Sunday, September 16, 2007

Guest Post: Boardgame Reviews by Wulfgar

Gameblog reader Wulfgar contacted me with an offer to do a guest post. Thanks, Wulfgar! Check out his boardgame mini-reviews below.

Howdy all. I’ve been reading Jeff’s blog for about a year now, and decided it was time for me to give something back in return for all the enjoyment I’ve gotten. Along with being an rpg fan, I’m also big time into board games. In fact, over the past few years, my collection of rpg books has shrunk while my board games are breeding like tribbles- mainly because I have people around who are interested in playing the board games. So here’s a brief review of six games that I think might be appealing to the readers of this blog. There are so many good games out there that it was hard to narrow it down to even 6. I went with games that are all in print, lots of fun (at least in my humble opinion, and have cross over appeal to people who play rpg’s. I hope you enjoy.

  1. Risk- Star War: Original Trilogy Edition by Hasbro

    This game is one of the “holy grails” of board games that, I doubted would ever be made: an officially licensed, highly playable, strategic level wargame about the Original Trilogy Star Wars movies. If you like Risk and like Star Wars getting this game is a no-brainer. If you like Star Wars but don’t enjoy Risk, this game probably addresses your beef with the original. Think Risk is too long? Well Original Trilogy only takes about an hour and a half. There’s not enough strategy? This game uses the same basic dice rolling combat system but adds all sorts of cool stuff: 3 classes of space ships, a Death Star that can go around blowing up systems, the Force, 3 factions (Empire, Rebellion, Hutts) all with different victory conditions and capabilities. The rules are online at:

  1. Wings of War by Fantasy Flight Games

    This is an incredibly simple, quick to play, and very fun game of World War I dog fighting. There’s no board and no dice- just a bunch of beautiful cards and a couple rulers. You can play on any flat surface- a table top, floor, whatever. The game in short: You have a plane that is represented by a card. You have a deck of cards full of different maneuvers you can perform (straight, right, left, immelman, etc). Each player secretly picks out 3 maneuvers. Everybody shows the first maneuver and moves their planes. People in range can shoot. Show the 2nd maneuver, move, and shot. Show the 3rd maneuver, move, and shoot. Repeat. Damage is resolved by drawing from a damage deck. Along with just plain old getting your plane shot up, you can catch on fire, get your guns or rudder jammed, etc. This game takes less than 5 minutes to explain and set up. Wings of War is actually available in a number of different sets that all include the “core rules” to use some rpg lingo. These are “Famous Aces”, “Watch Your Back”, and “Burning Drachens” which are all compatible with each other as well as a few WWI booster packs available. There is also “Dawn of War” which is the first set for WWII and uses slightly modified rules- it is NOT compatible with the WWI sets. I went a bit crazy and bought all of the WWI stuff at once, but now I have a quick and easy to explain game that can accommodate from 2 to 14 players! The rules are available here:

  1. Colossal Arena by Fantasy Flight Games

    Colossal Arena is a game about fantasy creatures (Ettin, Wyrm, Cyclops to name a few) battling it out in a gladiatorial arena. In a very neat twist, the players take on the roles of gamblers betting on which monsters will survive. Like Wings of War, Colossal Arena is a “board game” without any actual board. In this case you sort of build the board with cards as the game progresses. During the game players place bets on the monsters and play cards indicating the strength the monsters are currently battling at. High numbers are good. Low numbers are bad. You start with 8 monsters (out of 12 to pick from) and 3 will be left standing at the end of the game. Players collect on any bets placed on surviving monsters. So you’re trying to keep your guys alive and knock off the other players’. In addition the “backer” (the player with the most money bet on a monster) can use the monster’s special power when they play a card on them. There are a couple other neat things going on like undead referees and crazed spectators who jump into the arena. All in all, this is a game that I really enjoy a lot. With the caveat that they are not the best-written rules in the world (it’s much simpler than it sounds) you can find the rules to read at: I personally like the alternate rules for the endgame which are also available to download at the Fantasy Flight site.

  1. War of the Ring by Fantasy Flight Games

    War of the Ring is a big, bold game of moving hordes of plastic armies around a map and chucking fistfuls of dice in the tradition of Axis and Allies. At the same time it is an incredibly good adaptation of Tolkien’s Trilogy. The Free People player is trying to hold off the forces of evil long enough for the Fellowship to destroy the ring, and the Shadow player is trying to either conquer Middle Earth or completely corrupt the ring bearer. The players face a lot of the same challenges as the characters in the book. The good guys must decide if they want to keep the fellowship together to better protect Frodo or send everyone off to rally the different nations to war. Gandalf can die- and come back. The Ents can rise against Sauroman. There’s a lot here to enjoy. This is another game with pretty poorly written rules. It’s much simpler to play than the rules are to read and is about the same level of complexity as Axis and Allies. You can read the rules at:

  1. Fire & Axe by Asmodee Editions

    Fire & Axe is the game that originally gave me the idea for this column. I found the game about the same time Jeff was writing about his Beyond Vinland campaign. Both involve Vikings roaming around looting, killing, and exploring. Players each take on the role of a Viking Jarl. You outfit your long ship with men and various trade goods and set sail from Scandinavia. You travel around Europe and beyond doing 3 main things- trading, raiding, and settling. You also get Saga cards, which let you, screw with your competition with nasty events like a rebellion in one of their settlements or a sea serpent attacking their ship. This is an easy to teach game that requires some good luck and sound planning to be successful in. The rules are not available online, but here’s a link to the publisher’s official page for the game:

  1. Twilight Struggle by GMT Games

    Twilight Struggle doesn’t have a sci-fi or fantasy theme, so it doesn’t translate directly over to the rpg world as well as the other’s listed. That being said, I had to mention this game because it is GREAT. In the past month this has quickly become my favorite game. It’s a tense and addictive game about the Cold War with one player as the United States and the other as the Soviet Union. You use cards to either implement various events (NATO formed, Castro takes over Cuba, Korean War, etc), build influence around the world, or stage coups. You’ve got to keep an eye on the DEFCON. You lose if you trigger a nuclear war, which builds a real sense of brinksmanship and makes for a better game than many others on the subject where a trailing player can just say, “Screw it. Nuke’em” and get himself a draw. To put how good this game is into some perspective, it takes about 2-3 hours to play and I’ve gotten in 7 games within the past couple weeks. 5 of them against my wife who is also addicted (and enjoys calling me a capitalist pig). While the game is very simple, learning what the different cards in the deck do will take a couple games- and give an experienced player a big advantage over a new one. The rulebook is very well done. There are 9 pages of actual rules. The rest includes a detailed walkthrough of several turns in a game, and historical commentary for every card in the game. You can read the book here:

Thanks again, Wulfgar! I've some interest in both Wings of War and Star Wars Risk for some time, so it was great to see your opinions of them. I hadn't heard about Fire & Axe before now, but it sure sounds like a hoot!