Origins Game Fair: Origins Awards

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

256 Starfinder CoreLast week and weekend, gamers descended upon the city of Columbus, OH, for Origins Game Fair. Running from June 13 to 17 – Wednesday through Sunday – the event is five solid days focused on playing some of the best games out there. And this year was my first time attending.

I have pretty extensive experience with smaller literary conventions, and I’ve gone to GenCon every year for about a decade at this point, so Origins felt pretty familiar to me. It filled the Columbus Convention Center, but had a smaller and less commercial feel than GenCon, on some level. There is more emphasis on playing games than on big marketing pushes, new releases, or even really game sales. The exhibit hall is a fraction the size of that at GenCon, and many major publishers don’t even have a sales presence at the convention.

My son turned 13 on Friday and the trip to Origins was part of his birthday present. Turns out that he wanted to spend all day on Saturday playing through three Starfinder sessions … which I suppose explains why the game won the Fan Favorite Best Roleplaying Game category in the Origins Awards. Read More »

Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes — Disturbing Entities to Inspire Great Adventures… or Nightmares

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallDungeons & Dragons 5th Edition seems to have a good handle on what’s needed for a rule book, and what’s needed for an expansion. Like its immediate predecessor, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes covers a variety of topics. It’s meant to fill in some gaps for specific areas players and game masters might want to have more detail about.

It’s broadly divided into two sections: five chapters devoted to the history of different races and their factions and how they can be used both by the GM and the players, and a generous bestiary stuffed full with old favorites and permutations of them that haven’t reappeared yet.

This includes new monsters and monsters specifically related to the first half of the book. You’ll see what I mean shortly.

It’s a great book, probably my favorite yet of the expansions, and maybe the first one I’d consider a must-have for all campaigns, owing to the wealth of information provided on basic character races like Elves and Dwarves.

Don’t get me wrong, I think most game masters would want Xanathar’s Guide on their shelves, because it offers so many tweaks and suggestions. But I believe Mordenkainen’s Tome will be even more broadly useful to a slightly higher percentage of players

I must be the odd man out, but I’ve never been especially interested in demons or devils, and the fascination many have with them has always baffled me. So I probably wasn’t the target audience for the first chapter, devoted to the long war between the two races, but darned if I wasn’t impressed anyway.

No, I’m not suddenly inspired to run a campaign centered on interactions with the infernal, but there’s a lot of cool and clever information, and, should this be more your cup of tea, some interesting hooks. It’s also rounded out with lots of ideas that can help players flesh out their Tiefling characters.

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Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes Looks to the Horizon

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallThe newest supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (Amazon), continues to provide the high quality of content we’ve come to expect from this series, focusing on quality and story depth over serious escalation of power.

Tome of Foes expands on setting and background information for the main setting, with the bulk of the book being the 137-page Bestiary chapter, containing monsters from across the dimensions, including a variety of duergars and drow templates to a host of Demon Lords and Archdevils. And that’s all just in the D section of the Bestiary, not even account for the constructs, elder elementals, and ample quantities of undead!

While the monsters are great to have, the first half of the book has a lot to offer for the Dungeon Master in terms of depth, as well.

The first chapter gives a wealth of detail on the eternal Blood War between the armies of demons and devils for who gets claim on being more evil. It’s easy to treat demons and devils as villains just there to be killed, but after reading this chapter, you’ll be more inclined to treat them as unique creatures, with their own goals and motivations. I’m looking forward to using this information to build a storyline where my players are stuck between the goals of demonic cults and devil cults, who hate each other nearly as much as they hate the party of adventurers.

Subsequent chapters provide details on the cultures of elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes. Information on the Feywild and the Underdark is also provided where appropriate, for those who want to incorporate them more into their campaigns. In addition, a chapter focuses on the endless war between the two gith races, the githyanki and githzerai, who escaped their enslavement from the mind flayers (who are themselves not covered in detail Tome of Foes, but are well covered in the previous Volo’s Guide to Monsters) only to find themselves in a brutal clash against each other.

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Rise to the Throne in Ethnos

Friday, June 8th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill


We’re definitely living in a golden age of fantasy board games.

How can you tell? Well, for one thing, a generation ago a relatively modest game such CMON’s Ethnos would have been a pocket game, like Star Fleet Battles or Valkenburg Castle, with a two-color map and paper tokens, crammed into your back pocket to play at lunch. Today it gets the deluxe treatment, with quality components, full color cards, and art by the great John Howe. Times are good for fantasy gamers, and no mistake.

Whatever form it takes, part of the charm of Ethos is its simplicity. It’s a fairly straightforward game of conquest, with a 45-60 minute play time and virtually no set up time — a far cry from the more massive games I’ve been writing about recently, like Axis & Allies and Chaos in the Old World, let me tell you. Plus, this is definitely old-school, with wizards, giants, and skeleton armies. You barely need to look at the rule book. Beer and pretzels, some glory tokens, and a lust for conquest on your lunch hour is all you need to carry you to victory.

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Caverna The Cave Farmers: The Most Fun You’ll Have Managing Animals, Minerals and Vegetables

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Caverna the Cave Farmers-small

I’ve heard a lot about the top-selling Agricola. It was the board game that finally ended Puerto Rico‘s five year-rein as the highest-rated game at BoardGameGeek, and it thoroughly dominated the rankings from September 2008 until March 2010. It certainly sounds like something I should investigate, but I have to admit it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm… I mean, just how much fun can it be to simulate a farming couple living in a two-room hut?

As you can probably imagine, I was much more intrigued by Agricola‘s sequel Caverna: The Cave Farmers, which changed up the setting and added a fantasy veneer, putting you in the role of dwarves leading tiny family clans in mountain caves. The reviews have been pretty promising; Shut Up & Sit Down said:

The sequel to Agricola is here, and it’s the heaviest and most expensive game we’ve ever reviewed. A titan of the table.

There’s no question. Caverna: The Cave Farmers is the most fun you’re going to have managing animals, minerals and vegetables.

Wait, are they being snarky? It’s hard to tell. Only one way to find out for sure.. I finally took the plunge and shelled out $80 for a copy of Caverna, and it arrived today. And wow, this thing is gigantic.

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Xbox Game Pass: Access Your New Game Library

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Matt Drought


You’ve bought a shiny new game console, set it up, and you’re ready to play. All you need now are games. Depending on what mood you’re in, you might want to play games from different genres. These genres can vary, from first person shooters, racing games, Role Playing Games, MMO’s and others. At an average cost of $59.99 per game (for new releases), it may take some time to build up a library of games to appease your gaming appetite.

There are low cost alternatives to help build your library: buying used games, borrowing games from your friends, or waiting for games to go on sale. Microsoft has recently created another low cost alternative, the Xbox Game Pass. The Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service that grants you access to (at this point) over 100 games. For $9.99 per month, you gain access to Xbox One, Xbox 360, and original Xbox games.

These games are downloadable to your hard drive, and can be played for as long as you’re a subscriber. The Xbox Game Pass includes games from a variety of publishers, such as Microsoft, Capcom, Electronic Arts, Sega, and Ubisoft.

If you haven’t played through the entire series of the Gears of War games, you can with the Xbox Game Pass. If you haven’t played the excellent Rise Of The Tomb Raider, you can with the Game Pass. Resident Evil, Devil May Cry 4, Metro Last Light, Super Street Fighter IV, and Halo 5 Guardians, are all examples of games included with the Xbox Game Pass.

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The Amazing Magic Robot

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Merit Magical Amazing Robot closeup

You and your friends sit around a table. You carefully take the Amazing Magic Robot from its niche in the box and set it in the middle of a circle of questions, making sure the tab fits into the slot. Spin the pointer to a question you want answered. Challenge your friends. Do they know? Let’s see if they’re right.

You pick up the robot and move it to the other circle, the one of answers. When you let go, the robot — magically! — moves all by itself and points to the correct answer. Every single time. You can’t fool it. The Amazing Magic Robot knows all. And speaks a dozen languages.

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The Storm Breaks: Torg Eternity (Part Two)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Day OneLast Sunday I ran my first session of Torg Eternity, meaning I can now finish my review of the game by discussing how the rules worked in practice (the first part is here, with a description of the basic idea of the mechanics and of the game setting — an Earth invaded by seven different dimensions). Worth noting to start with that I’d been spending time on the message boards for the game, discussing the different realms and how I wanted to play them. Some minor questions I’d had about rule interpretation had been cleared up; more than fair to say I found the boards a useful resource for gamemasters, especially since one of the designers, Deanna Gilbert, is very active in responding to questions and comments.

Along with the Torg Eternity rulebook, I had two anthologies of short adventures, the Day One collection and the Delphi Missions: Rising Storm collection. The Day One adventures followed pregenerated characters through adventures set on the first day of the invasions. That was useful in giving me a sense of what the opening of the invasions was like, but I didn’t immediately see anything I wanted to adapt to a regular group — each of the Day One stories followed a group of Core Earthers caught up in the invasion of one specific cosm, whereas my players had characters from across the realms. The Delphi Missions adventures ranged from relatively brief scenarios to stories that’d clearly occupy a full session or more of play. Again, though, all the adventures focussed on one cosm. I could see the benefit for an introductory collection of adventures; each showed something of the feel of a given realm. But what always made Torg fascinating to me was the crossing-over of realities.

Both books had some very well-designed scenarios in them. I particularly liked “The Dumas Gambit” in Delphi Missions, which describes a setting in the Cyberpapacy occupied by various factions of street gangs and then introduces the players with an objective that sets the factions against each other. Meanwhile, there’s a moment in the Day One adventures that really gave me a feel for the splatterpunk reality of Tharkold just by describing a certain corpse the characters find. That sort of thing makes both books worth looking at for Torg Eternity gamemasters, I think, moments and descriptions that help establish the feel of the different realities, the kind of stories that get told in them.

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How Much Adventure Can Fit on One Planet? Find Out in Tarsus: World Beyond the Frontier

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Tarsus Game Designers Workshop-small Tarsus Game Designers Workshop-back-small

I started playing Traveller in 1980, using Marc Miller and Frank Chadwick’s original 1977 boxed set from Game Designers’ Workshop. I really enjoyed it although — as I noted in my 2014 article on GDW’s Dark Nebula and Imperium board games — it was a little light on setting.

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. (James Maliszewski did a splendid job of re-constructing the formative SF behind Traveller in “Appendix T.”) It was a game desperately in need of a rich setting, and it found one in Imperium.

Looking back, that critique was perhaps a little harsh. Yeah, the 1977 boxed set forgot to include a setting, and the publisher had to steal one from Imperium. But it wasn’t long before GDW began to improve the situation by producing high quality supplemental materials for Traveller. One of their better efforts was the boxed set Tarsus: World Beyond the Frontier, designed by Marc W. Miller and Loren K. Wiseman and released by GDW in 1983. I recently tracked down a copy, and I really wish I’d had it for those early gaming sessions in the trailer in my back yard in 1980.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in March

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder by the Pound at the Frog God booth at Gary Con 2018-small

The most popular topic at Black Gate last month was the Gary Con gaming convention in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Gary Gygax’s home town. Part 1 of my convention report, in which I detailed the angry fallout among Pathfinder licensees to Paizo’s announcement of an impending Second Edition — including the “Pathfinder by the POUND!!” liquidation at the Frog God booth — was our most popular post for the month, by a pretty wide margin. Part 2 of my report, a 17-photo pictorial walkaround of the gorgeously well-stocked Goodman Games/Black Blade booth, came in at #3.

Gary Con wasn’t the only topic of interest in March, however. The second most-trafficked article for the month was Rich Horton’s commentary on the Hugo nominations, and our look at Unbound Worlds’ suggestions on where to start with Gothic Space Opera came in at #4. Rounding out the Top Five was Bob Byrne’s recap of his epic adventures with Gabe Dybing, Martin Page and his son Xander, and the new Conan RPG from Modiphius Entertainment.

Thomas Parker got into the spirit of our recent Ace Double reviews with “Doubling Down, or Just How Bad Are Ace Doubles, Anyway?” and that was good enough to win him the #6 slot for March. Joe Bonadonna claimed #7 with his review of Tempus With His Right-Side Companion Niko, by Janet Morris. Sean McLachlan picked up on the vintage paperback theme nicely with “STRANGE! WEIRD! EERIE! The Odd, Unusual, and Uncanny Biography of Lionel Fanthorpe,” placing at #8.

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