Battlefield in a Box Asteroids – A Review

There’s been a distinct inter-planetary flavour to our gaming activities at Shell Case Towers. X-Wing miniatures and warships of the 41st Millennium have been taking to gaming boards and, as is often the case, my mind turned to scenery. I’d already taken a look at the Gale Force 9 Space Game Mat and used it for our third X-Wing Battle Report. So it only seemed right, considering Mat & I have Slave 1 & the Millennium Falcon to give a shakedown, that I take a look at the Battlefield in a Box Asteroids, also from Gale Force 9.

If you’d said to me a year ago that I’d be playing a pre-painted wargame, on a pre-painted game mat, with pre-painted scenery I’d have called you mental. And possibly a heretic or some such. There may have been some objects thrown. And mother’s insulted…

The point is that I was a bit of a puritan. But if this site, the wargaming world that I’ve been exploring, and being a father has taught me anything, it’s don’t be a snob and have fun. So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

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However, I admit to a degree of scepticism before the asteroids arrived. I’ve seen some pretty iffy pre-painted terrain in my time and all of it was expensive into the bargain. So I opened the box expecting something akin to the castles you get for gold fish.

However the followings things surprised me: the asteroids were heavy. I just assumed they’d be plastic, and shit. But they weren’t. At all. The sculpt of the asteroids was so nicely done that I actually thought they were pumice. Which I know kinda makes me a bit thick but hey. The pre-paint was also incredibly good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to win prizes but for a gaming board? Hells yeah. And I love the mix of floating and flat asteroids. It gives that badly needed element of three dimensions that often gets lost in a tabletop. Just be careful when you cut the flying stands from the sprue. The plastic is oh so brittle. One stand (fortunately each base set comes with two) shattered when I clipped it free. Not broke. Shattered.

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Scale wise they’re a little on the large size for games like Gothic. At least not without making the game a real dance of death. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing but for any manly sized game I wouldn’t use the whole box. Because things would crash. A lot. However two or three on a board would look superb and make a dice change from the usual planets that I usually end up using.

For X-Wing, however, they’re pretty much spot on. Throw in a few fighters and a game mat and you’ve got something that looks a bit special…not that I did that. The picture below is a coincidence.

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As a single area of terrain they work brilliantly and the fact that the size compliments the X-Wing miniatures so nicely is a real bonus. However the rub is this – you get 8 in a box which is good but really give the impression of density you’ll need two boxes. Mat and I will be getting at least two more so we can set up an asteroid field board for Battle Report IV. And at the best part of the £30 that’s a bit of a rough deal.

That’s not to say it isn’t good value. The asteroids are all a good size and the design is wonderfully natural. I suspect pumice was involved at some point, along with a shit load of modelling clay. But I don’t care because it works. They feel like asteroids and thanks to the table standard paint job they look like it too. Granted they’re not perfect, and there’s a few bits that bugged my but there’d be a few bits that would have bugged if I’d painted them so I have to be forgiving. But the point is I didn’t have to paint them. And really that’s the big selling point for the price tag. You’re paying for the convenience. You’re paying your money not just for some pretty awesome looking asteroids but some pretty awesome asteroids that are painted and ready to go, straight out of the box.

And for that, I’m willing to pay.

The Gale Force 9 Battelfield in a Box Asteroids are available from Firestorm Games priced £27.00.

Gale Force 9 Space Game Mat – A Review

As Mat and I have been fawning over the X-Wing Miniatures Game of late, it seemed only right that I take a look at the Space Game Mats from Gale Force 9.

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Sized three-foot by three-foot, they’re the ideal size for X-Wing. It’s almost as if they planned it that way.

I got my hands on the Frozen Planet Space Mat entirely because it was blatantly done to look like Hoth, which suited me fine for the scenario I was dreaming up for the third X-Wing battle report (going up later this week).

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I’ll be perfectly honest: I didn’t have high hopes for the game mat. The fact that it was made from vinyl didn’t thrill me as if the printing wasn’t good quality it can rub off and you’ll end up with a very expensive blank piece of not much. Fortunately the production quality is pretty good. The vinyl feels substantial, it’s got a pleasing texture and thanks to the weight it rolls out nice and flat, with all but a tiny bit of curling which eventually flattens after half an hour or so.

The design of the ice planet space game mat itself is pretty cool. That’s not to say it’s stellar (ahem…) but it’s certainly better than most people could do themselves. Some of the details are a tad basic yet passable, but there’s some nice flourishes that make it pleasing to the eye. Mat and I both have a design background so we perhaps had a more critical eye than  most. That said there are a couple of niggles. The glow on the edge of the planet – either supposed to be a sun rise or the atmosphere glow – hasn’t been masked properly so it just kinda stops. As I say, not everyone will notice it but we did. And some of the stars don’t feel that convincing, but I’m being overly picky again.

The overall affect, however, is quite striking. The nebula especially (in the bottom right corner) is pretty and continually pulled my eye when we played over the mat. Perhaps that’s because I was the planet end but I think that’s where the real work went. The planet is cool and everything but it’s an ice planet at the end of the day. It’s blue, slightly swirly and, well, icy. It also feels a tiny bit too big for the space. Granted it’s as much to do with the fact that most gamers, myself included, are used to having a fairly plain gaming space  with scenery on top. It almost felt wrong plonking the Millennium Falcon on top of it.

But the big advantage is that it’s an all in one. And a good-looking one to boot. It dovetails nicely with the X-Wing Miniatures Game minimal approach to wargaming. Just unroll the game mat, bask in its photoshopped beauty, stick down your models from a galaxy far far away and get playing. It’s a very elegant solution to a game that would otherwise require you to paint one side of your gaming boards black and spend a solid £50 on a variety of coloured sprays to make it tasty.

When you put it in that context the price tag actually doesn’t seem too bad. Granted, if you wanted to wrap a 6×4 it becomes a little less viable but for the average game of X-Wing you can’t go wrong. And the range is broad enough that between you and your mates (should you be so lucky) you can have a few of the mats to keep things fresh. Or make a Death Star run.

The Gale Force 9 game mats are available from Firestorm Games priced £27.00.

 

Firefly: Breakin’ Atmo’ – A Review

GF9_600px_Firefly_Game_Logo_MockUp_01A couple of weeks ago I had the very great pleasure of reviewing Firefly The Game. I thoroughly enjoyed the offering from Gale Force 9 with very little in the way of criticism. It is both a must have for fans but a superb board game for those completely naive or indifferent to the Firefly ‘Verse. A case in point, the play test involved myself, Mat and Neil (of The Chaps) who are all die-hard Firefly fans, and Lee who’s never seen the show. And whilst Lee didn’t get every reference, sidebar or in-joke he still thoroughly enjoyed the game.

So when the expansion deck – Breakin’ Atmo’ – was released I got the same group of people together and sat them down for another trip out into the Black.

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If you’re expecting a lot for your money you’ll be disappointed. It’s a deck of cards. No sense in pretending otherwise. It’s a deck of cards. But it’s a deck of very cool cards. It contains new missions from each of the contacts and a raft of new equipment and characters.

Whilst this may not seem like much or that important it actually makes quite a bit of difference. For a start, the Harken missions are actually worth doing. A lot of the other missions are staggeringly hard though but the reward is well worth the risk. Basically the mission in Breakin’ Atmo’ go a long way to shaving off game play time, providing you’ve got the crew to pull it off. There’s also no shortage of illegal jobs. In that most of them are illegal. Which adds another layer to the game. Namely warrants getting issued left right and centre forcing players out of alliance space. On the raggedy edge. As it were.

To off set the ball crushingly hard missions and the equally harsh consequences when you inevitably fuck them up are various upgrades, items and crew. It’s a healthy mix with the odd gem thrown in although it may not be abundantly clear at the time. Mainly because they’re all crazy expensive and it’s easy to get dazzled by that. But if you can get your hands on Two-Fry and the all new card of his rifle you not only get +2 shooty men bonuses (shut up, I can’t remember the name the symbol is called) and the rifle allows you to re-roll any shooty men test results that come up a one. That’s a huge advantage. It’ll cost you mind, and considering how quickly you can churn through crew some games you may think twice but it’s a tasty combination.

Pretty much all the new characters are worth taking to a greater or lesser extent and just about all of them will be instantly recognisable to fans of the show. And I suppose that’s the point: Breakin’ Atmo’ is a nice to have. It is by no means a must have or even a need to have. But it is good fun. and adding cards to the decks is no bad thing, especially when the game is heating up.

I kinda feel like, considering it just a deck of cards, they should have just been included in the main box as there’s nothing that changes the game up, just broadens the horizons a tad.

All that said, if you’re a fan you will buy it because the option of taking Elder Gommen or getting your hands on a Cortex Uplink is too tempting to pass up. And for the money you’d be silly not to.

Breakin’ Atmo’ is available from Firestorm Games priced £9.00.

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!).

Firefly the Game Announced

GF9_600px_Firefly_Game_Logo_MockUp_01A long time ago – back in 2002 – a TV show came out that prompted an extraordinary response. Combing the best of science fiction and the wild west, Firefly captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. It’s cast had a rarely found chemistry that brought episodes to life like no other show before it. Combined with inspired direction, effects and a compelling future world Firefly seemed to be destined for great things. Until Fox cancelled it after 13 episodes. The response was remarkable. Fans of the show took out a full-page ad begging Fox not to drop the axe but to no avail. Three years later fans prayers were answered when Serenity was released, a movie sequel to the cancelled show. The fact that the movie existed at all was a miracle. Cancelled shows don’t get made into a features yet somehow Firefly had. This was entirely down to the passion of the creator, Joss Whedon – yes the guy who wrote and directed Avengers Assemble – the cast and the fans. Sadly despite topping box offices in the UK, Europe and local markets in the States it wasn’t a commercial success but, to coin the Boss ‘we did the impossible, and that makes us mighty’.

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Now, 11 years after the show aired, Gale Force 9 has announced that they will be releasing a game which is testimony to the richness of the universe and the loyalty of its fans – myself included. Although we may never see Serenity and her crew on our screens again, we can at least keep her flying on dining tables around the world. I can live with that.

GF9_660px_Firefly_Game_Board_MockUp_01The below is lifted from the Gale Force 9 website…

“After the Earth was used up, we found a new solar system and hundreds of new Earths were terra formed and colonized. The central planets formed the Alliance and decided all the planets had to join under their rule. There was some disagreement on that point. After the War, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain’s goal was simple: find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”

Firefly, the popular television series created by Joss Whedon, comes to life in a new boardgame from Gale Force Nine and Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products. Compelling characters, great storytelling and an evocative universe has made Firefly a fan-favorite for the past ten years.  Now fans of the television show and board games can chart their own course with Firefly: The Game, arriving on store shelves Fall 2013.

In Firefly: The Game, players captain their own Firefly-class transport ship, traveling the ‘Verse with a handpicked crew of fighters, mechanics and other travelers.  As a captain desperate for work, players are compelled to take on any job — so long as it pays.  Double-dealing employers, heavy-handed Alliance patrols and marauding Reavers are all in a day’s work for a ship’s captain at the edge of the ‘Verse. Firefly: The Game is a high-end thematic tabletop boardgame from Gale Force Nine (GF9).  It will be the first in a series of tabletop hobby boardgames and miniatures games from GF9 set in the Firefly Universe.“Building on the success of Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery, we’re thrilled to be making a game that evokes the heart and themes of Firefly – the best ‘gorram’ show in the ‘Verse.” said John Kovaleski, CEO of Gale Force Nine, “With challenging game play, fantastic production values and compelling narratives, you and your fellow captains will want to head out into the big black again and again”.

“We’re pleased to be working with Gale Force Nine to bring a new board game to the devoted fans of Firefly.Firefly: The Game is innovative and remains true to the spirit of the popular series” stated Jeffrey Godsick, President of Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products.