The Roots of Microgaming: The Classic Games of Metagaming

Friday, November 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Metagaming ad Analog 1978-small

I’ve been writing a lot about board gaming recently. It’s been a big part of my life ever since the late 70s, when I responded to an ad for a line of new “microgames” from a company called Metagaming.

I saw the ad on the inside cover of Analog magazine, which I started reading with the April 1997 issue, when I was 12 years old. Responding to ads in comics and magazines was something you did in the 70s, don’t look at me like that. Honestly, it was perfectly normal. You mailed a check to some address in Texas, and four weeks later a tiny package arrived in the mail containing X-ray glasses, sea monkeys, or a Polaris Nuclear Submarine. Seriously, the US Postal service and your mother’s checkbook were all you needed to access all the wonders of the world in the 1970s.

Well, the wonder that attracted my attention in the Fall of 1978 was an advertisement for SCIENCE FICTION GAMES from a company called Metagaming (click on the image above, from the inside cover of the October 1978 Analog, for a high-res version). I’d already taken my first steps into the hobby games market with the classic wargames of Avalon Hill, including Panzer Leader and Starship Troopers. But they were massive, requiring half an hour or more of set-up, and four to six hours to play. These mini-games looked portable and promised to be “fast-playing and inexpensive… a classic wargame that you can put in your pocket and play over lunch.”

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Future Treasures: Dungeon Master’s Guide from Wizards of the Coast

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dungeon Master's Guide-smallThe Dungeon Master’s Guide ships in less than two weeks, finally completing the rules set required to fully run Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.

Truthfully, everything you really need to play is contained in the core rules, barely 25 pages of the Players Handbook (one of the reasons I think the new edition has been such a hit), but players have been waiting anxiously to complete the Fifth Edition rules set and enjoy the full scope of the game. The DMG contains magic items, optional rules, advice for Dungeon Masters, and a lot more.

The Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set was published July 15, 2014; Andrew Zimmerman Jones did a forensic analysis for us here. The Players Handbook was released on August 19; Andrew reviewed it for us a few days later. The Monster Manual arrived September 30; Andrew was all over it the day before it came out. I was going to review this one, but I’m pretty sure Andrew will beat me to it.

Why wait two months to publish the DMG? No idea, but there’s probably some kind of marketing strategy behind it. The tradition of publishing D&D rules sets in three volumes goes all the way back to Gary Gygax, and he took two years to produce all three (the first Players Handbook was published in 1977; the DMG didn’t show up until 1979.) So I guess we should consider ourselves lucky it’s showing up now, instead of 2016.

Everything a Dungeon Master needs to weave legendary stories for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides the inspiration and the guidance you need to spark your imagination and create worlds of adventure for your players to explore and enjoy. Inside you’ll find world-building tools, tips and tricks for creating memorable dungeons and adventures, optional game rules, hundreds of classic D&D magic items, and much more!

The Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide was written by the Wizards RPG Team, and will be published by Wizards of the Coast on December 9, 2014. It is 320 pages, priced at $49.95 in hardcover. There is no digital edition. Get more details at the WotC website.


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Munchkin

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Munhkin_BoxToday, we’re going off topic to talk about the funnest (Most fun? More fun than any other?) game I play, Munchkin.

Those of us old enough to remember micro games recognize the name Steve Jackson as the creator of OGRE. This tiny little “board game” with the flimsy cardboard pieces launched the micro game market. As the founder of Steve Jackson Games, Jackson has produced a great many board and role playing games, including his own RPG system, GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System).

Back in 2001, Jackson released Munchkin, a fantasy parody card game with the motto, ‘Kill the monsters, steal the treasure, stab your buddy.’ For several years, I looked down on Munchkin as a cheap attempt to cash in on the RPG field. Then a friend bought the original Munchkin game last year. Boy, was I wrong!!

Munchkin (which comes in several variations), is flat out the most fun I’ve ever had playing a board or card game. It can be played by two, but as I’ll explain below, it really only clicks with at least three. The ‘helping’ dynamic doesn’t have nearly as great an impact in a two player game and things can get a bit flat. But with a third, it’s no holds barred.

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When Stellar Empires Clash: GDW’s Dark Nebula and Imperium

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dark Nebula Game Designers Workshop-smallIn this new Golden Age of science fiction and fantasy board games, when all the chatter is about the latest and greatest mega-games (when it isn’t about the big Fantasy Flight Holiday Sale), I’d like to take a moment to appreciate two classic games of interstellar combat: GDW’s Imperium and Dark Nebula, originally published in 1977 and 1980.

Both may appear simplistic compared to modern games of empire-building in space, like Eclipse, EVE Conquests, or Empires of the Void. At first glance, they may seem more comparable to fast-action games like Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic LeagueAstra Titanus, or the Warhammer 40K game Relic.

But just because both are packaged in relatively small boxes with a slender set of rules doesn’t mean they aren’t ambitious and nuanced games. Both are set in the Traveller universe designed by Marc Miller and, if you’re familiar with that game, they’re a great way to play out some of the far-ranging conflicts that shaped The Third Imperium.

Although it’s probably more accurate to say that Dark Nebula shared a setting with Imperium, which gradually became part of the Traveller universe. Imperium, an ambitious two-player game of space empire conflict set in 22nd Century, was released by GDW in 1977 — the same year the company also published Traveller.  Imperium had a very intriguing backstory, with two great empires in conflict, hints of failed diplomacy, and a vast stellar empire in slow decline.

Conversely, the original boxed edition of Traveller didn’t really have a setting — it was sort of a generic system for role playing in space, and it drew on the popular vision of a galaxy-spanning human civilization found in the science fiction of the time by Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Keith Laumer, H. Beam Piper, and others. It was a game desperately in need of a rich setting, and it found one in Imperium.

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Take Advantage of the Fantasy Flight Games Holiday Sale!

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gearworld The Borderlands-smallI jumped over to the Fantasy Flight Games website last night as I was fact-checking my article on their acquisition by Asmodee, when what did I discover but a major holiday sale, running from November 19th through December 1st.

The sale covers a wide range of their catalog, from board and card games to miniatures and expansions for their Dust Tactics, Tannhauser, and Wings of War games, as well as great prices on their Warhammer, Warhammer 40K, and Anima RPG products. They’ve even got great discounts on 20 of their novels. Here’s just a sample of their holiday pricing:

City of Thieves: King of Ashes — list $39.95, sale price $10
Descent: Sea of Blood Expansion — list $59.95 sale price $5
Fortress America — list $79.95 sale price $25
Gearworld: The Borderlands — list $49.95 sale price $10
Reiner Knizia’s Kingdoms– list $29.95 sale price $10
The Hobbit Boardgame — list $34.95 sale price $10
Ventura Board Game — list $79.95 sale price $10
Warhammer FRPG: Black Fire Pass — list $39.95 sale price $5
Warhammer FRPG: The Edge of Night — list $29.95 sale price $5
Black Crusade: Core Book — list $59.95  sale price $20

Whether or not the sale is linked to their recent acquisition (and whether or not it signals they will no longer be supporting some of these products in the future) is obviously open to debate. All the more reason to move quickly if you’ve been contemplating getting any of these games — they may not be available for much longer.

There are hundreds of items on sale, but they won’t last long at these prices, so act fast. Check out the sale here.


Asmodee Acquires Fantasy Flight Games

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Fantasy Flight logoFrom time to time, we’ve talked about Fantasy Flight Games, a company at the very forefront of the resurgence of fantasy board games in the United States. Their catalog includes some of the most popular and acclaimed genre board games and RPGs of the last decade, including Deathwatch, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Dust Tactics, Merchant of Venus, Middle-Earth Quest, Relic, Runebound, StarCraft, Talisman, Tide of Iron, Twilight Imperium, A Game of Thrones, Age of Conan, Arkham Horror, BattleLore, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures, and many, many others.

France-based board game publisher Asmodee may not be as familiar to many of you, but we’ve mentioned them a few times — most recently with our coverage of their fantasy exploration game Cyclades and the massive space epic Eclipse.

On Monday, Asmodee announced that it had acquired Fantasy Flight Games. Leaders of both companies are trumpeting the strategic benefits of a merger, as it will give Asmodee access to Fantasy Flight’s North American operations and marketing infrastructure, and in return Flight Games will benefit from Asmodee’s distribution and marketing prowess in Europe. No plans to move Fantasy Flight’s headquarters from St. Paul, Minnesota were announced.

This is the second major acquisition for Asmodee this year. Back in August, they announced the acquisition of Days of Wonder, publishers of Ticket to Ride, Shadows Over Camelot, Small World, Pirate’s Cove, Memoir ’44, and many other board games.

No immediate changes to Fantasy Flight are anticipated, which will be a relief to most fans. Read the complete details, including an FAQ on the merger, here.


Step into a Dark Alternative London in Unhallowed Metropolis Revised

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Unhallowed Metropolis-smallThe dark fantasy role-playing game Unhallowed Metropolis was published by Eos Press in December 2007. I never got a copy, but I sure heard about it.

Set in an alternative London of 2105, two hundred years after a zombie apocalypse very nearly destroyed civilization, the game included ghosts, psychic powers, failed supersoldier experiments, zeppelins, ghoul colonies, vampires, and darker things. The futuristic dark-age London was made real with a well-conceived historical timeline, fascinating detail, and some terrific art.

The game was updated in 2011 with Unhallowed Metropolis Revised, which features new art, a foreword by Kenneth Hite (Trail of Cthulhu), streamlined rules, complete rules for volatile psychics and spectral entities, details on the wonders of aether technology, and much more. I bought a copy last month at the Fall Games Plus auction, and settled in for a read through today.

So far, I’ve been very impressed. The world building is strong indeed, and the setting splendidly realized. The art is a mix of pen and ink work and black & white photos of some very talented cosplay (the credits list 37 models, two make-up artists, and four photo manipulation artists… a pretty major production, no matter how you look at it).

All that effort has paid off. Unhallowed Metropolis Revised sucks you into the game world in a way I haven’t experienced since Ashen Stars. This is a game that makes you ache to play it.

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Can You Really Role Play on a Board?: Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords-smallFantasy board games have tried to capture the addictive nature of role playing for decades, but without much real success. In the past few years though, a number of dungeon-delving games have come close, including Descent, Talisman Fourth EditionCastle RavenloftLegend of DrizztClaustrophobia, and a few others. In his recent review of Paizo’s second Adventure Card Game Base Set, Skull & Shackles, Scott Taylor fingered another contender, this one from Paizo:

Of late Paizo had expanded their market with several new product lines, the most intriguing of which are their Boxed Set Card Games. These sets ingeniously combine card building with role-playing with table-top (Think D&D meets Magic the Gathering meets anything done by Fantasy Flight!) Indeed, it is an amazing breakthrough by the Paizo design team, and guess what, it actually works!

Bob Byrne was even more positive in his assessment of the first title in the series, Rise of the Runelords, in his August article on “RPGing with a board

By far, the best board/card game I’ve found that emulates the role-playing experience is the Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords Adventure Card Game. The adventures get more difficult, you level up and the gear gets better. You maintain your items, spells, and levels from scenario to scenario through an entire Adventure Path, rather than start over each game play session. I’m sure I’ll post on that excellent game in the future.

While I wait impatiently for Bob’s full review, I went ahead and ordered a copy. It arrived a few days ago and, while I haven’t had a chance to play a full game yet (mostly because I haven’t figured out how to do that without tearing the shrinkwrap), it looks very promising indeed.

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Modular: The Warlords of the Accordlands

Sunday, November 9th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Accordlands_CodexI’m going to try to periodically post some reviews of RPG modules and supplements. If you see “Modular” in the title line, that’s such a post. And here’s one!

Warlord: Saga of the Storm was a d20-based collectible card game from AEG. I’ve never played it and know as much about it as I’ve read on Wikipedia. But I do know that in 2006, AEG released four books that made up a fine d20 RPG setting and campaign.

The World Atlas is the best starting point. There’s a long history of the world of Larisnar, going back to The Great Dragon, which destroyed gods and nations before finally being slain. But the essence of the Dragon escaped into the air and became The Storm. While its body fell deep into the earth and produced demon-like Abyssals. Most of the remaining nations and races signed The Accord as a means to survive the changed world.

The Atlas profiles each of the major nations, including those of the dwarves and elves. As part of The Accord, the Dwarves agreed to leave the surface (the Dragon had destroyed their lands) and head underground to protect against the Abyssals. They stayed down so long that the surface dwellers forgot they existed and their selfless dedication.

Meanwhile, the Elves had become short-lived, barely lasting thirty years, so they turned to necromancy. These ain’t Tolkien’s elves!

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The Dungeons (and Dragons) of My Life, Part Two

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Warhammer First Edition box set-smallHey, folks. Last month I posted the first part of this blog about the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I’ve run. Now I’m back with the second half.

Before I get back into my tale, I need to make a correction. The last section of my first-half blog was subtitled 1989-2002. I need to amend that to 1989-1992, since it only encompassed my college years. Let’s call it a senior moment and move on. Alrighty then.

1993-2002

So, after college I found a group of players back in my hometown. A couple were old friends from my high school days, and some were new friends. At the time, I was getting into the Warhammer Roleplaying Game as well, so I tried to infuse my D&D campaign with some of those dark, gritty elements. As a result of a growing love of fiction writing (I was still years away from being published at this time), I was also developing more of my own adventure material.

The first campaign out of the gate began with the adventurers waking up after a battle with collective amnesia. They followed a trail of clues to find out who they were and why they had been attacked. Sadly, this campaign only last about half a dozen sessions because I played a rather nasty trick. I allowed my brother to play a double agent inside the group with instructions to betray them when he saw an opportunity.

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