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Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes – Heroic Battles in A Frozen Apocalypse

Our streak of luck is maintained as this week we were able to get our hands on the early version of a rather cool and epic sounding board game, Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes! Runaljod is brought to us by Tempo Games, a Spanish company.

In the competitive world of indie board games, it is quite common to see some interesting and beguiling game mechanics. Runaljod is one such game, but we think it stands out as a game that most of us will enjoy more because of its fusion of tactics and chance.

Runaljod is an adventure board game. It combines tactical combat with dice rolls and special abilities, board exploration with random encounters, and casting runes to provide power to your characters actions and abilities.

If you have played; Hero Quest, Star Wars: Imperial Assault or Mice & Mystics you will be familiar with the mechanics of this game. Runaljod does all of these games justice too.

It is worth mentioning that the prototype game we played is still going through adjustments and testing. The rules were also hastily translated from Spanish to English, so we hope we got things right!

Let’s take a look at the game as a whole.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

What is Runaljod?

Runaljod is a cooperative game, putting the players and their characters against enemies and creatures found in Norse mythology. The game takes place on small board sections which are revealed as the game unfolds. The game is broken down into the hero phase and the enemy phase. The heroes do not follow a turn sequence as in other board games, instead they decide who will perform an action before deciding who can carry out the next action.

This player driven sequence means players must discuss and weigh up their options, because the enemy follow a simple artificial intelligence system… which we found to be quite lethal.

Now for a little more detail…

Narrative

In Runaljod, four heroes attempt to stem the flow of monsters and enemies who are flooding into their realm for reasons as yet unknown. Spoiler: there’s a big ass giant.

The game can be played in several modes, from single, one-off adventures, to campaigns where several adventures are linked together in the form of a narrative. Don’t have four players? No problem, the rules we received cover special circumstances so you can play the game all by yourself if you can’t find budding heroes to help on your quest.

We think it’s early days for the creators – there’s still very little out there regarding the rest of the story, but we think Runaljod to be a sleeping giant, an avalanche of story potential to really pack the game with world lore!

Setting Up

Runaljod seems a little complicated at first, but in hindsight this observation proved false. The process involves creating a deck of exploration cards, which determine the board pieces you use, the starting location of the enemies, monsters and heroes. The exploration cards also shows where there may be treasure and where to move to when you’re ready to try the next board section.

 

This exploration deck always contains particular start and finish cards, with random cards assigned to the middle of the deck. We liked this because it provides an element of chance to the game, providing us with different scenarios and challenges – in theory each game should be unique depending on how many cards are provided in the final released version of the game.

There are several other decks, which provide abilities for characters, equipment, random events and finally the enemy data cards and artificial intelligence deck. There’s also a host of tokens, which are used for special abilities, such as stun or bleed tokens, tokens for wounds, trance tokens (used by the Volva character) and coloured cubes for the hero character cards to keep track of health points and glory points.

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The board pieces vary in size and shape, from rectangles of 24x11cm to squares as large as 30x30cm. They’re also double sided, so the box isn’t quite so heavy, and we save ourselves a bit of deforestation – all new considerations to the board gaming world! There’s also the “Altar of the Gods” which is where the extra runes are placed, and acts as a home for the exploration cards and time tracker.

Finally, the miniatures are all placed on the board – and these are pretty well sculpted – but more on those later!

Your Characters

The four characters available are classic Norse / viking archetypes, each with their own special abilities and equipment: the berzerker, with a powerful axe and very little armour, the shield maiden with her stout shield to defend her allies, to the spell weaving Volva (a type of Witch) and the keen eyed Hunter with his bow.

Each character comes with their own “dashboard” which is where most of your planning and actions will take place, and of course a finely detailed miniature. Now, we know that these are prototype miniatures but the detail is rather impressive! Take a look at the 3D render of some of these miniatures, and compare them to the hastily taken photographs I took – check out that chain-mail detail!

The level of detail in the miniatures is carried into the enemy and monster miniatures too, more on those in a moment!

Their Abilities

Each character has their own specific deck of cards, which provide certain abilities to perform as actions. These actions require you to use a particular rune to activate, and once activated, that rune cannot be used again that turn – or even the turn after! This is because at the start of each phase you recast the runes, which we’ve described below.

Characters can purchase additional equipment which provides greater offensive and defensive measures during the game, which leads us nicely to the…

Novel Mechanics

There are several novel game mechanics which we found particularly pleasing. Not only are they novel, they’re also a bit of very cunning game design expertly disguised as fun game play elements.

The one we want to talk about the most is casting runes. Yes, much like in a real reading of the runes, you as the player takes up the handful of rune stones, shake them vigorously in both hands, and cast them down onto the table in front of you!

How these runes land determine how you may use them: if they land face up you may use them to perform actions and abilities – some abilities require specific runes to use, so if that rune landed face down, you cannot use that rune! However, if the rune landed on its edge, you can collect extra runes to throw later, or even harness the power of the gods by activating a specific godly rune which possesses a powerful ability.

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Why do we like this unusual system?

It feels good, it feels real and brings you to the table in a way that other games cannot. It’s a great way of bringing energy to the game too, because you’re all hoping to get to use as many runes as you can – Runaljod is a cooperative game, so to succeed you need to cast those runes as best as you can, or rely on others to help you when you don’t.

A good rune casting can also make you feel like a hero, without a poor rune casting making you feel like a useless chump – there’s always something you can do, even if you’re just formulating a plan and being the voice of that plan.

Interestingly, any runes you do not use to access an ability or skill are saved for the next turn, so if you’re struggling to throw some good runes you can save some, guaranteeing you actions on your next turn.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

There’s a time wheel in Runaljod, which marks how many turns you have left to complete the current section of the board – run out of time and you lose the game. Different events and exploration cads may reset this time tracker, or it may only partially reset the time tracker – we actually liked this, because it means you are sometimes forced to make decisions which you normally wouldn’t in a typical board game.

The attention to detail in Runaljod is great, because the time tracker uses a serpent motif with the head of the serpent approaching the tail, bringing the world to its end – if you’re not familiar with Norse mythology, this is Jormungandr, the world serpent who takes part in the end of the world, Ragnarok!

With a single turn left, you may have to decide who dies and who lives from amongst the heroes, as the goal is to defeat the enemy in time. Make a poor choice, or attempt to heal your allies and you potentially waste time. Don’t be put off by this though, as it’s part of the game challenge and shouldn’t be seen as a negative impact – it adds tension and a dash of excitement.

Your Enemies & Artificial Intelligence

Enemies in Runaljod are savage. The enemies act depending on the draw of a card. This makes the game particularly blood thirsty on occasions, particularly when enemies are told to target a specific character over others!

Each type of enemy is given up to two actions, sometimes stating the direction or target they should take. And it’s not always the nearest hero they have to target! What we liked about this card system is that some detail the order in which the specific heroes are targeted, using the different coloured shields present on the character cards.

Sometimes an enemy miniature may be told to move and attack a hero with a specific damage token. When no target has that specific token, what does the enemy do? It simply defaults to the nearest target it can, and performs actions accordingly.

The exception to the A.I deck are enemies or monsters that have their own decks, which provides in detail what actions that miniature does. This gives them specific attacks and allows them to act differently from the rest of the enemies.

Combat in the Frozen Land

Combat is straightforward in Runaljod, but that doesn’t make it easy!Every offensive action or item has colour coded squares present on their card. Thee translate into dice. There are three types of dice, white, black and red.Each dice has a face of different weapons, which roughly translate to 1, 2 or 3 points of damage.

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Each enemy, monster and hero has a defence value, which deducts the damage dealt by the dice. But be warned! Each dice also has the infinity symbol, which allows the attacker to perform special attacks, which can include powerful abilities such as being unable to defend against the dealt damage.

Damage is translated to health points, and when a hero uses up all their health points, they are knocked down! But there is an action to get yourself up again!

We like the combat dice, they are reminiscent of good old Hero Quest (remember those dice with skulls and shields on them?) So there’s a nice nostalgic feel whilst being efficient and quick. That isn’t to say making the choices or having the runes available make it the combat easy!

Appearance & Artwork

The artwork is superb, evocative of the cold northern climate that Norse sagas are famous for. It also adds an epic element to the game, as we see titanic wolves, colossal giants and other nightmarish creatures.

Rodrigo Flores is responsible for the artwork here, but much like Tempo Games, I cannot find a link to showcase his other artwork. I’ll be in touch and see what I can find for you! For now, enjoy some of the samples Tempo Games have to offer…

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Miniaturas Alemany produced for the excellent miniatures for Runaljod – the same company who produce high quality miniatures for Avatars of War and Chaos Factory. These are not your regular run of the mill miniatures, and I suspect that the resin casts are probably going to be just as well defined in the final product. They’re awesome miniatures!

Final Thoughts

We think Runaljod is a game for gamers. It is a little more complicated than the likes of traditional or abstract board games. That said, once we got started the game become more intuitive and easy to follow. We tried the game with four players and a “games master” to speed things up. With a proper translation and some proofing, we think this issue will be resolved easily.

The game feels great, it is a high fantasy sword and sorcery style board game with a focus on combat, but also includes some character advancement. It can be fast paced with practice, and it really can punish you for a mistake. We love it because it was atmospheric, a challenge and delicately balanced. The artwork and miniatures are evocative and perfectly detailed, making this game the best polished game we’ve tried so far – even CMON would struggle to get this level of detail!

We’re told that Tempo Games are hoping to create Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes for German, Italy and Spain, covering the entire of the EU, or as close as they can!

Runaljod kick starts in 22nd October, assuming no delays!

If you want to see some of the mayhem played out, you can check out Summoned Games on YouTube. We’d like to thank them for giving us the opportunity to play the game early!

That’s all from me, drop us a comment and tell us what you think of Runaljod so far!

Ferris, CC

@FerrisWrites for Twitter, or our Facebook page!

Damnation: The Gothic Game, Revamp of the 90’s Classic Horror Game (for all the family?)

You walk alone down a dark corridor, footsteps muffled on an ancient red carpet. Candles burn in the gloom, their light muted by the cold and damp. You pause, as a familiar figure glides across an intersection – it was someone far worse than Dracula…

It was your friend.

The Gothic Game, a game of murderous mayhem for friends, is getting a revamp (pun intended) from the original game edition from 1992. Soon we will see Damnation: The Gothic Game!

What was the Gothic Game?

Originally dreamt up in 1966 by Nigel Andrews & Robert Wynne-Simmons, the Gothic game didn’t get an official release as a full board game until the early 90’s, when the game was published with full artwork board by Angela White. The game-play is described as a battle royale of player elimination.

The game took place in Dracula’s castle and involved fast paced action, with the last player standing as the winner. Much like a game of Cluedo, players travelled around the board using a maze of corridors and rooms, making discoveries and collecting items with which to kill others or defend themselves. Players could end up in the moat, stuck in the dungeon or in a bottomless pit of doom.

Each player started the game with 100 points of stamina, which were lost when another player attacked them, or they draw a card from a room they entered and set off traps or suffered supernatural events. If they were lucky, they’d find a weapon or armour of some sort.

To top it all off, Dracula could use an unfortunate player to roam the corridors of his castle draining others of blood and eliminating them from the game!

The Gothic Game had a great feel to it, from an age where the objective was to have fun with family and friends. It was easy to learn and fast to play, with scope to outwit your opponents or throw yourself into danger to not give them the satisfaction of killing you!

Even when Dracula assumed a player, that player had limited turns to kill and get back to his vault. The more Dracula killed the more time he got to roam and hunt, making a terrifying prospect a legitimate game tactic!

But all of this passed quite quickly, and the Gothic Game was lost to the annals of time. And that was it for decades – a limited edition board game that was popular, fast and fun.

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Until now…

We have been fortunate enough to play the old version of the game. But what about the upcoming revision by Black Letter Games (BLG)? BLG has assumed the rights of the game and plans on kick starting in late October (suitably, near Halloween).

I was even luckier, because Summoned Games invited me over to trial the revised version of the game, and I’ve got the chance to write up the review! There’s a chance to get your hands on the old version of the game, which I’ll give you the details for later on.

First though, let’s take a look at the new, darker and grittier Gothic Game, Damnation: The Gothic Game!

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish hell

What’s New?

First off, it’s a hell of a lot darker than it once was. Reading the top paragraph of the rule book makes it pretty clear:

“Damnation: The Gothic Game takes place on a plane of Hell where Count Dracula holds dominion. Here, a group of villains from the Victorian era find themselves damned for all eternity.”

It gets worse, as the introduction unfolds: each dusk the villains are both resurrected and cursed – cursed to have no memory of the day before, stuck in endless horror of stalking and stalked by one another, presumably for the terror and violence they caused in their lives.  Already this game sets the tone quite clearly: you’re not good people and you’re not getting out. It makes perfect sense for a board game where you pay the same game over and over again, and yet retains its charm!

The Artwork

You know we mentioned Dracula? Well the art for Damnation: The Gothic Game has been brought to life visually by two Romanian artists, that of Hue Teo and Anca Albu. We’re impressed with how much (un)life they’ve brought to the graphics and art of the game. We could go on and on about it, but you can see for yourself what they’ve managed, just read on!

Characters

Character cards did not exist in the original version of the game. It is a sign of game development over the years, as Gothic turns from board game for all the family to a game that is heaped in atmosphere. These nameless anti-heroes fit particular character archetypes from the Victorian era, adding layers to the dark and Gothic vibes.

We have the Gentleman – dashing, refined, but is this gentleman all that he seems? The dark Stranger from a foreign land, and the Mystic a traveller driven from her homeland who conceals a terrible power.

These are just a few of the six playable characters in the game so far. Frankly, these changes make the game more colourful and characterful (obviously), lending the game that extra personal dimension compared to the original which provided simple coloured, plastic meeple!

Characters have some special abilities and a wound tracker, and we’re told there may also be the introduction of a sanity tracker too – even more ways to die!

Extra Dice

Players would roll a dice and work out in what direction they want to move, but now there’s a special extra dice which can make the game harder or easier: roll a candle symbol and your character may move one space more or less, which can be the difference between falling into a trap or not.

Or roll the castle symbol and draw a card from the special Castle Deck… hoping to god you don’t uncover more horrors!

Or you could roll the dark circle, where you trigger the first trap you come across regardless of how far you could move past the trap space!

Card Decks

The new version of the game adds literal variety in the form of card decks. No, don’t get put off, this isn’t a deck building game. These new decks are used to create tense moments at the roll of a dice or provide solace as the night unfolds.

The obvious deck are those found in each room which are unique to that room. When a player enters the room they draw a card, which may be beneficial or utterly crushing. And be warned, these decks are not huge or countless, and cards drawn are placed back into the deck after use… it pays to keep your attention on the other players!

New to the game are the Heirloom deck and the best deck in my opinion the Death Knell deck!

Heirlooms are provided to the players at random at the start of the game. They are given three, which are made up of trinkets and curiosities to help you win the game.

The Death Knell cards are randomly placed face down on the board. When a player is eliminated a random death-knell card is turned over by that player. In rare situations they may be saved, but likely it will hinder those players still alive, such as Hunters Moon; a curse that means players to the left cannot use protection cards to prevent incoming damage. Nice!

Finally, the Castle Deck, which as mentioned before only gets drawn from if you roll the necessary dice. These cards are random encounters, such as a ravenous wolf hound (which may or may not savage you or an opponent, if you play your cards right).

Once again, the new edition is adding many modern layers to the older Gothic Game, but in doing so it’s not taking away some of the charm. It felt nice to play the game, but the feeling was improved by the breadth and depth of these new decks.

Don’t get me wrong, the old game is full of charm, but by today’s standards it lacks that personal feeling of involvement. According to the Damnation: Gothic website, there are in total 130 unique cards, presumably portioned out into the many various rooms and play decks. Layered up like an onion – prepare for tears!

Game Board Revamp

Although the layout is similar, the artwork is vastly updated and improved. The addition of the cemetery adds a location outside of the castle itself, which carries with it risks and rewards of its own. Then there’s the Dark Tower, which can only be entered if you’ve claimed another’s soul (token)!

The board is littered with secret passageways, and trap points. What we found fun about the traps is that trap tokens are placed face down at random, so it’s unlikely you’ll have the same setup each time, unlike in the original. Step onto a trapdoor and find yourself drowning in the moat. Trigger a classic trap, the Pendulum, and lose half of your health. Or worse still, discover the Oubliette and end the game for yourself!

The artwork is second to none and instils the dark and seething dread that the game evokes so effortlessly: lonely narrow corridors and dark and mysterious rooms filled with thinly veiled threats all add to the atmosphere. This is a game for dark and windy winter nights.damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

 

Fate Tokens & Character Talents

Characters now have some extra abilities with which to survive! Fate tokens are added to a character sheet, providing some universal one-off abilities. Each character has at least one unique ability. The extra layers provide a bit of variation to the game, which is never a bad thing!

Soul Tokens

Yup, not only can you kill each other with an array of weapons, you can steal their soul too… and use them in a certain place in the castle to unlock new cards, items and abilities… harvest them as much as you can, you’ll need them win! You can trade soul tokens for extra fate tokens, or as mentioned earlier, gain access to the Dark Tower.

Special Rooms

There’s a lot we could talk about here, so we’ll pick a couple to give you an idea of the mayhem and suffering you can inflict on your friends!

The first is our favourite – The Vault. This is the lair of Dracula. When a player enters the vault and Dracula is not already in play, they become the beast! This can be an entertaining venture for the players – Dracula has a limited number of turns to roam the corridors of the castle, hunting for the other players. If he passes over a character, he gains more blood and a little more time to keep hunting. If he gets back to the Vault in time, the player assumes their normal role, perhaps a little dizzy and unsure why their mouth is filled with the tang of blood!

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

The Great Spiral Staircase. This bad boy is a slippery slope to death. If a player ends up in this room, they can only use their movement to travel down the staircase. At the bottom of the Great Spiral Staircase? Death, instant and inexorable! The only way to escape this room is by rolling a six on the dice, which you can then combine with your normal dice roll. You could be there a while!

“The Power of Adjacency Compels You!”

But why would you want to enter this room? Well kids, life isn’t always fair. A player can invoke the power of adjacency over players they pass in the castle corridors. This essentially allows them to decide the direction in which that player must move on their next turn… like a horrible pit of death!

Battle in the Darkness

When in possession of a weapon card, players may target each other to perform attacks, dealing damage to their victim. Of course, the target player can use items to defend themselves in the form of equipment or action cards. So be careful who you target – they may be more than they seem! 

Not all death comes from Dracula, traps and hidden rooms – the players are here to be the winner, the last player standing. Naturally, this will involve direct conflict with each other.

What we would like to see…

We played the prototype version of the game, but there are few things we’d like to see:

  • Reference cards, which may reduce the amount of rule book referencing.
  • More character choices, but in honesty, we’re just being greedy!
  • Sudden Death Mode for the final players (optional).
  • Someway of making doors more visible (a simple standee could add a bit more dimension!)
  • Some different ways to play or ways to win (which BLG say they may be looking into!)
  • Expansions: extra rooms to tag onto the board or replacement tiles for extra variation and playability!

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

Final Overview

This game is fast paced, amusingly adversarial and filled with graphic, bloody fun. It can be quite a quick game to play, although we found towards the end with just two players left it can become a face-off (later we learned we had not played some things correctly, however). That said, there are hundreds of ways to die in Dracula’s hellish domain, and he is just one of them!

Overall, we think the game is set to receive a lot of interest over the next few months. It looks great, it feels great and as we mentioned several times already, there’s so many layers of interest to keep even the most jaded tastes interested.

There’s a lot going on in this game, but it’s not too heavy to take the fun out of playing. It is definitely a game for friends and family, although some of the concepts are a little more grown up.

We still have access to the prototype, so if you have any questions, drop us a comment down below, or find us on Twitter (@FerrisWrites) or our Facebook page.

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish hell

Want to Win a Copy of the one of the few remaining Original copies?

If you want to see some of the mayhem played out, you can check out Summoned Games on YouTube. They are offering an original copy of the game, from 1992 as a prize. To enter, you just need to subscribe, comment on the video and / or like their Facebook page. What’s more, it is open to anyone anywhere in the world – they’re willing to ship it anywhere in the world.

We’d like to thank Summoned Games for letting us take part in the early game, and of course, Blackletter Games, for creating an amazing revamp of the original Gothic Game, and having faith in letting us see, play and review the game before its release and kick start.

We’re reliably informed it will be available for pledges late in October, and be in the region of £40-£50 (though this is still to be confirmed).

That’s all from me, enjoy your weekend!

Ferris, CC

@FerrisWrites on Twitter

Cthulhu: The Horror in Dunwich – Horror that won’t let you win

Cthulhu: The Horror in Dunwich (HiD) is a stand alone deck building game for people who find fun and mirth in being repeatedly defeated.

Allow me to explain…

HiD is set in the Cthulhu mythos, based on the legendary cosmic horror from the fiendish mind of H.P. Lovecraft. The mythos is a popular area to explore for anyone wishing to be caught up in the dark cults and weird extraplanar horrors found in any of Lovecraft’s stories.

If you’re not familiar with the narrative of Lovecraft, the best way to explain the concept is that normal everyday people get caught up in supernatural tales utterly beyond their control. Humanity is so insignificant, it simply will not last should the dark and awesome power of beings far stronger than any human concept of Gods, awaken.

HiD is a game that brings this existential dread to the fore, and it does so with an abundance of gritty flare!

Synopsis

HiD is a stand alone expansion to Cthulhu: A Deck Building Game. This just means that it is a continuation of the story, as Investigators (you) are thrown into the unbearably harsh task of defeating the Elder Gods and their horrific minions.

The investigators are called upon again to defeat the terrors of the night in Dunwich, a place well known to readers of The Dunwich Horror (Lovecraft, 1928). Invited by Dr. Armitage of Miskatonic University, the investigators must research strange and terrible spells and tactics to defeat nameless and cosmic forces to save the world.

Characters

Each player assumes a character which posses a set number of sanity and health points (counted with some funky Cthulhu clips that attach to the character card). Each character also has a special ability and an ability which can be used each turn even if the investigator has died in the cosmic struggle, the After Death ability.

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Setup

There are many variables here that the game could be played so many times before getting the same game twice!

Depending on the number of investigators, a number of Elder Gods are randomly deployed. These Elder Gods are the likes of Cthulhu himself or Dagon from under the sea. Elder Gods are picked at random.

Next, a Location is randomly picked. Locations offer up effects for the duration of the game. In our play through we fought in an ancient tomb, where minion creatures had double their health points!

Finally a deck of Mythos cards and Library cards are shuffled a stacked up. Mythos cards are bad stuff that happen each round, helping the Elder Gods in their diabolical schemes, and Library cards are the skills and tactics that you use during play.

 

 

Mechanics

HiD is pretty standard for deck building games. Players begin with a simple and very small deck of cards, and take it in turns to purchase more cards from the library, with Moxie as the currency.

Interestingly, not all the starting cards in the investigators library are good cards. Amongst the cards are three damaging cards (Stagger cards) aimed at wounding the investigator – sometimes an event during the game, such as a Mythos card, will force a player to use all of the cards in their hand – woe betide the investigator who gets an axe to the ribs!

 

 

The game is split into 3 phases: planning, combat and cleanup.

Briefly…

Planning is when cards are “bought” from the library, but only the cards on display. When all the cards are bought that’s it for the turn, no more until later! During planning the investigators use their Moxie as a currency. Be warned however, any moxie you spend now can’t be used in the later steps so spend wisely!

Combat is when the elder god and its minions act! This also includes drawing a mythos card which is usually a special twist to the combat round… to the detriment of the investigators, no less! After the elder god(s) have beaten you to a pulp or shredded your mind and their minions have taken their fill, it’s your turn to fight back, assuming you can!

Finally in the Cleanup phase damage is calculated, the corpses are cleared away and the investigators get to check out what other tactics or spells they can use next time (assuming they made it thus far!)

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How does it feel?

From the outset it feels difficult. You need to create a deck of cards quickly. This is a frenetic feeling, so when you combine this with the systematic destructive powers of the elder gods the game gets dark fast.

The odds are stacked against you before the start, and randomly picking the elder gods and location create an amusing sense of tense dread. It’s nice to know that you’ll likely never play the same game twice.

This after death malarkey for each character is actually quite good because it allows unfortunate players who are out of the fight early on to stay in the game as more than just an adviser or spectator. Kudos to Wyvern Games!

The artwork really inspires the Lovecraftian theme, with the spells, action and equipment cards looking dark and detailed. The fact that you can play the Hobo wearing chain mail and carrying a rifle really helps too!

Ideally you’d play this game as a group of 3 – this optimises your chances of winning… well, not that your chances are good!

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Cost

At the time of writing, the Kickstarter has already closed and late backing is no longer possible. We were told by Wyvern Games (via Twitter) that you can talk to your local gaming store who can place orders through Impressions – I suspect this is US based only, so I’ll poke for more information!

We estimate the game to cost around £40, using the Kickstarter pledges as a guide.

Find Wyvern Gaming here!

Conclude…

If you want to watch us bumble our way through the first game you can follow the YouTube link here, by Summoned Games. Mr Dodd is steaming through his reviews and we’ll be working closely with him to bring you more helpful content.Watch this space for yet to be released game reviews!

Watch this space for yet to be released game reviews!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our micro review, if you’ve got any questions or comments you can post them below!

Bye for now!

Ferris, CC

 

Apocalypse, Warhammer 40,000 – First Impressions

Ever wanted to recreate the crazy and intense battes of the art of Warhammer 40,000 Universe on your tabletop and still be playable? Well, we’re told Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse is the game that can help you do just that… assuming you have enough miniatures of course!

Recently Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse was released and with it a tonne of new hype and excitement that we expect from the community of the world’s best marketed distributor of fantasy & science fiction wargaming miniatures, Games Workshop.

In this article we’re going to take a look at Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse to see what all the hype is about and what the actual gameplay is like. We’ll address some questions regarding its accessibility to players and outline how hard or easy it is to play. Finally, we’ll look at the costs involved and whether the game is worth the effort and financial commitment to regular players.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

History

It turns out that Apocalypse isn’t a new thing at all; way back toward the end of fourth edition of Warhammer 40K (circa 2007) Apocalypse was first released. It was then updated a year later and then again in 2013. I was busy during much for this time, and totally missed anything to do with it!

What is Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse?

It’s pretty simple if you’re familiar with tabletop wargaming, but if you’re not, here’s the low-down:

Apocalypse is a game system that emulates large battlefields of miniatures and models set in a dark and gritty futuristic science fiction setting. Unlike the regular Warhammer 40,000 game, the system is designed to allow for a huge number of models to be placed on large gaming tables.

The differences between regular Warhammer 40,000 and Apocalypse are a little subtle to new gamers. The games run in a very similar fashion, in that each player takes turns to move and attack with portions of their armies. Armies are drawn up using a points system, with better “veteran” or command type models costing more points than regular or less experienced models. A typical game of Warhammer 40,000 can range from 1000-2000 points. For Apocalypse, the potential points values of the armies can exceed 5000 points or more, depending on the physical size of the gaming table.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

What are the Key Differences between Warhammer 40,000 & Apocalypse

Playing a game of Warhammer 40,000 can take several hours, not including the time taken to draw up a points compliant battle force or army. To be fair, few tabletop wargames are quick to setup, and often entire afternoons or evenings are required to play. Looking at these new rules, it seems that a small game of Apocalypse should take no more than a 1-2 hours.

Apocalypse only uses the alternative points system called power level to draw up an army list. This version takes out much of the detailed choices of picking and choosing a force to play. So the footwork to setup a game is reduced in one aspect, but perhaps more if you take into account the much larger forces required to play.

If we’re to believe the game runs faster as detachments of units, instead of individual units or character models, then we can assume that the game has the potential to be very quick for smaller sized as well.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Six and twelve sided dice are used to determine when units successfully attack and wound their targets. Interestingly we think power playing antics are removed here, because the game is about huge battles where the individual models do not necessarily make much difference. Thus, most units possess only 2 wounds, which is unheard of for regular Warhammer 40,000 where commanders and huge aliens may have 5 wounds or more all to themselves (now, a commander character has a single wound, as we discovered during our play test).

T wound a successfully hit  target, each unit has a required number to roll on a dice, which is found on the unit data sheet. Cutting out all of the extra work from Warhammer 40,000, the data cards give two very important weapon statistics: Strength Against Personel (SAP) and Strength Against Tanks (SAT). These represent the number you need to roll (or above) to successfully wound your target. Even the smallest weapon has the potential to cause damage to a tank… it’s just very unlikely… or 1 in 12 chance, perhaps!

Players will have to be careful where they place their comanders and warlords (commanders who are specifically character models), otherwise their detchment may find itself without leadership, potentially suffering more losses.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Orders are a way of telling your detachments what to do. They are given in secret at the start of the turn sequence with facedown tokens (to whole detachments instead of to units and characters, one at a time). This implies a level of forward thinking is required by the player to second guess their opponents, and practice their poker face. Where one unit goes, the others in the detachment must follow.

Wounds are given in the form of blast markers, which may increase in size the more a unit receives, for example, two minor blast markers go up to one large. Interestingly however, damage is not calculated until the final phase of the turn sequence, meaning both players get to take actions and execute their plans before wiping each other out in sequence – this is a HUGE selling to point to regular players who have ever experienced defeat before even taking a turn! Units are permitted a save and, if at the end of the damage phase, they have more blast markers than wounds, they are removed from the battle as losses.

The game system looks promising. Are we perhaps going to see more of this style of game system from Games Workshop? I suspect that a similar version for Age of Sigmar, Games Workshop’s fantasy tabletop wargame, would sell pretty well…

All gaming elements so far suggest fast-paced action and a balanced gaming system…

aspect warrior warhammer warhammer40K

So, is it?

We set up a small game power level of 101 (don’t ask us why!), which equates to somewhere in the region of 2000-2500 points. This isn’t the scale that Apocalypse is designed for, however we felt it’s probably a good size to learn the core concepts of the game and see how smoothly it runs. We had in mind that if all goes well, we could ramp up the power level to somewhere in the region 200 or more another time.

Setup. Play. Findings.

Marines Force:

  • Battalion 3 units of Intercessors lead by a Primaris Lieutenant with a Redemptor Dreadnought.
  • Spearhead detachment of 3 units of Hellblasters and 1 unit of Aggressors lead by a Primaris Captain.
  • 2 Auxillary super heavy detachments; a Knight Errant and an Armiger Warglave.

Ork Force:

  • Battalion of 5 units of Ork Boyz lead by a Big Mek with a Shock-attack-gun
  • Spearhead of 2 units of Flashgitz and a unit of Killakans lead by Captain Badrukk.
  • Auxillary Superheavy stompa, Da Hunger of Gork.

As the marine player, I had in my force 3 warlords: the big mech, the captain and the leutenant. This was important for assets, which are cards drawn at the start of each turn depending on the number of warlords in your force. Three cards (to a hand size of 10 maximum) seemed like a good thing.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse games workshop tabletop war game miniatures citadel

Setup Time

It took us mere minutes to setup up the game board and deploy our detachments. Since detachments have to always be within 12 inches of their commander, the choices are limited by the space you have on the board. We used Games Workshop’s Battle Board, 4 pieces by 2 (about 8ft by 4ft) with a heavy scattering of scenery from some KillTeam box sets.

Playing Time

Starting, including all the rules checks and doublechecks, it took us 2 hours to play a game with a power level of 101. If this was regular Warhammer 40,000 it would equate to a game of 2500 points, which would have taken double that time, in my humble opinion. Once we are comfortable with the rules however, I think we could have compressed this game into an hour if we pushed it.

This timing is important, as not all players are capable of devoting 4-5 hours for a game (family, work and life get in the way!)

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse games workshop tabletop war game miniatures citadel

Frequency of rules checks

Not as frequent as we initially thought. There was some discussion and checking up on close-quarter fighting and shooting, along with some clarification on the separate rules for large targets (apparently on the order to Charge gartangs and the like are allowed to shoot as well as use melee weapons). But otherwise we got on OK.

Game Feel

Quite good. It took a while to get out of the regular Warhammer 40,000 mindset.

Having won 4 out of 5 initiative rolls, I’m not convinced it’s such a great advantage, which is good because theres nothing worse than getting out maneuvered twice in a row! The players take it in turns to activate detachments meaning the initiative is only gained from certain parts of the battlefield – essentially I got to shoot first, which isn’t a great advantage as all damage and moral checks are carried out AFTER all detachments have been activated. But this doesn’t mean the mechanics is useless. Sometimes moving closer or ruther away can be usefull if you move a unit out of enemy range, wasting their Aim order!

Fooling your opponent can be a great feeling: at one point the relentless green horde was getting closer, and the marines had done a good job of aiming and shooting in previous turns. In the following round I expected the Orks to be in charge range so I gave the detachment the order to move… falling back and reorganizing the firing line was not expected and gained the marines a further turn of rapid fire next time around.

A minor bad point: If a unit misses, all the models in the unit miss if they share the same weapon type! Several times the Hellblasters were useless, by missing completely. However, if we had less but bigger units the marine units would gain 2 dice instead of 1 to roll to hit. Must remember that next time!

Battle Results

The marines won, but only after taking a pasting. It felt one sided until the gargantuan was destroyed. Even then, the Dreadnought was not very effective at taking out infantry with its huge load of automatic weapons. May have to see if Games Workshop errata some of the stats!

Blast markers are not the end of the world, but for infantry a large blast marker means they use a single 6-sided dice to roll for their save. This means marines, the tough human monsters in implacable armour have a 1 in 6 chance of surviving, even it was a hail of Gretchin shot! It did make them feel paper thin, but then it was likely worse for the Ork boyz! Balanced still, so not a negative point as such.

And I had a stack of useless asset cards applicable only to the destroyed Knight Errant!

Quick to Learn?

As regular gamers, Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse is very quick to learn. To master the game may take a couple of attempts but we found that second guessing your opponents choice of orders brings a level of cunning that you don’t often get to see in tabletop war games. If you’ve ever played Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing, you’ll get what we mean… sometimes you second guess too far! However, the anticipation and excitement has certainly been more frequent in the Apocalypse games we played.

Accessibility for Players

We found the game is very reminiscent of the old Epic scale Warhammer 40,000, only at the 28mm scale, which means if you want to harness the power of this quick to learn game, you’ll get the most out of it with a lot of miniatures. HOWEVER we’ve found it’s actually very fun to play with smaller forces as it cuts out a lot of the shenanigans you can get from some less reputable players. For smaller games, it also makes each game VERY quick.

So, accessible to new players? Only if you can borrow a lot of miniatures, otherwise quite good fun and impressive if you’re trying to get a friend into the hobby.

To regular players? Yeah, its not bad (see Cost & Worth below).

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Cost & Worth

Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse will set you back £60 in the UK. This buys you the rulebook, six and twelve sided dice and some 300 command cards. You also get 6 sheets of tokens which act as your blast markers and issued orders. We’re going to say this now: for essentially paper and card, this seems overpriced. Dice are cheaper than a bag of chips online, even twelve-sided ones, and massed produced card isn’t going to break the bank. So purely on a boxed goods scale, you’re not getting much if you compare it to say, a regular adventure board game complete with miniatures.

That said, if you’re the sort of player who has spent hundreds of pounds creating a large battle force of miniatures bought from Games Workshop, this isn’t exactly going to break your bank either. Personally, I think GW could have gone down the same route as they did with Age of Sigmar and provide the basic rules for free with optional physical purchases, but I’m not here to make money.

 

 

That said, the data cards required to play your chosen forces are actually free to download, so you don’t need to go out and buy any army specific literature to play.

If you have a gaming gang or group, £60 spread across 4 players is only £15 each… some people drink that in an evening! And to be fair, playing this game with mulitple allied forces could be quite good fun as friendly players can take charge of a detachment each.

As for the worth. If you have a lot of miniatures already and want to use absolutely all of them at the same time, or perhaps you and a few friends want to play a game pitting 2 vs 2 players, this is likely to be a good choice because the game is much quicker. It’s much more tactical from a birds eye view too, perfect to play if you’re into hushed combat analysis and poker faces around the gaming table.

To Conclude

We think the game is good, but not amazing. It addresses some of the issues that slow down the regular Warhammer 40,000 game system and honestly, if you have the miniatures to make it up, it would be ideal to play as an introduction for interested friends. That said, it’s quite an investment by nature of the huge amount of miniatures and models required to play, but as we point out, you can play it on a much smaller scale if required.

So, I say this, as I say about most Games Workshop products: If you’re already a fan this game will be worth playing, especially if shared across a gaming group. If you’re not into the hobby yet, this is an easier sytem to learn but with much more outlay financially.

Otherwise, this game system is a step forward for Games Workshop!

Now, if they could just address the high pricing issue… 😉

Ferris, CC
If you’re interested in creating your own terrain, I’ve got a few links to some how-to articles, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, along with an article on where to get materials and tools for terrain building (more beneficial if you’re based in the UK but helpful for the US, Canada and most of Europe).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Our Facebook Page!

(All images borrowed from Games Workshop and Out of print products, unless otherwise stated.)

The 9th Age: A New Warhammer Fantasy Battles?

A month ago I wrote an article on why I was giving Age of Sigmar (AoS) a second look. The response was brilliant – we managed 9K hits with a variety of reader interaction. Some of that interaction was, understandably, hateful. I addressed the comments, which seemed to suggest I was being paid to paint Games Workshop (GW) in a brilliant light.

In the same section of comments however, I was approached by Piteglio, founder of Veil of the Ages, one of many 9th Age supporting companies. I was asked, assuming I was impartial, whether I would review the 9th Age, a community created by not-for-profit groups of tabletop war-gaming fans.

The 9th Age website has just been published with its new, atmospheric and well presented website, so it makes sense to take a look and see what all the fuss is about.

So, welcome to what will be a 3 part series reviewing the 9th Age. In the first part I’m going to be looking at the game association as a whole, discovering its foundations and ethos. I’ll also be looking at the rules and judging them for how accessible they are to veteran and new war-gaming players.

In the later articles of this series, I’ll be looking into the theme and world lore and taking a look at some of the army lists available. My focus there will be comparing Games Workshop’s old High Elves to the Highborn Elves of 9th age, and the old Empire to that of the Sohnstal Empire.

Finally, I’ll get a few games under my belt and draw some comparisons to the old Warhammer Fantasy Battles in the last episode. This should be the culmination of the mini-series and maybe somewhere along the way I’ll convince you to try a few games for yourself!

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

What is 9th Age

In some western cultures, if you cannot find exactly what you’re looking for, you should have a go at making it yourself – this is the core of the foundation of the 9th Age. When GW shut down their much loved Warhammer Fantasy Battles the gaming community around it had an emotional time. When Games Workshop introduced Age of Sigmar many of the players felt aggrieved, and to some degree I agree with them.

To challenge the absence of a much loved tabletop war-game, a small group of self-motivated players decided to revive their fondness of WFB by creating something of their own. 9th Age was born.

In a nutshell, The 9th Age is:

  • a tactical, rank and file tabletop battle emulation in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world,
  • maintained by hundreds of passionate players from all over the world,
  • totally free to get your hands on the rule-books and supplements, forever!
  • designed with precision for tournament gamers, yet easy to access for casual and narrative.

Initial Misconception

When I first heard of 9th Age, we played Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons (among other games). When we realised that the 8th Edition WFB was going to be the last, we started looking for something alternative. One housemate stumbled upon 9th Age. 

The documents and rules were still in their infancy and there was a quick series of changes which made us feel the game was not yet stable. We dropped 9th Age and investigated different ideas (or in fact, kept playing 8th edition WFB).

Looking back, we should have realised that 9th Age was still in its infancy and going through a series of developmental changes, some of which I suspect was hindered by in depth balancing and potentially some copyright laws.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

So, who are 9th Age?

The 9th Age was created and developed by 6 competitive fantasy battle enthusiasts, coming from 5 countries around the globe. That was 2015, now 270 members work towards developing the 9th Age across 29 countries. That’s pretty staggering.

What is most remarkable is that this association of like minded enthusiasts work for free. No one, at any level, earns money or fame for their hard work. There is no formal company and members are not expected to work to hard deadlines. Of course, some of them have experience in their particular areas, but as a whole, the association is free running, headed by an executive board who put the whole lot into one efficient package.

Why is this important, I hear you ask?

Unlike like most war-games, 9th Age is not run for profit – they don’t even supply miniatures for the game they created and develop which, importantly for the players of this game, means the tabletop war-game is balanced: there is no need to create better or tougher armies to sell alongside newly released miniatures. No power creep here (looking at you, Games Workshop!) It also inspired a huge run of small independent miniature model companies, creating a staggering amount of new and unique looking tabletop miniatures.

Best of all, it means the army book / army lists are inspired by the background, the world setting. Imagine, a world rich in lore and strife with well represented armies and politics? Seems too good to be true doesn’t? Well, it took a number of years for Warhammer Fantasy Battles to develop its own rich lore, so why can’t 9th Age? In fact, 9th Age has more people working on it than probably ever entered the boardrooms of Games Workshop HQ (uncited opinion).

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

Armies & Factions

Enough about who and what, let’s take a look at the game itself! I’ll address some of the questions I have or have been asked:

Can I play my favorite fantasy army?

Yup. Totally.

Currently 9th Age have 16 “army books” to play with. Each one is free and available from the 9th Age download page. They are currently all black and white, and mostly easy-print PDF documents with a couple of more detailed files as optional downloads. Did I mention they were free? Check out the Sylvan Elves full colour PDF – its big, but there is some seriously good artwork and background information there!

The list of available army lists include (in no particular order):

  1. Daemon Legions
  2. Sylvan Elves
  3. Undying Dynasties
  4. Warriors of the Dark Gods
  5. Beast Herds
  6. Dread Elves
  7. Dwarven Holds
  8. Empire of Sonnstahl (think state troops)
  9. Highborn Elves
  10. Infernal Dwarves
  11. Kingdom of Equitaine (think knights & peasants)
  12. Ogre Khans
  13. Orcs & Goblins
  14. Saurian Ancients (think lizard nations)
  15. The Vermin Swarm (think rats, rats everywhere)
  16. Vampire Covenant

On top of this list, there’s also the Asklanders and the Makhar which are supplementary armies (currently I believe they are under review). There’s also a quick guide to playing your first game, spell cards, printable terrain and an arcane compendium among other helpful and totally free downloads to get you started. Finally, you can get everything in one solid document, but I wouldn’t recommend you print it out…

Are the different armies up to date or will they change quickly?

With the exception of the last two (Asklanders & Makhar) all of the books are up to date. More importantly, they will not be changed for around 4-5 years, meaning tournament players can rely on stability and casual players benefit from being able to collect and use only what they want.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

Game Mechanics

So this is for me where the nostalgia really started to kick in. You remember when you first picked up a book for Warhammer Fantasy Battles and you had no idea how it worked, but you had the feeling that you were holding something esoteric and world changing?

That’s what I got from perusing the game mechanics. From what I could tell, everything was there that a much younger (90’s) version of myself became totally enthralled in. Armies are built based on a points system (or an amount of gold, if like me you prefer a more narrative theme), with elite troops costing more than standard troops. The design of the army starts around the leader and their entourage, with a percentage of your points allowed for certain types of troops.

The commander type characters are faceless compared to Warhammer, because the 9th Age tries to keep them realistic. They even point this out in their design statement: characters should be “folklore heroic” and not literal monsters of the battle field, something which unbalanced the later editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

How hard /easy is it to learn?

This is a good question. If you are or were a player of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, you will feel totally at home. 9th Age harkens to the days where Warhammer Fantasy Battles was still balanced and made sense to the majority of its players. With the exception of names and phrases in the rule-book, I would argue 9th Age holds all the robust parts of Warhammer, with some better modifications for clarity and brevity on the tabletop. And of course, the game follows a clear turn / round system which most tabletop gamers will be comfortable with.

For totally new players, it can be quite a steep learning curve, but then so too were most tabletop war games of the time (with the exception of games like Age of Sigmar Skirmish, which I believe is a great introductory game to tabletop war-gaming). If you’re totally new to war-gaming, I suggest you read the next section.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

How accessible to new players is it?

Fortunately, there is a 9th Age beginners quick-guide, which talks you through the basics in easy to digest chunks. All you need is some paper, pencils, measuring rule and dice to get your started. This really appealed to me because you don’t need to spend any money before you start the game. You could set a game up on your bedroom floor or kitchen table with some cut-out squares and some random items to act as terrain. So long as you label your paper and cut them to the right size to represent units, you’ve not got anything to hold you back.

Running alongside the quick start guide there are some example army lists which you can print out and use. All the choices are made for you, so if you don’t know how to create a balanced army, you can use these. It’s a bit like using pre-made characters in Dungeons & Dragons – everything you need is there.

So you really don’t need to spend time buying, gluing and painting anything until you’re absolutely sure you want to get involved. It also means you get to try out different army compositions or entirely new factions. For me, this is great because there was nothing worse than buying into a Warhammer army and then realising they were completely under powered and your chances of success were limited based on your poorly informed decision!

I may need help creating one those army lists…

It has been pointed out in the comments that the 9th Age is fully compatible with BattleScribe (we reviewed Battle Scribe a while ago, here). BattleScribe is community driven and contains data for just about every tabletop game that requires army building lists. If you’re new to war-gaming, check it out, it’ll make you 9th Age army lists much quicker and likely more accurate too (and you can export and print out those lists for ease, with all the data you need).

Is it a tournament game or a casual game?

It seems, from what I can tell, to be a game designed for both. As I mentioned previously tournament players will enjoy the precision of the game, while not locking out new or casual players. You can play small games and large games wherever you are.

Where can I buy miniatures for 9th Age?

The other great thing about 9th Age is that you can use whatever miniatures you like, so long as they fit the scale, which is around 28mm miniatures. As I mentioned earlier, there is a tonne of new businesses creating miniatures in the glowing wake of 9th Age’s comet. I’ll link you to their community created list of potential sellers and distributors.

Their online magazine also has a spot-light for gamer’s armies, in which it shows how some players mix and match from different model companies to create their own unique looking forces. That said, if you have a preferred supplier of miniatures, then feel free to buy solely from them. That’s the great thing, you don’t have to buy from a monopolized supplier – you get to shop around to fit your own budget. This is doubly so for old Warhammer players, since you’ve already got your armies so you don’t need to get more!

Auf deutch, mo poppet, grazie!

English not your first language? Don’t worry – I forgot to mention that the 9th Age is translated in several languages, including:

English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Polish…

With work being carried out for translations into Chinese (presumably Mandarin), Russian, Serbian and potentially Korean. Again, this is staggering because all this work is being done for free – it’s amazing what people can do when they share their passion for something.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

Final Thoughts

  • So far I’m getting a good vibe from 9th Age.
  • It feels much more robust than it did several years ago.
  • There is a tonne of intra- and inter-faction choices, meaning you can build an army up that fits your play style or preferred narrative theme.
  • It’s completely free, and despite this, has a very solid feeling to it, which promises fair, balanced and a fun gaming experience.
  • It seems to have the finesse for tournament or competitive players.
  • It’s accessible to brand new players
  • The quick start guide is easy to follow and you’ll be playing your first game(s) within an hour if you put your heads together.

So, will the 9th Age still have me keen to learn more? Do the factions suitably feel like the much loved armies of our youth? What does the game actually play like, how long and quickly can you pick it up..?

That’s it for part one! If you’ve got any questions for the next article, where we’ll be looking at the world lore and the factions in more detail, leave a comment and I’ll try to address them as much as I can!

Here’s a sneak peek to some of the Lore we’ll be covering…

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

All questions for part two and three. I’ll keep you posted!

If you’re interested in creating your own terrain, I’ve got a few links to some how-to articles, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, along with an article on where to get materials and tools for terrain building (more beneficial if you’re based in the UK but helpful for the US, Canada and most of Europe).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Our Facebook Page!

Controversial Age of Sigmar article here Give Sigmar a Chance: Why I’m giving Games Workshops ‘Age of Sigmar’ a Second Look…!

Veil of the Ages 9th Age wargaming

And finally, as a thank you for providing information and a bit of impetus to keep writing, I’ll provide links to Veil of the Ages by Piteglio! 😉

Veil of the AgesSuccessful Kickstarter, Facebook group!

 

 

 

(All images taken from The 9th Age website and forum, they do not belong to the Creator Consortium or their writers and contributors, July 5, 2019)

Basic Leather Working 101

Introduction

When we started the Creator Consortium, we wanted to share how we did things with the world. We wanted to help people get creative and crafty, whether you’re using your hands to sculpt and create physical things or wanted to create fantastic adventures around the coffee table – we were going to be there to give you an idea of where to start.

We’ve not done much of the physical crafting yet, so this is where we start.

This is going to be a three part series looking at how we craft leather from start to finish. The first part is going to be an overview of leather; what tools and materials you will need (or later on, want) with some basics planning ideas to keep your feet grounded before making any mistakes.

In future articles I’ll go into detail on how to create masks from leather, with detailed instructions and pictures:

  • By the end of part one you should have a good idea about what tools you will need, with optional extras.
  • By the end of part two you should have a moulded piece of leather in the form of a mask which should (hopefully) fit snugly to your face.
  • By the end of part three you should have a fully coloured and treated mask, ready for your party, masquerade or LARP event.

I may reference previous parts as we go or give you snippets to future parts as they’re required. There may also be some heavy editing of previous articles as I develop this glorified tutorial.

I’ll be exclusively using vegetable tanned leather as it provides us with a variety of choices and techniques. More on this later.

Firstly, I’m going to provide an insight into the uses and types of leather and ask some questions relating to your specific leather project.

Why use Leather?

Leather is a type of old world plastic. If you know how to manipulate it, you can get it to fulfill a variety of functions. There are some considerations before you start your project however: Is leather the best option for your project? Would there be an easier medium for you to use?

Pros:

  • Easy manipulation, no expensive tools or chemicals required
  • Sturdy material that can take some serious mechanical abuse
  • Variety of uses from small items to full costumes
  • Easy to use (when you know how).

Cons:

  • Not very forgiving, expensive mistakes can happen!
  • Requires a good aftercare regime
  • Storage concerns: spores, mold & degradation can prematurely eat and destroy your hard work!

If you still think leather is for you then read on for some further considerations.

herd of cattle in daytime

Environmental Impact

Leather was once locally sourced and used extensively before plastics were introduced. Unfortunately, now being a globalised industry, it comes with its own complications.

Cattle herds are huge in America, who are one of the largest producers of beef and therefore leather. The impact on the environment is several fold – cattle create methane, farmland and agriculture impact the local atmosphere, and global transportation methods create more pollution.

Some methods of curing leather use chromium salts. These salts are toxic to living organisms (they use chromium salts to denature DNA strands in genetic laboratories). Chromium treated leathers are usually more synthetic looking, with near perfect surfaces with (usually) thinner and very supple qualities. Presumably they are cheaper, quicker to make and easier to use in manufacturing.

Composition of Leather

Leather is essentially skin. When vegetable tanned leather is cured it can become rigid (for thicker leathers) or paper like (such as thin goat skins). The curing process essentially removes the water content without cracking the surface, leaving a smooth and rough side and providing many years of age to what should naturally decompose.

Collagen (face cream adverts talk about it all the time) remains present in the leather and it is this which gives the leather its rigidity. When we wet or soaked, cured leather like vegetable tanned leather we re-hydrate the collagen, making it flexible and less brittle. As the leather dries, if we have done our job correctly, the leather should hold its shape, allowing us to craft intricate and ornate pieces of work, such as masks.

Vegetable tanned leather is used by artisans and crafters all over the world for various projects. It is generally coarser and thicker leather but has a host of applications: in some older types of vehicles it is used for fan belts, it is used for safety attire, all weather clothing, and used as armour up until the second world war, it has a host of utility uses for belts, tool holders, satchels and bags. Vellum is still used in the UK to maintain official government records due to its almost ageless qualities – it is so durable that ancient Kings used it to chronicle their lives.

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Types of Leather

There are a variety of leathers out there. I’m going to provide a brief description of the main ones that artisans and small project crafters are more likely to use.

Vegetable Tanned – There is no surface treatment to this sort of leather, meaning it is ideal for tooling and dying. You can wet mould this sort of leather. A wide variety of uses.

Dyed Through Vegetable Tanned – These leathers do not possess  exactly the same qualities as regular natural tanned vegetable as sometimes there can be a dyeing finish, meaning you can’t necessarily carve, tool or wet mould the leather. However it is durable, and looks great for heavy belts and armour.

Splits – the leather is split and the bottom portion is dyed and treated again to create a smooth surface. You’ll find it’s cheaper but it cannot be tooled or dyed again.

Suede Splits – As above, but both sides are treated with the new upper side heavily treated to create a velvety nap. This is a very versatile form of leather but again it cannot be tooled or dyed further. 

Clothing Suede, Nappa, Cow, Pig – Thin, supple and multiple uses but mainly for clothing. It usually comes pre dyed and is not suitable for most types of projects I will cover here. However, it is great for smaller projects that do not require much treatment, such as small clothing items or accessories.

Chamois – This is essentially split sheep skin and is the first thing most people think of when you mention leather. It has a host of uses and is particularly nice for buffing and polishing your car.

Saddlery – The bees knees of leather, this type of leather is pumped to the brim with waxes and dyes. It is incredibly tough and can be very rigid. It is ideal if you’re just cutting armour pieces to shape, but will require thinning at the edges for stitching. Being incredibly tough, it may take a substantial effort to prepare for stitching. People tend to use long rivets instead. You may be able to carve a pattern into it, but you will not be able to tool it.

Kid – for its thinness this type of leather is very strong due to its fine grain. You see it made into wallets or book bindings due to its fine but mighty nature.

Upholstery Hides – Huge hides! These make a great base for leather if you’re making large volumes. Again it cannot be carved or tooled, but it can be cheap if you bulk buy. I’ve made tabards from this sort of leather and studded those tabards with thicker leather plates to create simple armour.

Crafting Tools

You could really go to town and spend a lot of money to buy a huge variety of tools. In the early stages of any craft, you should only get the minimum you need to get by. If you have a precision craft knife, a stanley knife, a steel rule and some paper, pens and pencils you’ll get on without a hitch. Optionally, you could look at getting some of the following tools, but these are really for slightly more complicated projects. Where possible, I’ve provided a “cheap-cheat” alternatives, but you’ll find that getting the right tool for the job does have an impact as you advance.

My list of tools apply mostly to using vegetable tanned leather, if you’re using a different type of leather you may need a variety of different tools.

For Cutting Leather…

Cutting Knives – these are really cheap from most hobby and craft stores. Stanley knives or retractable knives and precision knives have different uses: Use precision knives to cut finer details and complicated shapes, such as eye holes for masks, and retractable knives for cutting big blocks or chunks of leather out.

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Metal Rule – this is, for me, an essential piece of kit for cutting leather shapes. It should go without saying that a metal rule will not get cut up like a plastic one. More importantly, it should have some form of guard to avoid cutting your fingers. When cutting leather, you will likely apply pressure, meaning that if you slip… well it won’t just be a plaster (band aid) required to hold your fingertips in place.

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Hole Punch – it’s not technically cutting leather, but a hole punch is pretty useful. You can get small kits which have various sized punches which you swap out and screw into place. You’ll need a mallet or hammer to use this. Avoid the type that is hand punched with a wheel of different sized punches – it just doesn’t work as well.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

For Carving and Tooling Leather…

Swivel Knife – this is a unique looking knife that looks a bit like a flat headed screwdriver. Swivel knives are used to cut and carve patterns into leather. You don’t need to go nuts here because using a swivel knife takes practice and patience. Some people get the knack of it early on. If you want to practice carving leather without buying one, get a small flat headed screwdriver and try it on a scrap piece of leather. More on this later.

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Image taken from LePrevo Leathers, http://www.leprevo.co.uk

Bevel / Foot Stamp – this little tool is used in conjunction with the swivel knife. After you have cut a line with the swivel knife you can use the bevel stamp (sometimes called a foot) to push one side of the cut down with a small mallet. The process involves moving the foot along the line while tapping the end with the mallet as you go in one smooth process. The result is an almost 3-D appearance. This is the basic technique for people wishing to tool leather and only really works on vegetable tanned leathers.

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For Stitching Leather…

Needles – you can get these very cheaply from haberdasheries. For working with leather you’re going to need thick needles with a larger eyelet hole. This is because simple cotton thread is too small for stitching leather pieces together. If you can afford it, an automatic stitching awl will save you a lot of time and effort, but they do cost more than just needles and thread.

Thread – thicker thread, ideally waxed will be suitable for most leather projects. Thicker threads will be less likely to cut into the hole they are threaded through, meaning you will add life to your final piece. If it is waxed, it will also not rot anywhere as quickly and provide a level of waterproofing to the holes it’s stitched through.

Pricking Awl – this nasty looking device is basically a pointed blade on the end of a handle. It will look like a vicious prison shank. They are used to create tiny cut marks which act as a guide for stitching. They also allow the needle to pass through the leather much easier than if you were trying to punch the leather with the stitching needle. I would not recommend stitching leather without first punching the holes with a pricking awl!

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

For Colouring / Dyeing and Finishing Leather

Dyes – There are a variety of ways of colouring leather. The obvious method is to use leather dyes, which are alcohol based and miscible in water (meaning you can thin them down). I use Fiebings leather dye, which come in a variety of colours and shades. Leather dyes wet the leather, so you need to be careful with water moulded leather projects (which I will cover later).

Paints – Alternatively you could use acrylic paints, but these have a habit of cracking as they dry as solids. To avoid this, you can use flexible acrylic paints that contain natural resins or flexi-paints which are made with rubber or latex components. If you’re making something that is not expected to bend, you can just use regular acrylic paints, but I would suggest you water them down and work in two or more thinner layers.

Finishes – You are going to need to add something extra if you’re hoping to take your leather outside or use it for anything other than for display. This is really important if you’re going to use your piece in all weather, such as for LARP events. Even in the summer weather, you will need to protect the colours that you’ve so lovingly applied. Personally, I use a two or more layers of Carnauba wax cream and the thinner but highly waterproof resolene finish.

In conjunction these will waterproof and provide some level of flexibility to your piece, preventing excess moisture going in whilst stopping the leather from drying out and cracking. These make great aftercare materials too, so if you get into making expensive kit for LARP, it may be wise to sell the finishers alongside the main product.

Paint Brushes & Rags – depending on the size of your leather piece, you are going to need to apply that dye or paint somehow. For small pieces such as wallets, belts, scabbards and masks you can get away with artist brushes, for larger surface areas such as armour you may want to invest in a spray gun (you can buy these from model shops and may prove cheaper for short term projects). Rags are rags at the end of the day. Something like dishcloths don’t tend to come with a tonne of loose fibers so they won’t leave marks as you buff the leather up.

Optional pieces include:

Edge Smoother – this little wooden device is great at deburing the edges of your leather. Running it up and down the edge, with the leather in the nook will slowly polish and smooth the edge, making your final piece look cleaner and more professional. They can be expensive, so shop around for cheaper ones – after all, it’s a piece of carved wood.

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Boarder / Edge Cutter – this little device will add border edges to your leather, which can make a piece look finished and also carve a smooth line along the borer into which you can punch holes or run a stitching wheel into for later stitching… which saves time and effort…

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Where to Begin

So let’s assume you have all of your tools, paints and finishes ready. You’ve got your leather ready to go. But where on earth do you start? Well, I have two very important pieces of advice that you should always consider for every project you ever start.

Dream BIG, but think small

It is the best advice you can possibly get when I say: start small.

Leather is unforgiving in that if you make a mistake, you won’t be able to hide it. Unlike fabric where you could stitch a secret piece in, or hide a mistake behind a fold, leather is generally too cumbersome or thick for quick fixes. Of course, you could weather a mistake to make it look deliberate if you wanted an overall finish to match.

So, stay small for your first project. This will give you a feel for how leather behaves when you’re working with it. With that experience you can move to larger projects later.

Refine your idea with Cardboard

My next advice will also save you time and money: create a mockup piece first.

In my early days I had very little money so I had to be thrifty with my leather and consumables. Cutting out pieces of cardboard from cereal boxes and seeing how my design folded, glue or stitched saved me a lot of time and pain.

Buying your Leather & Tools

This is the hard bit.

If you live in the UK, you can get your supplies from eBay, but I would suggest you have a look at LePrevo Leathers. They are a large supplier but they are friendly and helpful people.

For other sellers of tools, you can get everything you need on eBay fairly cheaply. Most of it will be made in China, but if you’re starting out, you shouldn’t spend a fortune unless you’re absolutely certain you want to commit to this craft. Otherwise, shop around.

If you’re elsewhere in the world, you will likely have more local suppliers. Particularly in Asian and American nations, you’ll have the likes of Tandy Leather. If you’re in the UK, avoid Tandy Leather, it is generally over priced under the facade of being user and newbie friendly. That said, if you’ve got cash to throw around, go ahead!

(That said, they have supposedly repriced everything, so maybe have a sneak peek)…

So that’s it for now, in the next week or so there will be part two ready to go. I’ll link it at the bottom of this page and notify via our Facebook page, twitter account and likely various other media platforms. Alternatively, subscribe to us to get notifications!

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Next in the series we will look at a project in more detail, with steps on how to prepare and cut your leather to make a mask. It’s not rocket science and I’m sure there will be others with different ideas – that’s fine, lets put our heads together!

Until the next episode!

Mr Ferris

Themeborne: Those Rising Dark Stars…

If you’re familiar with Themeborne and Escape the Dark Castle, you can jump straight to the section entitled “Escape the Dark Sector!”, there’s a nifty banner to help you find it!

A couple of years ago I was cruising through Kickstarter town when I came across some great looking, creepy and nostalgic artwork. I investigated, sipping my breaktime tea to find a small tabletop card game… a very simple, pleasing to the eye game.

I read deeper into this game, Escape the Dark Castle (EtDC), and fell in love with it – at this point I hadn’t even played it, or read the rules enough to fully understand them… because it did something that most new games these days fail to do…

Create an immersive atmosphere.

Fast forward a year or so and the box lands at my door. I was surprised, because the game fit into a relatively small box, but that didn’t matter, not all great things come in huge packages (know what I mean?)

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EtDC was made and published by Themeborn. Who are Themeborne, and what about their game makes it so engaging?

Themeborne are a small design studio located in Nottingham, UK. They have a small portfolio of games on their website, but it is one that is growing. Three individuals, each with very different skills as either a writer, artist and musician make up the studio. Whoever they are, it seems to create a perfect blend of creativity. Thomas Pike, Alex Crispin and James Shelton put their heads together and created this atmospheric and easily engaged card game.

They’re exploding onto Kickstarter again, this time for a space themed game, a spiritual successor to their first, with Escape the Dark Sector – more on this later!

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So what is Escape the Dark Castle?

Imagine waking up in a cell, in the dark. Perhaps you’ve been there for months or years suffering torture and starvation. One day, the door to your cell is open. Several others blink as they walk out of their cells. Now, how do you escape?

With this premise, player’s characters encounter situations as they flee, sometimes given choices and other times being forced to fight monsters or jailors. The game is based on a deck of well presented cards, with the players either taking it in turns to reveal the next card or deciding amongst themselves who should draw the next.

These cards acts as chapters in their escape, detailing the story as they sneak, run and fight their way through various chambers and obstacles.

Specialist 6-sided dice are used to determine survival, with each character, such as the Bishop or the Cook, having their own character cards and special dice. When fighting or struggling to overcome an obstacle, the dice are rolled against the “chapter dice” which act as a randomised challenge. If your dice roll matches one of the chapter dice, you can remove it, hopefully whittling the monster away to move onto the next chapter… or die trying!

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Not equal, however – the dice are spit into might, wisdom and cunning and each character will have a better chance at rolling one or more of these attributes, meaning some combinations of characters can hinder the escape.

The chapter cards are drawn at random during game setup, meaning there is almost limitless possibilities in the escape story. Expansions to the game, which came out this year, means there are even more cards to randomly create the story.

And finally, as your make your get-a-way, you will encounter one of several special end of game enemies, each acting differently to immolate, terrify or devour the escapees.

The chances are you’re not going to make it, with less than  25% of our stories resulting in the characters escaping the dark castle! Why? Because if one of the characters dies, everyone loses and chances are that by the time you get to the ultimate encounter, you’ll be struggling already! The odds are not stacked in your favour… and it’s great!

etDC Kit

How does it feel?

Escape the Dark Castle has many great features, which I’ll go over briefly here. The important bit is that combined, these traits create a wonderful, narrative and enjoyable game play reminiscent of Knightmare, a UK kids TV show.

Easy to learn

The rule book is slim and easy to read with direct examples of how to play. The nature of the game focuses on getting started as a group and jumping into your first game. The storytelling aspect of EtDC means that just about everyone and their grandma can learn to play. Each player is encouraged to read out the chapter card they draw and are written in an old sword and sorcery style.

Quick as you like Pace

They say that the game takes 2 minutes to setup and around 30 minutes to play. I disagree with the 30 minutes but only because the game can be played as quickly or as slowly as you like. We’ve played many games of EtDC and frankly, when you’re sat around a table in a dimly lit room, the atmosphere suggests you take it slowly… but as you near the last chapter card, the pace quickens… almost as if you’re running blindly through a dark castle and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Social, Inclusive, Cooperative

This is a game for everyone (assuming they can read, and even then, others can help). Because it is truly a cooperative game, where everyone or no one is a winner, it’s very easy to get involved. Who draws the next card can be decided democratically, people can look at the state of their character and think: I can’t survive another round of fighting! Others will openly declare that they can take whatever happens next, effectively ‘taking one for the team’ so there’s room for limelight too.

The inclusion of ‘equipment’ cards adds an extra dimension to the escapees: who will take the rusted sword, or who needs to eat the stale bread?

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Even Grandma can learn to play…

Variety

There are 45 chapter cards in the basic game, of which 11 are randomly drawn to create each story. The chances of drawing the same 11 cards each time are so astronomically low that you’d have to play thousands of games to get an exact same combination. But worry not, there are several expansions already out for EtDC and each one adds even more chapter cards, end of game bosses and even starting cards to the story. Cult of the Death Knight, Scourge of the Undead Queen and Blight of the Plaguelord are great additions, each one bringing more themes and story to your escape.

Value

With 3 expansions, a collector’s box, play mat, card sleeves, a book of character deaths (I know, right?) a story book and even an 80’s style musical cassette you’d be forgiven for thinking that the prices are going to match the likes of Fantasy Flight Games. Except that they’re not.

The Core game is priced at £30 – and this is truly all you need. The expansions, which you could buy several years down the line, are priced at £15 each and everything else is £20 or less, depending on what you want – Themeborne have made a great little game that is affordable and so re-playable you’ll never get to experience every possible combination of game.

And now they’re going a step further and taking us into the timeless void of space, where no one can hear you scream…

Escape the Dark Sector!

Escape the Dark Sector

ETDS Logo

Escape the Dark Sector is a science-fiction adventure, pitting the beleaguered crew of a ship against a detention block space station. Again, if anyone dies, the game is over, presumably because the ship can’t be flown without a full crew!

Themeborne suggest that the story and game-play comes from popular science fiction of the 80’s, including Alien, Startrek and Star Wars combined with the literary adventures of the amazing Fighting Fantasy novels and classic Dungeons & Dragons – much like Escape the Dark Castle!

Whether you like all of those titles or not, it seems there is something for everyone.

What’s different?

The core storytelling concepts from EtDC still run through Dark Sector, but Themeborne have introduced several new and easy to learn mechanics to the game and its setup. They make sense too, creating cinematic shootouts with aliens. So what’s new?

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The Setup

The characters are familiar to those who played EtDC – each character has a dice specific to them to roll during actions and combat. However, adding onto the basic character concepts, players can choose ‘cybernetic implants’ which give their characters an edge in certain situations.

The story aspect has been developed to include not one single stack of story chapters and instead is now made up of three acts which, we’re told ups the tempo and intensity the deeper into the escape story the players drive their characters.

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The Gameplay

Since the theme of Dark Sector has catapulted the story into space, so too has the technology level, introducing tactical combat actions and  ranged combat.

Tactical combat actions include shooting, charging, reloading. re-equipping, and flanking, giving the game a much more tactical feel without detracting from the flow of the game. As is the way of Themeborne games, the action to charge is carried over for each character, meaning when one of you declares a charge, everyone has to go with them! It’s all or nothing!

Further, the action to heal some wounds can only be taken by one character at a time. No one gets to sit out for more than a round either. This seems to have upped the challenge! To balance this, certain actions such as reload or flank mean your character is not targeted by the enemy, but at least one character has to choose to fight or shoot. Actions come in the form of cards, where the character dice are placed in order to keep track more easily.

Ranged combat involves equipment and dice specifically related to the weapons, which, we’re told are not always positive effects for the characters. They seem to include ballistic, beam and explosive symbols, so no doubt each one comes with risks!

Some monsters and enemies are affected by or deal special damage depending on the type of ranged attack being made, so teamwork is still at the centre of the game mechanics – pile it up together or decide who should be shooting what weapon and you’ll crack the chapter and be able to move on!

If you want a copy of Escape the Dark Sector you’ll need to back the Kickstarter, there’s less than 40 hours left! Otherwise you can wait for the official release online, sometime next year!

Alternatively, you can grab yourself a copy of Escape the Dark Castle!

You can find the Kickstarter here

Themeborne website and shop

@FerrisWrites for Twitter and our Facebook page.