay for a tidy profit year or so back).

Judge Dredd ran on a set of rules that were kind of WFRPG-lite, and similarly your starting character was pretty useless at everything. However that didn’t really matter, as being a Judge you were still better equipped and skilled than most NPCs you’d encounter. The game really caught the mood of the comic, and for a while was probably the closest thing to an encyclopedia of the Judge Dredd world. Mid-Late 80s Games Workshop had a similar sense of humour to 2000AD and the license was a good fit (though 2000AD was still a little more punk, whereas GW was new wave of British heavy metal). It originally came out as a boxset, later reprinted as a hard back book. Despite it’s all round ace-ness at being Judge Dredd, we never really played it that much, and I only ran it with my later gaming groups on a couple of occasions. It’s a shame as I believe the guy who had it also had the “Slaughter Margin” adventure, which I remember as being a critically acclaimed piece of RPG writing at the time.

Mongoose have a Judge Dredd RPG out nowadays, but I don’t know if that’s the old version updated, or something totally new.

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CIOASIISAG Part 11 – Talisman: The Magical Quest Game

I love this game.

It’s a fantasy board game that was released by Games Workshop, where you attempt to work your way through 3 regions of a board to get to the Crown of the Command, and then win the game by making all the other players bow to your will. The game mechanics are fairly simple, you play as one of a bunch of fantasy types (Troll, Wizard, Thief etc…) each with their own rules variations and 4 stats – Strength, Craft, Gold and Life. Your aim is get your Strength and/or Craft high enough to enter the final region and undergo the trials to get the crown. As you go around the board you take adventure cards that act as random events you encounter. There’s a high random element in how the cards flow and how your dice roll (everything is on a D6). The key to winning is in three things:

  • Gambling – there’s a lot of random elements to the game, but because the odds are so easy to calculate – normally number plus D6 versus another number plus another D6, or a roll against a chart with D6 or 2D6 options – and some gambling elements are static – there’s various spaces where you can roll a die and get positive or negative alterations to your character (extra stats or turned to toad). The only unknown random elements are the cards decks. Which brings me to point two.
  • Deck Knowledge – Knowing what cards are in the deck is a huge advantage. The adventure card deck is large and varied enough that exact memory of it’s composition is unlikely. However certain useful cards are either unique or in low numbers and so controlling their presence on the board is useful. For instance, the horse and cart card allows a player to have unlimited Item cards compared to the normal four. There are two horse and cart cards in the deck, so it’s useful to get both, or get one and rapidly put the other in the discard pile (it will resurface when the deck is depleted, the discards shuffled and the deck made fresh again). Of course you may not get to draw the horse and cart card. Which brings me to point three.
  • Player Vs. Player – You can attack other players and take their lives, gold or items. Also a number of characters in the game have abilities you can use on other players. This can be a vital key in winning. There’s the chance that in doing so, all the other players may turn against you, but I’ve found that once you start messing up other people’s play, if you keep it up aggressively it can turn the game for you.

The Luck/Strategy balance is probably leaning heavily towards luck, if only to prevent the PvP elements becoming too overbearing and preventing the endgame being reached. But the visibility of the luck aspect allows the players a lot of control over how big a risk they choose to take each turn.

The 2nd edition is the version I’m most familiar with, though I’ve never owned it myself, two of the gaming groups I’ve been a part of have had access to a copy. The 3rd edition made it more Warhammer-y and less recognisable as Talisman. The exhorbitant prices the 2nd ed. was getting on eBay made it look unlikely I’d get my own copy, but thankfully GW have seen the light and last month released the 4th edition. This is based on the 2nd, down to the artwork being reinterpretations of Gary Chalk’s great art from the 2nd Ed. And it looks to have fixed the two rules that bothered me from the 2nd ed., namely you can earn Craft as easily as Strength (before it was harder, though random increases favoured Craft slightly.) and it has eliminated Spell Deck burn.

Characters can cast spells, and certain characters have abilities that mean they always have a set number of spells. The spells are a deck of shuffled cards similar to the  adventure deck, each card representing a spell. Certain spells were described as “cast as required”. This meant certain characters could burn through the spell deck, casting spell after spell after spell, in search of the particular spell they desired. It held up the game flow and was more than a little unfair. Now, apparently, you can only cast the spells you start your turn with and I assume you restock your hand at the start of your turn, to avoid cumbersome bookkeeping.

An aside: between getting excited about the release of 4th Edition Talisman and playing far too much Tetris, my mind has now become preoccupied with the idea of the balance of Luck and Strategy in games now (all games should aspire to the balance Tetris has btw).  So – “RANDOM STRATEGIES” – sounds like a great name for something. In fact it sounds so great I think I must have encountered it in some sort of games writing before.

Anyone have any ideas where? Dragon? GM Magazine? White Dwarf?

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Cut It Open And See If It Swallowed Any Gems Part 7: Stormbringer

As I mentioned before, I got Paranoia free through a White Dwarf subscription as GW got rid of their stock of their UK printings of US games. Also offered was Stormbringer, which a friend got. I think I played this once or twice as a player. There was an adventure called “Madcap Laughs” in White Dwarf that we played through. Eventually through various swaps, it ended up my possession (I think I still have it today).

I’ve neglected to mention so far that this is a RPG based on the Elric novels of Michael Moorcock. And that I’ve never read an Elric novel. I remember borrowing a Corum novel from the library around this time, and not being overly keen. I’ve since come to realise that I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy in the world. But despite my vague ignorance of Moorcock’s work (though I think I’ve read some of his comic work since) and my disposition towards fantasy, I got some decent games out of this. While not being familiar with the source material, the themes appealed to me at the time, having been exposed to them via other creators who had been inspired by Moorcock (mainly Grant Morrison).

And the game mechanic is a nice one. It’s the pared down version of the Runequest rules that were used by Chaosium for various games such as Call of Cthulhu (more on which later), combined with a magic system centred on the summoning of various entities, and the binding of said entities. There’s a scenario in the rule book that would be a key adventure in my second groups’ games, based around a cosmic gambling parlour. I now wonder if my fellow GM in that group, Barry, had taken to heart the bizarre random occurances in said adventure, as the games he’d run for years to follow were heavy with items and situations that created hundreds of unpredictable events. Stuff, like halls of mirrors where each mirror would have a different set of random effects for the person looking in it. He must have spent ages writing up chart after chart of this stuff.

Annoyingly we kind of lost contact with the chap after he said he was moving Cardiff, he then rang me a week later, while I was out, saying he was actually living in Edinburgh. And as he never left me a number, that was the last we heard of him.

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CIOASIISAG Part 6: Warhammer Fantasy Role Play

An obvious choice really given the Games Workshop-centric introduction I had to roleplaying. Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, or WFRP as was the ugly acronym, was a role playing game extrapolated from the rules and background of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle wargame.

And boy could you tell.

The rules mechanisms were mired in it’s origins, full of cumbersome modifiers for combat, yet fairly simple for everything else. Combat early in the game was quite deadly, if anything actually hit you. Later in the game, combat was still quite deadly, it just tended to be over quite quickly as you and what you fought were better at hitting things.

What it did well was the background.

Set in a fantastic version of Renaissance Germany, the mood of the game was close to Call of Cthulhu with a dash of Stormbringer. The characters were the common man (or dwarf or elf etc…) invariably set against cultists worship chaos gods. The game boasted a huge range of character professions the players could move through, later professions more familiarly the heroes of fantasy fiction, but starting professions included such lower class positions as Rat Catcher.

The approach of battling chaos cults was reinforced by the Enemy Within campaign that GW released to support the game. Rather than the dungeon exploring and monster killing you’d find in a D&D adventure, the focus was more on detective work and political intrigue.

I ran this game a fair bit with my first gaming group and briefly returned to it with the second group of gamers I was part of.  It was ignored by GW for a long time, indeed when White Dwarf stopped publishing WFRP material was around the time our interest in tabletop gaming was overtaken by an interest in Japanese videogames. WFRP was eventually revived in 1995, before dying again in 2002, and then revived again in 2004.

I still have a copy of the first edition, even though I can’t have played it for more than 10 years.

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Cut It Open And See If It Swallowed Any Gems Part 4: Blood Bowl

So my birthday came around in 1988 and as well as the White Dwarf subscription I got this game too.

As I said before Games Workshop at the time were just beginning their move to being the minatures focussed, eternally self-promoting machine they are today. It would take another 2-3 years before they resembled the GW you see on the high street today, but this was where it began. Around this time, with Warhammer Battle 3rd edition launched and WH40K out, they launched 2 big box set wargame/boardgame hybrids. One was Dark Future, GW’s take on Steve Jackson Games’ Car Wars, which was something of a flop. And the other was the 2nd edition of Blood Bowl, which is probably my favourite GW product of all time.

Blood Bowl is GW’s fantasy American Football game. The game came with 32 minatures (a team of Orcs and a team of Humans) and the distinctive polystyrene “AstroGranite” pitch. The rules were short, easy to pick up and it was fun, balanced game. There were rules for other races, that GW duly brought out minatures for. And eventually there were a couple of rule supplement books (one introduced the concept of “Star Players” the other focussed on rules for running a league/seasons) and the add-on, Dungeonball.

The game and minatures had a really nice unified aesthetic that set it apart from the other GW games. While ostensibly set in the same world as Warhammer Fantasy, the tongue in cheek background material and the comic-book style art of Pete Knifton made it unique in my eyes. The minatures resembled like American footballers, albeit shot through the prism of Rollerball and Speedball (the obvious influences) and then adorned with crazy spikes. Later editions of the game made the teams look more like ordinary Warhammer minatures stripped of weapons, completely missing the charm of this edition.

Outside of Talisman, which I still play on occasion, this would be the one GW game I’d like to play again. At some point I should get it out my parents loft space, dust it down and play a game.

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