Author

About the Author
Husband and Father of Two. Computer nerd by day, Board Gamer by night. Sucker for Bad Movies and anything Green Lantern related (not a mutually exclusive pairing).

Top 12 Most Anticipated Board Games of 2016

As an avid board game enthusiast, part of the fun of this hobby is looking forward to the new and exciting games coming out soon. 2015 was a strong year for board games, and so far what little news we have from 2016 appears to be shaping up to be another exciting year. Already there are more than 150 board games that have been announced for release during 2016 with varying degrees of information available about those games at this point. Most of the board games announced look mediocre or don’t appeal to my taste, but some have me just waiting to pre-order as soon as it becomes available.

som

Before I begin my list, I should say that this list doesn’t represent the games I think will be the best this year. Some of the best board games that will come out this year won’t be announced until much later in the year. The games in this list merely represent the games I’m the most excited about. Some, I’m sure, will turn out great, others have the promise of being great, and it’s almost certain at least one of these will flop, but I’m dying to learn more about them anyway. Since this is going to be a long article, I’m going to list out my board games first, and if you’d like to see what they’re about, keep reading or just skip to the one’s you’re interested in.

Here’s the TL;DR Board Game list:

12) Apex Theropod Deck Building Game by Die-Hard Games
11) (Tied) Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past by IDW Games
10) (Tied) Legendary Encounters: Firefly and Legendary Encounters: Big Trouble in Little China by Upper Deck Entertainment
9) Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks by Gale Force Nine
8) The Networks by Formal Ferret Games
7) Campaign Trail by Cosmic Wombat Games
6) Victorian Masterminds by Space Cowboys
5) Star Wars: Rebellion by Fantasy Flight Games
4) Chronicles: Origins by Artana
3) Scythe by Stonemaier Games
2) SeaFall by Plaid Hat Games
1) Untitled Star Trek Game by Gale Force Nine

Intrigued? Keep reading, and I’ll give you my take on the most exciting games set to be released in 2016.

12)  Apex Theropod Deck Building Game by Die-Hard Games

Apex Board Game Image

The Apex Theropod Deck Building Game is a deck-building game where each player takes on the role of a dinosaur species brood mother.  As the game progresses, you use dinosaurs from your clan to hunt for food along a rotating game trail, which you use to feed new dinosaurs that can be added to your brood, or to unlock new evolutions that give your species certain powers.  Each species of dinosaur includes a custom deck of cards with very distinct playing styles that fit the type of species you are playing.  For example, Raptors need to focus on ambushing and attacking in packs, whereas Tyrannosaurus can scavenge dinosaurs that were killed by other predators in the game trail.  Occasionally, a more powerful dinosaur shows up in the game trail to challenge your brood for dominance.  The game ends when the world is destroyed by a massive meteor strike, and the player who managed to hunt the most game, including bosses, wins.

This pick is a little bit of a cheat.  The first Kickstarter edition of this game was released early in 2015, and while I played it a lot, there were some flaws.  Some dinosaur species were unbalanced, and it was a little too easy to end up in a ‘death spiral’ where your deck becomes so clogged by wounds that you can never recover.  That said, the play was really thematic, and the card artwork was amazing.  Last summer, Herschel Hoffmeyer, the game designer and artist, announced that he was releasing what amounts to a second edition of the game, even though it’s not called such.  He took a lot of the feedback, fixed some of the balance issues, and the new version of the game is set to be released in late January or February.  The game looks even better, and if you like deck-building games, this one is worth your time.

11)  Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past by IDW Games

idw

This will be the first of two ‘ties’, but it’ll make sense why I’m ranking them this way.  Last year, board games saw a glut of campaign style games, some of which were great, many of which were not.  Very few had licenses on par with Back to the Future and TMNT.  IDW is a company mostly known for their comic book lines, but in the last few years has ventured into board games.  They’ve put out a few decent games, including Machi Koro and Yedo, but they’ve been focusing recently on licensed properties, including The Godfather, X-Files, and Orphan Black.  All of those games have been largely disappointing.

Last year, Cryptozoic Entertainment released the Ghostbusters game, which primarily used artwork from the IDW Publishing Ghostbusters comics.  Ghostbusters is a game that hits the nostalgia factor hard, and has great miniatures, but the story and gameplay falls flat and feels very repetitive.  Ghostbusters was one of several games to try and add a campaign element to it that just feels underwhelming.  Now IDW is venturing on their own with TMNT and Back to the Future, and while once again the nostalgia factor is high, I’m REALLY nervous.

IDW Publishing has been putting out TMNT comics for a number of years now, which I’ve quite enjoyed.  The new TMNT game appears to let players play as one of the half-shell heroes or as Shredder (which I assume means it’s a 1-vs-All style game as opposed to purely cooperative), and will recreate stories from the comic book arcs of the last four years.  The artwork promises to be great with Kevin Eastman on the project, and the game is being designed by Kevin Wilson, who has done some great games (Descent 2nd Edition, Arkham Horror, and Fury of Dracula), but has also had some misses.  With a summer release, we should get more information soon.

Back to the Future is a more nebulous game right now.  From what we know so far, it’s a card game for 2-4 players that involves traveling back and forth between 1955, 1985, and 2015 to ensure that key events from the movies happen as they are supposed to that plays in about 30 minutes.  Each turn, players take on the role of one of the iconic characters and will be trying to maneuver other characters from the movies to their play areas to trigger key events from the movies.  It adds an interesting ‘ripple’ mechanic, where you bank cards in between the three time periods that represent positive changes that occurred because of how events in the past were changed.  While I’ll have to wait and see as more information comes out, I’m not sure I’m sold on a filler-type version of a Back to the Future game yet, but the idea is interesting.  We’ve yet to see a great game with this license, so maybe this one will be it.

10)  Legendary Encounters: Firefly and Legendary Encounters: Big Trouble in Little China by Upper Deck Entertainment

legendary

The Legendary system is one I have raved about before.  Towards the end of last year, Upper Deck announced there were two different new Legendary Encounters games being planned that would be standalone titles, but both of them had me very intrigued:  Firefly and Big Trouble in Little China.  For those unfamiliar, the Legendary System involved a Deck-Building engine with a story-driven event track of villains/challenges that the players must overcome all while trying to accomplish a set of objectives to complete the story/defeat the villain.  The Alien and Predator versions of the game are among some of my favorite games of all time, so it’s a system I like a lot.

My concern is how these two IPs will fit into that system.  Every variant of the Legendary engine so far has been focused on combat.  This gives me some concerns when it comes to the Firefly license.  The idea of a Firefly game being a cooperative effort I like a lot, but it never felt like combat lay at the heart of the show, so I’m curious/nervous to see what direction they take it in.  Big Trouble in Little China is a fantastic cult classic film (set to be remade soon as well), but my only concern here is the depth of the story.  Marvel Legendary has a billion villains available to play now, Aliens has 4 movies to recreate, Predator only has two, but you can play as either Humans or Predators, which gives effectively 4 scenarios to play (plus the Alien crossover pack which allows you to combine the two games).  Even Firefly could probably pick a couple of episodes to recreate, but there’s just the single story from Big Trouble in Little China, which is my only concern there.  I think the theming would work well in this engine since there is a lot of combat, and bosses along the way to define the story.

So, long story short, I’m excited to see what they do with both games, since both have the potential to be interesting iterations of the Legendary system, but both could just as easily turn out to not work at all.  Both look to be released by GenCon 2016, which will be in early August.

9)  Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks by Gale Force Nine

doctorwho

This has every appearance of being the game that Whovians have been waiting for, though there’s not much more than an initial press release known about the game right now.  The press blurb indicates that the Daleks appear to be waging an all out war across time and space to eliminate the Doctor, and players will step into the role of one of the various incarnations of the Doctor to try and stop their plan to erase the Doctor from history.  Promising miniatures (Dalek miniatures make me want to do a little happy dance by themselves) and interesting game play, I’m actually really excited to see where this game ends up.  Gale Force Nine, unlike IDW or Cryptozoic, has an almost flawless record for licensed IP adaptations.  Their versions of Firefly, Homeland, Sons of Anarchy, and Spartacus are all incredibly thematic, well-designed games that have received a lot of critical praise.  A great property in the hands of a solid company makes me really excited to see where this one goes.

8)  The Networks by Formal Ferret Games

TheNetworks

The Networks is a game released on Kickstarter this past Fall and set to release in June 2016 about running the best TV Network.  Players compete to have the best prime-time lineup and draw the most viewers to their network.  Players must manage their lineup of shows, which may gain or lose viewers as the shows age, and fill those shows with acting talent and advertisements to keep their network in the black.  Many of the cards are very tongue-in-cheek references to existing shows (my favorite being NCISICMBOMGOMG: Scranton), actors or ads, and the humor is one of the elements that really drew me to this game and I think will help it be a hit with a lot of people.

I’ve had a chance to print out a print-and-play copy of this game to try out, and I was surprised to see how strategic the gameplay is.  The humor across all the cards really belies that fact that there’s a lot of competition to get the shows you need.  Money always feels tight, so there’s always a balance to make sure you’re able to take the right actions when you need them.  With a catchup mechanism that feels very fair, special abilities that can be gained through the game, and ways to specialize your network to your advantage, I’ve been very impressed with how solid this game is, and can’t wait to get the real thing in my hands this summer.

7)  Campaign Trail by Cosmic Wombat Games

campaignTrail

Another Kickstarter project, this one is more forward looking.  Campaign Trail ran a campaign this past fall that didn’t fund, and will be relaunching again next month.  Don’t be afraid when I say this is a game about politics, specifically running for President.  There’s actually a lot of game to like here, and while politics is the setting, this game is at its core a fairly competitive area control game, with players vying for influence in key states to make sure they maintain their edge in electoral college votes.  When my Republican candidate runs ads on, say, Gun Control, I don’t have to say what position he takes, just that he’s out campaigning on that issue, which helps avoid the ideological problems many other political games have in forcing players to argue or defend positions that they don’t agree with or (more commonly) that start out of game conflicts at the table.

Each player represents either a Republican, Democratic, or Independent candidate (and when you play with more than three, players form teams of President and Vice President candidates), and while candidates will be running ads and holding debates on a number of pressing topics, players aren’t required to actually espouse or argue a given opinion.    Using one of my favorite mechanics, players have a hand of cards with each card capable of performing most of the 6 actions available each turn.  Some cards are stronger in certain actions such a fundraising or travel, but this gives you a lot of tactical options to respond to what other players are doing.  There’s a really cool scoring track that shows who leads in each state that represents the role that polling plays in an election and gives all players at the table a real-time view of who is in the lead at any given time.  This looks to be a really strong game that fills a theme I think is really underrepresented, and one I can’t wait to back once it becomes available.

6)  Victorian Masterminds by Space Cowboys

While the game title (which is not finalized yet, apparently) doesn’t give you any real idea what the game is about, the setting from the game descriptions is as follows:

“Sherlock Holmes is dead! And with London’s greatest detective out of the way, those with villainous minds decide to wreak as much terror as possible on the populace — and you are one of those dastardly no-goodniks!  In Victorian Masterminds, you use five agents to destroy buildings, kidnap scientists, complete missions, and collect resources in order to assemble your custom death-dealing device. Don’t forget to increase your firepower, too, so that you can then put that device to good use.”

Add to that description that the game is being designed by Eric Lang (Blood Rage, XCOM: The Board Game, and Arcadia Quest among others) and Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders, Ghost Stories, Takenoko, and Tokaido), and you have my attention.  It’s supposed to feature worker placement with different kinds of workers, and will likely be released towards the end of 2016.

If you’re curious to know more, here’s an interview with Eric Lang discussing the prototype at BGG.CON 2015:

5)  Star Wars: Rebellion by Fantasy Flight Games

rebellion1

Reminiscent of the PC Game of the same name released in 1998, Star Wars: Rebellion is a game of galactic conquest for 2-4 players developed by Fantasy Flight Games.  They’ve done pretty amazing work with the Star Wars license, though almost all of that work has been either in card or miniature games.  This appears to be their first ‘pure’ board game effort with the license, and I couldn’t be more excited.  This game appears to be the first to try and take the full galactic view of the conflict, and players will have to manage system morale, ground and space combat, and either find or protect the Rebel Alliance Headquarters to win.

rebellion2

With 170 miniatures, custom dice, cards, and a massive board, it promises to be an engaging experience, though the retail MSRP appears to be set at $100, which is a little steep for my liking.  What remains to be seen is whether the game will be a great game for Star Wars fans, or just a great game period.  With an estimated release in Spring of 2016, Fantasy Flight Games should soon start releasing teaser content to give us a better taste of what this game will involve, so keep an eye out for that in the next few months if this sounds interesting to you.

4)  Chronicles: Origins by Artana

This game is one of the hardest to get my head around, but could end up as one of the most unique gaming experiences of the year, assuming it gets released during 2016.  Set to launch on Kickstarter next month, Chronicles: Origins is the first in a planned series of Chronicle games that attempts to take the Legacy game concept to places it’s never been before.  It seems like the goal of this game is to take the legacy experience you get from playing through a single arc, then apply the concept used in some video game franchises of taking your saved data to inform the next game, except in this case, you’re filling out the breadth of civilization.

Hard to get your head around?  Sure.  This video may help.

I’m really, REALLY excited by the idea of a series of Legacy games all linked together, with the big advantage being that you can change up the game style between Ages.  Really interesting idea, and one I’ve definitely got my eye on.

3)  Scythe by Stonemaier Games

scythe

This is another game that’s a little hard to summarize, so I’ll simply fall back to the Kickstarter video to explain:

Did I mention this game raised $1.8 million on Kickstarter?  It’s fair to say a lot of people are looking forward to this one.  A 4X, alternate history, area control and resource management game with Mechs with beautiful artwork and custom miniature Mechs?  Yeah, I’m pretty excited.  Did I mention Mechs?

2)  SeaFall by Plaid Hat Games

seafall

SeaFall has been seemingly stuck in development hell for a long time now, which proves just how hard it is to actually balance a Legacy style game.  SeaFall is a 4X game (I guess I just really like that genre) set in the age of exploration, where each player plays a world power beginning to establish their naval supremacy.  From the brief game description:

“In SeaFall, the world is starting to claw its way out of a dark age and has begun to rediscover seafaring technology. Players take on the role of a mainland empire that consults with a consortium of advisors to discover new islands, explore those islands, develop trade, send out raiding parties, take part in ship-to-ship combat, and more. As in Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy, co-designed by Rob Daviau, SeaFall evolves as the game is played, setting their grudges into the history of the game and building a different narrative at every table as players open up the world.”

This game has been kept under rather tight wraps as development has progressed.  Unlike Pandemic: Legacy, it would seem that individual games will tend towards 120 minutes instead of 45 – 60 minutes, which I’m totally fine with.  What I’ve been able to see of the game reminds me of the Uncharted Waters video game series for the SNES/Genesis that I spent hours playing when I was younger.  I think a lot of people are eagerly waiting for a release date to be put out there for this one, but all indications are that it will come out this year.

1)  Untitled Star Trek Game by Gale Force Nine

While there’s been a glut of good Star Wars board and video games, there hasn’t been a great Star Trek game in quite a while.  Mayfair’s most recent attempt (Star Trek:  Five Year Mission) was just not good.  I happen to enjoy Star Trek: Fleet Captains a fair amount, though the rules are so dense and the setup time pretty intimidating to the point it almost never hits the table anymore.  The X-Wing Miniatures game is superior in all aspects to WizKids Attack Wing.  That’s why when I heard last month that a new game was being developed, and by Gale Force Nine (see my earlier gushing over them about Doctor Who), my ears perked up.  There are actually two new Trek-themed games coming out: one a reskinning of an existing game called Mage Knight by WizKids, who doesn’t have the best track record in my book, and this game.

What we know right now is pretty slim.  Planned to be released in time for the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek during the summer (read GenCon 2016 I would think), this currently untitled game is meant to be a giant 4X style game in the Star Trek Universe.  (I just realized my top 3 games are all 4X style games.  Hmm…)  Rather than play characters, you play as an empire (in what I REALLY hope feels closer to the old Birth of the Federation PC game released nearly 20 years ago) starting at the discovery of warp travel.  The game is currently in alpha testing, and has been kept largely under wraps, so we don’t know a lot yet, but the promise of a good, big, meaty Star Trek game has me the most excited of any game that’s been announced to this point.  Here’s a video from BGG.CON with about as much information as is available yet.

If it’s at GenCon this year, it’ll be my number one acquisition.  I want this to be good so badly, yet I fear for my wallet if it is.

So, that’s my list for the most anticipated board games of 2016.  If something caught your eye here, or there’s something you’re excited for this year, let me know down in the comments below.

Top 12 Most Anticipated Board Games of 2016

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #5 and Final Thoughts

(Please note that this article and others in the series may contain spoilers for the game’s progression, events, and content. While each post covers specific “months” of game play, there are times things occur in different orders or out of place and might spoil something for a future month.)

Welcome back to this, the final installation in my Pandemic: Legacy play-through.  If you haven’t read any of the previous articles, you can start here.  This time around, we will complete our story, and I will add some final thoughts on the experience.

When we last left off, we were heading into the final month of December.  Having played 15 games to this point, we sit with a record of 9 wins and 6 losses.  We were recently given the ability to finally cure the outbreak of C0dA, though to this point we were only able to cure 5 of the 15 cities infected by faded.  Three cities in the Middle East have fallen, including Karachi, which we nuked out of existence.  The organization known as Zodiac has revealed themselves, and we dealt with the betrayal and loss of our Soldier, Rooster Cogburn, aka Saggitarius.  While the broad strokes of the plot were now in the open, we were excited to see what sort of new challenge would present itself as we begin our last month of the game.

Pandemic Legacy:  Case History

Game 16:  December

Dagin:  Immunologist (Jerry Mary)
Dave: Medic (Aaron)
Nick:  Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Adam:  Generalist (Typhoid Mary)

DecemberBriefingTo begin the month, we reveal the December briefing which basically amounts to a threat from Zodiac, letting us know that even though we might get a handle on the existing outbreak of C0dA, there’s plenty more where that comes from.  It turns out they’ve been stockpiling a bunch of mutations of C0dA in Atlanta, and in order for us to win, we’re going to have to do something about it.  We’re instructed to tear up all previous objective cards, which includes the researching cures for the diseases, and get to replace them with two new mandatory objectives, both of which will be required in order to complete the month of December with a victory:  Vaccinate every Faded city, and destroy the stockpile in Atlanta, which brings with it another searching mini-game, this one by far is the most complicated we’ve ever seen.

After doing some planning, we all mutually agree that we’re going to take two cracks at the month, since it seems impossible that we’d be able to satisfy both conditions in one month.  Our focus for the first run through December will be the easier of the two goals:  vaccinate the remaining 10 Faded cities.

NewObjectives

Our new searching goal, which must be completed before the 5th Epidemic is triggered.

Our two new goals, plus our searching mini-game, which must be completed before the 5th Epidemic is triggered.

We pick up the same roles we used in November, with Dagin taking the lead as the Immunologist.  Our Generalist, Typhoid Mary, took the upgrade that will grant her one more scar voluntarily to prevent one infect step, which will be helpful since our Funding Level is back to nothing again.  We also have some aerosol deployment cards that will allow us to crop dust the vaccine over an entire city, which will help us manage the triangle of doom in the Middle East.  We also use our November win bonus to start the game with three vaccine capsules in Istanbul.

Between Dagin and I, we get most of the C0dA sites vaccinated, but things over in North and South America begin to explode, so Dave and Nick have to rush west to deal with it.  After doing all that could be done, I race over to South America to help out.  After triggering an Epidemic, we determine that there are three different cities that could all potentially trigger massive outbreaks in South America, so I have Typhoid Mary take her last scar and become Feeble, meaning she can no longer Quarantine, which we don’t really use anymore anyway.  We decide to push through and research a cure for Walken Fever, just to make it easier to get things back under control, at least until Dagin finished vaccinating C0dA, but It turns out to be bad timing.  Two turns later, she gets caught in Mexico City during an Outbreak, and is lost.

lionking

While this was sort of our plan, we were hoping to be able to squeeze another heroic act from her before she became lost.  This also forces me to have to turn in all my remaining cards, which destroys any hope of trying to sneak in the search game goal this month.  Following another Epidemic card, Susie also gets caught in Lima, and since she’s been carrying her scars for a long time, she too becomes lost.  That one hurts, since it feels like the Researcher was going to be incredibly important to passing cards around in the right way to find the C0dA stock pile in Atlanta.

By the time the dust settles and we trigger outbreak number 8, Dagin just barely got all of C0dA vaccinated, but Mexico fell, Montreal is Collapsing, and even Atlanta experienced one outbreak.  I’m not sure what we would have done if it had triggered a second.

AllFadedCured

We’ve finally managed to quiet the Middle East. No more C0dA here.

Record:  9-7

Looking at our board after our first attempt at December, we’re feeling very uncertain.  With so much panic around the world, it’s going to be hard to keep things in check, since we’ll need to save all our cards for finding the stockpile.  We give a couple of minor upgrades to our Medic and Scientist, then brace ourselves for the final round of play.

EndDecember1

Board State following our loss to begin December.

Game 17:  December Part 2

Nick:  Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Adam:  Scientist (Marie Pasteur)
Dagin:  Dispatcher (Craigly)
Dave:  Medic (Aaron)

RIP our fallen comrades. Tearing these ones up hurt.

RIP our fallen comrades. Tearing these ones up hurt.

With two lost characters, we know we’ve got to rotate out at least half our crew.  And, with everything vaccinated, the Immunologist has no real purpose to serve.  In looking at the useful roles, Nick decides to bring back Jamima, our Quarantine Specialist.  While not quite as effective without the military bases, being able to place quarantines, especially the one token anywhere on the board, seems like it would be really helpful.  Plus we have the Co-Worker Relationship with the Medic that will help move cards around to set up the pairs needed for the end of the stockpile track.  I decide to play the Scientist, since we just gave her an upgrade to allow her to hold up to 8 cards in hand.  Dagin decided to go back to the Dispatcher, since it feels like his ability to move people to each other will really help with the sharing of cards.  Dave of course stays the Medic, the only role he has played during our entire time.  We offered to let him play one of the others characters, but he decided he’d rather see it all the way through with his character, so we obliged.

Our strategy for the month is simple:  Pool our cards, stay close to the Research Centers, protect Atlanta, and try to keep things from getting out of hand everywhere else.  If we trigger the 5th Epidemic card, we lose.  No more retries, and only a limited amount of government aid, just 2 cards.

Essentially our plan works well, and we were aided by a great initial setup.  All three of the three cube infect cards his prior-C0dA areas, so there’s not that many disease cubes on the board and no threat of outbreak.  For the first couple of rounds, everything goes according to plan.  We drop in to Atlanta, spend what cards we have to search, and start trying to focus on collecting doubles for the harder search elements.  It’s not until we trigger the 4th Epidemic card that we really start to sweat.

sheldon.gof

The cramp in our plan is yellow cards.  They’re just not coming up, so no one is getting pairs.  The panic starts to set in that we won’t make it, that there just isn’t enough time.  Counting the cards left in the player deck, we know we’ve got only one safe turn left, and six total before we’re guaranteed to hit that last Epidemic card, and we need at least four turns before we can get all the cards we need, much less in the right order.  We’re really, really missing the Researcher right now.  We have to play four more sets of pairs, and we have three in hand, but we need a pair of Yellows before Dave can turn in his two Blues to complete the track.

The state of the board at the end of our final round

The state of the board at the end of our final round

Nick begins, takes his turn, and draws no yellow cards.  I take my turn, draw a yellow card, but it seems unlikely I’ll get to go again, so we’ve got to get me to a place I can let someone else take the card from me.  More importantly, no Epidemic.  Dagin spends his cards in Atlanta to advance us to within two spaces, then moves me to the city matching my yellow card, then moves Dave to my location so all the pieces are in place.  We’re in a position to win unless Dagin draws an Epidemic.  He draws… two yellow cards!  Dave takes the last yellow from me to give him a pair, travels back to Atlanta, and with his last action successfully sabotages the C0dA stockpile.  We win!  Out of curiosity, we flip over the next card from the Player Deck, and it was the last Epidemic.  We manage to steal victory from the jaws of defeat!

loki

Final Record:  10-7

Following our victory, we draw the last few cards from the Legacy Deck.  Aside from a very short and slightly anti-climactic card telling us it’s finally over, we draw a score sheet, and are given a way to put a score to how we did.  We had no idea this was coming, but we’re all pleased at the idea that they’ve given us a way to compare our experiences to other players with this score.  A perfect (impossible) score would be 1000 points.  Our total ends up being 784, which puts us near the top of the Disaster Averted range, and just 17 points shy of Legendary.

Our final score for Pandemic: Legacy. Just 17 points shy of Legendary.

Our final score for Pandemic: Legacy. Just 17 points shy of Legendary.

We were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, and as our last act for the game, we broke out the permanent marker and signed the board.

FinalBoard

And, for the last time, I’ll run through the final state of panic in our world.  We only triggered two outbreaks in the second half of December, but the first half was pretty rough, leaving Mexico City as the only non-C0dA city to fall.

Panic Levels Blue Cities Yellow Cities Black Cities Red Cities
Unaffected 2 3 2 8
Unstable 5 3 1 2
Rioting 2 2 3 1 1
Rioting 3 1 2 5 1
Collapsing 2 0
Fallen 1 3
Faded 2 / 12 Infected 12 / 12 Infected 1 / 12 Infected

Final Thoughts

We’ve now finished the game of Pandemic: Legacy, Season 1.  I’m not sure what direction they’ll go from here, but this was one hell of a ride.  We all felt just blown away by how rich an experience that was.  The narrative the game creates as you play, the way your choices really have consequences, all of it came together to create games where we were always invested in what was happening.  The constant changes to core rules and the way the focus was always shifting made each month feel very different and unique, which is good for a game that you’ll play so many times.

The game balance was extraordinary.  I can’t even imagine how much play-testing had to be involved to keep the game working the way it does with each new change.  The catch-up mechanisms were great, and they gave even those who might struggle with the late game a chance to get caught up so you can enjoy and be prepared for the final struggle.

I know for some people the idea of a board game that I can’t keep playing indefinitely is a little off-putting, but I will tell you that the experience we’ve had playing this game is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a game, even campaign-driven games.  And I know everyone else at the table with me felt the same way.

I have to also comment on the story.  The narrative told here is just incredible.  To think what began as a zombie outbreak would end with thwarting a new world order bent on using the zombie plague to overthrow humanity and rule it all was awesome.  The plot is parsed out in bits and pieces, each month bringing with it the potential for new surprises and new drama.  The final third of the game really seems to crescendo beautifully, and was one of the best scripted narratives I’ve seen in any game, and rivals the type of story you’d see in a movie or full role-playing game campaign.

SuVHez2

One of the chief criticisms of the original Pandemic is that it basically created what’s known as “Alpha Gamer Syndrome”, where one strong or loud player can basically tell everyone else what they should do and can dominate play.  I’m not sure that’s completely mitigated by Pandemic: Legacy, but I felt like the experience was incredibly cooperative.  There were numerous moments where we would all sort of stop play and try to figure out as a group what the best moves for everyone would be.  It helps that all of us were familiar with Pandemic before playing.

I do think you need at least one player who is experienced with the game of Pandemic before attempting Pandemic: Legacy, and the more familiar the players are, the easier it will go for them in the early months.  I don’t think there’s a lot of new rules introduced early, but I do feel like the potential is there for players to forget certain actions or abilities if they aren’t really familiar at least with what their character can do, especially as the game progresses.  I also really feel like you get the best experience by playing the game all the way through with the same people.  I think it would be really difficult to have someone come into the story line half way through, because of all the rules changes.  They all evolve naturally for the players playing, but for someone new, I think it’d be difficult to catch up with the narrative and how the rules support the narrative.

And that’s as close to criticism as I come for this game.  It was hands down the best game released in 2015, and I couldn’t be any happier with how it all turned out.  If you like Pandemic, buy this game.  You will not be disappointed.  If you like cooperative games, buy this game.  There’s just something special here, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

SoGood

So, while I go figure out how I’m going to turn the final game into something I can hang on my game room wall, stop by and let me know what you think of it, once you’ve played it for yourself.  How’d you do?  Let me know in the comments below.

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #5 and Final Thoughts

The Man in the High Castle Review

Overview

The Man in the High Castle is an Alternate History TV Series created by Amazon Studios based on a novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick.  The Pilot episode for the series was released early back in January, and was Amazon’s most watched pilot ever.  The rest of the first season became available for streaming November 20th.

The core premise of the series stems from the question of what would happen if the Axis won World War II instead of the Allied Forces.  Set in 1962, we follow the stories of several characters living in a conquered Americas.  Following the European Campaign, Germany and Japan both successfully invaded the United States.  Germany now controls everything from the East Coast through the Midwest, Japan controls the West Coast up to the Rockies, and a small neutral buffer between the two vassal states exists along the Rocky Mountains.

What America looks like in this reality in 1962

What America looks like in this reality in 1962

The thing that drives the plot is a series of films of unknown origin.  The first film introduced in the Pilot entitled “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” is part of a series of videos being collected by someone known as “The Man in the High Castle”.  Hitler, who is still alive, also wants these videos, and a small group of resistance fighters try to do all they can to steal the films, which they deliver to The Man in the High Castle.  He, in exchange, apparently gives them some form of actionable intelligence they use to try and hinder the Nazi and Japanese regimes as best they can.

The story revolves around really three entities:  the Nazi leadership tasked with recovering the films and crushing the Resistance; The Resistance effort whose numbers are constantly diminishing, and the Japanese leadership, focusing on the Kempeitai (State Police) and the Japanese Trade Ministry.  In addition to the struggle for the films, the failing health of Hitler, who apparently has Parkinson’s Disease, sets up the potential for a power vacuum and the threat of war between the Japanese and Germans, who have a strong Cold War dynamic, though Japan lags significantly behind Germany in terms of military strength and technology.  This all creates an amazing tension that simmers through the entire season.

Primary Cast

The Cast of The Man in the High Castle

The Cast of The Man in the High Castle

AlexaDavalosJuliana Crane played by Alexa Davalos

Juliana gets involved with the Resistance following the sudden death of her sister Trudy in the beginning of the pilot episode.  Despite her mother’s hatred for the Japanese, she studies aikido and is friendly with the Japanese people.  Determined to figure out what her sister was caught up in, Juliana takes the film Trudy was carrying and tries to take her place to deliver the film to the Resistance in the Neutral States.

 

 

LukeKleintankJoe Blake played by Luke Kleintank

Joe begins the Pilot as a new recruit for the Resistance, secretly placed there by the SS to give intelligence on the Resistance and recover the films the Resistance possesses.  He quickly meets up with Juliana, and he starts to help her not realizing she may be the person he was sent to find.

 

 

RupertEvansFrank Frink played by Rupert Evans

Frank is Juliana’s live-in boyfriend, and works at a factory that creates pre-war ‘antiques’ prized by Japanese collectors.  His grandfather was Jewish, which makes things particularly dangerous for him when he is arrested following Trudy’s death and Juliana’s disappearance.

 

 

RufusSewellSS Obergruppenführer John Smith played by Rufus Sewell

Obergruppenführer (The second highest rank possible in the SS behind only Himmler) Smith is investigating the Resistance in New York, and is one of the most senior Nazi leaders in America.  His reach is long, his methods are brutally efficient, and it’s through Smith we get most of our insights into how the American Occupation functions in the show.  I would be incredibly surprised if Sewell’s acting doesn’t lead to some sort of award recognition, as he is easily one of the most compelling characters in the show.

 

CaryHiroyukiTanawaNobusuke Tagomi played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

Tagomi is the Trade Minister for the Pacific States of America.  He has a close relationship with the Japanese Crown Prince and Princess, and is a man of considerable influence among Japanese Leadership in America.  He serves to provide our insight into the Japanese mindset and culture in this world.

 

 

JoeldelaFuenteChief Inspector Kido played by Joel de la Fuente

Kido is the head of the Kempeitai stationed in San Fransisco.  We are introduced to him as he takes Frank into custody in the Pilot.  He’s probably the closest counterpart to Obergruppenführer Smith among the Japanese, and is emotionless in his role as agent of the state security.

 

 

Thoughts on the Series (Spoiler Free)

The setting is clearly one of the stars of the show.  All the good and bad from both cultures is strongly on display here, even though some aspects don’t play out as we might have anticipated them.  For example, we think of Japan as a technological powerhouse, but forget that much of that emerged from the post-War reconstruction effort in Japan.  Since that didn’t take place, the reality of Japan being far behind Germany technologically is not just a reality, but a plot device that works well.  There are lovely subtleties like classic songs from the 50s that now have either Japanese or German lyrics instead.  Instead of the 4th of July, you get VA day (Victory over the Americas), complete with fireworks.

There are also the darker elements from each culture that show up as well, such as the continued pursuit of the eradication of the Jewish people, the euthanizing of the mentally and physically handicapped, casual racism and sexism, and the continued practice of ritual seppuku.  There are obviously swastikas everywhere, and while violence and oppression is a stark theme, the show isn’t all that violent aside from a few jarring moments.  The reality of America as an oppressed nation is conveyed well, and explored in interesting ways.

Get used to seeing a LOT of these...

Get used to seeing a LOT of these…

In terms of pacing, the show is much more of a slow burn.  While I felt engaged the entire time, the writers clearly were in no rush to push the plot forward quickly.  This gives the viewer a nice time to feel the tension between Japan and Germany, and it gives that conflict weight.  My only real complaint is that I wish the world felt a little larger.  Our story primarily takes place in three locations, San Francisco, New York, and Canon City.  Each of those cities has its own feel that works, and all feel believable, but the focus on everything happening between those three cities left me wondering why they kept their world so narrow.  There’s also a fairly pronounced tonal shift between the first four episodes and the last half of the season.  I’m not sure what the reason for this is, and if you binge watch I’m not sure how pronounced that will feel, but it made some of the events from the first half of the season feel a little disconnected from events in the second half.

The acting is of course fantastic.  The standouts of the series to me are Rufus Sewell and Cary-Hiroyuki Tanawa.  Sewell’s character arc is easily the most fascinating, which I won’t spoil here, but he makes easily the most empathetic Nazi I’ve ever seen portrayed on screen.  He’s intelligent, cunning, and committed, but also very human.  Tanawa in contrast lends a real gravity to his role.  He’s wise, and insightful, and committed in his own way.

maninhighcastleheader

As for our young trio of characters, each of them has great stories and chance to shine, though each has moments that can occasionally feel a little unearned or uneven.  Overall, there’s not much room to complain here, even though Joe’s background feels a little vague.  Each of the characters is pressed to make difficult choices or respond to difficult challenges, and their growth over the course of the season is really riveting.

I highly recommend this show.  The performances are great, the concept is fascinating, and unlike many young series, they don’t give away much.  Since the setting is an alternate timeline, and they go to lengths to establish that other timelines exist, I’m not sure yet how strongly they intend to push into the science fiction or fantasy explanations of how that might be, but I’m glad they held off in the way they did, or it might have undercut the premise to begin with.  The season ends with a Lost-worthy cliffhanger that leaves TONS of unanswered questions, and I can’t wait for the next season to come out.

If you’ve already finished the series, feel free to check out some additional SPOILER FILLED thoughts below, or come back once you have and let me know what you think.

Thoughts on the Series (Contains Spoilers)

First, let’s talk about those films.  We’re shown two, and a third is described to us.  The first represents News Reels from our timeline of events showing the Allies winning the war.  The second, which Joe only describes, is a Propaganda video created by Stalin in 1954.  In our timeline, he died in 1953, and in the show timeline he died in 1949.  Then we get the third video that shows San Francisco being nuked, and Joe as a Nazi executing Frank in a potential future outcome.  Then, in the Finale, we see Hitler with rolls and rolls of film, and seemingly possessing keen insights into what’s going on around him.  Is Hitler “The Man in the High Castle”?  If not, who is?  Where do all these films come from?  We don’t find out, not even a little.  That was a little frustrating.

Speaking of alternate realities, Trade Minister Tagomi meditating himself into an alternate reality (that look close to our own, if not actually our own), was probably the most shocking outcome of the finale.  So many questions…

Then, isn’t Rufus Sewell’s performance amazing?  His acting when they first inform him of his son’s health problems is certainly award-worthy, and sets up the potential for some interesting growth.  His character has an almost George R. R. Martin-type arc, where he begins the series as a villain, but by the end of the series, you’re really rooting for him.  He, too, ends the season left at quite a crossroads.

man-in-the-high-castle-nazi_article_story_large

I didn’t really care for the Resistance-heavy arcs as much (though Burn Gorman’s turn as the Marshall was amazing and terrifying at the same time).  From our three young protagonists, Frank’s arc was easily the most difficult, but the most consistent.  Juliana’s character oscillates too much between devastated and fearless, though I certainly liked her character.  I’m not sure, though, what the though was behind introducing the not-a-family that Joe has back in New York.  Since they only show up for part of an episode, and he’s mostly rude to them, the only thing I can conclude is they’ll be more important in a future season, possibly?

There are of course numerous side characters who play interesting roles.  Carsten Norgaard gives a great performance as Baynes/Wegener, and his farewell to him family is heartbreaking.  I have no idea what the point was for the Antiques dealer.  Aside from helping to provide money to Frank at one point, he got an awful lot of screen time that seemed totally irrelevant.  Franks friend Ed (played by DJ Qualls) felt very one dimensional, and seemed to only serve to be Frank’s conscience.  Frank’s willingness to spare him at the end seemed a little out of place for me, and of course, we will also have to wait for next season to see how that arc plays out.

It may sound like I’m being pretty critical, but I did really enjoy the show.  I truly have no idea what direction the show will take in the second season, but I love the setting, and there are certainly a lot of interesting places they could take the story.

Final Rating:  4.5 / 5 UFOs

The Grid Rating Saucer 4.5

So that’s it for my review of The Man in the High Castle.  Have you seen it yet?  What were your thoughts?  Let me know down in the comments below.

The Man in the High Castle Review

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #4

(Please note that this article and others in the series may contain spoilers for the game’s progression, events, and content. While each post covers specific “months” of game play, there are times things occur in different orders or out of place and might spoil something for a future month.)

Welcome back to my play-through experience of Pandemic: Legacy.  Be sure to check out my introduction and initial play-through of January here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.  You should know this by now, but it should go without saying that SPOILERS FOLLOW.

When we last left off, we’d just finished the month of August.  With the Virologist and Immunologist found, our focus has been on trying to recover the remaining two elements required to finally research a cure for C0dA, but there are only four months left to play.  We’ve played 10 games and gone 6-4 at this point.  It seems our Government Funding Level will continue to hover between 0 and 2, so we can’t count on a lot of help from the deck, though the introduction of equipment cards goes a long way to smooth that out.  We know that the military is probably going to turn on us at some point, but just how or when that will happen we don’t know.  Plus, we’ve got that Nuclear Option Upgrade out there just taunting us, so there’s a lot of interesting choices still coming.  With all of that out of the way, lets jump right in to September.

Pandemic Legacy:  Case History

Game 11: September

Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Nick – Soldier (Rooster Cogburn)
Adam – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)

To begin the month, we learn that we’re being sent to track down a paramilitary expert that’s gone off the deep end a little bit, and is causing panic in the region. Our new goal is to find him, which means this guy’s going to be our informant. This of course introduces another search mini-game, this time needing to be done at military bases in the C0dA region.

With Rooster as our World Champion Where’s Waldo player, we set him to work, and by Rooster’s second turn we found the military guy, which is when all Hell broke lose. In finding our informant, a whole bunch of new information was revealed.  In summary, here’s what we learned:

Reveal2

  • There’s a vast global conspiracy called Zodiac trying to take over the world. They engineered the virus, and have been using it to seed chaos and panic prior to a massive power grab.
  • Rooster Cogburn is apparently so good at finding these mysterious contacts because he is in fact the agent known as Sagittarius. Now that his cover is compromised, we have to rip us his card, never to play him again, and Nick has to play as one of the Civilian cards for the rest of the month.
  • We receive a new goal of sabotaging military bases, and are informed that during the setup phase of each game, a new permanent military base will be placed on the board (until we run out of the permanent base stickers).

We finally get the payoff for why we might want to sabotage military bases we accidentally revealed a few months back. Tearing Rooster up was painful: he was our first lost character. It’s also the first time anyone has had to play a civilian, which means they get the standard 4 actions, but nothing special.

GoodbyeRooster

Goodbye, Rooster. You were a dirty traitor, but you’ll be missed.

Though handicapped, we manage to pull out the victory. We also manage to eradicate Sad Pandaitis, so for game end upgrades, we place two positive mutations on Sad Pandaitis.

Record: 7-4

We’ve got a whole new world to deal with, and it’s going to start getting worse. It’s appropriate that we go into October with no Government Funding cards, and we’re really hoping we don’t have a lot more searching to do, without Rooster’s ability to pull back equipment cards to help with searching.

EndSeptember

Game 12: October

Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Nick – Colonel (Hugh Mann)
Adam – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)

So, of course the first thing we find out, which we probably knew was coming, is that we need to go find Patient Zero, buried in Tehran. This is bad for us, since Tehran is currently in a Collapsing state of panic. This brings out another search game that requires us to go into Tehran to pull it off.

With our best searcher a traitor and lost, we rotate out a few roles. Nick decides to take on the Colonel, who is our best hope for removing Faded figures at this point. And with the new setup conditions, a new permanent Military Base is installed in St. Petersburg. In the opening card distribution, there’s only one black card between the four of us, but we do see some equipment cards come up that give us some ways to move into Tehran without having to discard black cards. We start taking that equipment like crazy. The biggest problem we have is that we just aren’t getting enough (any) of the black cards. In the process, we manage to eradicate red (with almost no effort required) and yellow. We’re struggling to figure out how to get enough black cards to Nick, who’s been taking charge of trying to gather cards for searching. By the time we finally start getting enough black cards, it’s too late.

This is the mess that Europe has become, especially trying to get into Tehran.

This is the mess that Europe has become, especially trying to get into Tehran.

The trail on Patient Zero went cold. There was just no way to find them, and our laser focus on finding them caused us to ignore North America. San Fransisco collapsed, experiencing three outbreaks and ultimately triggering the exhaustion of blue cubes to seal our fate in what would have been a massive 4 city outbreak spreading across North America out of Montreal.

Record: 7-5

To wrap the game, we took our final positive mutation on Walken Fever, and attached the Nuke to the Taipei card, which we hope not to need next round, but will have handy. All told, while no one enjoys losing, we aren’t too sad about having to take another crack at finding Patient Zero before the month expires, and we’ll get some funding back to help.

As we check in with the how panic around the world has risen, things are continually progressing from bad to worse in the zombie territories, though we’ve still managed to keep C0dA from spreading any farther. Our first city fell, and two others are on the verge. We’re still holding on to our FOB in Istanbul, but with Zodiac now placing new bases, we suspect it won’t be too long before the one even there in Istanbul becomes a liability. We did take out the last base in the Americas, as well as the base in Khartoum, but there are still three more permanent bases out there, with one more still available.

Panic Levels Blue Cities Yellow Cities Black Cities Red Cities
Unaffected 5 4 3 9
Unstable 6 (+1) 3 1 2
Rioting 2 1 4 (-1) 3 (-2)
Rioting 3 1 1 (+1) 3 (+2) 1
Collapsing 1 (+1) 1 (-1)
Fallen 1 (+1)
Faded 2 / 12 Infected 12 / 12 Infected 1 / 12 Infected
Game 13: October Part 2

Dagin: Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Adam: Ops Expert (Franklin Russell)
Dave: Medic (Aaron)
Nick: Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

This time around, we decide we need to do something about our ability to get into Baghdad, so I decide to play the Operations Expert, which will allow me to build a Military Base in Baghdad, which will ease travel into the city, as well as improve our search results. With our Funding Action up to 2 again, we’re feeling good about our chances. To begin the game, a new Military Base is placed in Tokyo.

This game was actually pretty straightforward. I get a base set up in Tehran after Parachuting in (using an Equipment card). We manage to get a modestly better set of black cards to begin the searching, and just about everyone takes part. We find Patient Zero, and with him, unlock the key to C0dA. We’re able to take out the base in Tokyo, though can’t do anything about the others. We manage to complete the month with a win without a single Outbreak triggered, though there were getting to be a fair number of Faded in the Middle East by the end. Also of interest was the fact that the Nuclear Option card was available, but we chose not to deploy it this month.

Record: 8-5

At the end of the round, we decide that we need to bring in another character capable of making a good contribution. We decide to deck out the Generalist with new upgrades. First, we give her the Shady Background upgrade, which broadens her ability to sabotage military bases, which is about to be much more important. We also add the Hero upgrade, allowing her to take the Self Sacrifice action (taking a Scar to prevent the Infect Step for one turn) at any time.

We've got everything we finally need to develop a cure for C0dA!

We’ve got everything we finally need to develop a cure for C0dA!

Vaccine

With Patient Zero, we have all the elements needed to synthesize a cure. We get to open the last major package, which gives us all sorts of new goodies. The most important of these are new buildings, called Treatment Centers. These orange buildings will begin to slowly pump out doses that can be used to treat Faded victims. They can also be used to inoculate a Faded city once there are no Faded, meaning Faded can no longer be placed there. At the end of a player’s turn each treatment center can generate one dose (represented by tiny orange pills), which can be picked up by players and used to administer treatments. We also get the Immunologist character card, who is basically the medic for treating C0dA. He still needs to have enough pills on hand to treat everyone in a city, but can do it all in one action instead of several.

One other thing we learn, and why the Generalist’s new upgrades are so important, is that the number of Military Bases in an area hinders treatment. Administering treatment takes one extra action per Military Base in the region. With two bases in the western half of C0dA territory, that’s bad news if we can’t get rid of them quickly. All told, we’re shaping up to have a wild finish to the year.

Game 14: November

Nick: Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Dagin: Operations Expert (Franklin Russell)
Adam: Generalist (Typhoid Mary)
Dave: Medic (Aaron)

The new objective card for November is incredibly ominous:

NovemberBriefing

The Quarantine Specialist is out of commission. We’ve leaned on Jemima for a long time, but quarantining isn’t going to get us far enough now.  We waffle on weather to take the Immunologist or the Operations Expert since we really need to start getting some Treatment Centers up and running, but ultimately we opt for Franklin, and Dagin decides to play him as I take over the Generalist.

This game starts BADLY. We have 6 Outbreaks before we make it around the table once. There was really no hope for us. We do manage to place two Treatment Centers in Istanbul, our reliable FOB, and Algiers. We also manage to implement the treatment for C0dA in Istanbul and Cairo.  That’s the very minor silver lining for a game that will be our fastest loss ever.

maxresdefault

Just before the end of the game, in a hope to try to buy us a little time, we deploy our tactical nuke to destroy Karachi, the heart of Zombie Outbreak central. It buys us a two turns, but it’s an ultimately pointless gesture.

There’s now a three-city cluster that are all fallen between Karachi, Baghdad, and Tehran.

What a mess...

What a mess…

Record: 8-6

For our game end upgrades, we make both Treatment Centers permanent. We hope this will give us a better chance to take care of things when we try again. Getting the Funding Action cards back will certainly help as well.

Game 15: November Part 2

Adam: Generalist (Typhoid Mary)
Dave: Medic (Aaron)
Nick: Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Dagin: Immunologist (Jerry Mary)

Now that the Ops Expert isn’t really needed, Dagin swaps him out for the Immunologist, who is apparently the older brother of the Generalist. The Family relationship chosen by fielding the Immunologist for the first time guarantees at least one of those two characters will have a strong first turn. Now that we’ve got a couple of Treatment Centers available, we want to start pushing those zombies back a little bit more. As the Generalist, my job is to see to it that we neutralize the Military Bases quickly. Thanks to my new sibling connection, I get six actions my first turn, and with those actions I manage to sabotage the Military Base in FOB Istanbul then parachute into St. Petersburg to take out that Base all in one turn. This gives Dagin a much freer hand to start moving about and curing in the Western half of C0dA territory until we can do something about our remaining bases.

TreatingEurope

A look at the new Immunization Centers and the little Treatment capsules that have to be collected in order to treat Faded.

While not hopeless like the first attempt at November was, this month became a very tense game that always felt on the verge of spinning out of control. Typhoid Mary completes her sabotage efforts, destroying all remaining Military Bases, but has to use her Heroic ability to prevent one of three potential Outbreaks. She takes the Pyrophobic card, which now prevents her from using the sabotage action any more. This is fine, since there’s nothing left to sabotage, though we now tell the story of her having to do some terrible things to take down those bases that has given her PTSD.

I've seen things, terrible things...

I’ve seen things, terrible things…

Dagin manages to install the cure in 3 more cities. We fight a tense battle to keep a number of areas under control, surrendering a few more outbreaks in North and South America, but we emerge victorious. There’s a treatment line running along the ruin that is the heart of the Middle East. Typhoid Mary takes another Scar being heroic to prevent the outcome of two back-to-back epidemics. All told 5 cities have been immunized, all permanent military bases removed, and we’re ready to tackle December.

Record: 9-6

For our game end Upgrades, we decide to make the Treatment Center we placed in Hong Kong permanent, and give Typhoid Mary one last Upgrade that allows her to replace the upgrade slot with a Scar, effectively giving her one last non-fatal chance to be Heroic.

So, since we last looked at worldwide panic levels, things in the Middle East have certainly gotten worse (though we didn’t help when we nuked Karachi). South America took a pounding, but I feel like aside from our Triangle of Death in the Middle East we’ve done a pretty good job shielding the rest of the world from massive panic.

EndNovember

The World map at the end of November. Just one month left to go.

 

Panic Levels Blue Cities Yellow Cities Black Cities Red Cities
Unaffected 3 3 2 (-1) 8 (-1)
Unstable 6 4 (+1) 1 2
Rioting 2 1 2 (-2) 1 (-2) 1 (+1)
Rioting 3 1 3 (+2) 5 (+2) 1
Collapsing 1 0 (-1)
Fallen 3 (+2)
Faded 2 / 12 Infected 12 / 12 Infected 1 / 12 Infected
Immunized 1 Immunized 4 Immunized

Next time, we’ll be finishing the game, and I’ll be delivering my final thoughts on our experience. We know the number of goals will drop to two, and the Military is likely to be incredibly unhappy with us. How will it all tend? Check back next time to see.

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #4

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 2

Welcome back to my review of the Top 10 Board Games of 2015.  In this article, I’ll be presenting my Top 5 games released during 2015.  You can read the first part of this article covering Games 6-10 and a few honorable mentions here.

That said, let’s pick back up with the:

Top 10 Best Board Games of 2015

5.  Baseball Highlights: 2045 by Eagle-Gryphon Games

BaseballHighlightsBaseball Highlights: 2045 is a game for two or more players that is supposed to play like watching the SportsCenter highlights of a series of baseball games. You start out with a generic team made up of rookies and a few veteran players of three types: naturals, cyborgs, and robots. Each type of character has a set of strengths, for instance robots tend to generate a lot of hits, naturals are better defensively and draw more fan support, and cyborgs tend to make the best pitchers. Each team has a deck of fifteen cards representing their roster, and only six players will play in each particular outing. Players score a certain amount of revenue based on who played that game which they use to draft new players from the market. In order to place a new player card in your deck, you demote one of the current players from your roster to the minor leagues, ensuring you never exceed your 15-card roster. Single games take maybe five minutes, and most plays typically have you playing several games to start customizing your roster, then playing out a championship series.

I’m not a huge fan of baseball, but this game is just fantastic. The back and forth between players is really exciting, and even though you only get six players per game, the timing of when to play them is really important. Where this game really shines is in it’s ability to stage tournaments. The base game comes with the ability to play four different teams, but new expansion team decks were released that allow you to expand the tournament out and accommodate a lot of players (up to 16 teams) that would make for an incredible larger bracket. There’s so many different strategies you can take as you build out your team: You can sign a bunch of robots to generate runs, but not a lot of fan support; you can build a heavy defensive team to shut down other players; you can try to build a team that generates a lot of fan support to try and recruit a few really powerful hitters; or you can try and sign a bunch of players that try to combo off each other. I love playing this game, and have to say it’s probably the best sports-themed game I’ve ever played.

4.  Specter Ops by Plaid Hat Games

SpecterOpsSpecter Ops is a 1-vs-All game where one player takes on the role of a secret agent trying to infiltrate and sabotage a Raxxon Corporation facility, while the other players play Raxxon Hunters dispatched to chase the agent down and take him out before he can complete his mission and escape. This is a hidden movement game, where the Agent records his movement secretly on a sheet of paper and is only visible to the Hunters when he enters their direct line of sight on the board. The Agent has to sabotage three key mission objectives and escape before either the Hunters can do enough damage to him or reinforcements arrive to pin him in after 40 turns. Each Hunter has a couple of abilities that allow them to narrow in on the location of the Agent, while the Agent is given a couple of limited use pieces of equipment to help them against the Hunters. It makes for a tense game of cat and mouse that’s fast paced and exciting the entire time.

I love this game. I believe this is the best hidden-movement game out there (though I concede there’s a case to be made for Fury of Dracula, which takes twice as long to play as Specter Ops). The variety of Hunters and Agents allows for a lot of replayability. With all the movement recorded on paper, there’s this great moment when the game ends, win or lose, when you can replay the entire mission and relive exactly where the agent was the entire time. There is an additional play mode when you play with five players (Four Hunters and the Agent), where one of the Hunters is secretly a traitor working with the Agent. The rules for this mode are a little clumsy, and I would strongly recommend not attempting this unless every Hunter has played before, but it definitely creates a different experience when you can no longer trust that the information coming from the other Hunters is truthful. I think I prefer playing the ‘standard’ play mode to this variant, but the way it takes a 1-vs-All game and makes it more of a team game is very interesting. All in all, this is a fantastic game, great design, great theme, and one I’m always excited to play.

3.  Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game by Upper Deck Entertainment

LegendaryPredatorIf you’ve read some of my earlier articles, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of this game, the Predator franchise, and the Legendary game system. Previous entries in this system, which are set in the Marvel and Aliens universes, are cooperative deck-building games where players recruit heroes or important characters from their respective universes to struggle together to accomplish a get of goals while overcoming wave after wave of enemies along the way. The Predator version of this game allows players to recreate the events of the first two Predator films, which would be enjoyable by itself, assuming you are also a fan of that franchise. Mechanically, I think this is the best implementation of the cooperative Legendary system. Where this game really shines is in the alternate play mode as Predators. The Marvel version attempted to do a semi-cooperative experience where everyone works together but one player does the most good and wins, and that didn’t work at all for me. In this version, they created a truly competitive mode where each Predator is trying to hunt the biggest game, and can scrap with each other along the way, trying to collect the most trophies gathered by killing human characters from the first two Predator films. There’s additionally some expansion cards that allow the Predators to try and hunt Aliens if you also own the Legendary Encounters: Aliens game, which was a major draw for me as well.

This game has everything I want from a good cooperative game. It’s challenging, and forces the players to work together to be successful. It really does a great job of incorporating the story elements from the Predator films. The deck-building aspect of the game is interesting and allows players to specialize and even work together to help other players recruit great cards to their decks. Then you take all those mechanics and flip it around to be a purely competitive game, and it still works perfectly. It should go without saying that the theme of the game is violent, and that theme is reflected in the game art. If that’s something you have a problem with, then I would stick with the Legendary Marvel line, but if you’re a fan of the franchise, or if you enjoy tough cooperative games with strong theme, this gets a solid recommendation from me.

2.  Codenames by CGE

CodenamesCodenames is a party game designed for two teams that draws inspiration from other word games like Taboo or Password. Unlike those games, which typically use time limits to create tension, Codenames places a five by five grid of random words out in front of all the players, then has one member from each team try to give clues to guess which of those 25 words belong to their team. Both clue givers are working off the same grid of words using a clue card that identifies which words within the grid belong to the red team and which belong to the blue team. Some words are ‘unaffiliated’, meaning they just fill up the grid with additional words to be avoided, and one word is the bomb. If any team accidentally guesses the bomb word, they instantly lose that round. Teams alternate giving clues by saying a single word and a number, for example “Fish Three.” This would indicate to my team that I believe three words in the grid of 25 have something to do with fish. They guess a word, one at a time. If they’re correct, you place a card with your team’s color over the word, and they can continue guessing up to the number given in the clue plus one additional guess. This allows you to potentially go back and take another stab at a previous clue you didn’t get right. If the word they guess is unaffiliated or belongs to the other team, you place the appropriate color card, and have to yield play to the other team. And if you guess the bomb word, you lose. The first team to correctly guess all of their words first wins the round.

There’s just nothing quite like Codenames, which feels initially intimidating, but the challenge becomes really rewarding. It works great in just about any group of six or more, though in theory you could play with just four players. This was by far the most requested game by my family this Thanksgiving, appealing to both the gamer and non-gamer. The challenge in the game comes from trying to link as many words as possible in a single clue, as opposed to trying to guess the most words in a minute. You can give clues for a single word, but if you limit yourself too much you can allow the other team to race ahead of you. It’s challenging, but in a good way that leaves you always feeling like you could do better and wanting to try again. This was easily my favorite party game of the year, and for the shear approachability was almost my favorite game released this year.

 1.  Pandemic: Legacy by Z-Man Games

PandemicLegacyThe distinction of favorite game of the year has to belong to Pandemic: Legacy. I’ve been writing a series of playthough articles about my experience with this game, but the short version of my review is that this game is brilliant. It takes the core engine of an already fantastic cooperative game, Pandemic, and adds on top of it a layer of narrative and customization that allows a story to evolve as you play. Pandemic: Legacy tells a story about major disease outbreaks threatening the world that takes place over one calendar year, beginning in January. Each game still operates under the framework of being a standard game of Pandemic, which I won’t try to explain in full here, but is one of the most groundbreaking cooperative games ever designed. Starting with this core system, it then adds unique events and decisions that are revealed piecemeal from a secret deck of cards and multiple hidden compartments, cards, and stickers, that allows (and sometimes forces) players to interact with the game rules and modify elements of the game permanently. This allows a narrative to play out over the course of the year that includes twists and turns, and more than a few surprises. My group at the time of writing this article is currently in the month of November, and the story arc is about to reach its climax. I won’t spoil that here, but every time we sit down to play this game, we’re blown away by how invested in the story we’ve become and always wanting to push farther to see how it will end.

As a hobbyist, I buy a lot of games. This means that I will typically play through a new game a few times, and if it’s a truly great game, it’ll come up in the rotation every couple of months maybe, depending on the mood of my gaming group. The idea of sitting down to play the same game so many times (it takes anywhere from 12-24 plays of Pandemic: Legacy to complete the story line, though I’ve yet to hear of anyone who did it in less than 17) was a little intimidating. My group is sitting currently at 15 games played, and we play two rounds of the game each Friday over lunch. It’s become one of the highlights of my week. Pandemic is a great game, and I would say experience with Pandemic is probably required from at least one player you will be playing with should you decide to try this for yourself, but this just takes that experience to a whole new level. It feels like we’re playing through our own Hollywood blockbuster like Outbreak or Contagion. We’ve spent so much time with our characters that we’ve really become attached. Areas of the world have taken on a life of their own. The experience you have playing this game is only really comparable to playing a great Role Playing Game. The core mechanics of the game start to fade into the background and you find yourself just participating in the story, and trying as hard as you can to succeed in that story. There are moments that have occurred while playing this game that I will never forget. This is the best game released in 2015.

So that’s my list. Did I leave off one of your favorites? Let me know what you think down in the comments below.

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 2

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 1

During 2015, there were thousands of new Hobby Board Games released (just shy of 3000 according to boardgamegeek.com, the largest index of board games), which doesn’t count expansions to existing games. It’s impossible to keep up with so many board games coming out all the time, either from the ever increasing number of small publishers or the surge of Kickstarter projects, so you have to make something either truly great or truly singular to capture people’s attention today. Some have great names (Assassinorum: Execution Force, I’m looking at you), some make big splashes on Kickstarter (Exploding Kittens, which was better than it has any right to be), and some try to ride the coattails of great IP licences (like the new Star Wars Risk Edition, which is actually nothing like Risk and a surprisingly decent board game).

Each year, there are a handful of board games that stand out from the crowd. With Christmas nearing, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the Top 10 best board games released in 2015. I’ve had a chance to play each of these games multiple times, and they’re all games I intend to keep in my collection for a long time. With each board game, I’ll give an explanation of the game itself, and why I like it.

Before I do that, however, I want to start with a few honorable mentions. These are games I don’t own and haven’t had a chance to play (though I certainly want to), but each of them possesses something unique that I think makes them stand out from the crowd. In no particular order, here are my honorable mentions:

Honorable Mention:  Elysium by Space Cowboys

ElysiumIn Elysium, two to four players take on the role of a demigod trying to curry the most favor with the Gods on Olympus. Each player is given a set of four colored columns, which form the basic currency of the game. Each of the five game rounds, or epochs, involves recruiting cards and quests, which are separated between a players Domain area that represents the land of the Living, and their Elysium, the land of the Dead. Most of your points are earned based on the cards you are able to move into Elysium. Players compete for the favor of eight gods, though only five are used in any given game, which gives a fair amount of replayability.

If you like games like Seasons or Abyss, you should also enjoy Elysium. The game plays in about 60 minutes, which feels about the right length to get a challenging experience without taking too long to play, though it can be prone to Analysis Paralysis. It’s definitely one to check out if you enjoy Euro-style games.

Honorable Mention:  XCOM: The Board Game by Fantasy Flight Games

XCOMThe XCOM Board Game doesn’t have the frenetic, first-person shooter elements featured in a number of the video game implementations, but does capture the feeling of having to defend the world against an unknown hostile alien force. This is a cooperative game that features a digital companion application that is required to play the game. Lest that put you off, this is probably the best digital element incorporated into any board game to date. The app is more than just narration or instructions, but actually serves to randomize the game and give the aliens an unpredictable A.I. that responds to what the players are doing and how the game is progressing. While the game is capable of being played with one to four players, I would really only consider playing it with a full group of four. This allows each player to take on one of several important roles responsible for making certain key decisions.

There are a couple of reasons I’ve not played this one yet. First, I don’t know someone who owns it. Second, as someone who is not all that well acquainted with the video game franchise, I don’t feel the connection to the franchise to lead me to want to rush out and buy it. Third, the game has a reputation for being very difficult. Some of you might enjoy that, and I certainly don’t mind challenging games, especially cooperative games, but there’s a real-time element that makes the game hard because you will inevitably make bad rushed decisions that add to the difficulty of the game. It’s a game that really requires you to play it multiple times to understand how the game plays before you have a change to be successful. If you’re a fan of the series and willing to run though a few plays that will end badly before you feel like you get it, this one is definitely worth a look.

Honorable Mention:  Mysterium by Asmodee

MysteriumThe easiest way to describe Mysterium is to say that someone took a deck of Dixit cards and made an actual game out of it. That may seem a bit harsh to Dixit fans (I’m not a big Dixit fan myself), but it’s probably more accurate to say that Mysterium is Dixit with theme. In Mysterium, one person plays a murder victim, and the other players are psychic mediums or paranormal investigators who have come to help solve this murder. The victim has a deck of cards much like a standard Dixit deck, and ‘communicates’ with the other players by presenting them cards that represent their dreams. Without any other verbal clues from the victim, the rest of the players are trying to use the clues given to identify the particulars of how the victim died.

I think the main reason I include this board game as an honorable mention is the fact that I don’t really know any other game like this. It’s different and strange, which is usually a selling point for me. The reason I haven’t bought this yet is that this game, more than most others, is very dependent on the group. In the right group, with some ambiance and willingness to dive in, this game can be incredible. In the wrong group, this game can be an exercise in controlled frustration, especially for the victim, who often has to play cards that may not actually have anything to do with the clue he needs them to guess, and has to sit silently and watch while the other plays overanalyze all the wrong details from the card.

So, without further ado, here’s my:

Top 10 Best Board Games of 2015

10.  Apex Theropod Deck-Building Game by Die-Hard Games

ApexThis board game is my sentimental pick, despite it being a relatively obscure game. This game was a Kickstarter project launched by a military veteran that lives in my area, and the artwork to this game drew me in immediately. I would have been happy if all I got was a mediocre game with beautiful art, but I was surprised by how great this game actually is. It’s a deck-building game (similar to games like Dominion and Core Worlds), where you are playing as the brood mother of a particular dinosaur species. You hunt prey that comes out along a cycling game trail, use that prey to feed your babies, and recruit those grown up dinosaurs into your deck. Occasionally a Boss will show up in the game trail that has to be fought off or killed, and the game ends when a giant meteor strikes earth and everyone is rendered extinct.

This game is chocked full of theme, and may be the game I’ve played the most this year. It can play up to 8, though I would never want to play with more than 4 as the playing time increases linearly per player (at about 30 minutes per player), and has a surprising robust single-player mode. It’s tough, but each dinosaur clan has a distinct style of play that takes several plays to figure out and master. There is a chance with some bad card draws early for an incredibly thematic but frustrating ‘death-spiral’ to take place, where your dinosaur gets so messed up and sick from early hunting mistakes that there’s no recovering. I love this game, flaws and all, and when the designer announced he was taking all the feedback and releasing a second edition with refined game play, more player interaction, and more playable dinosaur species, it was a Day 1 Kickstarter purchase from me, as well as several of the people I’ve introduced the game to. I even funded high enough to be allowed to design a card for the new version, which should tell you how much I enjoy this game. It’s really one of the best deck-builders I’ve ever played, and the second edition will be releasing in January/February of next year, so keep an eye out for that one if it sounds interesting to you.

9.  Flick ‘Em Up by Pretzel Games

FlickEmUpI’m not typically a fan of Dexterity Games. For those not familiar with the term, the standard bearer of this genre is Jenga, though the term broadly means any game that has an element of physical interaction (dexterity) required, such as pushing blocks, flicking disks, or throwing pieces. For many of these games, the dexterity element is the game, and the concept of theme doesn’t really apply or is loosely pasted on. This is where Flick ‘Em Up is such an interesting departure.

Flick ‘Em Up is a game that strives to recreate an old-fashioned western shoot out. Players split into two teams of sheriffs and bandits then position their figures in their town ready to go. Players exchange fire by flicking disks at their opponents, with hits registering if you can knock the target figure over. You can also move for better positioning by flicking a rounded disk to maneuver between buildings and behind hay bales or other props. You can move into buildings which grants you cover, but if another person enters that building with you, you engage in a duel, flicking at each other over increasingly shorter distances until one of you emerges victorious and the other is thrown out into the street. It’s brilliant, hilarious fun that works well for a wide variety of age ranges, since flicking is a skill we all suck at.

8.  7 Wonders: Duel by Repos Production

7WondersDuel7 Wonders is a great board game about civilization building that uses card drafting as the primary mechanic. It’s a game that can play anywhere from three to eight players, though I always prefer to play it with the higher player counts. There are two-player rules included with the game, but they’re pretty terrible. Enter 7 Wonders: Duel. This game, designed only for two players, takes the basic concepts of 7 Wonders, and instead of card drafting inserts a game of pyramid solitaire. Unless you’re a big solitaire fan, that probably doesn’t sound very appealing, but they use the mechanic well. Instead of choosing a card from your hand, you can choose from any card uncovered in the pyramid. Some cards start each round face down so you can’t completely predict what cards will be revealed, but there’s a surprising amount of tactical decisions to be made. Add to that major changes to the military and science systems, a changed system for building wonders, and several other system tweaks, and what you have is a really great version of 7 Wonders that feels like the original game, but plays a little faster.

7.  Blood Rage by Cool Mini Or Not

BloodRageThe only board game on this list I don’t own (*yet), Blood Rage was one of the most hyped games coming out of GenCon this year. Thematically, it’s a game about Vikings pillaging the nine Norse realms as Ragnarok begins to destroy the world one realm at a time. Mechanically, this game is a Frankenstein of some of the best elements of other games that works so much better than it has any right to. Take a little card drafting from 7 Wonders, sprinkle in an energy system from Core Worlds, a combat system that’s part Area Control and part Cosmic Encounter, and an empire upgrade system like Eclipse and you get this game that feels familiar and strange at the same time. Oh, and the miniatures. This game features some of the best miniatures of any game I’ve ever seen, which is what you expect from Cool Mini or Not.

I’ve had a chance to play this game a few times now. The theme is strong, and really shines through all the game systems at work here. Blood Rage is unsurprisingly not for the faint of heart. It’s strategic, and brutally punishing of mistakes. Almost every game I’ve played has left someone feeling hard done by. Miscalculations or combat surprises early in a round can severely cripple you for the rest of that round. With only nine territories to compete over, you’ll be fighting multiple times each age, but unlike many direct combat games, winning isn’t everything. In fact, sometimes you’ll send your units deliberately into a fight just so they’ll die and go to Valhalla, since there are several ways to make a glorious death profitable, sometimes even more profitable than winning a fight outright. Then there’s Ragnarok. Each turn, one area on the board is destroyed, and any units in that territory at the time earn glory for their clan simply for having died in Ragnarok. I still don’t feel like I’ve been get my mind around how to win, and I love that.

6.  Tiny Epic Galaxies by Gamelyn Games

TinyEpicGalaxiesThe Tiny Epic series of games has been mostly a dud for me, until Tiny Epic Galaxies, the third in this line of pocket games created by Scott Almes. Tiny Epic Galaxies is a game for one to four players where each player controls a small system of planets and uses ships to try and colonize new systems or raid systems for resources. Actions are determined by dice rolls, and the game rules include a few ways to manipulate dice if you get stuck with an unfavorable roll. There’s two main currencies in the game, energy and culture. Both can be spent in increasing increments to upgrade your empire, but energy can also be spent to take additional rerolls, and culture can be used to copy the actions other players are taking. This leaves you constantly invested while other players are taking their turns, if you have culture to spend. Colonizing new systems earns you points and gives you access to new special powers, and the game ends when the first player reaches 21 points worth of new colonies. Additionally, the game includes rules for an incredibly challenging single player mode, and all of this comes in a box slightly larger than two decks of cards.

The game is surprisingly strategic, and competition over available systems can be incredibly tight, especially when playing with four. There are difficult choices to be made throughout the game, weighing whether to improve your empire, stock up on resources, or push to colonize a system before someone else can steal it. There are also really interesting combos that can be achieved by chaining together actions between systems you control and uncolonized planets. The ability to spend culture to duplicate the actions of other players can be a huge, effectively either giving you additional actions or forcing other players to avoid taking an action they know will benefit you more. The size of the game makes it easy to carry with you just about anywhere, which is awesome for a game with so much depth and replayability. There’s just so much variety in such a small package that I highly recommend it.

This ends Part 1 of my Top 10 Best Board Games of 2015. What did you think of picks 6-10 and my Honorable Mentions? Comment below with your thoughts!

Also, stay tuned for the Top 5 Best Board Games of 2015, coming soon!

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 1

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #3 (SPOILERS)

(Please note that this article and others in the series may contain spoilers for the game’s progression, events, and content. While each post covers specific “months” of game play, there are times things occur in different orders or out of place and might spoil something for a future month.)

Welcome back to my playthrough experience of Pandemic: Legacy.  Be sure to check out my introduction and initial playthrough of January here and the previous Case Files report here.

When we last left off, despite a rocky start in January, we had just rattled off four successful months in a row.  The dreaded Zombie Plague classified as C0dA is still running rampant, and while we were narrowly able to pull out a victory in May, things are looking pretty bleak moving forward.  At this point you should know that SPOILERS ARE COMING, but I’ll say it anyway.

Pandemic Legacy: Case History

Game 7: June

Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Adam – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Nick – Soldier (Rooster Cogburn)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)

We went into June knowing that there would be no Funding Action support from the government. This means we’ll have no special cards to play from the Player Deck, and we lose the extra turn those cards add.

AloneWe discovered to begin the month that there would be other help coming in the form of Equipment Upgrades. Several new stickers were revealed that contained upgrades we could attach to City Cards in our hands that grant the card an additional effect. Some upgrades can only be attached at Military Bases, others only at Research Stations. Some examples are HazMat Suits, which allow a character to discard that card to avoid taking a Scar when starting in a city with Faded, or Hand Grenades, which allow a player to discard that card to remove one Faded token from the player’s current city. Aside from that new wrinkle, we were also introduced to a new playable character, the Soldier. The Soldier cannot research cures, but can remain in a city with Faded without taking Scars, and as an action can gain an Equipment card from the Discard pile.

Nick decides to play the Soldier, which he names Rooster Cogburn, and establishes a Rivalry with Susie Broadchest III.  Turns out everyone is jealous of Susie’s status as the lone civilian in the fight right now.  I debate whether to bring in the Researcher or the Scientist, but we ultimately decide the Researcher does more good for the group. Dave and Dagin continue to play their roles as Medic and Quarantine Specialist respectively.

After the initial setup, which includes a modest number of Faded already beginning on the board, we set to work. We place our initial roadblock tokens to keep the Faded from spreading out of the most heavily infected cities. Dagin, now operating out of our Military Base in Istanbul, is amazing at Quarantining everything near Istanbul, often able to place 4 Quarantine Tokens per turn. Nick, working out his new Soldier role, starts laying waste to Faded in the hotspots.

seanOfTheDead

The one problem we’re having is that no one is really getting multiples of any given color, so researching cures for diseases is going slowly. Dave and Adam have to spread out to keep things from getting out of control around the world, and eventually we concede there may just have to be some problem spots that we ignore so we can focus on researching the cures and making sure we keep 7 cities quarantined so we can complete the required goals.

Once again, Mortenson Syndrome (Red) is cured and eradicated pretty quickly, but both Sad Pandaitis (Blue) and Walken Fever (Yellow) are taking too long. We research the cure to Sad Pandaitis, but are struggling with Walken Fever, which is spreading through Africa. Meanwhile, we start tripping an unfortunate number of Outbreaks: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Lagos, and Johannesburg all crop up. Shortly after triggering the final Epidemic, we get all the needed cards to Dagin, who is able to research the cure for Walken Fever, so now it’s a rush to place enough Quarantine Tokens to cover 7 Faded Cities before we run out of cards, which we just barely manage to pull off. We end the game with only 1 Yellow Cube remaining, and with more than half of the yellow cities poised for chained Outbreaks. We eke out a hard-fought victory, much to our relief.

A view of the board state after our narrow victory!

A view of the board state after our narrow victory!

Current Record: 5–2

After finishing the round, we reveal the next Legacy Deck card, which grants us our win bonus for next month of either 3 initial roadblocks like in June, or attaching one piece of Equipment at the start of the game. Our Funding Level remains at 0, so that’s not encouraging, but we’re excited to move forward. For our Game End Upgrades, we decide to use some of the character abilities, so we give Susie Broadchest III two upgrades, one that allows her to now have a hand size of 8 cards (instead of 7), and one that allows her to charter direct flights by showing, but not discarding, the destination city card.This is what happens when everyone tries to make it up to her for always getting her name wrong.  With that, we’re all ready to move on to July.

It gets a little lonely on the top, but there's no glass ceiling for Susie.

It gets a little lonely on the top, but there’s no glass ceiling for Sally. (I mean Susie.  Darn it, I did it again)

Game 8: July

Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Adam – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Nick – Soldier (Rooster Cogburn)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)

We all decide to stick with the same cast of characters, but as we reveal the new surprise for the month, a whole new mini-game is introduced. We’re informed that a Virologist doing research on C0dA has become lost, and was last seen at a Research Station in C0dA territory. The mini-game mechanics allow players as an action to discard cards matching the same color at a Research Station to represent search and rescue operations at those locations. Extra points are earned for discarding the card belonging to the city with the research station. You begin the round with 0 points, and the search target begins at 6. Every time an Epidemic comes, the search target advances along the track and becomes harder to locate. We reveal a new goal card telling us that retrieving the Virologist is now one of the objectives we can work towards, and are given a card with a large scratch-out block to be revealed if we successfully rescue her. Not sure why we decided the Virologist was female, but we all seemed to think it was, so we stuck with it.

The Search Mini-Game. You need to try to finish these while also still completing the actual game of Pandemic you're playing.

The Search Mini-Game. You need to try to finish these while also still completing the actual game of Pandemic you’re playing.

Our plan was to try and get Nick’s Soldier to get one of the Equipment cards so he can just discard to search and pick it back up again for his characters ability, which was a great plan, and was even rather effective. We rescued the Virologist by Nick’s second turn. This was about the only thing that went well this game.

In short, the massive outbreak of C0dA that we’d been fearing finally happened. It started in the game setup when our Forward Operating Base of Istanbul took two Faded before we could do anything. Five of the first 9 infected cities were Black, including two each in the 2- and 3-cube setup steps. With Dagin having to play first, it meant Istanbul was off-limits until we could clear it out, and without the Colonel, it meant we needed the Soldier to draw into a Grenade. In the mean time, there was a massive wall of Faded between Hong Kong, where we were forced to start, and Istanbul.

There's just too many of them. The Middle East is just a loss this month.

There’s just too many of them. The Middle East is just a loss this month.

It was all just downhill from there. Dagin was barely able to extend his Quarantine bubble because he didn’t want to end his turn in a city with Faded. Nick was so focused on rescuing the Virologist that we didn’t make any headway into Faded cities. By our second Epidemic, we were triggering Outbreak after Outbreak. Dave and I couldn’t do much but sit and watch, helpless to do much about C0dA. We managed to research the cure for Red, but immediately following our second Epidemic, we triggered one of the largest chain Outbreaks I’ve ever seen, spreading across 6 different cities, and since we’d already had 5 Outbreaks before the Epidemic, we lost, and lost badly. City after City fell to rioting. C0dA finally spread outside of the Black territory, with Milan and St. Petersburg falling in Blue territory and Jakarta falling in Red territory. Tehran and Baghdad were the first two cities to reach the Panic Level of 4, which is Collapsing.

Current Record: 5–3

Despite our loss, we did manage to rescue the Virologist, so we tear up that goal card and scratch off the block on the card. We now have the gene sequence to C0dA, but she informs us we need to work with a special Immunologist to develop a formula. We all assume this means there will be another Searching quest to be done in August, but we have to make it through July to figure that out. The Virologist also casually mentions that we should stop taking the retrovirus being distributed by the military, which is in reality just a placebo.

The board state following our loss in July. Not good...

The board state following our loss in July. Not good…

Things are now looking VERY serious across the Black territory. Every single Black city is now corrupted, as well as 3 non-Black cities. Eight of the twelve cities are now at least in Rioting, which means almost no flights in or out of those cities, which as we saw can make things very difficult if you can’t start in the middle and clear things out first. One other nagging concern we have is that Tehran, ground zero for the spread of Faded, is now in a Collapsing state. We still don’t know what significance that will have for us, but I’m guessing it’s not a positive development.

On a positive note, it does mean we will receive some Government Aid in the form of two Funded Action cards, which will be really helpful to have access to again. We decide because of how bad things went without being able to access Istanbul that we should make the Military Base we built in Delhi permanent. Delhi is now one of only three cities in the Black region that has not yet seen a Panic Level increase. We also give the soldier an ability that allows him to remove a Faded cube from a city he leaves behind. It should give him a little more firepower for clearing things out if we use him for our second attempt at July.

To update you on how the world now stands, here’s how things changed in the last two games:

Panic Levels Blue Cities Yellow Cities Black Cities Red Cities
Unaffected 8 5 (-1) 3 (-2) 10
Unstable 2 (-1) 3 (-1) 1 (-5) 2
Rioting 2 1 (+1) 4 (+2) 5 (+5)
Rioting 3 1 1
Collapsing 2 (+2)
Fallen
Faded 2 / 12 Infected 12 / 12 Infected 1 / 12 Infected

As an interesting side development, while opening packets at the beginning of July, I accidentally opened the wrong door. I revealed a set of new Action stickers that allow us to sabotage Military Bases. We put it back immediately once I realized the mistake, but that really threw us for a loop. We rely heavily on our bases right now, so sometime between now and whenever those stickers should be opened, the story is going to turn against us to have us working against the military(?!). It’s a little like watching an episode of your favorite TV show 4 episodes ahead of where you’ve watched, so half of it doesn’t make sense, and then you try to figure out how you got from here to there. We don’t have a clue yet, but the possibilities are certainly intriguing. Rather than spoil it, I think it gives us an even more heightened sense of anticipation. Is the military going to set us up to fail? Weaponize C0dA? Steal our research? Why would we want to sabotage those bases if C0dA is still running wild through the Middle East? So many questions, and we’ll find out soon enough.

Game 9: July – Take 2

Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Nick – Soldier (Rooster Cogburn)

To begin the month, four of the first nine cities infected are Faded cities, though only three were originally C0dA. The newly faded Jakarta is also in the mix. There’s also a large portion of North America showing signs of infection this month. Since we completed the Virologist quest last month, we’re back to our ‘standard’ set of goals. We decide to set up road blocks preventing anyone else in Red territory from having access to Jakarta, and begin play.

We sort of fall into our default roles. Rooster Cogburn’s new ability allows him to kill Faded as he leaves those cities, so most of his turns are spent hoping around between Faded cities. The Soldier role is most useful with Equipment, and while he has some (A HazMat Suit), what he really needs is the Grenade to be effective. We don’t see any of those for a long time. Aunt Jemima begins doing her Quarantine thing, while the Medic and Researcher each leave for North America and Asia respectively.

Animated GIF from our playthrough of July the second time. I took a picture every time it came back around to my turn. Click for a larger view.

Animated GIF from our playthrough of July the second time. I took a picture every time it came back around to my turn. Click for a larger view.

It took us a couple of loops around to the table to release we were in trouble. Initially, it felt like most things were in control, but before long, most of North America was crawling with disease. As we tried to tamp that down, northern Asia also started to get out of control. We’re also having trouble putting together the right sets of cards to research cures. This is also the first game we start to feel the pain of having so many cities Rioting. Since we can’t charter flights in or out of rioting cities, it makes some of our efforts in trying to move around the globe quickly that much harder. We’re forced to lean on the Military Bases (which cannot be used for travel by the Researcher) and Research Stations, which slow that down considerably.

The doom sets in once we look up and see that we’ll only have one more rotation around the table before we run out of Player Deck cards, and only Mortensen Syndrome has been cured, though Dagin and Dave each have the cures for Blue and Yellow in hand. That would be great, but we need to satisfy two other goals besides researching cures.  We originally focused on trying to eradicate diseases along with the 7 Quarantines goal, but once we realize there’s no way to stem the spread of any of our cured diseases in time, we shift to trying to get 6 Military Bases in the separate regions. By the time it gets to my turn, the last round of the game, I am able to construct Military Bases numbers 5 & 6, but Dagin’s Quarantine net was broken, so we only satisfy two of the required goals when we run out of cards in the Player Deck. July it turns out is just not our month.

gameOverAliens

Current Record: 5–4

We tear up the card that would have been July’s win bonus, then set about to decide on game end upgrades. After some discussion, we decide to place two more permanent Military Bases in Miami and Bogota. This means if we do need to fall back on the 6 Bases goal, we’d just need to construct one more somewhere in the Far East, and usually the Red region is pretty friendly to us. Just not in July. Because we lost, our Funding Level increases back to 4, which is the silver lining of a bad month, I suppose.

Game 10: August

Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Nick – Soldier (Rooster Cogburn)
Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)

The Mission Briefings for July and August. Gotta catch 'em all.

The Mission Briefings for July and August. Gotta catch ’em all.

Following the search for our Virologist in July, our August mission briefing instructs us to commence a search for the Immunologist hinted at earlier in July. Apparently he has been lost hopping about through Rioting cities in C0dA territory, and we need to go find him. I guess this is the one time where having a bunch of cities rioting is a positive thing. We’re given a new search track, and the difficulty is slightly harder to catch the Immunologist, though it’s easier for us to get to locations to perform searches, since any of about 6 cities would work. We’re also instructed to focus on dealing with C0dA, and the goal card to eradicate one disease is torn up and gone.

We also discover a new Action that players can take: Self Sacrifice! Players can add a Scar to their character to skip the Infect step of the turn! This is like having the One Quiet Night Funding Action card available at almost any time. In light of this new revelation, we pull out all the Scar effects, and identify a couple that aren’t terribly inconveniencing. Turns out there aren’t very many of those. There are several new pieces of Equipment revealed, including Binoculars, which move you an additional two points on the search track when you discard that card.

To start the game, we realize there’s a great opportunity to make progress in Chennai. Dave has this card to start the game, which had a HazMat Suit Equipment on it, which we then replace with Binoculars. He discards the card to search, which allows Nick to pick it up later. What it effectively allows us to do early in the game is find the Immunologist by Nick’s second turn. In essence, the Military asked us to find this guys running around the Middle East, and the Soldier grabs a pair of binoculars and says, “Oh, he’s right there.”

Our first character scars. No too bad, but they get worse from here.

Our first character scars. No too bad, but they get worse from here.

Following Dave’s first turn, however, before we have a chance to place a Quarantine marker in Istanbul, the Istanbul card comes up, and a Faded is placed in Istanbul, where all the rest of us are waiting for our first turn. Rooster Cogburn doesn’t care about Faded, and he’ll easily be able to take care of it before Dagin’s turn. I don’t have the same luck. When my turn starts, I have to take the first Scar of the game. Susie takes the Indicisive scar, meaning she can no longer place Road Blocks. This is an action we probably aren’t using as much as we should, but it seemed the least impactful for her role.

With a lot of early cards coming up in the Middle East again, we decide we’re going to clamp down hard on the rest of the world. In an unusual turn for us, Mortenson Syndrome is really running amok, especially in Seoul, which experiences two Outbreaks during the game. Unlike last game, however, we’re getting pretty good Player card draws, and each player is without meaning to naturally collecting cards of different colors.

We do decide after a particularly nasty turn in Europe to have Rooster Cogburn take a Scar to prevent the Infect step during a turn, and Rooster ends up taking the Overcautious Scar, meaning he needs one extra card of a disease color to research a disease cure, which is fine for us, since he can’t research cures anyway.

The board at the end of August.

The board at the end of August.

Our goal quickly becomes to place one new Military Base in the Far East, which we place in Osaka, and then leave Asia to be devoured by Mortenson Syndrome. Between that and finding the Immunologist, we just need to finish researching the three cures to complete the month. In the process, we strike at a chance to eradicate Yellow, which Dave manages to pull off with the Medic’s super curing ability once a cure has been found. Even though things in Europe were pretty dicey, we finish researching our cures, and successfully complete August.

seanOfTheDead2

Current Record: 6–4

Once we scratch off the Immunologist card, he informs us that he suspects this virus was bio-engineered, but can’t say by whom. To create a vaccine, we’re told he needs three things: A Gene Sequence for C0dA (which we already have courtesy of the Virologist rescued in July), some DNA Samples, and Virus Development Records that would document how it was created if it is a man-made strain.

The Virologist and Immunologist cards, after they've been found.

The Virologist and Immunologist cards, after they’ve been found.

Looking ahead, we assume next month we’ll be sent to search for DNA Samples at a minimum. The victory bonus for August seems to confirm that, since it gives us a one-time bump along the Search track for either one or two search tracks (which I guess would be needed if you hadn’t been able to find the Virologist or Immunologist by this point).

nuclearOptionThere are a few new upgrades that are opened up at the end of the month, including new Equipment, a new Character Upgrade, and a card I’ve been wondering about this whole time: the Nuclear Option! This upgrade attaches to any City card in the Player Deck. It can be played at any time to nuke the city shown on the card. This means it kills all faded tokens in that city, you then tear up both the Infection card and Player card involved, and the city immediately moves to a Panic Level of Fallen.

We talk about this card quite a bit, but decide since we managed to eradicate something other than Mortenson Syndrome for the first time since March, we need to add some Positive Mutations to Walken Fever.

We also get a new character, the Virologist! She’s now a playable character (whose gender we guessed correctly) because we’ve rescued her (her card says she can’t be played until she’s been rescued). She can ‘cure’ a Faded in any city by discarding a Black card, or clear out all Faded in a city if she discards that card while in that city. Cool, but as we’ve been learning with the soldier, having a character totally dependent upon the Player Deck draws can make things very difficult.

Let’s take a look at how things have changed in Panic Level around the world. No new cities fell to the Faded, which is good. Blue took the worse hit, with Outbreaks happening on both sides of the Atlantic. Black didn’t really change at all, which is to say it’s still bad, but didn’t get any worse. Seoul went from completely unaffected to major rioting. But, given how bad July was for us, it could have been worse.

Panic Levels Blue Cities Yellow Cities Black Cities Red Cities
Unaffected 5 (-3) 4 (-1) 3 9 (-1)
Unstable 5 (+3) 3 1 2
Rioting 2 1 5 (+1) 5
Rioting 3 1 1 1 (+1)
Collapsing 2
Fallen
Faded 2 / 12 Infected 12 / 12 Infected 1 / 12 Infected
Map state at the end of August.

Map state at the end of August.

This puts us now two-thirds of the way through Pandemic: Legacy. We’ve got four months left to play, and I couldn’t be more excited to see how this plays out. It seems pretty clear the government has been orchestrating C0dA, so how that plays out as we get closer to wrapping up the game will be interesting.  And just to put it out there, we will be nuking something.  It may take us all the way to December to pull it off, but you can’t give me a nuclear weapon in a game like this and not expect us to use it.  After all…

Ripley's Advice

Enjoying this story?  Hating it?  Got suggestions for things you’d like to see or questions you’d like to ask?  Let me know if there’s something you’d like to see in my playthroughs going forward. Just leave me a comment down below.

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #3 (SPOILERS)

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #2 (SPOILERS)

(Please note that this article and others in the series may contain spoilers for the game’s progression, events, and content. While each post covers specific “months” of game play, there are times things occur in different orders or out of place and might spoil something for a future month.)

Welcome back to my playthrough experience of Pandemic: Legacy.  Be sure to check out my introduction and initial playthrough of January here.  When we last left off, we were 0-2, and feeling like February was definitely where we were going to turn it around.  It should go without saying that once again, SPOILERS ARE COMING!

Pandemic Legacy: Case History

Game 3: February

Nick – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Dagin –Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Scientist (Marie Pasteur)

February brought with it a large number of changes. We learned that the stubborn C0dA, plague of the Middle East, has mutated again to now be defined as C0dA-403b. The disease has now become completely untreatable, but in response, the government has created a new method of dealing with C0dA in the form of a Quarantine action. As an action, a player can now place a Quarantine Token in their current city that will prevent any cubes from being added in a city the next time cubes would need to be added there for any reason. Cool, a way to manage the newly christened Zombie Plague. And we are given a new character, the Quarantine Specialist, whose special ability allows them to place a Quarantine Token once per turn anywhere on the board and allows Quarantine Tokens to stay if they are in the city when they should be removed. We’re additionally introduced to the Relationship upgrade. Whenever a character is played for the first time, we give them a name. Now we get to take one of the four new Relationship upgrades that pairs with an existing character. In essence, we’re adding new helpers that have a prior relationship to existing characters already used in the game.

For this game, Nick and Dave decide to stick with their current roles. I decide to leave behind the Generalist and play the Scientist, since we’ve struggled with getting diseases cured. Because she’s a new character, I name her Marie Pasteur (a Baseball Highlights-style name with first and last names from two different famous scientists) and establish a Relationship with the Researcher as Rivals. I keep calling Nick’s character Sally instead of Susie by mistake. This becomes a running joke that we still fall back on – Marie hates her rival so much she continues to call her the wrong name, even though she knows better. The benefit of our rivalry is that when our rival plays or discards a card, I can discard two of my own cards to take it into my own hand. Dagin also decides to play the Quarantine Specialist named Jamima Buttersworth, and establishes a Relationship with Dave’s Medic as Co-Workers, who no longer need to be in the same city to share knowledge (pass a card), as long as one of them is in the city named on the card.

A look at some of the new Role Cards in Pandemic: Legacy.

A look at some of the new Role Cards in Pandemic: Legacy.

All that decided, we begin February with a lot of Funding Action cards in the player deck, and the game goes well. Dagin stays in the Middle East, establishing a large Quarantine Zone to protect the Zombie Plague from spreading. Adam starts out at the Research Center in Hong Kong, handling the few trouble spots in Asia. Nick and Dave both travel around the rest of the board, tamping down trouble in Europe, and eventually Dave researches the cure for the Blue Disease. We were having a hard time getting Red cards together, but Dagin manages to keep the Middle East under control, so we work together to finish off the Red disease. At one point, Nick and I are able to use our Rival ability to great effect, where I discard a card because I’ve gone over 8, then Nick discards two cards to pick that card up, which helps give him another yellow, allowing him to pass them on next turn to Dave for the Yellow cure. I pick up the Red card he discards, giving me the 4 Red cards needed to cure Red.  Since we know the game will end as soon as we cure Red, and there were fewer Red cubes on the board than any other, we decide to wait to try to eradicate Red before we research the cure. We do trigger our fourth epidemic, but by the time we finally eradicate and then cure Red, we had only triggered four Outbreaks. We have our first win!

picard_clappingWe get to scratch off the text block from a winner bonus only available if we win during February, which allows us to place one free Quarantine Token anywhere on the board after setup and before the first game begins. Cool. For our upgrades, we choose to place the first two Positive Mutation Upgrades on the Red Disease. This now allows us to research the cure for Red anywhere (normally confined to a city with a Research Station) and we can research the cure without spending an action. Red just got that much easier to deal with. Feeling pretty good.

 

Current Record: 1-2.

Game 4: March
Here comes the military. This always ends well, right?

Here comes the military. This always ends well, right?

Nick – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Scientist (Marie Pasteur)

To begin the month, we get to open up a few more surprises, and learn that paramilitary units are mobilizing to deal with the new threat from C0dA. We get to open a box that gives us access to Military Stations, though their purpose is still a little fuzzy. They allow players to travel between Military Stations like you can currently between Research Stations, except this can only be taken by characters with the Military icon on their character sheet. We also introduce a new character, the Operations Expert (who has the Military icon on their sheet, as does the Quarantine Specialist), who can construct a station in a city where he is, and can travel from a station to any other city (including cities rioting or worse) by discarding a card. Two new objective cards are also revealed, and we must now satisfy both the current “cure the three curable diseases” objective in addition to one of the two new goals: Eradicate one disease, or construct Military Stations in all six board regions (roughly one in each continent).

After weighing the idea of establishing a new character and Relationship bonus, we decide to stick with our current crew of characters and focus on eradicating the Red disease following our new bonus.

unnamedMarch turns out to be the easiest month we’ve ever done. The stars just align for us. All players are getting good card draws, Dagin’s Quarantine Specialist keeps things from getting out of hand again in the Middle East, and within the first two rounds around the table both Yellow and Blue are both cured and eradicated. As soon as we cure Red, the game will end in our second win. We decide to pursue the strategy we took last game where we try to eradicate Red before curing, which takes slightly longer than we wanted, but in the end, we eradicate all three diseases and only suffered one Outbreak from an Epidemic card drawn in the first turn. This one felt about as easy as I’ve ever seen a Pandemic win come.

Upon finishing the game, we reveal a new set of upgrade options. There are stickers for placing permanent Military Stations on the board, but you can only place them after a game in which you built one during the game, which we didn’t do. This seems to foreshadow that these will become much more important in future games. There are also some character upgrades to give a character a military affiliation (which would help make Military Stations more effective). We decide since we have our choice of upgrades to finish the Positive Mutation options for Red, which now allows characters to research the cure for Red with one fewer card (4 for normal characters, 3 for the scientist), and all characters can now Treat Red like the Medic.

Current Record: 2-2.

Remember when he was in everything?

In more movies than you think…

One other touch we decided to make moving forward was to give our diseases permanent names. Because Dave taunted it early on and it punished us so, we decided to keep the name of “Zombie Plague” for the black disease. Yellow was previously classified as “Walken Fever.” As we tried to come up with clever names for Red, we stumbled onto the Crimson Tide (A fantastic movie), but that seemed too easy. But to stick with that reference, the Red disease has now been classified as “Mortenson Syndrome.” Finally, Blue was classified as “Sad Pandaitis.”  We made sure to commit these names in permanent marker to the board.

Going into April, our Funding Level has now dropped to 4, but the worldwide panic level didn’t go up nearly as much in the past two games. I think we’re all a little nervous about the potential focus shift toward the military stations and characters. Additionally, I discovered we’d made a minor rules mistake but feel confident it didn’t really impact our results: We had forgotten the rule that all characters have to start at the same location. This would have meant that most of our characters would have had one fewer action on the first turn of the game. Again, on review I don’t think either of our wins would have been in jeopardy, but it is something we will correct going forward.

Feeling pretty good. The world didn't get too much worse for wear. Click for full-size.

Feeling pretty good. The world didn’t get too much worse for wear. Click for full-size.

Finally, a look at how the world worsened during the past 2 months (the numbers in parenthesis show how things changed since last time):

Panic Levels Blue Cities Yellow Cities Black Cities Red Cities
Unaffected (0) 10 (-1) 9 (-1) 5 (-1) 10 (-1)
Unstable (1) 2 (+1) 2 (+1) 6 (+1) 2 (+1)
Rioting (2) 1
Rioting (3) 1
Collapsing (4)
Fallen (5)
Game 5: April

Nick – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Operations Expert (Franklin Russell)

Our mission briefing instructs us to proceed just as we did in March, but also tells us to place the Alert token on the third Infection Track space to remind us to resolve some surprise once the second Epidemic event is complete. This brings too many painful reminders of how that went wrong for us in January.  With the knowledge that something bad will be happening mid-month, our plan is to focus on the same strategy that worked for us the last two games: Dagin’s Quarantine Specialist locks down the Middle East again, Nick’s Researcher runs trying to help crisis points and pass out cards to the person closest to a cure, and Dave’s Medic leads the charge on everything other than Black. Since we all feared Military Bases would be a much larger focus, I decide to play the new Operations Expert role, which allows me to create Military Bases without playing cards, and to charter military flights from there to anywhere in the world. I also decide to establish a Family Relationship with the Quarantine Specialist (Buttersworth is her married name, apparently), which allows us to take an extra action if we start our turn in the same city as the other person. I decide to focus on the “Build a Military Base in all 6 Regions” goal, which was surprisingly easy to accomplish with the rest of the world largely under control. Aside from a little trouble early on with the initial problem cities, our game plan was working.

Then we trip our second Epidemic. After resolving it, we draw the next Legacy card that tells us to our complete non-shock that things with C0dA have gotten worse. How much worse? People infected by C0dA-403c are now basically translucent zombies. We already knew that, but what we didn’t expect were ZOMBIE FIGURES to replace the black disease cubes! There are new rules added around placing “Faded” into cities, and how cities, which are Faded, have to be marked with a biohazard sticker, including the ground zero site where “Faded” are now found.

ZOMBIE FIGURES! We're not just placing cubes anymore...

ZOMBIE FIGURES! We’re not just placing cubes anymore…

We’re all a little scared by this, but after removing all the stickers and rules additions (and playing with the ZOMBIE FIGURES), we resume play. Since we achieved both optional goals, we scramble to finish researching cures to close out the game before any Faded figures can be placed. We actually manage to do it; no cities became Faded during April.

Current Record: 3-2.

For our game end upgrades, we decide to start improving our characters a little, and give the Medic the “Veteran” upgrade, which allows him to be able to charter flights between military bases like other military characters can. We also decide to place a permanent Military Base in Khartoum to help combat the hordes we feel are coming next round.

Our Funding Level has dropped to 2, which doesn’t bode well, but hopefully we can pull it together next month.

Game 6: May

Adam – Operations Expert (Franklin Russell)
Nick – Colonel (Hugh Mann)
Dagin – Quarantine Specialist (Jamima Buttersworth)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)

To begin May, we find out that things are about to get much harder. Faded are spreading faster than hoped. We must now complete three goals (one of which must still be the research cures to the three curable diseases) instead of two, and a new optional goal is added saying that we need to have seven faded cities under Quarantine at a single time. We are, however, allowed to play roadblocks, which are tokens that effectively prevent Faded from spreading across those connections, even during an Outbreak. As an action, you can effectively disconnect two cities using a roadblock token, which would prevent the Outbreak track from advancing, but would not prevent the city from rising in panic level. This also prevents player movement along blocked connections.  We are also introduced to the Colonel, a new role who can use actions to deploy military units as long as there’s a base in the region to remove Faded figures from the board and can travel through roadblocks, but he also requires 2 additional cards of a given disease color to research the cure for any disease. Finally, as if it couldn’t get much worse, we now find out that anytime we draw a black card from the Player Deck, we have to place a Faded in that city, which can’t trigger Outbreaks, but is otherwise generally bad. This means there are now more ways to add Faded to the board besides just the Infection Deck.  One other new rule we received: If a player starts his turn in a city with Faded, he has to take a Scar. That could be very bad news, given Dagin and Nick need to be in those areas to try and keep them under control.  So far, we’ve managed not to get anyone scarred, but we’ll see how that goes this month.

The mission surprise from April with the new Briefing for May. Each circle on the bottom of the card indicates new stickers or cards to be opened at that time.

The mission surprise from April with the new Briefing for May. Each circle on the bottom of the card indicates new stickers or cards to be opened at that time.  Sorry about the glare.

Nick decides to play the Colonel, who now becomes Colonel Hugh Mann, REMF. He establishes a Relationship with the Medic, now that Aaron was recently conscripted into the Military following the events of last month.  Everyone else plays the same roles as last game.

Our game plan is for Dagin to continue his Quarantine work, with Nick to join him in Europe to suppress the Faded that show up. Dave as Medic continues to travel a lot to try and keep things from getting too bad in any one area, and Adam as the Ops Expert again tries to use the military airlifting ability to place new Military Bases in each region to allow Dave faster travel around the world.

This game starts on a bad note right away. Four of our nine initial Infection cards target C0dA hotbeds, with Ground Zero being Tehran. Africa also teeters on Outbreak madness. Dave and I set to work, hopping around the globe, trying to keep things from getting out of hand, but new hotspots keep cropping up: the Chilean coast in South America, the North American cities of Washington, New York, and Montreal all flare up, and St. Petersburg is a problem. Everything is too spread out. Dagin and Nick are working feverishly to tamp down the amount of Faded showing up and keep the region quarantined to prevent their spread, working out of our base in Istanbul.  We quickly find that having to place Faded from Player Cards adds far more Faded than we anticipated. By the end of the month, only Istanbul and Karachi of the 12 Black-colored cities have not been infected by the Faded.

They just can't be stopped!

They just can’t be stopped!

We manage once again to cure Mortenson Syndrome early and eradicate it thanks to all our Positive Mutations. About halfway through the game we were really starting to feel the loss of the Researcher role. No one has more than two cards of any color other than Red, which we have already cured. We hit Epidemic after Epidemic. South America outbreaks, Africa outbreaks, and the formerly peaceful St. Petersburg descends into massive rioting. After Dave triggers the 5th and final Epidemic, he counts the cards left in the Player deck and realizes there are only eight left. Neither Walken Fever or Sad Pandaitis has been cured. Dagin has 4 Blue cards, Dave and Dagin have 3 Yellow cards a piece. Despair starts to set in.  Nick’s got a Yellow card he can pass to Dave thanks to his Coworker relationship and can meet up with Dagin to allow Dagin to take a Blue card from him in Milan, but it means pulling him out of the Istanbul to do it.

Riyadh is swarming with Faded; St. Petersburg, Madrid, and Essen are all at capacity disease-wise; and we’re at 6 Outbreaks. It’s my turn, and I have no way to get any of my cards to anyone else. I can’t make a difference in researching a cure, but I can just barely get to Riyadh. We do the math and figure out that Nick can pass his card to Dave, set himself up for Dagin to take the last card he needs to cure Sad Pandaitis, then use his own Coworker relationship with Dave to pass him the last Yellow card he needs, allowing Dave to research the cure for Walken Fever, but only if we don’t have more than one Outbreak.  Knowing that St. Petersburg, Riyadh, and Madrid are all somewhere near the top of the Infection deck and we’re now drawing 4 cards a turn, I plunge into Riyadh and establish a Quarantine Zone, knowing that if we can’t pull out the victory, I’ll start the last turn of the month by becoming scarred.

We draw my Infection cards, and while some cities are getting close to critical, we’re okay. Nick takes his turn, and after passing his card to Dave, we again resolve infections.  Riyadh is drawn and the Quarantine Zone is now gone. Dagin takes his turn, taking the last card needed from Nick and researches the cure to Sad Pandaitis, then passes Dave the card he needs. We flip Infection cards, and St. Petersburg Outbreaks (for the third time this game), pushing us to 7 total Outbreaks. Essen is now poised to outbreak, and Johannesburg is also full, but no other Outbreaks occur. With two cards left in the Player deck, Dave researches the cure for Walken Fever, and we escape the month with a win!

higest

Current Record: 4-2.

As we all try to calm ourselves back down, we take stock of the shambles the world became during May. Almost all black cities are now infected by the Faded, though we’re not entirely sure what implications that will have as we go forward. St. Petersburg is a mess, having triggered three successive Outbreaks this game alone. Because we won, we’re now looking at a situation where there will be no Funding Action cards in June, and we only barely survived by playing the two Funding Action cards we had at key moments during the game. Any number of other mistakes could have easily cost us the win.

The state of the board at the end of May.

The state of the board at the end of May.  Still can’t believe we pulled this one out.

For our two upgrades, we realize that the Quarantine Specialist is a role we’re simply unable to live without, so we give him the Local Pressure upgrade, which allows him to place Quarantine Markers on neighboring cities when he’s on a city with a Military Base. We then decide to make our FOB position in Istanbul permanent and place a permanent Military Base sticker there.

So, how much did the world change in the past two months? No Outbreaks occurred in the Black regions, a surprising outcome to be sure, and all the Positive Mutations have made a huge impact on Red, though it certainly came close a few times. We’d love to be able to place more, but aside from back in March we’ve never been able to eradicate anything other than Mortenson Syndrome.  Africa is in bad shape, and now the race is on between St. Petersburg and Cairo to see which city will collapse first.

Panic Levels Blue Cities Yellow Cities Black Cities Red Cities
Unaffected 8 (-2) 6 (-3) 5 10
Unstable (1) 3 (+1) 4 (+2) 6 2
Rioting (2) 2 (+1)
Rioting (3) 1 (+1) 1
Collapsing (4)
Fallen (5)
Faded 10 / 12 Infected

Here’s what the board now looks like heading into June:

Board state going into June. It's going to be a hot summer in the Middle East. Hopefully FOB Istanbul holds out.

Board state going into June. It’s going to be a hot summer in the Middle East. Hopefully FOB Istanbul holds out.

One thing we know for certain: there will be a Reckoning in June.  We were lucky to squeak out of May with a win.  We’re going to have to think hard about what roles we take next month.  It’s hard to look at any of the roles we played and say they aren’t needed, but we really missed having the Researcher with us.  How will things turn out as we move into the summer?  What will those Faded get up to next?  I say we nuke the site from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure.

Enjoying this story?  Hating it?  Got suggestions for things you’d like to see or questions you’d like to ask?  Let me know if there’s something you’d like to see in my playthroughs going forward. Just leave me a comment down below.

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #2 (SPOILERS)

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #1 (SPOILERS)

(Please note that this article and others in the series may contain spoilers for the game’s progression, events, and content. While each post covers specific “months” of game play, there are times things occur in different orders or out of place and might spoil something for a future month.)

Pandemic is a cooperative board game for two to four players designed by Matt Leacock and originally released in 2007 by Z-Man Games where players work together to eradicate four different diseases spreading across the world. Each player takes on a role that gives them some special abilities, and each turn consists of a player taking a few actions moving around the board trying to stem the spread of the infection, getting a few resource cards (or potentially triggering an Epidemic), then drawing several cards that represent cities where disease is trying to spread. Cubes represent the presence of disease in a city, but if a city ever tries to gain more than three cubes of one color, an Outbreak occurs, where instead of adding more than three cubes to that city, you instead place a cube of that color in each connected city on the board. This can lead to chain reactions that can be potentially game ending. The player’s goal is to research the cures to all four strains before one of three things happen: an Outbreak occurs for the 8th time, you run out of cubes for a given disease, or the deck of Resource cards runs out. The real ingenious mechanic of this game lies in the Infection deck. Every time an Epidemic card is revealed from the Resources deck, you take the discard pile of cities recently infected, shuffle it, and then place it on top of the Infection deck. This means that cities that were recently infected are now the most likely to be infected again.

Pandemic, the best game you'll almost never win at!

Pandemic, the best game you’ll almost never win at!

Pandemic is a fantastic game, easily one of the best cooperative games ever made. There have been several expansions to this game as well that add a lot of variety in player roles and introduce some new rules and complexity, but at it’s core, this is a really easy to learn game that can be very challenging. It’s not a perfect game, however. While the theming of the game is very engaging, it can feel a little abstract; rather than feeling like I’m actually curing disease, it can sometimes feel like I’m just moving cubes around. Pandemic can also be particularly prone to “Quarterbacking”. Quarterbacking aka the Alpha Gamer Problem is where one player in the group tends to dominate the game and effectively plays the game for everyone by telling each player what they should be doing on their turn. This can lead to some negative experiences if you play with people who have this tendency. Those complains are relatively minor, though, and overall Pandemic is an incredibly tense, enjoyable game.

While being a great game, I’ve played a lot of Pandemic over the years, so while I won’t turn down a chance to play, I’d just as soon play something else instead. That’s not a reflection on the game as much as just the reality of owning an ever increasing game collection.  Last summer, however, Z-Man Games announced that Matt Leacock was partnering with Rob Daviau, the designer of Risk: Legacy, to create a new version of Pandemic that employs the Legacy mechanics introduced in Risk: Legacy. The Legacy system involves playing a game multiple times campaign-style where something about the game state changes or is retained between games. This involves a number of interesting events, like revealing secret envelopes that might change the rules of the game, permanently altering the board or your player abilities, or even tearing up existing game cards, never to be used again. You place stickers, write on the board with permanent marker, and the end result is that the game you end with after however many games you have to play (the goal with 15 games for Risk: Legacy) is both vastly different than where you started, and completely unique to your group.

Shut-up-and-take-my-money

As soon as this was announced for Pandemic, I knew this was a Day 1 purchase. The only difficulty inherent in a game like this is, while not mandatory, you want to experience the game with the same group of people from start to end, so that you all participate in the same narrative together. As a long-time RPG veteran, and having attempted several board games with campaign play (Star Wars: Imperial Assault most recently), I am well aware of the scheduling challenge of getting four adults together to regularly play the same game. To solve this challenge, I’ve recruited two co-workers, Dagin and Nick, and invited Dave Hill (a fellow contributor to The Grid) to join us for lunch on Fridays, where we plan to play two games back to back each sitting.

The story Pandemic: Legacy tells stretches over the course of a single year, January through December. Each month players play through a game of Pandemic. If the players win, they advance the story to the next month. If they lose, they get a chance to replay that month. If they lose that month again, they then automatically move forward. This means that to play through Pandemic: Legacy, players will be playing anywhere from 12 – 24 games of Pandemic to complete the story. Unlike Risk: Legacy, however, once you complete December, the story is complete, and you cannot replay the game. I suppose you could simply recreate the conditions of December with whatever surprises the game introduces that last month, but I personally feel like doing so would detract from the experience. This has made some people nervous, but consider this: how many times do you typically play a board game after purchasing it? I think once we complete our playthrough, I will be perfectly satisfied with putting it away (or hanging our finished board up in my game room) and feel like it was well worth it.  I still own the original Pandemic, after all, if I want to scratch that itch.

This is the top card in the Legacy Deck.

This is the top card in the Legacy Deck.

The narrative in Pandemic: Legacy is driven by the Legacy deck. It contains a series of cards that instruct you to draw cards and reveal hidden information at certain times (such as “Before you setup up your First Game” or “After you resolve your second Epidemic card for this game”), then seal the deck away until the next prompt. These cards may set up the story for the next month, instruct you to open secret compartments from a large dossier of hidden stickers and components, require you to tear up cards, or otherwise change the game rules or narrative as the story progresses. If that sounds amazing, you’re right. It is.

What I aim to do over the next few weeks is keep a case history of our playthrough of Pandemic: Legacy. I’ll document some of the choices we make, talk about the surprises and the changes and how we fared. It goes without saying that everything that follows will contain MAJOR SPOILERS! If you want to see what this experience is like, feel free to continue. If you’re on the fence about it, and want to see what it’s like before buying, I should warn you that events happen in January that, if spoiled, will clearly affect decisions you need to make over the course of the game. I am writing this disclaimer after only having played through March, so there are things I don’t even know yet about how decisions we’re making now will impact the game, so buyer beware. I will tell you that this game is amazing, has lived up to every expectation I’ve had so far, and would whole-heartedly recommend you buy this game, play it yourself, then come back and compare your experience to ours.

You've been warned!

You’ve been warned!

Pandemic Legacy: Case History

Game 1: January – Attempt One:

Players begin the game by selecting their Role, and, if the Role is being played for the first time, naming the character, who is forever stuck with that name.  Presented here are the players and their selected Roles in turn order.

Nick – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)
Dagin – Dispatcher (Craigly James)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Generalist (Typhoid Mary)

January begins like any other game of Pandemic, for the most part.  You have a Funding Level that begins at 4, meaning you can select 4 of the available special Funding Action cards to be placed in the Player Deck.  This will change as we win or lose games. Each player in a 4-Player game receives two cards, at which point you split the Player Deck into 5 piles and seed in the Epidemic cards.  You then draw cards from the Infection Deck to infect 9 different cities to begin with, and then play begins. The first change revealed from the Legacy Deck is that we have to place an Alert token on the third space on the Infection Track as a reminder that we are to resolve a secret event immediately after we completely resolve the second Epidemic card.  We start off the game immediately in a bad way in the Middle East, drawing a rather large block of black cards in the setup stage and near a potentially massive chain of outbreaks in the area after the first Epidemic card is revealed earlier than expected.  This triggers Dave taunting the Black disease as being the Zombie Plague (a regular occurrence in Pandemic games for some reason).  The game didn’t like that.  After triggering our second Epidemic, we reveal the first big surprise: The largest disease on the board has been identified as the disease strain C0dA-403a, which has the effect of making the Black disease currently running rampant through the Middle East both incurable and much harder to treat (requiring two actions instead of one to Treat). Additionally, we were instructed to take the initial objective card declaring that we needed to cure all four diseases to win and tear it up, replacing it with a new card declaring we needed to cure the remaining three normal diseases (now that C0dA was incurable). I don’t think we made it much farther than that before we ran out of Black disease cubes, and that was all she wrote.

Current Record: 0-1.

At the end each game, regardless of win or loss, the players can select two upgrades from a set of stickers provided with the game.  These stickers include improvements to characters, giving them extra abilities, the ability to create permanent research stations besides Atlanta, Positive Mutations that can be associated to diseases that were eradicated during the previous game (which wasn’t even close to happening for us), and Unfunded Action stickers we can attach to normal city cards in the Player Deck that allow them to function like weaker Funded Action cards.  We select a character upgrade for the Medic that allows them to cure diseases once per turn in a city adjacent to where they are, and place a permanent research station in Istanbul. Additionally, the funding changes based on whether you won or lost. Since we lost, our funding level was raised from 4 to 6, meaning we get to seed two additional Funding Action cards into the player deck.

The big sticker sheet of stuff, including upgrades, panic level stickers, and scars.

The big sticker sheet of stuff, including upgrades, panic level stickers, and scars.

We also reveal an additional goal condition that says if we manage to win in January, we gain a bonus (currently hidden in a scratch-out block) until the end of February.

Game 2: January – Attempt Two:

Dagin – Dispatcher (Craigly James)
Dave – Medic (Aaron)
Adam – Generalist (Typhoid Mary)
Nick – Researcher (Susie Broadchest III)

This time around, we are still seeing a disproportional number of black cards come up in the infection deck, so even though we dispatch the medic to the Middle East, we are really struggling to keep C0dA at bay. By the end of the third rotation through the players, we manage to research a cure for the Blue disease, and get it close to eradication. While we struggle to keep the Black disease at bay, problems start cropping up in both South America and Africa. Rather than push ourselves out around the world, we scramble to finish researching the cures. Dagin, our Dispatcher, manages to research the cure for Yellow (now known as Walken Fever), and orders Dave, who has all the cards required to cure Red in hand, to travel to him in Atlanta so Dave can cure the Red disease at the beginning of his turn. Unfortunately, we trigger a double outbreak in Africa on the last Infection Card Dagin had to draw, so we lose again.  For those familiar with Pandemic, this feels like a very familiar outcome, losing on the brink of victory.

raining_david_tennant

Current Record: 0-2.

No special win bonus for us.  At the end of the game, we decide to place two more permanent Research Stations, one in Hong Kong and one in Sao Paulo.

Going into February, our Funding Level has now increased to 8, meaning the government has seen we did so poorly in fighting off disease that we are now going to have access to all eight currently available Funding Action cards. Hopefully that should give us more of an edge going into February.

We also know going into next month that we’ve got another event card in the Legacy Deck that’s going to shake things up again for February. So, despite a little discouragement, I’m still optimistic we’ll turn it around in February.

This is the board state following our abysmal beginning. Click for full-size.

This is the board state following our abysmal beginning. Click for full-size.

One other concept that is unique to Pandemic: Legacy is the notion of panic.  In a regular game of Pandemic, when a city outbreaks, it’s bad, but not terrifying.  Now, every time a city outbreaks, you place a sticker next to the city to indicate that the panic level in that city has risen.  A Panic Level of 1 is a warning, but there aren’t any negative consequences.  A Panic Level of 2-3 means the city has begun rioting.  Research stations there are destroyed and can never be built there, and additionally, any player in a city when it outbreaks takes a scar.  Scars are permanent injuries to a character, and if a character would ever take a third, they are lost, meaning you tear up their card and can never play them again.  For those familiar with Pandemic, imagine never being able to play as the Medic again, ever.  Yeah, it’s like that.  Fortunately that hasn’t happened yet for us, but we wanted to track the escalation of Panic in the world as the game progresses.

Panic Levels Blue Cities Yellow Cities Black Cities Red Cities
Unaffected (0) 11 10 6 11
Unstable (1) 1 1 5 1
Rioting (2) 1
Rioting (3) 1
Collapsing (4)
Fallen (5)

That’s all for now.  In my next Case File, I’ll cover our next 4 games.  Will we turn it around?  Is C0dA going to make the rest of the game miserable for us?  Check back next time to find out.

How’d we do?  Enjoying the playthrough?  Have you tried Pandemic: Legacy out for yourself?  Let me know in the comments below.

Pandemic: Legacy – Case Files #1 (SPOILERS)

Top 6 Halloween Themed Board Games

Some board games are evergreens, playable all year round. Some games are only playable in certain conditions. Perhaps they have certain player count requirements that are hard to meet, or the style of game only works for certain gamers, or the length is either too long or too short for some people. Some games, like some of the ones I’ll be mentioning below, only come out when the mood is right. Halloween always makes me want to break out games that fit the season.

For me, a great Halloween-themed game needs to explore settings that feature terror or horror as a key element of the experience.  They might involve famous monsters or haunted landscapes, but without question, they need to allow me and my friends to experience something together.

With some good music and a few willing players, you can create your own great Halloween gaming memories. Presented below are my Top 6 recommendations for creating that Halloween theme at your Halloween Game Nights (along with a few alternate choices for the more experienced gamers out there).

 

Top 6 Halloween Board Games

6.  A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game by Flying Frog Productions
The best Dinner Theatre Troop money can provide!

The best Dinner Theatre Troop money can provide!

A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is set in the early 19th century. This game definitely draws upon settings like Sleepy Hollow to create a Gothic horror vibe where witches and vampires and other horrors stalk the night. The players choose to play one of several heroes trying to work together to save the town of Shadowbrook. There is a different play mode that allows you to compete to save the town the best, but you should avoid this like the plague. This game definitely borrows mechanics from other games, some of which do those things better, but the game just has a cheesy charm (the tone of which is set with the artwork, which looks like a dinner theatre troop about to do a murder mystery show) that has yet to really be recreated in any other game. The reality is, there just aren’t any other games that explore this setting, at least that do it well, and this game rewards committing to the silliness.

5.  Last Night on Earth by Flying Frog Productions
Get your B Movie on and get ready to kill some Zombies

Get your B Movie on and get ready to kill some Zombies

You can’t talk Halloween games without mentioning zombies. With the rise of The Walking Dead and zombies generally in pop culture, it’s been a theme that a number of game publishers have approached to cash in on. Very few of them are good, but the few that are can be really good. I chose Last Night on Earth, not because I think it’s the best zombie game, but because I think this game has the best combination of serious and silly from the “B Movie” tradition. The characters are clichés, the scenarios all feel vaguely familiar, but the whole can be richly entertaining. There are some expansions that add good stuff, but the base game contains enough to be entertaining. I also think this is one of the easiest games to jump into for new players, which is always a positive.

Honorable Mentions: Dead of Winter by Plaid Hat Games, City of Horror by Asmodee Editions, Zombicide by Guillotine Games

4.  Werewolf by Andrew Plotkin (Multiple Publishers)
The Ultimate version of Werewolf, capable of up to 75 players (!!!)

The Ultimate version of Werewolf, capable of up to 75 players (!!!)

Werewolf is one of the pioneers of hidden role games. It feels like it’s been around a long time, even though it was created back in 1997 (and the original game it was based on, Mafia, was only developed in 1986). At its core, Werewolf, and all it’s variations, is a team game focused on two sides: villagers trying to survive, and werewolves who are slowly thinning the herd, with a moderator helping enforce the roles and drive the game. The werewolves know who the other werewolves are, but the other villagers have no idea who the werewolves among them are. The goal of the game is for the villagers to try and identify the werewolves and hang them during the day before the werewolves have eaten too many of their number during the night.

This game is a fantastic game for large parties, since it requires typically at least eight people to play. It does require a good moderator, either an experienced player or someone with a touch for the dramatic, especially as more custom roles are added to the game. Done right, Werewolf is a fantastic deduction game that is great for large settings and adds as much Halloween flavor as you bring in to it.

Honorable Mention: One Night Ultimate Werewolf by Bezier Games

3.  Eldritch Horror by Fantasy Flight Games
Eldritch Horror - All the Tentacles you can stand

Eldritch Horror – All the Tentacles you can stand

You can’t very well talk about great Halloween themes without mentioning H.P. Lovecraft. These days, there are lots of games that feature the Cthulu mythos in some form or another, but only a few try to take the theme seriously, and even fewer of those are actually enjoyable to play. In Eldritch Horror, players are working together, racing against time to prevent the advent of one of the Ancient Ones and beat back the waves of horrors beginning to spread across the earth. The game really captures the Lovecraft theme well, and can be very challenging. To me, this game strikes the right balance between immersion and length. While the game is capable of playing up to eight players, I would personally never play it with more than four.

It’s worth giving more than a mere mention to Arkham Horror here, the grandfather of Lovecraft games. None do it bigger, and the expansions add tons of options and elements straight from Lovecraft. Its strength is also its weakness: there are so many expansions and options that no other game rivals it in depth, but that depth comes with an almost exponential increase in complexity. The game, even in it’s base form, is just so long to play that unless you are prepared to commit four to eight hours to it, not to mention the setup time, it’s just not worth the investment. Additionally, most players who have the game and the expansions are really reluctant to play without them, since it’s so hard to get to the table. I’ve never yet seen or played a game that didn’t involve the game stopping multiple times while some arcane rule or another had to be searched out of the right rules booklet. I would almost never consider playing this game with new players. Eldritch Horror gives a similar feel in a shorter playing time, still likely two to three hours, and in my mind is the superior game.

Honorable Mention: Mansions of Madness by Fantasy Flight Games

2.  Fury of Dracula by Fantasy Flight Games
Fury of Dracula, 2nd Edition - One of the best hidden movement games out there

Fury of Dracula, 2nd Edition – One of the best hidden movement games out there

There is no denying the influence of vampires in our society. Bram Stoker’s version of Dracula is far and away the gold standard. This story has been told and retold so many times over the years, and there’s just something compelling about the character of Dracula that draws us back. That’s why Fury of Dracula is my pick for the game that best represents this theme. This game is set in the time frame roughly eight years following the events of Stoker’s novel and features many of the characters from that novel. One player plays Dracula, moving around Europe, trying to expand his following and create more vampires and expand his influence. The players represent those few characters actively trying to stop Dracula before he becomes too powerful. It’s a game of cat and mouse, with Dracula either trying to remain one step ahead of his pursuers or trying to lay traps for them to take them out before they can stop him. I really enjoy hidden movement games, and this is one of the gems of this genre, dripping with theme. It’s been out of print for a while, but is being reprinted next month, and is definitely worth your consideration.

Honorable Mention: Letters from Whitechapel by Fantasy Flight Games (same concept, but detectives chasing Jack the Ripper in London)

1.  Betrayal at House on the Hill by Wizards of the Coast
I have a great idea, guys. Let's split up! What could go wrong?

I have a great idea, guys. Let’s split up! What could go wrong?

This game feels like a movie you’ve seen a hundred times: a band of strangers wanders into a Haunted House and gets stuck. You have a varied cast of clichéd characters, such as teenage babysitter, high school jock, old priest, and creepy little girl, all coming together, though no one knows why. Rather than doing the sensible thing, the strangers begin to split up and explore the house. As they do, mysterious things being to happen, challenging players physically and mentally. Once the game progresses to a certain point, the Haunt begins, which is where this game really excels. While all the players have been working together to this point, you learn that one person in the group has lured everyone here under false pretenses, and their plot to secretly murder the rest of the group is revealed. The game then switches to become a One-v-All game until one side emerges. There are 50 different possible Haunt scenarios that come with the game, and tons more available online to mix things up if that’s not enough. Rich with theme, this game more than any other makes for a fun Halloween experience. It feels like you’re acting out a bad B-Movie the entire time, and the way the game manages to sustain the suspense of what’s really going on is fantastic. This game isn’t perfect, but it is one of a kind. Betrayal at House on the Hill creates fantastic stories, and is my clear number one choice for best Halloween themed game to play.

A house like this just screams "Explore me. No evil murders here."

A house like this just screams “Explore me. No evil murders here.”

So, what do you think? Are there games I left off this list? Are there other games that you only feel like playing at certain times of the year? What’s on your Halloween must play list? Let me know in the comments below.

Top 6 Halloween Themed Board Games

Movies that Deserve a Sequel: The Last Starfighter

Over the last few years we’ve suffered through a long slog of reboots and sequels to films I used to think were untouchable. Ignoring the whole superhero reboot problem, a number of franchises have been rebooted or remade, and most have been unfortunate. Take a look at this motley crew of films:

Please stop making bad reboots. Please?

A Nightmare on Elm Street – 2010
Clash of the Titans – 2010
The Karate Kid – 2010
Tron: Legacy – 2010
Footloose – 2011
Conan the Barbarian – 2011
Fright Night – 2011
Red Dawn – 2012
Total Recall – 2012
Evil Dead – 2013
Carrie – 2013
Annie – 2014
RoboCop – 2014
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 2014
The Transporter Refueled – 2015
Terminator: Genisys – 2015
Poltergeist – 2015

Of that list, Fright Night was OK, Tron: Legacy was mediocre, and the rest of those films are pretty awful. Most beg the question of why they even needed to be remade in the first place. Most of the originals here have something that makes them classic, whether it be the Harryhousen Claymation in the original Clash of the Titans, or the perfect snapshot of Cold War paranoia in Red Dawn, or Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.

To be fair, occasionally reboots/sequels do work. I am a huge fan of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was much better than it had any right to be. I actually enjoyed most of the new Godzilla film, which I realize puts me in the minority. The new Mad Max was a masterpiece. That said, the list of good remakes/reboots is pretty slim, and the bad films list is only going to grow in the near future. I have zero hope that the new Ghostbusters film(s) will be any good. Was anyone asking for a remake of Point Break? Though the following projects I’m about to mention have been cancelled, why was anyone even considering remaking Dirty Dancing, or Commando, or The Neverending Story (which may still happen)? Why?

All of this begs the question of what makes a good remake? A good remake requires a story that has a kernel of timelessness about it, but was itself not a great film. It needs to have a great premise that can actually be adapted to a modern setting. A great remake takes that kernel and updates the surrounding details while respecting the original idea and characters. The less established canon there is, the easier it will be to update the material. This is where The Last Starfighter comes in.

The Last Starfighter, released in 1984, follows Alex Rogan (played by Lance Guest), an average teenage boy from a small trailer park who is recruited by an alien defense force to fight for them after mastering an arcade game that doubles as a recruiting tool. It’s as much a coming of age story as it is a movie about space combat. The movie has great humor, real heart, and what were at the time groundbreaking special effects and CGI.

The Last Starfighter is a perfect candidate for an effective “rebootquel”. At the heart of the story is a relatable main character that feels isolated and trapped, who knows he was meant for more than his circumstances allow. He’s a gamer, and is, as far as we know, the only person to have mastered the skills of the game to be recruited. His skill is what allows him to be the hero the Star League needs to be their last hope.

“Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.”

“Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.”

With this as the kernel, there are so many places you can go and tell a compelling story updated for our time. Video game culture is on the rise, and gaming is nearly ubiquitous today. The idea of using a video game as a secret recruiting tool probably isn’t as novel as it once was, but can be effective if done right (and would be a great way to erase the blight that was Pixels from our minds). So many Young Adult films these days try to frame the coming of age drama in an apocalyptic setting, so this could be a fresh alternative that also appeals to a more family-friendly demographic.

Imagine having Alex take over the mantle of his recruiter, Centauri (played by the late Robert Preston). A new crisis has arisen, and after a series of military setbacks, the Star League needs recruits desperately. Despite Alex’s dramatic actions in the original film, the Star League still distrusts humans, so Alex sets out to prove them wrong. He uses the same approach of a space combat simulation game to find a couple of new pilots, and together they once again save the day. As a film we can explore the backstory of one or more of these new pilots, who, like Alex, gets to come of age and learn to have confidence in themselves through the film. Ideally, there’d be one focal protagonist, the main character who ties the film together the way Alex does in the first film, while also leaving plenty of room for a small cast of characters to shine together.  This also gives Alex the chance to play the Obi-Wan role Centauri fills so well in the original.

There’s a lot of room in this space to keep main plot serious while preserving the light-hearted comedy caused in the generational gap between Alex and the new recruits, whether or not we explore again the learning androids that ‘replace’ characters once they leave.  You could also explore the forced pair interactions with all new aliens like the dynamic between Grig and Alex. We have so much room to introduce new characters and settings. We know almost nothing about who the Star League is, why they are at war, and can create/explore a universe full of new peoples and things, not to mention covering what Alex has been doing for the last 30 years. We get the opportunity for updated graphics for space combat, which people will be clamoring for with the new Star Wars films releasing immanently. In many ways, there’d be a great parallel there, since many argue that The Last Starfighter was one of the last movies to ride the Star Wars wave before that wave finally broke.

The Death Blossom manuever is still one of the coolest weapons ever used in film.

The Death Blossom manuever is still one of the coolest weapons ever used in film.

The Last Starfighter may be a cult classic, but it doesn’t have the following that many other classics have nor does it have a particularly vast canon of lore, meaning you can comment on elements from the first film in this one, but you can also write this film for a new audience without having to spend a lot of time explaining the original setting. In short, it’s got the right kernel for a timeless story, with plenty of room to adapt to a modern audience. This film deserves a “rebootquel”.

What are your thoughts? Got another idea for films that actual deserve to be remade? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Movies that Deserve a Sequel: The Last Starfighter

The Magic Circle and the Rise of Modern Board Gaming

Board gaming as a hobby is on the rise, and not just in the United States. Perhaps you’ve barely noticed, wondering why Target or Walmart now has a lot more shelf space devoted to (mostly terrible mass market) games. Perhaps you only play video games and don’t get what all the fuss is about. Perhaps you’ve seen the Wil Wheaton Table Top show on YouTube and wonder how on Earth there can be so many games they play week after week. Perhaps you know someone like me who has a whole closet full of board games of their own and is always proselytizing the hobby. Or perhaps you are already like me, and you don’t wonder why anymore.

Today I want to talk about why we play games and how that relates to why board gaming is on the rise. That’s a pretty abstract concept and one with a lot of room for personal approaches and opinions. We’re going to get a little theoretical and while many of the things I’ll be talking about don’t apply exclusively to board games, my hope is to convince you why so many people are putting down controllers and playing with dice and cardboard instead.

We need to start with some background. When I talk about Modern Board Gaming, I am not referring to many of the games that used to (and in many people’s minds still do) define this hobby. I’m not talking about Monopoly or Scrabble or Sorry or most of the games that many of us played when we were kids. While there’s nothing wrong with those games (except Monopoly, which is a terrible game, but that’s another topic), they just lack something. Playing Scrabble isn’t an experience, it’s a pastime. When my family sat down to play Uno, which we did a lot, it was fun to be together, but aside from the occasional stories of when someone got stuck having to draw a ridiculous amount of cards, playing always felt more like a way to just enjoy spending time together as opposed to playing a great game.

Playing Chun-Li is bad, and you should feel bad...

Playing Chun-Li is bad, and you should feel bad…

As I got older, two games dominated much of my teenage years: RISK and Street Fighter II (for Super Nintendo; it just wasn’t the same experience on Genesis). I had a circle of friends that got together weekly or bi-weekly to play RISK. The games were cutthroat. We had our own set of house rules that had evolved over time, and we loved it. Similarly, many of us really got into playing the Tournament mode in Street Fighter II. Everyone got to pick a character, and we would run through tournaments or call next any chance we could get. That experience also developed it’s own set of house rules (like using Chun-Li was cheap and always a sign of desperation). Trash talking was a requirement at both games.  It occasionally got heated, but we enjoyed playing together and when we weren’t playing, we were talking about things that had happened last time or planning the next time.

The Magic Circle and Gaming

These gaming experiences first introduced me to the game theory concept of the Magic Circle. Johan Huizinga is credited as the originator of this theory. In his work “Home Ludens” in 1955, he describes it like this:

“All play moves and has its being within a playground marked off beforehand materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course… The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds, i.e., forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules [apply]. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.”

A much better description of the Magic Circle can be found on the Extra Credits YouTube channel, a fantastic channel focused primarily on video game design.

The key thing to understand about the Magic Circle is the way it enables experiences. We define a space in which we can change the way we act, change who we are, accept that things behave differently than reality, and as long as we agree to commit to that change in reality and are surrounded by others who also agree to that change, we can actually experience what that world is like. It’s what allows us to act like jerks to our friends in a game, then walk away from it without holding on to that anger (which is usually what happens… usually) because those actions took place within the context of a game where such behavior is expected.

This is not an experience you can get playing Monopoly or The Game of Life; you never actually felt like you were going to college or building hotels, those were just actions you took. In my mind, this experience was perfected by video games with the introduction of split-screen multiplayer. When I try to recall the best experiences I’ve ever had playing video games, it’s been when several friends and I have sat down to play Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, or Perfect Dark, or Halo 2 on xBox, or Time Splitters 2 on the PS2 (from which I still have a slightly irrational fear of monkeys). We’re all there, sitting in the same physical space, fighting either against each other or against a horde of Bots (or just one DarkSim in Perfect Dark), peeking at each others screens, laughing, trash-talking and playing round after round after round until my fingers hurt.

Anyone who has played this game remembers that sound and the moment of panic when you try to figure out if you're in first place

Anyone who has played this game remembers that moment of panic when you hear the monkeys coming and scramble to figure out if you’re in first place.

Somewhere this experience went away, replaced with online multiplayer.  There are plenty of reasons for this, and plenty of new experiences to be had, but I don’t think it ever spoke to me the way it has others.  Trash talking with strangers through a headset just isn’t the same as trash talking with my friends in the same room.  For me, the Magic Circle broke. MMOs try to recreate that feeling to an extent with guilds and raids, building player communities and relying on graphics and sounds and animations to create the feeling of immersion.  These types of games can create a great single player experience, but I have never felt like that’s a great shared experience, though I will admit that MMOs in general have never been my thing. I found that what I was missing, and what I was really looking for, was that same sense of shared fun I had while playing those great split-screen games.

That’s when I was introduced to the world of modern board games. Games like Monopoly and RISK dominated the gaming world until the 1990s, which saw the release of two huge games that still resonate strongly: Magic: The Gathering in 1993 and Settlers of Catan (now rebranded to be just Catan) in 1995. These two games would bring a massive influx of new gamers into the hobby, and though it began slowly, the hobby has been growing steadily year after year since. Now, there are thousands of games being released annually, and cultural awareness is beginning to seep into the mainstream. But why? Why is it surging the way that it does?

The chief reason I believe they are surging is because of the experiences modern games create. Gone are the days of having to settle for games that just an OK way to kill a few hours on a rainy day. The last five to ten years have seen a wave of games created that are not just fun to play, but which also create vivid, compelling experiences during play. Game designers today understand the power of the Magic Circle and encourage players to commit to the experience of playing their game and embrace the setting and theme. When you do, you get the emotional payoff you get from truly great entertainment. You get stories that endure, and experiences you are eager to repeat. To demonstrate this, I’m going to give three examples of games released recently that I think really excel in this regard and that I’m always looking forward to playing.

Specter Ops by Plaid Hat Games (2015)

specterops

Specter Ops is a One-vs-All style of game where one player plays an agent trying to infiltrate and sabotage an evil corporation’s facility. The other players at the table play hunters trying to track the agent down and eliminate him before he can complete his mission. The agent’s location is secret as long as he remains out of the direct line of sight of any hunter player, and he records all his moves on a pad of paper with a representation of the board map on it. The agent also has a limited supply of equipment he can use to confuse or escape the hunters while attempting to complete his task. The hunters in turn all have special abilities that help them narrow in on where the agent might be hiding or where he wants to go next.  The agent wins if he can destroy three of the four key objectives spread across the board and escape off the board in 40 turns.  Anything short is a victory for the hunters.

This is basically Metal Gear Solid: the Board Game, except the soldiers hunting you are your best friends. Unlike other hidden movement board games, the hunters from the beginning have a rough idea where the agent is hiding. Games feel incredibly tense, with the agent player always sure he’s about to get caught and the hunter players always afraid they’ve been given the slip. During the hunters turn, they all get to scheme together, out loud, to try and figure out how best to track you down while the agent does his best to keep a poker face on, hoping not to be discovered. When the game is over, regardless of which team wins, you have the ability to replay the agent’s turn and relive the match again, discussing where you made clever moves and just how close the hunters were at various points in the game.  I have yet to introduce anyone to this game that hasn’t immediately wanted to play it again.

Legendary Encounters: Predator by Upper Deck Entertainment (2015)

legendary

The Legendary system is a deck-building system, similar to earlier games like Dominion. Players start with a small deck of cards that gives them a limited amount of combat strength and recruiting power that they will use to buy additional, more powerful cards to add to their deck, which grows in power over time. This game recreates the events of the first two Predator films, allowing players to recruit characters from the movies and try to survive, either as humans trying to outlast the Predators, or as Predators tying to hunt the best game and have the largest trophy collection before the end of the game.  Mechanically, this is one of the strongest deck-building games in print right now.  It should be noted this game is for mature players only. The artwork and theme is definitely inline with the movie in terms of violence portrayed.

There are so many great thematic elements woven into the core mechanics of this game. Having the option to play cooperatively against an increasingly difficult assault of mercenaries and Predator attacks feels very tense. When you win, if you do, it’s incredibly satisfying. The game rewards you for working together as a group, so you feel invested the entire time. Where Legendary Encounters: Predator shines compared to its peers is the option to flip the table and play competitively as Predators. Very few of the rules change, but the feeling of the game shifts dramatically. All the mechanics fit the Predator mythology perfectly. And, in a tidbit I feel was designed to make me personally happy, you can combine this version with the Legendary Encounters: Aliens game to play Predators vs. Aliens. I’ve done it, and while I don’t think it’s actually possible to complete the entire scenario, it’s action-packed and brutally unforgiving, which may sound like a bad thing, but not for this franchise. I found it incredibly enjoyable and thematic, and couldn’t wait to play it again.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game by Plaid Hat Games (2014)

deadofwinter

Plaid Hat Games does a tremendous job designing games with great theming. The easiest way to describe Dead of Winter is to say it’s The Walking Dead set in the arctic north. Dead of Winter is a cooperative game for three to five players with a traitor mechanic, similar to games like the Battlestar Galactica Board Game. This means that while all players are working together to attempt to accomplish a common goal, each player also has a personal goal to achieve that may include betraying the rest of the group to their death and your victory. Each player controls a group of survivors who either perform tasks inside the Colony, the survivor’s arctic headquarters, or venture out to various locations in this abandoned town looking for resources. Each game is scenario-driven, meaning there is a specific objective that has to be met to end the game before a certain time limit has been reached and before the colony’s morale is eradicated. A player only wins if both the story objective was satisfied AND if they completed their own personal objective. This creates situations where even non-betrayer players are forced to sometimes make decisions that benefit themselves at the cost of the colony, and suspicion at the table is ever present.

This game is the clearest example to me of a game that really creates and relies on the Magic Circle to be successful. There are survivor-specific events contained in a Crossroads deck of cards which are assigned each turn that help reinforce the narrative immersion in the setting. The game does such a fantastic job of creating suspicion – even without the presence of a betrayer in the game – that really reflects the game setting well. This element perhaps more than any other is what makes this the most successful zombie game (among the many undead hordes of terrible zombie games) ever made in my opinion.  It’s much more concerned with the interactions between characters and players than with the need to continually fight off the undead, though that threat is always there. This game encourages you to be cagy, to distrust your best friends, to know, in your heart of hearts, that one of your friends has been lying to you the whole game, waiting to betray you at just the right moment and win. And when they pull it off, it’s amazing, and all the mistrust evaporates once the Magic Circle is complete. Even having been betrayed on the cusp of victory, the experience you create stays with you.

This is just a very small sampling of the kinds of games being made today. The world of Modern Board Games is growing all the time and the quality is getting better and better. It costs $13, give or take these days, to go see a great movie. For $50, I can buy a great board game, have the experience of living out my own movie with my friends, and can do it over and over again until I get sick of it, with each experience being unique and memorable.

What games do you like to play with your friends?  Which games help you create the best stories?  Let me know in the comments below.

The Magic Circle and the Rise of Modern Board Gaming