J. R. Tracy
After a week off for MMP's Winter Offensive, we had fourteen players for all kinds of gaming, including a pair of long-anticipated new titles.
Hawkeye, Dr. Rob, Dan VIII, Jim, Scott, and Sean donned pelisse and busby to seek glory in the service of France, in Clash of Arms' Legion of Honor. This is a role-playing game where players work their way up through the ranks of the army of revolutionary and later Imperial France, gathering wealth and fame as they seek the most important goal of all: the eye of Napoleon.
Players spent the early game in garrison, honing their dueling skills, picking fights with their comrades, and taking a run at the ladies. Eventually they went off on campaign to mixed fortunes. Scott followed Massena to Italy, and was rewarded with a ball to the chest on the bridge at Lodi. Sean had better luck, winning some horse races and squiring about town with various courtesans. With a full table and a brand new game, they were unable to play to conclusion, but I think Sean was the consensus sorta-winner. I'm not sure how far they got but think they got a toe into the Imperial period.
Opinions were decidedly mixed. Several players knocked the game for its lack of interaction, but a couple guys pointed out ways they could have affected each other that were overlooked at the time. Everyone commented on its old-school feel - it is a very process-heavy game that felt a cycle or two behind the times in terms of game technology. The production is lavish, and some felt the experience was very immersive, akin to Tales of the Arabian Nights. I think it has a shot at reaching the table again, but at least half the initial crew will give it a pass next time out.
Adventures in Spain
Bill and Dutch headed to the steppe for Conflict of Heroes - Storms of Steel! Both have played the system before but they went small since it's been a while. They tried a couple all-infantry scenarios. In the first, the German attackers suffered mightily as the power of opportunity fire was demonstrated by the Soviet defenders of a small town. The second, another German assault on a village, was a more cautious affair, but again the defenders held. As Dutch said, judging the activation trade-offs is central to success, and one poor decision can ripple through a turn (and a game) with fatal consequences. Now that they're up to speed, they hope to get some armor on the board next time out.
Creeping through the cornrows
Campoverdi brought his gigantic box of Cthulhu Wars, one of the more impressive Kickstarter offerings I've seen. Each player assumes the role of a Great Old One in a battle for world domination. Though this is first and foremost a conflict game, there is also an economic engine of sorts, as you build Gates, summon monsters, develop your spellbook, and eventually awaken your Old One. Victory is determined when the Doom track hits a level based on the number of players. This track advances relentlessly, as it is the collective measure of accumulated Doom points (VPs).
Every faction has Cultists as its basic unit, alongside unique troop types at higher levels. For instance, I was Cthulhu himself, fielding Deep Ones (warfrogs), Shoggoths, and Starspawn as my heavy hitters. Upper tier critters have special abilities; my Shoggoths, for example, could consume warfrogs and Cultists for a little extra combat power (there are always empty seats at the Shoggoth lunch table). Each Old One has a special ability as well - Cthulhu could teleport off the map and back on again anywhere, with a posse of goons in tow, while Shub-Niggurath starts the game weak but grows in strength as the Doom track progresses. Spells are also unique to each faction - everyone has a set of six spells that are deployed as certain conditions are met. I received one when I had three undersea Gates, for instance, and I think summoning an Old One constitutes a spell, but I'm not sure that's true for every faction.
As Cthulhu, I opened by building out my undersea dominions, before rising from beneath the waves to smite my brothers. Unfortunately, my greatest relative advantage was at the outset, and I was a little slow with the smiting. Campo, as the Crawling Chaos (Nyarlathotep) had a much more defensive posture as defined by his various abilities. His faction was better suited to holding territory obtained by infiltration - it was tough to land a punch. Steven was the Black Goat (Shub-Niggurath), with all sorts of groovy passive-aggressive spells and attributes - he was kidnapping Cultists, inflicting Pain to drive enemy creatures out of territories, and insinuating his Ghouls into battle territories where he had no business being. Finally, Natus was the Yellow Sign (Hastur and the King in Yellow). This looks like the oddest faction of all, spreading desecration across the globe and working with *two* Old Ones to everyone else's one.
Ain't no party like a Great Old One party
I did a good job getting combat power onto the map but was less effective at actually applying it. Steven steadily racked up Doom points, and was consistently collecting Elder Signs as well (these are VP tokens of random value from one to three, awarded for various achievements). Natus had a tough job wrestling with his strange brand of asymmetric warfare, but still scored well. Campo was getting the worst of it from both Steven and me, struggling to hang onto the Gates he built (these confer both Doom points and power). I mistimed the end game, and we hit the Doom threshold much sooner than I expected. Steven was the comfortable winner with the rest of us clustered a few points behind.
The game received high marks all around. It's a thing of hideous beauty, with gameplay to match. It is very reminiscent of Chaos in the Old World, and I wouldn't be surprised if the basic concepts are inspired by the older game. Asymmetric powers, tiered troop types, rock-paper-hand grenade faction interaction, and a no-turtling game clock are common to both games. At the moment I lean toward CitOW, a long-standing favorite, but that may change as I get a handle on the unique faction characteristics of Cthulhu Wars. The price point is not for the meek, but at least you can see where your money went. If you have the dosh, worth a look, but if not, track down CitOW instead!
"There is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy"
Dave and Maynard returned to Erebor for The Battle of Five Armies, with Dave running the Shadow armies. This was our first really goblin-heavy game, with both hordes released fairly early to torment the Free People rear. In contrast, Bilbo took a long time to show up, and the Fate deck yielded only leaderless eagles. Bolg captured Dale in short order, while a peripatetic Dain led his dwarves to and fro stomping out brush fires as best he could. Dave scored his seventh action die with the capture of the Fallen Bridge, and despite a staggering five-hit blast from Gandalf, the writing was on the wall. Good session, much enjoyed by both players.
Bolg rules the valley
Last up, Dan VIII pulled out Jupiter Rescue, a science fiction co-op, and was joined by Dutch, Steven, Dave, and myself. Players represent robots sent to rescue the human population of a space station under alien assault. Players expend actions herding their human charges toward the escape pod, while fending off the alien legions. There is an element of Pandemic as the alien menace metastasizes on contact with humans, replacing a human piece with an alien in an ever-expanding green tide. Aliens also pop up in random locations, occasionally knocking out communications or power, thereby limiting player actions.
Here to save the day
Each robot-player has a randomly-determined permanent special ability, and card draws throughout the game grant short term abilities as well. Again, like Pandemic, success turns on leveraging your skill and doing what you can to augment the effectiveness of other players. We had a very touch-and-go game, and it looked like all was lost. Fortunately a couple pairs of rocket boots turned up in the nick of time, allowing Dave and Dan to jet around and lay waste to the intruders. We successfully boarded our human quota, and even grabbed a couple extra - what can I say, we have a soft spot in our silicon hearts for you delicate meatbags. Not a bad little co-op - Dutch offered generous praise, despite its uncanny resemblance to a certain other tile-based retro-themed sci-fi co-op.
Now boarding all Group 3 passengers