Tag Archives: Indie games

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.

Groove of War 01 – Tournament Writeup.

 

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The minute wargroove released, the community surrounding it sprang up from a quiet fanbase that had watched and participated it in its development for the past two years. Competition is in the game’s DNA, so it was inevitable that a group of amazing players and fans of the game would put together a tournament showcasing the potential for testing the skill of it’s players.

This is where Groove of War came in, the first and most prominent tournament. Players flocked to sign up and within days, 72 players were locked in to make a small bit of history by participating in its inaugural event and what we’re sure will be a long and exciting tournament season.

The group stages were steadily played out over the week, with participants meeting up as and when to complete their games in a fairly adjudicated manner by tournament organisers. It was here where the real meat of the work began; figuring out the perfect format to provide engaging and watchable games. One massive advantage in a turn-based game like Wargroove is that there is no latency to worry about, so players never have to fret about losing to technical limitations.

Many lessons were learned in the matches preceding the finals in regards to commander balancing, map balancing and turn times. It was found out that stalemates can cause the games to drag out somewhat without timers, so a large discussion is still ongoing to determine the best solution to bring these times down to a more viewer and competitor-friendly format, also the commanders Nuru and Tenri were soon banned from future games having been deemed overpowered.

The grand final was decided between Ash (Ash_IRE on twitch) and Red-Halo, who fought all the way through their brackets to reach the top spots over the week; no small feat considering the wealth of experience from a number of competitive Advance Wars players participating.

Game one: the map was Ban Ban Beach and Ash took an early lead with a heavy Trebuchet focused build; gaining naval superiority early on and pushing right down the coast to stamp out any hope of Red rallying and threatening the seas again. They continued to slog it out in the field, but the game was over by turn 11 when Red Halo conceded, just as he was falling behind in economy.

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Game two: the map was Rumbling Range and Red Halo clawed one back here with an early confrontation down in the bottom right hand corner. It’s a larger map, so the wagons were out in full force, causing Ash to go for major blocking plays to try and deny Red Halo an air factory, but it was all for naught as Ash had clearly overplayed his hand, seeing Red march a lumbering column of pikemen down the right side of the map, successfully blocking Ash’s commander in. Ash valiantly fought on, but conceded on turn 12 when Red’s dragon bore down.

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Game three: We returned to Ban Ban Beach which saw both players try to gain naval superiority early; Red had clearly learned from the last game and held his own in the seas til the end. An early rush into the middle island gained Ash a crucial economic advantage, Red had split his forces and it took him a few turns to gain footing on the important choke point, while Ash built up his core in the centre. The game seemed very close until Red conceded on turn 8, which left both myself and his opponent in surprise. It could have turned on a penny, but with that win, Ash took the set and was crowned Champion.

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It is truly exciting to follow the organisers and now veterans of the game’s competitive scene as they forge a new standard for how this game will be played into the future. Wargroove is an amazingly fun game; this event just shows how games like this can bring people together. This first tournament, while suffering its share of teething pains, was an important first step and an exciting look into what a determined group of people with a love for strategy gaming can do.

Congrats to Ash, on winning!

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Link to tournament hub:

https://smash.gg/tournament/groove-of-war-01/details

Link to Ash’s Twitch:

https://twitch.tv/ash_ire

Finals VOD:

The Future Of Pulp RPG And You.

Good day nerdy people!

We here at CreatorConsortium have been having a jolly old time of it recently, with many things having been discussed on how we want to proceed with the site and tons of late night development sessions. Mr Ferris and myself are so passionate about roleplay games that I think it’s safe to say that we think about them daily. There really is nothing like rolling some dice and making some memories with people you love, which is why in addition to the articles covering all manner of Nerdery, we will be focusing our efforts more on the game we are developing and just cannot stop thinking about.

So as you know, we have been working on our home grown tabletop RPG system: Pulp. The idea behind it is to create a simple and approachable core roleplay system that anyone can pick up and play in literally minutes, then with the addition of rulesets and setting expansions, you can introduce as much or as little complexity as you want. The focus is on allowing everyone to roleplay and giving the GM the tools to be able to take an active hand in the game. Combat is collaborative, forcing both player and GM to talk back and forth about how situations flow. The most important part, though, is that it is so fun!

A link to our first audio Devlog!

What we really wanted to get away from was extensive tables and lists of rules filling entire books, pushing combat and time-sensitive moments into hour long slogfests where you’re checking your sourcebook every five minutes. While we still appreciate and love these rule-heavy systems, like Pathfinder Na D&D, we think that you can still have a satisfying and engaging ruleset while conserving as much time for roleplay as possible!

So in comes Pulp RPG; over the next few months, (the holiday season pushes everything back) we will be focusing our efforts on building a community around our game. We told you about our first adventure pack: Chasing Hitler Through Panama In 1948, this standalone adventure will soon be released alongside the Pulp Beta Core Rules V1.0, both free.

Indepth article on Pulp’s progress.

We hope to use these two powerful little documents to get people playing our game and giving us much needed feedback while we plunge into our first large and sprawling Campaign Pack: The Godless Realm, which will add a host of new mechanics to use in a fully fleshed out and dynamic fantasy setting, filled with treacherous gods and plenty of thrilling battles to fight.

We urge you to head on over to our discord and give us a holler; we’re always ready to talk about Pulp RPG, and I personally will be trying to put a game of Pulp together with anyone willing.

https://discord.gg/PGj8yYS

Happy gaming!

J.A.Steadman.