Game Review: Dead of Winter from Plaid Hat Games

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by eeknight

dead-of-winter-boxColor me rotting-flesh green and call me thunderstruck. I believe I’ve been playing the best board game in my thirty years of dice rolling this week: the Plaid Hat Games survival horror magnificence that is Dead of Winter.

Ron Burgundy “That’s No Lie” seal of approval. I know I often write here with tongue probing my cheek, but this time I’m undeadly serious. Maybe it was just the subject matter, or how dark the game can get as desperation builds, but I found it my most enjoyable gaming session in memory.

I’m not just trying to squeeze in another gore-dripped Zombie-related post before Halloween, either. I was perfectly willing to let my one sad little movie post for the month be my fall contribution, but honestly, this game has taken over my brain like a Venusian virus brought back to Earth and I must write about it.

Like tabletop gaming with friends? Like Zombies? If either of these conditions = TRUE, you can read through all my blah blah questionable-humor blah blah blah, or you can get off the Internet, utilize your preferred mode of transport (I don’t care about your hair, that’s why God created baseball hats), go to your Friendly Local Game Store and grab this jewel so you can read the rules and play it over the course of Halloween all the more quickly.

You’re welcome.

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Art of the Genre: Owning a Time Machine

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Working with artist Den Beauvais on a new Chess cover was a thrill beyond words for an old art geek like me!

Working with artist Den Beauvais on a new Chess cover was a thrill beyond words for an old art geek like me!

It’s true, in a sense. You see, I work as the Art Director for Gygax Magazine, and as such I’m tasked with trying to recreate the artistic feel of Dragon Magazine circa 1984. So, I spend my days not only going over old art, but also trying my best to discover new talent that somehow reflects some of the best aspects of the OSR.

Certainly, there have been others that have tried this type of nostalgia-based marketing. Goodman Games comes to mind with their initial line of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and the same could be said for Rob Kuntz and his Pied Piper Press in the mid-2000s.

Still, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t simply plug in old artists and make everything perfect. Talents evolve, and in some cases erode, and working with established artists who have trademark styles sometimes limits your ability to direct them inside a product.  Egos must be taken into account, as well as their vision versus yours, and finally how a price point that satisfies everyone can be achieved.

It can be a position of highs and lows, and I’ve had some great successes as well as failures along the way, but never once did I say ‘this just isn’t worth it.’

Why?  Because I love the art.  I love the artists, and having gone so deep into their world, I understand all too well the struggles they face on a daily basis. Each time I get the opportunity to pick up a phone, call an artist, and offer them work is what gives my job meaning.

Gygax provides this incredible vehicle to do just that, and when you finally get to hold the magazine in your hands, feel it just like you did that Dragon Magazine when you were in your teens, you understand just how special it really is.

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Loot The Tomb of Horrors in Style in Conquest of Nerath

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Conquest of Nerath-smallWhen I lived in the dorms at the University of Illinois in the early 90s, it wasn’t unusual to see students clustered around tables in the lobby, playing Axis & Allies. The game took up an entire table and there were always a few spectators. Axis & Allies was a massive game, with a truly epic feel, and in the decades since its release, it has seen many versions — 19 last time I counted.

I’ve often wondered why there was no fantasy equivalent to Axis & Allies: a fast-playing game on a massive scale, pitting nations against each other across an imposing map. Sure, there have been a few ambitious attempts from small companies, but most fell down on the production side of things. Axis and Allies wasn’t just huge in scope — the whole game was huge, with hundreds of sturdy components, a beautifully detailed 40-inch folding map, and simple yet elegant rules. Even the box was humongous.

In 2011, Wizards of the Coast released Conquest of Nerath, a Dungeons & Dragons board game that pits four nations against each other in a desperate struggle for total supremacy. I probably would have overlooked it, if it hadn’t been for this rave review by Scott Taylor in July of that year:

In all my years of gaming, and all the games I’ve played, I’d yet to find something in the same realm of awesome as [Axis & Allies] until I sat down to play Conquest. Simply put, this game is an instant classic, a pure gamers paradise that mixes the very best of thirty years of game development into a single cohesive unit. What A&A was as a Risk upgrade, so too is Conquest to everything before it.

I was very excited by Scott’s review, and promised myself I’d buy a copy as soon I could. I finally acted on that promise earlier this month and, after spending some time with the game, I’m very pleased to be able to say that Scott was not off in his assessment.

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Backing my First Kickstarter: Scott Taylor’s The Folio

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Scott Taylor The Folio-smallOkay, technically Scott Taylor’s The Folio isn’t the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve ever backed. I think that was probably Grim Dawn, the computer RPG from the creators of Titan’s Quest. Plus the Veronica Mars movie. But I only did those because my kids begged me.

So, yeah, I think Scott’s The Folio may be the first campaign I’ve backed on my own. It hasn’t been hard to stay away from Kickstarter so far… there’s been plenty of intriguing projects that have tempted me but, between eBay and Amazon, I already have enough high tech platforms draining my finances, thank you very much. As a collector with poor impulse control, it’s been safest just to stay away entirely.

What’s so magical about The Folio that’s undermined years of careful self-control? Well, first, there’s its creator, Scott Taylor. Scott’s been blogging at Black Gate for many years, and he was a contributor to the print magazine before that. Scott is enormously talented, with five published novels to his credit, not to mention the highly acclaimed shared-world anthologies Tales of the Emerald Serpent and A Knight in the Silk Purse, which he published and edited.

I’ve wondered for years what Scott could do if he focused his considerable talents on the gaming industry, but with The Folio, he has surpassed even my high expectations. The Folio is an ongoing adventure module series using 5th Edition mechanics, adapted to multiple genres.

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The Lost Lands: A New Campaign World for Pathfinder

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

LostLands_StoneheartOn the opening day of Gen Con 2000, Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons was unveiled. That same day, Necromancer Games released The Wizard’s Amulet, more or less the second OGL/D20 adventure (that’s another discussion).

Necromancer, working with other companies such as White Wolf, Judges Guild, and Kenzer and Company, became one of the most successful d20 companies. Their mega dungeon, Rappan Athak, is one of the best known Third Era adventures.

However, the advent of Fourth Edition spelled doom for Necromancer. Co-founder Bill Webb founded Frog God Games, a clear successor to Necromancer, and they published products for Paizo’s Pathfinder. Frog God produced new items and also updated old Necromancer goods as well, Pathfinderizing them.

With the advent of Fifth Edition D&D, Frog God is now publishing for both lines (in addition to retro-clone, Swords & Wizardry). Necromancer and Frog God adventures and supplements had loosely been connected in that they took place in Webb’s personal campaign world.

Frog God is currently putting out that campaign world under the moniker The Lost Lands. It is going to incorporate nearly everything produced by Necromancer and Frog God Games. Some products, such as their Judges Guild updates and the Hex Crawl Chronicles, belong to other folks and won’t be included. But if you look at the long list of products, there’s an awful lot, including Gary Gygax’s under-appreciated Necropolis.

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Firefly Friday – Firefly: The Game

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Firefly-The-Game

Ever want to just buy a ship and take off into the night sky, making your own rules and living a life that was truly free? Firefly: The Game (Amazon) gives you the chance to do just that, if you think you’re up for it.

On the off chance that you’ve been in a coma for the last decade: Firefly was a tragically short-lived television series created by Joss Whedon. After his success on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, he turned to science fiction, creating a series that can best (but simplistically) be described as “cowboys in space.” The series centered around a spaceship crew living on the fringe of society, taking jobs of questionable legality while trying to stay off the radar of the government. It was cancelled before all 13 of the episodes even aired, but fan enthusiasm resulted in a feature film, Serenity, that gave some measure of closure for fans.

But, as so often happens in our little world of fandom, even that was not the end of the story. In a few short episodes, Joss Whedon had created a rich and dynamic universe of rugged heroes who traveled the expanse between worlds just trying to find a job, work the job, get paid, and keep flying. It has continued in a number of forms, from comic books to board games. As I’ve mentioned before, my shelves contain a number of these related materials. (More than I typically care to admit.)

It’s hard to overstate how great this short television series was … And it’s equally hard to overstate how well Firefly: The Game captures the feel of trying to make your way out in the black, even if that means you have to misbehave a bit.

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Art of the Genre: The Artistic Mystery of The Temple of Elemental Evil and the Turmoil of 1985 TSR

Sunday, October 19th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Parkinson does an awesome cover, but don't just this book by that or you'll be disappointed

Parkinson does an awesome cover, but don’t judge this book by that or you’ll be disappointed

Back in 1985 I was fourteen and had recently entered the gaming hobby as a hardcore fan and not a passing-fancy type player. It was during my plunge into the hobby that I began grabbing up whatever I could get on my monthly trips to the ‘big city’ of Lafayette, Indiana. During one of these outings with my mother, who would entice me to go to the Mall or any other boring errands she had by offering to also take me downtown to Main Street Hobbies, that I acquired T1-4, The Temple of Elemental Evil.

It was my first ‘super-module’, and although I’d missed the chance to get most of the original-run TSR modules from 1979-82, I was thrilled to grab this new breed module by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer. Little did I realize at the time what it took to actually produce this module. I mean, by 1985 Gary was already on the chopping block at TSR and the company was ready to undergo a massive changeover that would result in AD&D 2E, and the ‘downfall’ of the company as we knew it. Times, as they say, were a’changin.

Now I can’t speak for the inner workings of how this module was made, but it is well documented that Gygax himself began work on T2: The Temple of Elemental Evil after he’d completed T1: The Village of Hommlet in 1979. However, probably due to the company’s rapid expansion and then his departure to Hollywood to work on the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, his work was never completed by his own hand. Enter Frank Mentzer, who completed the module, and finally allowed it to see the light of day six years after players had been introduced to the story line in T1.

When I purchased it, I wasn’t ready to run such a complex dungeon crawl, and so I turned the module over to my friend Mark, who ran me through it over the course of our summer vacation. I well remember running four characters in the adventure, and I’m sure Mark had the same number of NPCs, the bulk of it played on the floor of the downstairs living room at my mother’s house.

It wasn’t until 1988 that I actually ran the module myself, this time with my friend Murph, who was helping me develop my own gaming sandbox of The Nameless Realms. It was another epic ‘run’, and afterward, I put the module away and have thought of it fondly ever since.

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Join the Struggle Against the Minions of Cthulhu in 17th Century England in Clockwork and Cthulhu

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

clockwork-cthulhu-smallTwo years ago, I wrote a brief New Treasures post about Clockwork and Cthulhu, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired supplement for the 17th century alternate history fantasy setting Clockwork & Chivalry. A role playing game where giant clockwork war machines lumber across the land, witches whisper of the old gods and terrorize entire villages, and the Great Old Ones seek entry into our world while their corrupted servants covertly follow their eldritch agendas, was simply too much to resist.

I was enormously impressed with Cakebread and Walton’s creative backdrop for their game, an alternate 17th Century England where Royalists, led by Prince Rupert, attempt to restore an absolute monarch to the throne, and Parliamentarians, led by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, defy the kingship and support the rights of parliament. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there actually was an English Civil War from 1642–1651. Apparently, history is not my strong suit.

A few weeks after the first article appeared, co-author Peter Cakebread graciously accepted my invitation and wrote a fascinating follow-up piece for us, “The English Civil War with Clockwork War Machines: an Introduction to Clockwork & Chivalry,” in which he filled in the details on his fascinating setting:

Clockwork & Chivalry is a RPG set in the time of the English Civil War. The English Civil War was fought between the Royalists (the Cavaliers) and Parliament (the Roundheads). We haven’t veered away from most of the real history, it’s simply too interesting, but we have added a couple of rather big twists – in our setting the Royalists use magick, and the Parliamentarians have giant clockwork war machines.

Who says role playing can’t be educational? Over the last few years, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment (and rewarding history lessons) out of Clockwork and Cthulhu, and in that time Cakebread and Walton have continued to produce top-notch supplements and games. Here’s a quick look at some of their related products.

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Art of the Genre: A Review of the 5E Monster Manual and its Place in D&D Product History

Friday, October 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

So a month ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Players Handbook. At first, it seemed to me that I’d be doing a rather standard review, but the more I read the product, the more it began to light a fire in me about what the game had to offer.

New mechanics, or should I say neo-retro, because it seamlessly combines great features of both old and new D&D, had me wondering just how the game played on a table-top. By the end, I fully understood that this was not only a product to be respected, but also that I had to take the first chance I got to play it.

That said, I began to break down the mechanics and tried to extrapolate them into a small adventure that would help new players better understand the flow of the game. It was a truly fun and insightful process, but the double-edged sword of it was that I needed monsters!

Now sure, as an experienced DM with 30+ years behind the screen, I was able to extrapolate statistics from older versions of the game and translate them to 5th Edition, and it also helped to have a copy of the 5E Starter Kit, but if you’ve ever run a game of D&D, you know that it is always nice to have a copy of the Monster Manual close by! So, it is with great pleasure that I get to introduce players and fans alike to just what has changed in the 5E version of the game where monsters are concerned.

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The Hunt is On: Werewolf Game Review and Kickstarter Alert

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

You’re just a villager, going about your daily villager-related business. What could possibly go wrong?

How about there being a werewolf secretly hiding in your village?

Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition (Amazon)

That’s the premise of the popular game Ultimate Werewolf, designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bezier Games. There are two teams: villagers and werewolves. You get on a team by being randomly dealt cards at the beginning of the game. Everyone sleeps through the “night” and a moderator tells the werewolves to open their eyes. So the werewolves all know who each other are. Then the moderator has everyone open their eyes and wake up for the “day” … and the town debates who to kill. There’s a vote, and whoever gets the most votes dies. Then the village sleeps again, and the next day they vote on another person to kill.

Will the village kill a werewolf, or will the werewolves fool the villagers into killing an innocent? This continues until either all werewolves are dead, or enough villagers have been killed that they no longer outnumber the werewolves.

But the village can contain more than merely run-of-the-mill villagers. The Seer, for example, is able to point at one player during the night and be told by the moderator if that player is a werewolf. The Tanner hates his life and wants to die, so he wins if he can get you to kill him. (Screaming “I’m a werewolf!” is not usually a winning strategy for this role. You’ve got to be a little more subtle.)

The current edition of the game produced by Bezier games is actually Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition, which contains dozens of extra roles beyond villagers. In total, the Deluxe Edition can support play with a group of up to 75 players … which is a bit extreme, even for an avid gamer like me, but makes for a great party game, and you can create a set of cards tailored toward the comfort level of the group, to avoid overloading those who might be intimidated by the idea of so many different roles.

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