Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: A Touch of Evil

To get into the spirit of Halloween I’ve been wanting a horror-themed board game for a while now, something that would capture that feeling of investigation some and have monsters to face off against. I’m a fan of the Lovecraft mythos but the games I’ve seen and played never really captured that feeling well. And face it, trying to get the essence of a person losing their sanity facing incomprehensible horrors isn’t really something that translates into a game mechanism easily.

Digging around I decided to pick up A Touch of Evil from Flying Frog. It’s a game that can handle up to 8 players with a variety of play modes from a winner take all, working in teams, cooperative, to even a solo game. Overall it’a something that seems to scratch the itch of a horror game for me.

Players are monster hunters in the 18th century, trying to rid a colonial town of a terrible supernatural threat. They can choose 1 of 8 characters each with varying characteristics among cunning, spirit, and combat abilities. Additionally, each has a special ability that allows them to bend the rules some. Checks and combat are a simple matter of rolling a number of dice and counting 5 and 6s as successes.

The players face off against one of four creatures, being either a werewolf, vampire, a locust-summoning scarecrow, or a spectral (headless) horseman. Each monster has unique minions and other game effects that can hamper the heroes. Some are rather interesting like the werewolf that can pass on its curse to other players or the spectral horseman that runs to town attacking all in his way, to more basic abilities that just increase their combat proficiency.

The player’s turn is broken down into 2 steps. They roll a die and move that number of spaces. If there is a monster in a space, they must fight to defeat it (or run away if they survive the initial attack). Afterwards the player has several options from investigating an area to hopefully find a powerful artifact, gather up clues, heal, or attempt to gain equipment within the village proper. All currency in the game is based off of investigation tokens. Players gain them by traveling around the woods outside the town or by beating villain minions. As a nice rule, if a player flubs and rolls a 1 for movement, they gain an events card to offset the low roll.

When players have enough allies and items, they can try and beat the monster in a showdown. They attempt to track the creature down to its lair and begin an epic fight trying to whittle down the creature’s wounds and survive. If they fail they are knocked out, returning to the center of town next turn minus some resources.

After each player has a turn, the monster gets to play a mystery card. This may initiate an event like adding one of its minions to the board, or it will undertake a special attack. Additionally the monster may be able to move the shadow track. This is a countdown of sorts. When it reaches zero everyone loses. Additionally the shadow track dictates the investigation cost to find the creature’s lair. Earlier in the game, it’s more expensive while the cost to investigate the lair decreases as the shadow track approaches 0.

For the most part, that is the game. Players try to move around the board and successfully employ their skills with tests of cunning and spirit, or fighting lesser monsters at certain locations. They slowly accumulate special items, or buy equipment in town, gathering up allies until they feel they are powerful enough to fight the main villain. The tweak to this is the village elders.

The game starts with 6 village elders. Players can enlist up to 2 of them to help in the final battle with the monster. Most are immensely helpful, improving the combat abilities of the hero. More importantly, they can also soak up hits. The player has to be careful though as if the village elder is killed, the shadow track will move down. This isn’t as clear cut a choice selecting the village elders however. Each elder has a randomly assigned secret, some are beneficial or don’t significantly alter their abilities, however about a third of the secrets hides that the elders are actually evil. Pick the wrong one and you can suddenly find the monster has another minion in the fight.

To ensure you aren’t selecting an evil village elder, players can pay investigation to see where their heart lies. This information is useful, as opposing players can call out evil village elders during a showdown, allowing them to join the monster in the final battle. This entire portion of the game really makes it for me. You want to spend the time investigating the town elders to seek out potential allies, or find out which ones are best to turn on other player’s if needed.

The Good - What stands out are the variety of play modes for the game. You can play it as a coop (or solo), working as teams, or everyone out for themselves and this variety adds a lot of replay value to the game. It’s a fun experience gathering up resources to fight the monster. Additionally the shadow track an effective clock on ending the game which helps ramp up the tension. When village elders die, not only are the players potentially losing an ally but the shadow track drops down, ever closer to zero. This helps capture that feeling impending doom for the players and pushes them to act quickly.

The components are top notch. The cards are thick and coated in plastic. The counters are made of nice cardstock. There are several well sculpted plastic figures to represent the hero pawns, even an audio track CD is included in the game. The board has an antique map look to the layout of the village and surrounding areas. The card art is done rather differently using actual photographs of costumed characters. There are more hits than misses with the depicted photos and it portrays the gothic horror theme fair enough.

The Bad - The game is roll and move. Even with the event card bonus rule added for rolls of 1, it can be frustrating at times not getting to the location needed due to poor die rolls. The combat and task resolution is a little simplistic, where you simply want to roll as many dice as possible to get more successes. Games with high number of players when not working as teams can drag sometimes. And while there are plenty of heroes to try out, there are a limited number of villains which may not provide enough variety in how they interact with the rest of the game. Additionally the art overall is alright, yet some might find particular cards lackluster as the photographs can be a little campy.

The Verdict - A Touch of Evil is an enjoyable game. What really stands out are the variety of play styles, from a standard coop to a free-for-all where everyone tries to be the hero and take down the monster themselves. I feel what works best for the game is the competitive team mode. For me it captures that feeling of an old 60s-70s Hammer film in a colonial setting. The potentially twisted village elders, the snooping around particular locations, the slow accumulation of equipment and allies until you can have the final big fight against the creature, it all works well as a horror game and is great fun. If you’re looking for a horror board game that isn’t quite stuck in the Cthulhu-theme rut, this is a great one to pick up.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Coventry - A fan-made Savage Worlds Setting

Continually I do see some discussion or a person pondering writing up a fan-made setting, when someone will aptly point out there are already some excellent ones available. As someone mentioned over in the G+ Savage Worlds community there seems to be a lack of reviews and/or awareness that these great fan-made settings are out in the wild. I could mention some great sites that culminate a lot of different fan-made Savage Worlds content. However I think it worthwhile to spend a little time highlighting some particularly good ones that folks have written up.

Borderlands is a popular video game and quite frequently I see in my blog and social feeds about some wanting to visit that as a setting, and continually I point to John Robey's Coventry. It's a fantastic job at taking a stab at the Borderlands setting all the while adding some more flavor to make it stand apart.

In a nutshell, Coventry is a planet rich in a resource commonly referred to as Indego. It's an immense power source that is exceedingly rare and seems to be abundant on the quarantined world of Coventry. The planet is spoils of a sprawling interstellar war where a terran corporation, Indicorp, took control of the planet. Control is a very loose word though, as their presence is maintained only as large ships and satellite bases in high orbit over the planet.

Coventry has become a prison planet. It is typically a one way trip. Players might be able to garner enough favor with Indicorp to gain a pardon, but most enter into a 25 year contract of indentured servitude. Not all the human residents maintain an allegiance with Indicorp, and there are a few independent settlements on the planet. Unfortunately, they are stuck there as any attempts to launch a craft are thwarted by the defense net of Indicorp in high orbit. It's like a space version Escape from New York and I love it.

Add to that weirdness, humans were not the only races that settled on Coventry. Rakashan (cat-like predator species) and Avion (winged humanoid lizard beings) also were early colonists that ended up being stuck on Coventry due to the war. Most have adopted to life on the planet and have decent relations to humans provided they keep to their borders, but among each other things are rather strained (seems Rakashan find Avions rather delicious). Add to this eccentric mix the mysterious fungal Mi-Go. The Mi-Go are truly space-traveling aliens modeled after the Cthulhu mythos. They are otherworldly and have their own unknown purpose and agendas.

Players can select any of these races, along with sentient robots, and all are fleshed out rather well. To jump start the character generation process, there are several pre-made archetypes that model the Borderlands characters, as well as incorporate some of the new races.

Like the video game, guns and gear are significant part of the setting. There are a few options for weapons and included are various types of ammunition for each, allowing for a lot of fun tricking out of firearms. Another interesting bit of protective equipment are personal shields.

These shields add a die type to your toughness and each hit reduces the shield defense by one step. Every turn the shield will recharge up a step to it's maximum defense die. So you've got this constant yo-yo defensive boon that ebbs and flows as players are hit. Given that the standard damage for most firearms are 2d8, the PCs need some sort of protection as the game can be rather lethal. It's a very clever system that matches the Borderlands gameplay pretty well.

Another key part of the game is transmat technology. This is a type of teleporter technology with a wrinkle, an object can be stored as digital data and retrieved remotely. This has led to GotJFree tech. Basically players can have a unit that monitors their lifesigns and upon termination, can store the user's biological data for a limited time until it is derezzed later. In effect it's a limited type of immortality (provided the GotJFree unit isn't vaporized along with its wearer). Different types of units allow for longer storage times, as well as automatic pattern data transmission to central locations. I love it. It's like a respawn system.

Some people might be put off by the shields and derezz technology, trivializing the lethality of the game. I actually feel that is part of the charm of the setting. It encourages a lot of balls-out crazy behaviour as aside from bennies, players have a lot of means to effectively get a do-over. And this works, as the world itself is supposed to be a bit mad. Indigo warps the wildlife, the landscape, and people that are around it too long tend to go a little bonkers.

Some more comments about the setting rules, they are presented in a colorful manner and are professionally done. There are well-written tables, a broad atlas of the world, along with an index of lingo and terminology. What I particularly like is there aren't tons and tons of new rules, edges, and hindrances. It's all done very sparingly but at the same time offers something new. Coventry offers a fresh setting, with a wonderful take on the Borderlands world. Give it a try and at the very least, give it a look. There is a lot of interesting ideas and material that can be mined for your own game.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Plastic Soldier Co. - British Universal Carriers

Slowly wrapping up my British platoon for Bolt Action I picked up a set of British Universal Carriers from Plastic Soldier Company. This is a nice model kit with 3 sprues for Mk 1 and Mk 2 carriers. Each includes 2 crew members, Bren LMGs, and a pair of passenger models. The kit for the most part assembles pretty easily. The one downside was the crew members.

Sort of temporarily fitting them together, I tried out slipping the driver in and thought it'd be no issue to paint it up separately. I found once assembled I couldn't quite get it in without a bit of force. Fortunately the gunner slipped in a bit easier. However, I then found out the Bren gun simply did not fit within the port slot. I had to work on trimming it down and couldn't quite get the angle right with the crew member inside. The front armor panel can be attached as a separate single piece. Working on this model again, I would get the Bren gun mounted to that first, paint and seat the crew, then add the front armor plate.

It is nice having a plastic kit though as assembly and doing some alteration is a snap. For myself, I've got two for transports and likely will convert the third for a Vickers MMG mount. A bit on the fence for that though.

There are a few small accessories such as a spare tread wheel and a folded canvas tarp for the back.

I modeled mine with passenger troops that could be removed. Just a simple way to model the unit as a full or empty transport, with a visual reminder using a figure.

Despite the hiccup with the Bren gun and the crew, it really is a great kit. The models are well detailed and you can't beat the price for a bunch of transports. Likely with a 5 man capacity, you'll want a few of them in your force. So getting 3 a pop is a nice buy. The models here are for 1/72 scale. Hopefully PSC will be pushing to expand their 28mm line. I'm certain these would be a great seller.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Scratch built scouring pad trees

My Bolt Action platoons are shaping up and I’ve been on a bit of a kick to get some terrain whipped up. One thing I sorely wanted were trees. However I’m just not able to bite the bullet and pony up cash for them. Looking around for pre-made scenery, trees are a bit expensive. A long time back I had gotten a bulk pack from woodland scenics where you could construct your own trees. It was a mess to put together and while great for a diorama, it just couldn’t handle the wear and tear for my wargaming table.

One tutorial I dug up described using cleaning pads for pine trees. Just right for my budget, so I jumped right in and looked into making some up. I picked up some scouring pads for less than a dollar and kept some skewers from some street food after a late night of drinking. I liked these skewers as they were thick ¼” diameter wood pieces.

I cut the pads into rows and then in approximately 1 ½” to 2” squares. I then trimmed the square pads into rough circles. I made sure to save a lot of the small corner bits of pad after cutting the major sections into circles. Some of the pads I cut into smaller circles of about 1 inch to serve as the top section of the tree, and followed this up by cutting the tree ‘trunks’ into 3-5” lengths. I found while larger trees are more realistically scaled, they are almost too big for wargaming.

As the I had to get the center wooden piece through the pad sections, I made a small cut in the center of the pads. Then came the more tedious bit. To give the pads some bulk, I teased apart the pad material for each section. This would almost double their thickness by simple pulling the material apart some.

With a hot glue gun, I added a dab to the center dowel and skewered a single pad section, moving it down to little over ½ the length of the wood. I repeated this, adding more glue higher up the wood shaft, adding more sections. I ensured the last section was a smaller diameter circle piece. All in all, I found 4-5 pad sections was enough for the trees to give them some bulk.

For the tops of the trees, I used the leftover parts of the pads from making the circle sections. Really teasing them apart, I could add 2-3 sections to the center wooden piece after placing some hot glue. This gave a nice small tapered top to them.

To mount my trees, I cut up some old software CDs, carefully rounding the edges. I placed a thick drop of hot glue in the center and then set the tree on the base. I decided rather than using watered down PVA and flock for the bases, I’d use a drybrush over a layer of modelling ballast. I wanted to do this partially to keep from getting flock all stuck up in the trees and also to ensure the trees could take a little punishment with storage and transporting.

I put down a layer of watered-down PVA glue and after letting the model ballast dry, set to painting it. I gave each tree a good coat of green spray paint. A nice part of this is that the paint will also act as a sort of cement for the ballast, and stiffen up the pad sections of the tree too.

After letting them dry, I painted the trunks a nice brown coat, and followed it up by drybrushing the bases with a lighter green to simulate grass and low brush. More chunks of flock could be added if needed, but overall I liked the effect it gave.

Note I did not highlight the trees any. I feel one solid color, with potentially a wash was enough. Drybrushing the tree leaf sections would likely only highlight the overall pattern of stacked pads even more. With one solid, uniform color of green, the detail of the tree leaf sections are muddled some. Afterwards I went ahead and gave the trees a matte varnish spray.

I think they look pretty decent and you simply cannot beat the price. I may very well likely pick up a few model trees and expect if I mix them in with the lot I made, they will look even better on the tabletop. This was a pretty fun project and an evening’s worth of work (minus the time needed for letting the trees dry due to spray painting). Now to just get some more games in!