Sunday, September 23, 2018

Board Game: Cthulhu Wars

This was last week, but what the heck, it's not like you'll notice the difference.

The Game: Cthulhu Wars
The Publisher: Petersen Games
Time: Two hours, I think? It'll move faster next time
Players: Me, Michelle, Al, and Sarah

Game Play: I would really love it if my phone would stop randomly not keeping the pictures I take, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, the basic premise here is that the world has ended, the Great Old Ones are returning and battling it out, and we're fighting to see who achieves ultimate mastery of the ruined husk of the world. The factions include Great Cthulhu himself, the Black Goat of the Woods, the Yellow Sign, and so on. That's all very well, but look at these.

Great Cthulhu and his peeps.
You don't get some weak-ass cardboard counters for the Great Old Ones, you get full-on, huge plastic sculpts of the Big Guy, the Star Spawns, the Deep Ones, and whatever the hell else. And then they romp around on this map:

The doomed canvas. 
OK, so that doesn't say much about the game so far, but I think it's important to recognize the scale and production values here, because they're amazing.

Anyway, the game itself: You start with an open gate and six of your cultists on the map, and then every turn you get a certain amount of Power that you can use to move your guys, summon monsters (or a Great Old One), open new gates, or do battle with other players. In addition, you have six spellbooks that you access by doing various things (the book flat-out compares it to achievements in a video game; some of them are as easy as "kill a dude in battle" and some are a little more involved).

Sarah and the Black Goat, Shub-Niggaruth. 


Every turn, you get some Doom points for having open gates. You can get more by performing a ritual, but it eats a lot of your Power for the turn (and eats more the more people do it). In addition, you get Elder Signs for doing various things, and those give you Doom Points, but they remain hidden until the end of the game.

The world in crisis. 

First player to 30 Doom Points who also has all six spellbooks ends the game, and then the Doom Points get tallied, and then the player with the highest Doom total and all six spellbooks wins. There's also an "everybody loses" condition where the Annihilation Track (OH DID I NOT MENTION THAT) runs out before anyone gets to 30 Doom.

Seriously, look at all these damn things.
Opinions: OK, so I know it sounds like there's a lot of moving parts to this game, and the instruction manual is literally thicker than some RPGs I own, but this game is actually surprisingly smooth and easy to learn. Sure, every faction works a little differently, but the differences are right there on the faction cards. I was expecting battle to be this big, long, protracted mess, but it's just "roll some dice, count your 6s, count your 4-5s, inflict Kills, inflict Pains (which makes things retreat)". It took us one battle to get the hang of it.

In the end, Sarah won because she took great advantage of the Black Goat's fecundity. I wasn't nearly aggressive enough with my dudes (Great Cthulhu is not someone to be shy with). I great look forward to playing again; this game's a lot of fun. Also I have an expansion.

Keep? Hell, yeah.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Promethean: End of Story (more or less)

Last night was the end of the story in my Promethean game. We ended with a revelation and a fight. Good times!

Last time, Avalon got out of jail free after paying some fines, and discovered the weird black orb shattering. She suddenly remembers what happened in the cell when she touched it...

...She sees the being she'd named "Milo" (here) standing before her. She talks with it, and learns that it's a strange being that wants her, and other Prometheans, to fail. It wants the Pilgrimage to go on forever, for the New Dawn to be unobtainable. It is, it says, the Principle's shadow. The Jovian. It came into the world when Enoch failed to create an Athanor (here), and was attracted by Avalon touching this failed Athanor. Avalon asks who made this, and the Jovian says it was probably Jesse, but he doesn't know what exactly Jesse was trying to do.

She asks why it wants to flummox the New Dawn, 'cause that's kind of a dick thing to do, and it tells her that it doesn't really know, that that's like asking why water freezes at a certain temperature. Avalon responds that she knows why that happens; there's a reason for it. The Jovian considers this, and says that it isn't sure about its real nature. She asks if it's an angel, and the Jovian makes her clarify - she says "a servant of the God-Machine". He tells her that he's not that, and he's not a qashmal (and draws the distinction). He's something else. And, he says in a somewhat pained way, he's being uncharacteristically honest with her.

Avalon points that out perhaps, given the right information, he could change, and not be this ongoing stumbling block on the Pilgrimage. The walls crack a little and reform, and the Jovian tells her to remember a set of coordinates (he says she'll forget this conversation, but then probably remember it if she can destroy the failed Athanor she's holding).

And then we're back at now, and Avalon remembers the conversation. She relates it to the others, and they talk about the Jovian a bit - Avalon notes that she'd been thinking of him as one of a type of being (a Jovian), but he actually referred to himself as the Jovian. So is he singular? A unique being, or anomaly? Avalon points out that, at the park in Lexington, some of them talked to qashmallim and some of them, probably including Virgil, talked to the Jovian. They need to be careful. And how, indeed, does the God-Machine figure in?

They go to the library and Avalon looks up the coordinates on an atlas - just outside of Tulsa. That's where they were talking about going next, and that's where Skip feels he needs to go, but the others are considering Detroit as well. They head to their next destination, the Noodles & Co outside Polaris mall. There, they meet Dry, and sit down to have some noodles.

Dry explains that the God-Machine creates angels for four general purposes - destroy, inform, protect, or transport. He was one of the latter, an angel meant to take data from the destroyed Infrastructure in Detroit to a destination in the southwest; he isn't sure where because he Fell along the way. But the data is still there and still part of him, and extracting it might harm him if done wrong. Avalon suggests making a copy, but Dry points out that doing that paints a target on whoever's carrying the data, and no offense, but Prometheans are easy to track if you know how.

They decide to head out to find some electricity...and that's when the lights flare brightly. A man (?) made of light appears on the table in front of them and points at Dry, while the Watchdog-angel that fought Matt and Jessa a few days ago leaps through a window (the glass immediately rewinds and fixes itself). Dry stands and tells the others that if they want to go, they can go. Time stutters, and several people with light coming out of their mouths appear, but the normal folks eating noodles are frozen in time. And then Grimm, noting that that choice seems to be "fight" or "leave," shoots the bright angel.

Skip leaps over and pummels the Watchdog into the dirt, while Brilliant points at Dry and dazzles him, dropping him back into his chair. Virgil flips the table and puts Brilliant off balance, while Feather and Matt engage the cultists. Two cultists grab the chair and start dragging it out, but Enoch transforms into Barghest form and tackles on, killing him with poison. Virgil body-checks another into a wall, and Skip finishes off the dog. Grimm shoots the Brilliant angel again for good measure, but now that the Watchdog is gone, the bystanders are free and all hell breaks loose. Matt uses Morning Star to call some nearby bystanders to his aid (achieving his Whip milestone urge a human to take a major risk), and Avalon plays on the cultists' Vices (which are pretty much "BRILLIANT IS GOOD") to get them away from her.

Outside, Dry snaps out of it and has Matt hold up his cell phone. Dry touches it and digitizes, flowing into the phone and disappearing.

The Prometheans flee as sirens approach, and head out. Matt has a text message: "C U in Tulsa."

Next time, we'll do some epilogue stuff and plan the Tulsa trip.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Board Game: Mancala

We cleaned out the game closet yesterday, got rid of a couple of the games we decided we were unlikely to play again, and resolved to be better about playing the ones we haven't tried. So here we go.

The Game: Mancala
The Publisher: Who knows. It was in a box, but it's a traditional game.
Time: About 10 minutes
Players: Me and Michelle

SOLID WOOD.
Game Play: So, here's the board:

Or, tray. Or whatever.
Note the 12 slots and the two slightly bigger slots. The bigger ones are the "mancala." You start with 4 gems in each of the smaller slots (the boxed set was supposed to come with them, but they weren't there. Fortunately it's not like I don't have a shitload of tokens around).

On your turn, you pick one of the slots facing you, scoop out the gems, and add them to the following slots going (from your perspective) counter-clockwise. If your last one falls in your mancala, you go again. If it falls in one of your slots and that slot is empty, you get to add that gem and any in the corresponding slot in your opponent's row to your mancala. When one row is empty, the opponent adds all their gems to their mancala and whoever has the most wins.

Simple enough, right? What all that means is that you can't empty them out too fast or else you'll have your opponent just add all their gems to their mancala. You have to be mindful of your opponent's slots and how many of them are empty vs. which ones have enough gems to wrap around and reach the empties, and you have to be aware of giving your opponent potential gems in order to put some gems in their slots.

Opinions: It's a fun strategy game without giant Cthulhu monsters (we played the one with giant monsters today, that write-up coming tomorrow), and it's nice to have a game like that. I like it, even if Michelle was just a little too satisfied with winning.

Keep? Sure.

Character Creation: Project Ninja Panda Taco

Happy Sunday!

The Game: Project Ninja Panda Taco
The Publisher: Jennisodes
Degree of Familiarity: None, really. I've read it and I've seen Despicable Me, but it's been a while since either.
Books Required: Just the one.

I think I've picked this game up to make a character a few times and then not done it, but I can't remember why. Let's see if I remember!

The basic setup here is that you're a mastermind trying to take over the world (or whatever) with convoluted, ridiculous plan, and you're also playing the minions trying to help your mastermind. I think you actually play the minion of another mastermind? In any case, the book is colorful and bright and fun, with art by Brian Patterson (who also did the art for Headspace; I think it fits better here). Anydangway, on we go!

Oh, right, this book is all written in-character. Like, I'm fine with the, but I appreciate dropping the character and explaining to me as the reader how this shit works when we get to things like chargen. Ah, well. I start with Mastermind creation. I start with a name, and it needs to be appropriately mastermind-y, by which I mean ridiculous. I'll name my Mastermind Dr. Boggan MacTeagle, MD, PhD, DEd, DDS, Etc. Yes, there's a Monty Python reference in there, no, I will not apologize for it.

Now I pick my best Quality. The examples are...weird. Eyebeams, giant feet, a scary grin? This is all over the map. But, that's in genre, I suppose. I'll say that Dr. McTeagle's best Quality (for Mastermind purposes) is his huge, gnarly beard. He can stroke it to look thoughtful, it can get all bushy if he needs to look bigger and frighten a bear, and he hides things in it.

Normally at this point I would pass my character sheet around to let other players add qualities, but it's just me, so I'll fill in the other qualities myself.

I'll give Dr. Boggan a Poetic Soul (his pottery, er, poetry, is very avant garde). I'll say he's got a Sporran of Doom. I want him to have a Big Slobbery Dog That Doesn't Listen Well. And, finally, Dr. McTeagle has a Bushel of Crabs. Good.

At this point I would introduce myself to the other Masterminds and tell them why I want to take over the world. So! Dr. McTeagle is, clearly, a Scot with a huge bushy beard. His evil lair is probably a seaside affair, but it's got a dentist's office (there's always time for dental hygiene and Dr. McTeagle takes great offense to the notion of dentists as villains; he's both and that's completely co-incidental!). He wants to take over the world because he's out there working his fingers to the bone getting all these advanced degrees and they keep raising the interest rates and the bank is just a bunch of crooks and WHAT'S ANOTHER THREE DAYS ON MY LAIR PAYMENT ANYWAY.

Ahem.

Right, next would be Nemeses, but that requires other people, so I'll skip it.

So, the next thing is to make a Minion, but like, all a Minion consists of a name and one item. No, really. I'm not necessarily making Dr. McTeagle's Minion; on the Minion turn I'd decide who I wanted to help. So, sure. My Minion's name is Bevis (not "Beavis" thank you very much) Jonkerputts. Bevis has a rubber fish that squeaks. It's probably a chew toy, but for a very large dog. Bevis talks slowly and seems quite dim, but he's actually capable of some startling leaps of insight if you give him a minute to squeak his fish.

And that's it! Everything else would happen in play.


Friday, September 14, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Into the Deathlands!

Last time, on Blades in the Dark, the crew stole some very valuable eggs. This time...well, read on.

The Widdershins has had a couple of weeks to recover since the egg-job. During that time, they've noted that there's a nearby tavern that seems to be selling low-importance contraband. They don't see that any particular gang runs it, so it might be a good front to add to their claims. Likewise, there's a stretch of turf in Nightmarket that the Rail Jacks claim (it's near to Gaddoc Station), and if they felt like muscling in on that, they could probably take it.

Siren is at the Red Lamp, a brothel in Silkshore, spending some of her hard-earned Coin, and the madame, Tesslyn, takes a meeting with her. Seems Tesslyn is looking for a fence to get rid of some expensive trinkets, and she's heard of a fellow called Hammer who might be able to handle the work. She doesn't know him, though, and she wants Widdershins to scope him out first. She's willing to give them a box of expensive baubles to fence, they keep half of whatever they can negotiate out of Hammer and then they have a useful contact. Siren says she's interested and brings that back to the crew.

Meanwhile, though, Cage is meeting with Lord Penderyn (after previously getting back into his good graces, recall). Penderyn tells him that he has an important job for the crew - there's a mystical artifact that Penderyn needs, but it's out in the Deathlands. He gives Cage a ring to put on, and then tells him the name of the Artifact - it's the Eye of Kotar. If Cage tries to say that to the crew, though, the ring will burn him. Just a precaution.

The crew meets up and Cage pushes to recover the Eye, though of course he has to frame it as "a ritual component." The others initially think that maybe getting the tavern might be better short-term, but Cage pushes and Siren is curious, so they decide to go for the bigger score. They decide to go to the Rail Jack turf and try and make some friends, since they'll need to get out into the Deathlands somehow.

The bar they find, though, isn't exactly friendly to them. Some of the Jacks recognize them from their escapades back here, and the name "Twelves" keeps getting murmured. Finally Copper, with characteristic subtlety, asks who "Twelves" is, and a very large man named Spur tells her he was a Rail Jack who died fixing the alchemical mess the crew made of the place...and then punches her in the face.

The scenes starts to get ugly, and Siren apologizes and asks what the crew can do to make amends. Spur says that Twelves left behind a widow and twelve children, and well, it'd be nice to have something to give his twelve children so they don't go hungry. Siren gets the hint, the crew pools their resources (and winds up having to sell off some stash), and pays off the Rail Jacks.

They stay and drink with them, and One Eye and Spur come to an agreement - they'll transport the crew into the Deathlands, stop the train as close as they can to the artifact's supposed location, and wait an hour. If they're not there when the train leaves, well, they're gonna have a long walk back. The crew agrees, and goes home to prep. They all go heavy (no point in not) and Copper buys some supplies, and they board the train.

The first problem is that they're in a cargo hold, and it's quickly filled with cargo. They have almost no room and they have to get to the door. One Eye throws some oil around that makes the crates weightless, and they eventually managed to tie them back so they can get out. The train stops, Copper opens the door...and now they're in the Deathlands.

Everything is ash, petrified trees, and ruin. They hop down and start walking, guided by Cage's map. A pack of mutated pig creatures comes toward them, but they hide behind trees and wait them out, and they head back toward the train ("This may be an issue later," notes One Eye prophetically).

In an ashen riverbed, they find a ghost, obviously stuck here since the Cataclysm and hungry for essence. Cage dominates it, though, and orders it to find the Eye. Siren's head starts itching, and she feels a strange hunger...

The ghost leads them on, down a hill into a valley, and then a bunch of people with spears and slings appear on the ridge above them. Copper greets them nonchalantly, and the Scavengers decide that these folks are more useful dead, so they launch spears.

The crew avoids the initial barrage, and Siren unleashes a barrage of suppressing fire while the crew charges up the hill. Cage finds one of their little hidey holes and dips out of sight, while Siren shoots one dead while Copper routs the rest of them. The Scavengers flee, but the ghost is long gone. Cage pulls out a dowsing rod to track it, and it and Siren's head start to glow. The crew follows the rod into the wastes, until they find a small settlement and the rest of the Scavengers.

As they approach, they run into a pit trap. Copper falls in, One-Eye jumps back, and Cage and Siren jump forward and avoid it...but now they're close to the Scavengers and their fellows are a ways behind. The Scavengers' leader, Lady Thorn, addresses them and asks what they're seeking, and Cage notes that something in a pouch hanging on her belt is glowing. He tells her that's what they're after, and she identifies it - the Eye of Kotar. She also notes that Siren is carrying Kotar's spirit within her, and that makes Lady Thorn very nervous.

Copper and One Eye get out of the pit and join them, and Lady Thorn asks why she should give this immensely powerful artifact to them. One Eye tells her that they were just here to do a job, and Thorn notes ruefully that any number of the Scavengers (all of whom are former Ironhook inmates given the choice between execution or life in the Deathlands) were "just doing a job." She tells them, after some conversation, that she'd feel more comfortable giving the Eye to the Spirit Wardens - they, after all, know what they're doing. Cage reveals his mask, showing that he was a Spirit Warden, but Thorn nods over their shoulder.

Approaching them is a sleigh drawn by a captive horror, carrying four Spirit Wardens. They approach and one of them dismounts, and looks at the mask Cage is holding, and at Button, Copper's weird demon-wolf...and then pulls a sparkcraft rifle off his back. Apparently he recognizes Widdershins.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Character Creation: Crossroads Carnival (ashcan)

The Game: Crossroads Carnival (One Night Only edition)
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: About as much as you can have right now; I've played it a couple of times and I'm familiar with the underlying mechanics
Books Required: Technically just the one, though as the book itself points out it doesn't really go into some of the norms of PbtA games, so reading another such game is helpful. Not necessary for chargen, though

So, in Crossroads Carnival, you're playing the folks working in the carnival...but these folks are also monsters. The Dog-Faced boy is really a werewolf. The Seer can really speak to spirits and knows the future, and so forth. The game delves into some pretty heavy topics, but does so by taking a rich, bleak, fascinating time in history (the Dust Bowl, which you might already know I have an interest in if you've checked out Dark Eras) and framing it as literally the potential end of the world. That's what these monsters are fighting to prevent.

I've played it a couple of times now, and I gotta say I'm really keen to run it for one of my groups (I think that's funny because my one group that was going to play Alas for the Awful Sea has kinda backed off on that game because it's too heavy and they need something lighter, and what's my first thought? "Oh, how about this game about othering and abuse through the lens of a carnival." Anyway.).

Character creation works the way it usually does for PbtA games; choose a playbook first. I've got six to choose from, and I've played two (the Mermaid and the Seer), so I'll do something not-those. That gives me Dog-Faced, Geek, Snake Charmer, or Strongman to choose from. ARGH. I love them all.

I think I'll take Snake-Charmer; I almost played that the other night at QCC (wound up with Seer instead). I don't care for any of the names on the sheet, so I shall name my snake-charmer Xo (first sound is the palatal fricative like in "treasure"). For look I choose "modest," for eyes I choose "teasing," and for origin I choose "child of a basilisk."

Next, I figure out "Indulgence;" this is basically what my character hungers for that feeds his inhuman appetite. It doesn't have to be overtly predatory, but like, nothing senses you can't pick "eating human flesh with an erotic overtone" (which was the Mermaid's in the game I played in the other night).

Well, here's what I'm thinking so far: Xo is the child of a basilisk. He's never known either of his parents; his father (the basilisk) was long gone before he was born, and his mother sickened and died as he and his brother grew in her womb (his brother is his snake, obviously).

Ooh, I think I want his Indulgence to be "body heat." He wants to be warm, and the sun just doesn't do it. He needs to be next to people.

Next I do stats. I get to add one to one of my stats (which are Bones, Breath, Grace, and Guile). So what do I want to be good at? I'm thinking probably offering comfort, which keys off of Grace, so I'll add my point to that.

Now I do my pitch card (I learned about these playing the game; see more here). In context, it's a series of questions about the character:

  • How did you end up at the carnival? I ran away from the orphanage I lived in at age 9 and wound up at the carnival. I was a young boy carrying a large snake; they adopted me right away. (NB: I think Xo would be a late teen in-game.)
  • Why are you fighting on the side of humanity? My mother was a human. Humans are mostly OK, when they want to be. Really they are.
  • Why don't you give in to your monstrous nature? I hate what it makes people do. I don't want to see them like that.
  • What makes your cold blood run hot, no matter how much you resist? Kissing. It's so human
  • What or who has your snake killed that you're keeping hidden? One of the performers used to have a cat. My snake ate it. I still have its collar. I'm not sure why. 
Moves! I get Forbidden Fruit by default (I dance with my snake-brother and I get people to do what I want, but I have to give them at least a glimpse of my flesh to seal the deal). The other choice is either Viper's Kiss (I'm venomous) or Shedding Skin (exactly that; I can shed my skin and alter my appearance). I think I'll take the former, but mostly because I don't really see the latter as appropriate to Xo. We'll call Viper's Kiss something he inherited from his father, and it's not something he's especially proud of.

And that's it! I really like this game.


Board Game: J'Accuse!

These always take me a while. But I'm doing it!

The Game: J'Accuse!
The Publisher: Smirk & Dagger
Time: 20 minutes, give or take
Players: Me, Michelle, Megan, Sarah



Game Play: The victim (who has a name, I just don't remember it because it's long) was kacked in the house, and we're all the suspects! Everyone chooses a suspect (complete with a character card), and then you draw evidence from three different decks - Weapon, Motive, and Opportunity. Players then choose to pass evidence left, right, or across, or to play the J'accuse! card, which cements evidence as "hard" evidence.

Trick is, one player each turn is also the Inspector, who plays an investigation card that specifies which kind of evidence is affected that turn. As such, it's not to your advantage to J'accuse! if you've got evidence on you that's going to get affected, but of course there's no way to know that.

Sarah's smiling. She did it.
In addition, every suspect is "immune" to a certain evidence of each type; I had the late victim's spouse, and she's immune to "In the Dark" as her eyes are too bad to see. That just means you can't fix that evidence on that character, which plays nicely into the strategy.

The noose is tightening. 
Opinions: I really like the game. The rules text encourages you to play out the accusations and make a story out of it, and that's fun but unnecessary (and requires the right group and/or some libations). The artwork is fun, and the little quasi-alibis on the cards are clever (though some of them, we noted, wouldn't so much allay suspicion as intensify it).

Keep? Yep!