How G.O.G. Rescued the Classic Forgotten Realms Computer Games

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pool of Radiance SSI Gold Box-smallLast year I signed up at GOG.com, the digital video game distribution platform, because they had great deals on classic RPGs. I’m not kidding — this site requires some serious self control. I got Starflight & Starflight 2 for just $2.99, Planescape: Torment for $3.99, Wizardry 6 & 7 for $2.99, and Baldur’s Gate for $3.99. Best of all, they did all the hard work of converting the games to run on modern versions of Windows, so I could stop fussing around with DOSBox and my Amiga emulator. GOG is owned by CD Projekt, a Polish company that also owns CD Projekt RED, the developer behind the popular Witcher games.

A few weeks ago I was delighted to discover they were now offering a package deal on my all-time favorite computer role playing games — SSI’s Pool of Radiance and its various sequels, the so-called Gold Box games. I bought a package of eight games for $9.99 (and I swear I’m going to play them soon. All of ‘em!) But I hadn’t realized the amazing story behind GOG’s new offering — that in order to secure these classic games, the company had to navigate a legal ownership maze to obtain the rights, before they could begin the hard work of converting them for modern platforms. Dan Griliopoulos at PC Gamer posted an excellent article yesterday exploring just what was involved:

With the trail running cold, GOG tracked down SSI’s original President and founder, Joel Billings. “As a huge fan of D&D he was willing to help walk us through a detailed history behind SSI mergers and narrow the search down to two potential candidates: Mattel, or Gores Technology Group (who had acquired The Learning Company). The latter was a hit. We had found the actual rights owners to the Forgotten Realms games, and after several more months of negotiations, they agreed to sell them to us outright.”

GOG managed to recover thirteen games this way. They are: the party-based RPG Pool of Radiance; its sequels Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades and Pools of Darkness; C&C creators Westwood’s minigame RPG Hillsfar; the RPG construction kit Unlimited Adventures; Westwood’s first-person Eye of the Beholder Trilogy; the roguelike FPS Dungeon Hack; the two Savage Frontier games; and the Ultima Underworld-like Underdark exploration game Menzoberranzan.

Then they had the not-so-small matter of getting all thirteen running and bug-free for modern systems including Windows 10. Considering these were huge games — and not bug free in their release versions — that’s a massive task that the GOG team has been working on since April.

Read the complete article at PC Gamer — and check out the amazing and fast-growing library of old games at GOG.com.


Vintage Treasures: The Pocket Games of Task Force Games, Part One

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Starfire Task Force Games-small Asteroid Zero-Four-small Valkenburg Castle-smaller

The Shiva Option-smallTask Force Games, based in Amarillo, Texas, was one of the very best board game companies in the business in the 80s, especially for science fiction fans. They published the majestic Federation & Empire (and its follow-up, Federation Commander), Kings Bounty, Godsfire, Battlewagon, Armor at Kursk, Musketeers, and the RPGs Crime Fighter, Prime Directive (based on Star Trek), and the glorious Heroes of Olympus — among many, many others — before the company was sold to Might & Magic developer New World Computing in 1988, and then went out of business.

Of course, who could afford big games like that? Not me, that’s for sure. But that’s okay, because Task Force Games was also a pioneer in the microgame market, with a line of truly stellar Pocket Games, starting with Starfire in 1979. Starfire was one of the most successful microgames ever released. It sold a zillion copies, went through six different editions, and is still being sold today by Starfire Design Studio. It was so popular it eventually inspired a series of novels by David Weber and Steve White, including the New York Times bestseller The Shiva Option.

Starfire wasn’t even the most popular Task Force pocket game. That honor belongs to the ubiquitous Star Fleet Battles. Everybody owned a copy of Star Fleet Battles in the 80s. I think it was required by law. I’d tell you how many editions of Star Fleet Battles exist, but no one truly knows. Academics around the world have gone insane, just trying to figure out how many editions of Star Fleet Battles there are. It’s like writiing your Ph.D. thesis on the Necronomicon.

Anyway, Task Force Games had a huge hit with their Pocket games line. Shipped in zip locks bags (eventually shrinkwrap), and priced at $3.95, the games were designed to be easy to learn and quick to play. All told they released twenty-two, all but three with science fiction or fantasy themes, including many that are still highly regarded today. The most successful, like Starfire, Star Fleet Battles, Armor at Kursk, and Swordquest, eventually graduated to  full-fledged boxed editions, but the zip-lock versions were fully playable (and a lot more portable).

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New Treasures: Pathfinder Tales: Liar’s Island by Tim Pratt

Friday, August 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Tales Liar's Island-smallTim Pratt, who also writes the Marla Mason fantasy series under the name T A Pratt, is one of the most popular authors in the Pathfinder Tales stable. His previous Pathfinder books include Reign of Stars and City of the Fallen Sky, and his last tale of Rodrick the thief, Liar’s Blade, was called “Fafhrd-and-Grey-Mouser-style sword and sorcery adventure” by SF Signal. His latest, Liar’s Island, on sale next week from Tor, sees Rodrick and his magical sword Hrym called to the court of the exotic southern island, Jalmeray, where they become pawns in a dangerous game of political intrigue… and the only way to escape is to find a legendary artifact.

A Thief and His Sword

Rodrick is a con man as charming as he is cunning. Hrym is a talking sword of magical ice, with the soul and spells of an ancient dragon. Together, the two travel the world, parting the gullible from their gold and freezing their enemies in their tracks. But when the two get summoned to the mysterious island of Jalmeray by a king with genies and elementals at his command, they’ll need all their wits and charm if they’re going to escape with the greatest prize of all — their lives.

From Hugo Award winner Tim Pratt comes a tale of magic, assassination, monsters, and cheerful larceny, in Pathfinder Tales: Liar’s Island, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

Our most recent Pathfinder coverage includes Howard Andrew Jones’ upcoming Beyond the Pool of Stars, Dave Gross’ Lord of Runes, and The Emerald Spire Superdungeon.

Pathfinder Tales: Liar’s Island will be published by Tor Books on August 25, 2015. It is 295 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Michael Ivan.


Vintage Treasures: The Man of Gold by M.A.R. Barker

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Man of Gold-smallI remember exactly where I was when I learned M.A.R. Barker had died. I was at the games auction at Gary Con IV on Saturday, March 24th, 2012, when Luke Gygax solemnly paid tribute to the industry giants we’d lost that last year — and he announced that M.A.R. Barker, the brilliant creator of the world of Tékumel, had passed away at the age of 82. When I got home that night, the first thing I did was write an obituary for Black Gate, honoring the man who’d done so much for the hobby.

Tékumel was a unique creation in fantasy gaming. It was home to one of the earliest RPGs ever written, Empire of the Petal Throne, published by TSR in 1975, and later a series of well-received fantasy novels by Barker, beginning with The Man of Gold, published by DAW with a marvelous cover by Michael Whelan in 1984.

Tékumel is a distant world populated by both humans and aliens, who have built a vast and intricate civilization over thousands of years. Ruled by the upper clans of the land, the planet’s culture is based upon the teachings of gods and demons, upon the ways and wiles of alien races, and upon the layered traditions of monarchs ancient and current. Tékumel is an exquisitely detailed world where surprise and adventure are as natural as night and day.

The Man of Gold is the first novel based on the Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne RPG. Follow the quest of Harsan, acolyte of the temple of Thumis, as he ventures forth to seek a forgotten empire’s super weapon known only as the Man of Gold.

Tékumel has been revisited many times by talented game creators over the decades, and is now the setting for multiple game systems.

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538 Blog Reports Crowdfunding Is Driving A $196 Million Board Game Renaissance

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Exploding Kittens-smallNate Silver’s popular 538 blog, known mostly for astute political analysis, often takes a hard look at other industries, and yesterday Oliver Roeder examined the recent explosive growth in crowdfunding for board games. His examples include Conan (which we covered here,) Reaper Miniatures, Dwarven Forge, and the break-out hit Exploding Kittens, which exceeded its campaign goal in eight minutes and set a record for most backers in Kickstarter history, raising $8,782,571 from 219,382 backers.

Luke Crane is Kickstarter’s in-house board game expert and resident dungeon master. He sees Kickstarter as the latest in a series of board and card gaming milestones. Dungeons & Dragons, first published in 1974, crystallized role-play gaming. Magic: The Gathering, which debuted in 1993 and became a smash hit, spawned countless expansions and still boasts a competitive professional circuit. The Settlers of Catan, and its first English-language edition in 1996, gave many their first taste of German board gaming kultur. That game has sold over 15 million copies.

And then, in mid-2009, Kickstarter launched.

Since that debut, pledges to board and card game projects on the site have totaled $196 million, according to the company. Ninety-three percent of that money went to successful projects — those that reached their fundraising goal. For comparison, pledges to video game projects, including hardware and mobile games, have totaled $179 million. Of that, 85 percent went to ultimately successful projects. On Kickstarter, analog is beating digital.

Read the complete article here.


Conquer a Dark and Dangerous Galaxy in Forbidden Stars

Monday, August 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Forbidden Stars-small Last year I bought Warhammer 40,000: Conquest, Fantasy Flight’s two-player card game of interplanetary warfare in the Warhammer 40K universe, and enjoyed it quite a bit. But as much fun as it was, it wasn’t what I really wanted — a multi-player game of large scale strategic conflict in the stars.

So I was excited to discover today that Fantasy Flight has recently released Forbidden Stars, a competitive board game of interplanetary war set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and it looks to be exactly what I was hoping for. The base set features four iconic 40K factions: the loyalit Ultramarines Space Marines, Craft world Iyanden Elder, Evil Sunz Orks, and World Eaters Chaos Space Marines. Each faction has its own range of units and unique combat, event, and upgrade cards.

While I miss some of the other colorful factions in the 40K universe — such as Tyranids, Dark Eldar, and Tau — doubtless they will be included in later expansions.

The game uses the familiar moveable tile system, to give every conflict a unique scope and landscape (see the pic of the board below). The huge box comes packed with over 140 sculpted plastic pieces — always one of the delights of a Fantasy Flight game — and custom dice.

There was some concern in certain quarters that, following their acquisition by Asmodee last November, Fantasy Flight would lose some of its creative spark. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case.

Fantasy Flight first dabbled with the Warhammer 40K license with a line of excellent role playing games, including Dark Heresy, Only War, and the superb Rogue Trader, one of the best space RPGs I’ve ever played. They have stopped producing supplements for the RPGs (and cleared out much of their back stock with a huge sale late last year), and have now turned their energies to board games. This is the third Warhammer 40K board game to be released by Fantasy Flight (the first two were Relic and Conquest), and this one seems by far the most ambitious.

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The Retold Story of Etrian Odyssey Untold

Thursday, August 13th, 2015 | Posted by Josh Bycer

Etrian Odyssey Untold-smallIn my previous post on Etrian Odyssey, I spent the majority of my time examining what the series did to revive the dungeon crawler genre, and attract a new generation of fans through the use of mixing modern and classic game design. By the time this post is up, the second game in the Etrian Odyssey Untold series will be out, and I wanted to take a look at how Atlus is giving old and new fans a revised take on the series.

Second Chances

Previously, I talked about how the Etrian Odyssey series was reviewed very harshly by most critics for the first couple of installments; the reason was that a lot of people didn’t want to play a dungeon crawler, and were hung up on the series’ hardcore difficulty. And to be fair, their complaints had some merit, due to the quirks of the series.

While Etrian Odyssey did make a lot of allowances compared to older dungeon crawlers, this was still a series that forced you to find the enjoyment in it. Enemy stats were scaled very high, and all it took was one bad battle to wipe out your party and lose all progress from your last save. While party composition wasn’t as complicated as previous series, a novice could still mess up early by not understanding good party compositions, and the game’s use of harvesting field points for items/money.

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Future Treasures: Dungeons & Dragons: Out of the Abyss

Monday, August 10th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Out of the Abyss D&D-smallFor all the accolades and buzz for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, there have been shockingly few releases supporting the game. Beyond the core rulebooks (published 12 months ago now), Wizards of the Coast has published only two adventures, one accessory, and a DM’s screen:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Adventure, August 2014)
The Rise of Tiamat (Adventure, November)
Dungeon Master’s Screen (January)
Princes of the Apocalypse (Accessory, April)

So I was very pleased to see another major item on the publishing schedule: Out of the Abyss, a massive 256-page Underdark adventure for characters of levels 1–15.

The Underdark is a subterranean wonderland, a vast and twisted labyrinth where fear reigns. It is the home of horrific monsters that have never seen the light of day. It is here that the dark elf Gromph Baenre, Archmage of Menzoberranzan, casts a foul spell meant to ignite a magical energy that suffuses the Underdark and tears open portals to the demonic Abyss. What steps through surprises even him, and from that moment on, the insanity that pervades the Underdark escalates and threatens to shake the Forgotten Realms to its foundations. Stop the madness before it consumes you!

The next release on the schedule is Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, an accessory that ties into the highly anticipated Sword Coast Legends computer RPG coming out next month. It arrives in November.

Out of the Abyss will be published by Wizards of the Coast on September 15, 2015. It is 256 pages, priced at $49.95 in hardcover. There is no digital edition.


The New Dungeons & Dragons Movie Will Be Set in The Forgotten Realms

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Drizzt Do’Urden-smallWe’re learning more about the new Dungeons & Dragons movie announced by Warner Bros. this week.

The first D&D movie, produced by New Line Cinema in 2000, was an epic failure (and its sequel was even worse), but this film will be produced by the studio behind The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter franchises, which has been on the hunt for a premium fantasy property for some time. An ongoing lawsuit over ownership of the D&D film rights prevented the project from going ahead, but Variety reports that dispute has finally been resolved.

A movie based on the widely popular game Dungeons & Dragons is in the works at Warner Bros., the studio announced Monday, 10 months after a trial over who owned the rights to the fantasy game ended.

After months of negotiation, Warner Bros., Hasbro’s Allspark Pictures and Sweetpea Entertainment said they had come to an undisclosed arrangement, ending the 2-year-old lawsuit, and are moving forward with the feature film franchise. David Leslie Johnson (The Conjuring 2) has already written the screenplay set in the D&D fantasy world of [The] Forgotten Realms. Hasbro’s Brian Goldner and Stephen Davis, Sweetpea Entertainment’s Courtney Solomon and Allan Zeman, and Roy Lee (The Lego Movie) are producing the high-priority project.

“This is far and away the most well-known brand in fantasy, which is the genre that drives the most passionate film followings,” said Greg Silverman, Warner Bros. president of creative development and worldwide production. “D&D has endless creative possibilities, giving our filmmakers immense opportunities to delight and thrill both fans and moviegoers new to the property…”

The Forgotten Realms, created by Ed Greenwood in 1987, is home to the drow ranger Drizzt Do’Urden, the mighty wizard Elminster, and countless other famous D&D characters. It has been featured in over 200 novels and countless adventure modules and supplements.

Read the complete article at Variety.


Wickedness of Old: Tales of Cthulhu Invictus, edited by Brian M. Sammons

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus-smallCthulhu Invictus, the popular 2009 Call of Cthulhu sourcebook from Chaosium, allows players to partake in mythos adventures in the hills and streets of ancient Rome. It was at least partially inspired by one of Lovecraft’s most famous dreams, described in a letter to Donald Wandrei dated Thursday, November 3, 1927. The letter survives (and the relevant fragment, now titled “The Very Old Folk,” is posted online here), and it relates an exceptionally vivid nightmare in which Lovecraft dreamt  he was an ancient Roman named Lucius Caelius Rufus, investigating a terrible Iberian hill tribe.

He had killed himself when the horses screamed… He, who had been born and lived all his life in that region, and knew what men whispered about the hills. All the torches now began to dim, and the cries of frightened legionaries mingled with the unceasing screams of the tethered horses. The air grew perceptibly colder, more suddenly so than is usual at November’s brink, and seemed stirred by terrible undulations which I could not help connecting with the beating of huge wings…

Above the nighted screaming of men and horses that dæmonic drumming rose to louder pitch, whilst an ice-cold wind of shocking sentience and deliberateness swept down from those forbidden heights and coiled about each man separately, till all the cohort was struggling and screaming in the dark… Only old Scribonius Libo seemed resigned. He uttered words amidst the screaming, and they echo still in my ears… “Wickedness of old… it is wickedness of old…”

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus is an original anthology of Cthulhu Mythos fiction set in Ancient Rome, the setting of Cthulhu Invictus. It was funded as a stretch goal as part of a successful Kickstarter for De Horrore Cosmico. It is due to be published any day now by Golden Goblin Press.

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