The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth – A Review

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Okay okay, I know I said I didn’t have any interest in getting this game but I’m weak and…well who gives a shit whatever other reason I have?

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth (for those living under a rock or too idle to go to the Games Workshop website) is a boxed game depicting the running battle between the Ultramarine and the Word Bearers Legions in the catacombs below the radiation ravaged surface of…well, Calth. Obviously.

If you’ve been keeping up with the Horus Heresy novels then you’ll be fairly aware of the events leading up to it and the major players. If you haven’t please run full pelt into a wall as punishment. Then go read them.

So Betrayal at Calth is a very splendid looking board game pitting the Ultramarines against the Word Bearers in the dingy tunnels and chambers of subterranean Calth. I do have to address the elephant in the room. Yes it’s kind of like Advanced Space Crusade…and Space Crusade. But in a lot of crucial ways it’s not. It’s easy to make direct comparisons between this and its forefathers but the truth is Space Crusade’s focus was exploration whereas Betrayal at Calth is open war and a fight for survival. It’s tunnel fighting at its very worst. The need for blip counters and a lot of the other very cool things that made Space Crusade iconic just don’t fit.

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Truth be told, Betrayal at Calth is a pretty good game. Much like Deadzone, the game uses a grid movement system with an occupation limit. However, unlike Deadzone it isn’t shit. The main differences are the hex system works instead of the vague and wooly cube system in Deadzone…and it doesn’t have all the other reasons that made Deadzone poor.

Broadly, the mechanic in Betrayal at Calth works much like its forebears. You roll some very groovy dice with icons denoting a hit or critical hit or a shield (which is either a miss or a defensive success). Unlike Space Crusade it’s far simpler with a straight forward activation system that allows turns to be rattled through very quickly. Much like the reboot of Space Hulk. Unlike Space Crusade it doesn’t bother with the two tier dice system so you’ll actually bother firing your boltguns in this game.

The aforementioned hex system allows for not only slick movement, shooting and combat but very elegantly represents the cramped environs of the tunnels the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers were fighting through. This is a very good thing. Best of all it’s a simple value equals dice rolled process with additional dice being rolled in certain circumstances. Which makes for a far quicker gaming experience. Of course it gets a little abstract but, to be honest, it doesn’t matter because it works.

It allows you to hamper the movement of your opponent or outright bottle neck areas by using the accumulative bulk of your Space Marines or, better yet, your Terminators. It’s a surprisingly tactical game for what otherwise would be a ‘go here and shoot them’ offering.

The production value is also amazing. The cards are thick and premium, the book almost as luxurious as one of Forge World’s Horus Heresy publications and is resplendent with their artwork. The double sided tiles are also loving rendered. The only negative is that they’re not quite as premium as the Space Hulk tiles. But considering the amount of plastic you get in Betrayal at Calth I’m willing to let it slide.

At first I thought a game of Space Marines vs Space Marines would be deeply deeply dull but the differences in the forces – big scary dreadnought vs badass terminators – and the legion specific decks players can call upon actually really works. Plus the critical hit system actually has the stench of genius about it. Rather than the obvious bonus hits, the effects vary from stripping away activation points to reducing enemy characteristics to zero…which means they get pulped basically. And the exploding assault cannon is back! Huzzah!

The scenarios are…actually a bit like Deadzone’s. They’re paced to gradually introduce gamers to the different unit types which rather highlights one of the reasons I suspect Games Workshop put the game out. To introduce new gamers to the 30/40k Universe. Considering the revival of Specialist Games it makes complete sense.

Betrayal at Calth has a simple mechanic, it’s quick and it doesn’t bombard you with the lore like the main rulebook does. Plus the models are superb.

Honestly, they’re all awesome. The terminators and contemptor suffer slightly from being plastics in a starter set compared to their awesome Forge World counterparts, but broadly Betrayal at Calth is absolutely worth getting just for the models. What really sells it is that the Space Marines aren’t the usual push together at but genuine multi-part models as detailed as the plastic tactical squad. They don’t have Forge World’s fidelity of detail to be sure but they don’t have warping, miscast detail or fucking horrid mould lines either.

Regular readers will know that I’ve got two companies of Ultramarines already and, because all the models are non-Legion specific, this box could put me well on my way to a 30% of third. If I felt so inclined. I’ve had to promise Lee that I wouldn’t use them as Ultramarines…at least not all of them. It’s a fantastic starter army though: force commander, chaplain, dreadnought, terminators and 3 tactical squads. I think it roughly works out you get the characters and a tactical squad for free based on rule retail price which is an absolute winner.

However where it does fall down is it lacks the progression of Space Crusade…which is absurd considering it’s 25 years old and, in that regard, the stronger offering. One of the criticisms I’ve heard is that the tiles used in Betrayal at Calth overall make up a smaller gaming space than Space Crusade. Whilst that’s true, they are double sided and the mechanic makes use of that space very effectively so larger tiles aren’t needed. Plus Space Crusade took forever to play so I’m not sorry that Betrayal at Calth is a quicker game.

Between the simple rules, straight forward mechanic, interesting critical hit system and some truly gorgeous models, Betrayal at Calth is a rare solid hit from Games Workshop. It isn’t cheap but we’re use to that. Plus buying 30 tactical marines alone would cost over £60 so in terms of getting some very cool models for not tonnes of money it actually makes complete sense.

The models really are worth every penny. They look fantastic, they’re cast perfectly and would look amazing either as the core of a new army or swapping out some of the older Mk6 and Mk7 armoured plastics. As I mentioned the terminators and the contemptor do suffer from the limitations of their kits, to be more child friendly, but it does nothing to diminish just how cool they all look.

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is a brilliant little game. It looks great and plays well. It does lack some longevity but I believe the Games Workshop are remedying that with new scenarios and such. But even if that wasn’t true, you have the beginnings of a seriously cool looking Space Marine army.

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is available from Firestorm Games priced £79.99.

Firefly The Game – A Review

GF9_600px_Firefly_Game_Logo_MockUp_01Back in 2002 a writer by the name of Joss Whedon aired a show on Fox about a crew on board a transport ship just trying to get by in an uncaring galaxy. Uncaring indeed for despite a superb cast, better writing and production & styling that was sublime, it was cancelled after 13 shows. And it went by the name Firefly. And that should have been the end of it. Except it wasn’t. Three years later, after a lot of support from its legions of Browncoats a film was made. Cancelled TV shows don’t get made into feature-length films but there it was all the same. Despite some success it was let down by a truly shocking marketing campaign and it’s creator, cast, crew and fans were let down yet again.

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For my part I was only part of the good ship Serenity‘s journey part of the way. The Firefly passed me by completely and it was my brother, a year after the show was cancelled, who convinced me to watch the DVD. I was smitten. By the writing, the on-screen chemistry, the simple beauty of Serenity herself and the tremendous potential of the show. And even now, a decade on I watch the last episode with sadness and frustration. However, I donned said Browncoat and joined the cause to get the film made and promoted. We did do the impossible, and that made us mighty. At least a little bit anyway.

The lack of commercial success of Serenity meant that any hope of the second and third the entire cast had agreed to make, or a revival of the series, was permanently mothballed. Despite that, the fans just wouldn’t let it go. Comics have been written, songs have been sung (probably), and those chaps at Gale Force 9 made a game.

FireflyThe premise of the game is simple enough. You captain a transport and all you’re trying to do is make your way in the ‘Verse. All you need to do is find a crew, find a job and keep flying. Now, being a colossal fan of Firefly I decided this review needed to be done properly which meant I had Lee & Mat from the site round along with Neil (all of The Chaps) for a 4 player game.

We each have a ship (I threatened bloody murder should anyone dream of taking the Serenity player card before me) and choose a captain from a variety of characters plucked from the series. Each character brings with them certain skills and/or benefits. Such as Nadi from the Heart of Gold episode who gets to hire crew for free. Presumably because she fellates them in lieu of payment.

It’s a bit of a shame that all the ships are Firefly class. Perhaps a pointless complaint considering the name of the game and the fact that fans are going to be buying and playing this game the majority of the time, but still. It wouldn’t take much to produce a few of the other ship types that pop up in the series. But hey-ho. It does avoid the inevitable arguments of who gets to be the Firefly class. Because the answer is: everyone. My only real gripe is the quality of the playing pieces is quite poor. The Fireflies all have some loss of detail, and some had flash. And the Alliance Cruiser is awful. The casting quality is really quite bad, with the towers warped and looked like it was removed from the cast too early as there are areas that look like they were attacked by plastic glue.

However those are my only gripes because the game is superb. It took us a little while to get going as we covered off the rules just before starting play but the fact that you can do that and have the turns running smoothly within 30 minutes goes to show how straight forward the rules are.

That doesn’t mean it’s a simple game. Players are given an objective which is effectively the primary plot. You then have the option of taking on submissions to get ‘in’ with various business associates and ne’er-do-wells which will benefit you both in terms of money and leverage. Being ‘solid’ with people is always a good thing. So, whilst you’re hopping from one end of the board to another you have to weigh up a few things.

The first is that you can only perform two actions a turn and you can only perform each action type once per turn too. So the order in which you do things becomes very tactical. Visit a supply depot or move so you can complete a job or put it off for a turn to try to juice your engines. Equally how you choose to move can have immediate as well as long-term side effects. Moving a single sector causes no problems. You’re pootling along mind your own so everyone else minds there. Go for full burn however, which allows you to move between 4 & 6 sectors, depending on your drive core, and you not only burn fuel but run the risk of attracting unwanted attention. Or breaking down. This is done by drawing a card from one of two decks depending on whether you’re within the core worlds or outer rim. Either way it can spell bad news. It’s just a matter of degrees.

At first I wasn’t convinced about using a deck but it’s quick, it’s simple and there’s no fucking about looking up results on tables that you’d need with a dice based option. And some of the results are nicely in keeping with the show. Equally visiting various planets – again from the show – allows you to trade for certain items, such as ship upgrades, weapons and crew. Rather cleverly players are allowed to choose 3 cards from that deck which can include the top 3 cards on the discard pile. This can means that players can take advantage of a rival’s inability to take/purchase an item. Part of the fun of the game does come from playing the ‘name that dude’ game. And there are fan favourites like Vera, Jayne’s very favourite gun.

Equally hiring crew can be a tough process. Various characters from the show are buried in the decks, each with benefits and skills. However they come at a price and whatever you pay is their fee whenever you complete the job. A good, reliable, crew can mean that your taste at the end of a deal can be a little lean which pushes you towards the shadier jobs to make ends meet. Cut costs and chances are you’re hiring criminals, wanted by the Alliance. And that means they’re gonna be hounding you every step of the way.

Mat and I deliberately went for opposite strategies. I kept my head down and my nose clean, flying beneath Alliance radar whilst still making a decent payday. Mat hired criminals and ran with the likes of Badger and Niska. Initially he was raking in the cash (which is beautifully designed by the way) but being hunted by the Alliance kept him in Reaver space long enough to get attacked by them and most of his crew ended up on the dinner table.

The mission we had to accomplish did require a fair bit of cash and, to be honest, playing it squeaky clean will mean you probably won’t win which does rather push you into playing like cap’n tightpants himself, Malcolm Reynolds. Not that that’s a bad thing mind. Those choosing a life of crime may be making some hefty coin but once the Alliance is on their ass, they’ll be forced to loiter in Reaver territory, and that’ll only serve you for so long…

Firefly The Game is superb. It looks ace and plays like a dream. The board and cards are beautifully produced and the tokens are tidy and set into a single frame with hardly any waste, a lesson that Privateer Press could do with learning for Level 7. The models are its only real let down but you’ll have so much fun you won’t really give a monkeys. It does require 3 players or more though. With just two of you it could get a little stale just because it’s a big board and you can only do so much a turn.

Whilst fans will be all over this game, its quality of game play and styling will appeal to non-fans. Lee has never seen the show but he can’t wait to play again. And that, for me, is as good an endorsement as it gets.

Firefly The Game is available from Firestorm Games priced £40.50 (and worth every gorram penny!).

Horus Heresy – A Review

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Every now and then I come across a game that makes me sit up and pay attention. And every now and then I come across a game that makes me want to cower under my duvet with a bottle of aspirin. Horus Heresy from Fantasy Flight Games kind of does both.

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Let me explain; Horus Heresy is a massive, ambitious, complicated, strategic wargame that takes all the elements of Risk, a CCG and Epic and smashes them together in the wargaming equivalent of the Hadron super-collider.

But, first thing’s first, for those that haven’t come across it, Horus Heresy is a strategy board game recreation of the siege of Terra at the climax of the Horus Heresy in all its various stages.

So what’s in the box? Well, unlike Level 7…bloody shit loads and much of it is plastic. The box is also very cleverly designed so it keeps everything nice and tidy even after you’ve punched it all out.

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Aside from the massive board you get a rule book, an utterly brilliant scenario book, pre-painted structures, piles of playing pieces, a million counters and decks upon decks of cards. The structures, although painted to a basic standard look pretty good and certainly make the board interesting to look at, if a bit fiddly to set up.

And so begins the list of things that are fiddly and make want to cower at the feet of Fantasty Flight Games and beg them to make it stop. There’s a lot of prep when playing Horus Heresy. Event cards have to be stacked along with order, attack and bombardment decks prepared. And, if you’re feeling cheeky, Hero combat cards as well. Because you get to use Primarchs. And the Emperor. And shit. And yes, you can kill them.

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In many ways Horus Heresy is a lot like Risk in so much as there are territories that must be conquered and both sides have armies with which to crush the other with. But the whole thing is just far more involved. For a start, orders are given which dictates the kind of move made and can offer up bonuses. Some are stupidly over powered – one springing to mind that allows you to kill any unit in the contested zone. So you can top a Titan without having to roll a dice. But anyway, depending on how you choose to play that order impacts on the rate at which the initiative track progresses, which in turn dictates who gets/retains the initiative and therefore presses the momentum of their attack. But there is an added bonus for the Imperial player that if the track runs out they win, it representing reinforcements turning up to help the besieged defenders. Which strikes me as open to abuse, albeit at the cost of the lives of your men. But it has been well established that life is cheap in the 41st Millennium. However, the Imperial player rather suffers as members of its Imperial army can turn traitor. This is on top of all the other models the Chaos player gets. So if you’re a jammy bastard like me you’re going to do very well out of it.

Similar to Risk, combats are resolved by attempting to beat one another in waves, although it’s all done with cards rather than dice rolls. And like Risk you keep going until one side is annihilated or withdraws. Where it differs is, however, is that units in Horus Heresy have wounds which means that Space Marines are fucking horrid to go up against unless you’re…a Titan and Imperial Army units go pop more frequently than bubble wrap in a room full of people with ADHD. Which is exactly as it should be. It’s good because it keeps the focus exactly where it should be which is the Legiones Astartes beating the living daylights out of each other. If I’m honest, the Primarchs and the Emperor don’t feel that important in the game despite the pretty power contribution they make in the game, but I think that’s largely to do with it being card based. No fist fulls of dice for you sunny Jim.

That said, because of all the cards, the various ways in which combat can occur, all the back and forth and the ever-changing initiative it’s can feel a bit of a faff. And as combat is pretty much the point that’s not brilliant. That’s not to say that it doesn’t work. It does. Bludgeoningly so and often times victories can have a rather impressive ripple effect. It just takes some getting use to and I think the important thing to remember when playing Horus Heresy is that it is not meant to be a quick or simple game.

When you sit down for a game of this bad boy you’re in it for the day/weekend and tactics have to be considered as a weak point in your line can quickly be exploited thanks to the aforementioned complexity of combat. Shit can get very real, very quickly, and you’ll really wish it hadn’t.

It’s also very important to remember that it’s an incredibly pretty game. The board is awesome, the counters faithfully produced (although the wound counters are a bit naff) and the building inserts are basic but look brilliant when it’s all together. The loyalist playing pieces look cool, the Chaos ones are, as one would expect, the same as the loyalist ones but with spikes. And are therefore a bit disappointing. The rule book is nicely presented and makes sense, which is the first book that I’ve read in a while that gets to make that claim. Just remember it’s a fussy rule set that demands many things of you so you will be reading it through at least twice and then again during your first couple of games.

The campaign book is brilliant. Aside from having well thought out and characterful scenarios which consistently ups the ante until it’s going mental in all directions, it has a fantastic history section at the back which basically gives you the story of events in brief. But it’s very well written and sets you up nicely for the games.

Is Horus Heresy easy? No. Is it perfect? No. Is it a brilliant fun game with legions of Space Marines and Titans stomping about the place with lots of nail-biting tactical decisions to be made? Yes, yes, yes. I’m not going to lie, it’s not for everyone as you have to be patient in understanding the game let alone playing it. But if what you want is something that’ll test you tactically as well as give you an excuse to hang our with your best made all day then you can’t really go far wrong.

Horus Heresy is available from Firestorm Games priced £67.49

Spy or Die Trying on Kickstarter

If you wander over to Kickstarter, a website I’m sure most of you check daily now thanks to the sheer volume of start-ups, you’ll see a board game called Spy or Die Trying from Warm Acre.

Warm Acre, for those not in the know, occupy a soft spot in my heart because they produce games that are good fun, have a lovely sense of humour about them but still offer a tactical challenge, and that’s actually a very difficult balance to achieve. Check out their game No Go Zone in which you have to make gestures at your opponent rather than roll dice to defeat them. It’s completely mad, especially if you’ve had some beers (which I may or may not have had when I played it) but it works and is a good and challenging game.

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Spy or Die Trying I suspect offers a similar blend of humour and tactical dilemmas with a twist of cult TV spy shenanigans. But here’s the fluff from their Kickstarter page

Spy or Die Trying is an asymmetrical board game that pits agents of the Peace Enforcing Nations (PEN) against the might of the Secret World Order (SWORD)

If you join the SWORD, you’ll command a fortified base, complete with fanatical guards, mad scientists and trap-setting technicians to eliminate uninvited guests. Your objective is to develop a doomsday weapon and defend your secrets. Because in just 60 minutes the world could be yours!

As an agent of the PEN, you can play alone or with 2 other players. You must infiltrate the base, collect intelligence about the doomsday weapon and escape. You’ll be outnumbered and hunted, and you have only 60 minutes before the base goes into lockdown, sealing your fate and the fate of world! All you have is your wits, your unique talents and (of course) some cool spy gadgets to help you accomplish your mission.

The game features fast-paced combat and a unique stealth system that gives agents the option of using silence or violence to take on the base.
Time itself is a resource, agents can ‘spend time’ to accomplish a variety of actions (from breaching doors to sabotaging the base’s generator) but they must spend it with care – every minute takes the world closer to doomsday and victory for the SWORD.

It’s time to spy… or die trying!

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Spy or Die Trying is a game for 2 to 4 players. One takes on the role of Base Defender the others are Intruders who play cooperatively against him.

The box set includes a full-colour rule book, game board, die-cut markers, secret agent profiles and dice. Card figures represent agents and minions in the game; metal miniatures will be available for players who want to take their espionage adventures to a higher level.

It does look like a lot of fun and if you’re into Crooked Dice’s 7TV then this might just give your hobby spot a jolly good tickle. If so then bop over to the Kickstarter page.

Dreadball – A Review

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That’s right sports fans, it’s time for Dreadball. Or as some may choose to call it…Blood Bowl in Space. Or Speedball 3…

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Never let it be said that Mantic are afraid of running with a good idea. But seeing as Jake Thornton penned this particular game it rather seems like he ran out of GW HQ with it and hoped no one would notice. Something Mantic seem to be making a habit of. Project Pandora, that I reviewed back in May last year, was a reworking of Space Hulk with non-brand Imperial Guard and Skaven in Space. Also written by Jake Thornton. But, to be fair, it was pretty good.

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So what of Dreadball, the futuristic sports game? I have to admit that I was very much in the camp of people who thought it was Blood Bowl in Space. And seeing as there are Orks, sorry Orx, and Veer-myn, I and the rest of the camp can be forgiven.

However, where it differs is that Dreadball’s emphasis is more on the sport element rather than the krumping element. Some may see this as a bad thing but it’s actually not and I’ll explain more why in later. First of all; what do you get in the box?

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Well a very pretty board, a deck of cards, some counters, some dice, two teams – human and Orx – some balls (ahem) and a very lovely looking rulebook. And why shouldn’t it be lovely considering it was the result of a very very successful Kickstart campaign. It’s something I’ve written about before and I won’t rant about it here, but Mantic clearly went to great lengths to either spend the money or make it look like they spent the money. The rulebook is very nice to look at. Gloss cover, silk pages, lots of lovely graphic design. But it’s badly written with typos all over the place, padded to shit – it could have easily been half the thickness – and doesn’t have useful things like a summary of play in it. I had to read the rules twice to fully understand them and there aren’t that many of them. This is very poor form considering Mantic raised over £450,000 from a £12,000 Kickstart.

The models equally are the half way house between economy of production and quality. The human models are actually really cool, I like them a lot. All three of them. Because all you get is multiples. The Orx are a bit poor and again there is only 3 unique designs. For the cost of the game and the fact that it had the investment it did I really do feel Mantic could have done more. That said, they’re not bad-looking and the simplistic design means that even unpainted you can identify the player classes at a glance.

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Those gripes aside I absolutely bloody love Dreadball. No really.

It’s so joyously tactical and fast paced. And once you wrap your head around the two principles that 1. it isn’t always about manging people in the face and 2. you need to lay up your plays so they come off a Rush or two down the road then you’ll love it. Speaking of Rushes – which are basically turns – you only get 7 a piece which means the game can be over a bit quick. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as it means you can get a couple of games in of an evening.

Actions are limited to 5 per Rush and, depending on which player you activate those actions vary. Equally, as those actions are performed modifiers add or subtract dice without modifying the dice roll. Both very effectively represent the speed with which the action is unfolding in the thrilling world of Dreadball.

The other nice touch is scoring. It’s the first to 7 points, but it’s worked out by points difference rather than a conventional score. It means that victory can be snatched from your grasp by a cunning and daring play, dragging a points difference of, say +6 to +3 at a crucial point meaning you have to rebuild your lead all over again. And because the ball is fired from the centre line straight after a Strike is scored teams that over extend can find themselves flat-footed and racing to regain the initiative. As I say, it’s very very tactical.

As I mentioned, the manging is not the focus of the game – it’s far more akin to real life American Football where ‘Slams’ are like blocks in that they’re designed to knock down or otherwise prevent your opponent’s players from preventing your team from making a play for the Slam Hexes. That’s not to say that manging doesn’t occur but it’s quite hard to pull off. But at least you can commit a healthy variety of fouls to keep things interesting. Including distracting the utterly pointless Ref model. Which you can move about the board but it feels like busy work. And during a play test we just didn’t bother and it had very little impact on the game.

For all my misgivings about Mantic using Kickstart and the cut corners in production the game is brilliant fun. It’s slick and, once you decipher the rules, is huge amounts of fun to play. The book also includes rules for leagues, new abilities, MVPs and, rather coolly  corporate sponsors so it has genuine replay value.

Mantic gets a lot a lot of flack for the obvious parallels between their products and those of other developers, some of it well deserved, however Dreadball is a very different animal from Blood Bowl and if I’m honest, I prefer it. It’s awesome.

Dreadball is available from Firestorm Games priced £42.49

Last Night on Earth – A Review

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I go ages without doing a board game review then two come along at once. This time it’s the turn of Last Night on Earth by Flying Frog Productions, a turn based Zombie survival game.

Before I get into the rules and game play let’s look at what you get in the box. Well, lots of cardboard as one would expect from a game of this type but includes gaming tiles that allow you t play over a various locations in the town your characters find themselves in, game cards, profile cards and scenarios. You also get 8 heroes, 14 zombies, dice and a soundtrack CD. I’ve got to be honest, the soundtrack wasn’t really a soundtrack. It wasn’t creepy music that got you in the groove for the game. I’m not saying it was bad, but I am saying it didn’t fit in with the game and I turned it off after a couple of tracks. It’s a nice idea but didn’t quite work for me.
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The overall production value is very good. The models are a passable standard and from the looking around I’ve done on the interwebs suggests that they’ll stand up to painting, which is great news for the more die-hard wargamers out there. If I’m honest the actual artwork on the board tiles and vehicle cut outs were a little basic but I suppose it was done to keep costs down and also the emphasis is on the zombies and heroes not the board. But what it lacks in creative splendour it makes up for with intelligent design as the board is made up of a central tile then four (out of six) L shaped tiles that allow you to play across different parts of the remote, besieged, town.

It’s a very simple but effective design that allows for, if my maths is correct, 15 possible board combinations. Which doesn’t seem a lot but its enough variation that’ll keep the board looking relatively fresh.

The characters, like much of the game has its roots firmly planted in all the various archetypes that made the zombie horror genre so popular with the drifter, the sheriff, a priest and the school Jock all making an appearance. Each character has their own strengths too which includes special attacks, extra speed or the ability to heal in the case of the busty nurse.

The game itself keeps its focus around the genre that inspired it and the scenarios reflect that, each one cinematic and for any fans of the zombie/horror genre easily identifiable. Zombies obviously have the numeric advantage as well as deck of cards they can draw upon to make life difficult for the plucky heroes trying to live out the night.

The heroes too have a deck of cards they can draw on when they search rooms which can give them weapons of various types in including shotguns, flare guns, baseball bats and chainsaws. Searches will also throw up event cards which can be used to either hamper the zombies or boost the performance of the characters. And you’ll need it because unless you get the right mix of characters (as you have to choose four of the eight at random) you’ll struggle to win the most basic scenario.

The game mechanic is very simple. Zombies move one square. Heroes move D6. Fair enough. In combat zombies roll 1 D6 and Heroes 2D6, highest roll wins. Fair enough? Well, no. Although high roll wins, a Hero needs a double to kill a zombie otherwise it is merely fended off. But where it comes unstuck is that in the event of a tie, unless it states otherwise, the zombie wins and inflicts a wound. This seemingly benign rule, couple with the sheer number of zombies that can and will fill the gaming space means that it’s easy for a character to be killed on turn 1. And when losing two costs you the game, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

The numbers stack up like this. Statistically the average roll on a D6 is 3. The average on 2D6 is 7 of one combination or other. None combination of 7 affords the heroic player a killing blow. So because you need double fours, fives or sixes to deliver a killing blow your odds of killing a zombie outright shrink to – 3 in 36 against a zombie who has a 3 in 6 chance of getting an equivalent result with the added bonus that a draw is a win.

Now heroes can spend an action searching buildings which will garnish them with the aforementioned weapons and events. And should they get their hands on firearms then the tide turns very quickly and the hero player starts to feel a glimmer of hope in their soul. But granting the zombie player the win on a draw means that it’s the only way the hero player will win. One of the play tests I ran through on Friday night had me kill the required two characters in 3 turns. The run through before that it took 5. The right Zombie Cards cropping up at the start was an undeniable help, but it was far more to do with no matter how well Neil (of The Chaps) rolled, as along as I could match or beat it I would win.

To be completely clear, Last Night on Earth is a good game. More to the point its a fun game. And you can play it in an hour which is ideal if you’re short on time or fancy doing something different of a lunch break at work. The rules are simple and emphasises the importance of game play and the cinematic. By keeping it simple you get to focus on what really matters which is heroes trying to stay alive whilst zombies come at them from all sides. Although the rule book could do with a tidy. Far too much ‘which will be explained later’. There are some genius touches in Last Night on Earth. The sunlight tracker is a particularly brilliant idea. The ability to cut power in buildings, causing heroes to stumble around in the dark. Or for buildings to be overrun entirely meaning heroes can’t go in them at all. Zombie pits can pop up in random locations suddenly putting real pressure on the heroes and increasing the threat risk significantly.  It’s all very cleverly done to create that sense of dread and foreboding that’s so fundamental a zombie survival film let alone game. Which makes the ‘tie’ rule all the more unbalanced.

The characters are fun, the special rules giving them their own unique tactical advantage – although if you get the Sheriff from the off you’ve got a good chance of survival thanks to him starting with the revolver and the special rule that effectively means he’ll never lose it. The Priest is rubbish. If you get him just use him as a proverbial sacrificial lamb. We quickly worked out the strongest character combination which, I suspect, is why you have to choose randomly.

With a slight rule tweak Last Night on Earth is as good as they come. And for around the £37 mark isn’t bad value either. The expansion: Growing Hunger is already available and boasts for heroes, armed zombies, plague zombies, new tiles for bigger boards and new rules. At £25 it’s pretty good value as there’s only marginally less in there than the main box.

For all my ranting, Last Night on Earth is a good and fun game. It looks ace and plays well. It has bags of character from the heroes, to the Zombie Card that’s actually called nnngghh. If you’re a fan of the zombie horror genre you’ll love this. Actually you’ll love it even if you’re not.

Project Pandora – A Review

Time for another review but on this occasion its a board game that’s coming under my scrutiny. Specifically Project Pandora: Grim Cargo by Mantic.

First of all I think it’s really important to deal with the elephant in the room. I, of course, refer to the elephant wearing terminator armour who in his spare time likes to wander around hulking derelict spaceships. Yes it’s a game a little bit like Space Hulk by the Games Workshop in so much as there are dudes wandering around a pretty banged up spaceship hunting things that are very good at ripping their faces off. But by that logic Warhammer Fantasy is a rip off of Lord of the Rings…oh, wait…

So, Project Pandora is set on-board the merchant vessel CSS Zloveshy Vassily. The Corporation – who look a cross between Imperial Guard and Cobra Commander from GI-Joe – are transporting a super secret shipment of Verminium. No, really. However the Skaven in Space Veer-myn want it for themselves. Greedy rat-bastards.

The models are pretty good sculpts for the most part. I wouldn’t say they’re Mantic’s best work but they’re meant to be easy to build, easy to paint toys that allow you to play the game as quickly as possible, so it’s not really a bad thing. I’m pretty sure that they’re actually the same toys as the ones for Warpath so Grim Cargo is a pretty cost-effective way of getting some more models as well as a game.

They’re more than adequate to convey that the Corporation shouldn’t be messed with and that the Vee-myn are going to anyway. Because they’re mental.

Needless to say much peril is set to ensue and the Corporation Marines are tasked with manging the Veer-myn whilst the rat people attempt to return the favour. At this point I concluded that Mantic weren’t taking things very seriously. Take concepts like Verminium and scenario names like Moustrap and Yodobashi Maru – a homage to the Kobayashi Maru training mission from Star Trek – and it all rather points towards Mantic hamming it up a bit but really it’s just an excuse to have a punch up on a space ship. Which is fair enough.

The scenarios themselves are played out over tiles that form a board again like a certain other sci-fi board game. Mantic did a great job of making the tiles look grungy without making them look like they were lifted out of 40k. No mean feat considering the legacy Space Hulk possesses and the inevitable comparisons being made. The production value and attention to detail is good although I’d have liked a little more variety in the tiles if I’m honest. However I think this is as much to do with keeping the cost down for the consumer as anything, plus it allows for supplements to come out along the way, which should be interesting.

The game itself is actually a pretty neat system. Each side has tokens which allow you to give your blokes orders. These orders vary from shoot someone in the face, to run at someone’s face or both. However, it’s not quite as clean-cut as that as the majority of the orders will allow you to perform actions with multiple models but the actions will be a combination – e.g. move 1 shoot 2. So, quite simply move one bloke, shoot with two.

The reasoning for this is that it forces you to play the game almost like Chess; thinking two or three moves ahead at all times. Weirdly you almost have to try to outplay your limitations as heavily relying on your strengths just won’t cut it and you’ll get turned to mush. Also, the team specific special rules not only make complete sense and really gives the opposition a headache as to how to deal with it but makes the game very cinematic.

The Corporation, for example, can make reaction fire actions, attempting to splat Veer-myn as they rush down the corridor. However, the rats are capable of dodging out-of-the-way of incoming fire if they only sustain a single point of damage which makes me imagine the Veer-myn leaping and bounding of bulkheads and ceilings as bullets whizz through the air all around them. However they’ll get manged if there isn’t a free space to jump into which, again, conjures images of a horde force being whittled down as their numbers count against them in a confined space.

There are lots of other natty little rules that make this game much more of a survival horror such as all corridors are considered to be in the dark which can test the mental stability of the Corporation Marines to the point that they can Panic Fire and piss away all their ammo. But the Marines can use flares to light their way. Similarly the Veer-myn can make squares dark allowing them to escape injury or lurk in the shadows waiting to pounce. So it’s nabbed a lot of the cool bits about Alien. Which is no bad thing.

Shooting and combat is nice and quick to resolve and requires a single dice off which bares a remarkable similarity to Risk although a tad more streamlined and using far more interesting models… At first I wasn’t too sure about this but the whole point of Project Pandora is that it’s supposed to be as quick to play as the action unfolding on board the CSS Zloveshy Vassily.

Models get activated in turn so the situation can change really very quickly depending on what you order your forces to do and your opponent in response. The action can slow down a bit as you use up your order counters or spend a turn reissuing orders (where you get all your used tokens back) but that’s why making the right decisions at the crucial moments is so important, and utilising those special rules to the best ability.

On the surface I thought Project Pandora was a pretty straight forward game and in the sense of learning the rules that’s true, but an easy to learn rule set is by no means a bad thing. It’ll take a couple of games to get the hang of and the token system may, at times, frustrate as your find yourself without the right orders at the wrong time. But the point is that in real combat situations bad decisions cost lives and really that’s what PP:GC so aptly demonstrates.