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Top 3 Games - Both Sides of my Table

How is it at all possible to compile a top three? Ahhhhhh… so many games on my shelf. I could narrow it down to a top three per genre, perhaps. That would be an achievable task, for certain… well, a reasonably achievable task, at any rate.

Maybe it is worth focusing on what most frequently hits my table, which, I must point out, does not necessarily reflect favour. It is more indicative of how my mood seems to change with the wind, and, when I having that gaming itch, that requirement of said itch getting a certain scratching. But so often my brain is on a go-slow, so my choice often turns out to be a less thinky game… but always with a soloish element.

Ok… here goes.

1st choice: A Solo game - Gloom of Kilforth (Hall or Nothing Games)

Gloom of Killforth regularly finds its way to the table, and is always in my ever changing top games list. I think that this is not only down to the great table presence, with its sumptuous art work, but also because it has so many throw-back elements to my late teen-hood with Fighting Fantasy books and D&D sessions with my old volleyball team mates.

This high fantasy adventure/exploration game doesn’t really have much in the way of either within its gameplay, but has more of an essence of both. The imagination road trip that both FF and D&D created, can be unearthed once more with adventures in Kilforth Players may take on the role of a wide range of fantasy races, but each race is additionally paired with a trait/special characteristic lending the choice of character combinations not to be endless, but certainly hugely variable, pairing a multitude of interesting skill set and ability combinations.

A personal favourite mechanic is the synergy between health and action points. Directly linked so that, let’s say, getting a black eye from an unruly Hobgoblin could impact on the number of actions for future turns and consequently forcing a well crafted strategy to be rapidly rethought. And thus we, the heroes, are forced to make difficult life choices. Jump into combat and run the risk of losing health and action points or bury one’s head in the sand and ignore everything…or even use the Hide ability to sneak upon or past risky situations.

…did I Mention Gloom?

…each turn a card is turned from the Night deck (and there is rarely anything nice to come out of it) rain, snow, gales, hail, more beasties and each card drawn from this night deck causes a location to fall into Gloom. So! I hear the cynics cry. So Gloom locations are so….Gloomy….they eat away at your health, making life that little bit more tricky to navigate through. It doesn’t stop there. Oh no! there are 25 locations and 25 Night cards. if, by the turn of the last night card (forcing the last location into gloom) Heroes have yet to dispatch the Ancient One, it’s good bye Kilforth. The land succumbs to the despicable influence of the Ancient being and Gloom doth spread all around. An excellent, and certainly during my games, a sphincter squeaking timer mechanic!

There are so many nice little touches I’ve not even mentioned but I’m not about to do a How-to-play narrative, which is probably sensible considering the significant cock-ups I always seem to make…but that’s the beauty of solo play…there is only me, myself and I to witness such events.

I, we, us…well, my whole collective found this thoroughly game entertaining with every play. It does look great, though A5 card size would be even better to see the art…mind you, that would need a football pitch to lay out the components, I’m guessing…but the gameplay is so engaging. It does take a little to get all the small rule details committed to memory, but to actually play, the brain isn’t forced into a melting cauldron of mechanics, modifiers, sodifiers and what ever elseifiers. It is straight forward, and in my case, leaves my brain to firstly enjoy the adventure, and secondly plan what needs to be done. It’s like living a Fighting Fantasy book or playing D&D but without the fuss. Now I’m a little more familiar with Kilforth and its inhabitants, I can make more informed choices about where I go to see a man about a dog…but, after an absolute shed load of plays, it has yet to become boring or predictable. In fact, I may move to Kilforth as some of the locations are much nicer to visit than my house. There is so much to do without being overwhelmed, but at the same time so little time to do it in. It’s such a fulfilling experience with so many varied encounters with all manner of local Kilforthian personalities and even after a crushing defeat against the Marquis just leaves me wanting a revisit. This is a perfect solution to my desire for solo adventuring. No DM required but all the thrills and spills I remember from my youth…playing D&D, that is, as my youth was pretty uneventful…except spilling things quite often.

2nd Choice: A Cooperative Game- Perdition’s Mouth (Dragon Dawn Productions)

Some concise-ish scribblings about the game:

Thematically this is undeniably immersive. There has been significant attention to detail in story line, scenarios, adventure background and makeup of each hero. But fancy pants graphics and dark brooding illustrations maketh not a game.

Ah, but what does stamp its authoritative boot heavily upon the thematic immersion category is the way the game actually plays out. There is an interesting use of the rondel system to facilitate and dictate hero actions, there is a similar and equally clever rondel to govern movement/actions of all the Cultists and Insectoids (which really lends itself to a hassle free solo game where we can focus on our role whilst the game takes care of its own)

The mechanics governing players boards, their actions and the way wounds are acquired….and stay with a character for the entirety of a campaign is another excellent touch, breathing a fresh breath of life into the game genre.

I pick but just a small smattering of game elements, because there are so many subtle mechanics built into this game breeding a clever life-force into gameplay. There is a feel of old-school D&D rolplay but without the mither of character score sheets or tracking wounds (as each hero’s unique action deck quickly becomes cluttered with wound and ailment cards from something as trivial as a snuffly nose to, terminal piles, to broken legs and worse, a mild shaving rash…(*I made these up for humorous effect, I have to add, before some astute hardcore Perdition player points out I am a total buffoon) But I would imagine completing a level battered and bruised, that even if my broken leg healed, it would still hamper me in the future. There is such a need for all characters, whether played by a soloist or coop players, to constantly support and pool resources. These subtle touches of realism are qualities that pull together to make this an incredible, immersive game experience. It is so much more than merely scurrying from room to room, killing beasties and pinching all their hard-earned loot.

I was supremely impressed with some of the many small mechanical elements of this game when I had it explained at UKGE 18, by designer, Timo. So many things that ought to but usually don’t appear in this nature of game, and I was also won over by Timo’s enthusiasm for his game. Asked to review it, I was supremely honoured and was excited all the way home after that eventful con.

When it came down to playing the game, I felt a little unsure. Was it going to play as well as I hoped. Would I like the gameplay, would I understand what was trying to be achieved?

During the first scenario (the easy introduction to the game) I felt there was a lot to remember and things were not as straight forward as I first imagined. I struggled on to the end and things did speed up a little but I started to doubt the game.

…but after clarifying a couple of rules that I was unsure of, game two started much better. More game mechanics were introduced in this scenario, and then…all of a sudden things really started to click into place…it became apparent why teamwork was so important, why planning potential moves in advance was important (not just next move but where we would be on the rondel several turns ahead). The game, even on easy mode, is set to punish us dreadfully. However, looking at how we utilise our character’s best assets to their full potential, how we use aid and when we decide to tackle an enemy, or when we just lure an enemy in to block their line of sight to our other heroes, suddenly all those small elements fell nicely into place. This really is not about slash and bash dungeon crawling, as so many on the market are. It is more about thinking and planning. Working together (when playing with others, or, as my case proves, arguing with my self as I play solo with all three characters), planning, puzzle solving and drawing upon our heroes’ strengths all made perfect sense. This is what Perdition’s Mouth is actually about. Ok we can acquire some snazzy gear to help us and we do develop some nice action combinations, but it is still about teamwork.

Injuries immediately cause us inconvenience. We become less strong, slower and, if poisoned by those blowpipe guards, we lose action points for being poisoned. A realism reflected in game play that is brilliant…but the brilliance doesn’t stop there….oh, no. As this is a campaign style of game, allowing us to navigate our heroes from one level to the next, it is amazing to discover our illness, wounds and ailments follow us from level to level. Each card drawn for wounding gets added to our hero action deck. This clutters up our hand (not unlike Mage Knight) but the cards have negative effects either in our hand or once played. I really like this element of the game. If we were at death’s door in an adventure, why would we make a miraculous recovery for our next adventure? We wouldn’t! And this is accurately reflected as we take our hero deck from game to game, slowly swelling with many a hurty hurty!

This is not a quick dungeon crawl fix game. There will be no instant ratification. This is a long, extended affair (weather in one gigantic setting or over several saved sessions) which demands our full attention from start to finish. If we take our eye off the game for one minute a certain substance is likely to hit the fan! It is rather heavy as a game but my goodness its a bloody brilliant one.

As we progress from level to level, it is at this point the game really start to shine. After game two…I just wanted to get on to game three (sadness filled the camp as Ollie died…it was expected as I had not performed well as her guardian…her wounds were two plentiful… curse you, you Gloom of Kilforth cross over wound card!) but it is possible to bring new heroes into the group between levels so all was not a total loss.

All in all a gigantic game with so many scenarios (playable as a campaign or as stand alone). It’s always a thrill to get it to the table.

A rather understated wargame set in a turbulent part of Estonia’s history…the time independence was fought for in 1918 against an oppressive Russian rule. This is a block and hex wargame for two players…so why on earth feature it on BSoMT? Well, designer Aigar is currently battling his way through the complexities of developing a set of solo rules for a game of hidden objectives, hidden placement and area control. The progress will, of course, be brought to you as it develops. In the meantime I shall endeavour to share how this plays for two players… and if it is, in fact, worth developing into a solo war game at all.

It has to be said that a wargame, even one with beautiful sculptured miniatures, will have an element of abstraction about it. As such, it could be argued that any war game could not be a truly immersive experience… however, I feel I must counter argue that point with DoTR. There are a significant number of small elements/mechanics that come together to recreate a combat simulation with a surprising degree of realism to support my case. I will touch on some of these below including movement, combat and the use of block counters, all representing but a smattering of the various complexities facing forces in both this game and on the real field of conflict.

This is a surprisingly simple game but hidden beneath the facade are some rather appealing mechanics that make this a pleasure to play. I don’t wish to bore anyone with the entire where’s and why-for’s so I shall, instead, pick the elements I find most appealing to share with you…mind you, the list is still quite extensive

• Movement: Movement is simple. A unit can move from one area to another during each move action… but as the board is divided into hexes, how does that work, I hear you asking in an unceremoniously disgruntled fashion. Areas are actually single or multiple hexes. Usually thick vegetation, trees and the like are represented by a single hex where as clear open ground could be three hexes linked with a common border. So movement on terrain needs no further modifiers…if in wooded areas, a unit is limited to the wooded hex it stumbles into, where as a unit sprinting across open ground may pass from a three-hex area to another three-hex area, realistically covering more ground…but obviously leaving said unit open to be fired upon from opponents. The hexes are also large…very large, so there is not the sorts of complication found in other titles where stacking units has to be a huge tower of tokens or square tokens that overlap the hex making adjacent units misalign with each other. Simple, straight forward and also indicative of a more skirmish-sized conflict (but a unit block is not a single troop so this is by no means a one for one skirmish game)

• Line of sight: A node system has been used to aid line of sight. A dot located in the centre of each hex is used to establish line of sight. A straight line from point to point accurately established contact and does away with any ambiguity. It is also important to note that these nodes are also indicators used when establishing stacking of units. As mentioned in movement, areas can be from one to three hexes in size. Counting the dots within an area quickly indicates the stacking limits imposed for that area.

• Combat System: Possibly the simplest but most realistic mechanic in the game, from my perspective, is the way in which combat has been handled. The number upmost on a Units face is the number of dice to be rolled both for offensive and defensive operations… both sides roll their respective dice and sort them into ascending numerical order. Then both sides compare their results. Highest pip count from each side compares to highest pip count. If, for example, we have a (5) and our opponent’s highest die is a (4) then there is one win to us.

We work our way down the descending value die until all are compared (no dice present equates to a zero score) and so which ever side finishes with the highest number of victories becomes the combat winner. The loser then takes a step loss to their participating block unit. Support units can help alter the value of low pipped die but the nice feature is that all the dice are like a series of fire exchanges and during a single battle the end result is just a single step loss to the wooden block. In reality many men may have been injured or killed but a unit would remain intact, just being less effective or strong for future engagements. And so it is with the block units in the game. Unlike some wargames where tokens are very quickly diminished and removed, there is a greater longevity to troops and their engagement. For me this gives a great scale to conflict. A big dice-fest battle but the end result is just a weakening of opposition’s units and truly creates a wonderful feeling of engagement without fear of “the luck of the roll” overly affecting the outcome.

• Hidden Objectives: A card is drawn and, dependant on the scenario, numbers are allocated in secret to each side referencing the Objective tokens on the board ( be it a building to occupy or wood to chop down or latrine hole to dig and fill up…or any manner of made up reasons to get to the specified token)

• Hidden Action Points: Planning our actions is all well and good when we know just how many we have during a turn to achieve a certain goal but when we don’t know how many we have at our disposal, life becomes a little more complex. The opponent turns over the top action card and keeps the action (red) number secret. The active player, us in this case, will carry out an action (be it a move or shoot or what ever) then our opponent will indicate if we have another action point available…and so we continue using action points until the number on the card is reached. At this point we end our turn but may, at this point, have failed to achieve as much as we really wanted to achieve. as in real conflict situations, we can plan in advance but unforeseen circumstances can hinder our progress and this is nicely replicated by hidden action points.

• Initiative & Action points: leading on from the action points, the Initiative track plays a significant role in the to-and-fro of war. let’s say we start a turn on the (2) initiative square. if we use (3) Action points, this will move from (2) initiative on our side to the (1) initiative space on the opponent’s side and the Active player role is swapped. However, if we were, say, on initiative space (3) and were unfortunate enough to only have (2) action points…well the Initiative would move towards the opponent but still be on our side (n the (1) space. As we end our turn with the Initiative still in our favour, joy of all joys, we get to have a second Action card drawn for us..which is not to shabby at all. GREAT for us as we could end up with (5) or more actions and the need to think quickly to wisely utilise the extra actions. In a similar fashion, there is a Reactive Fire that can be taken by an opponent at our moving troops. why do they get a fee shoot?…hah, well, it is not so simple. If the opponent does use Reactive Fire, the initiative track is moved in our favour thus adding to the potential of us being able to draw a second Action card

I’m not a really big wargamer, as such, but I do like the history and the simplicity of this game, and despite its simplicity, it still provides an arena for highly strategic warfare… and I now have in my possession, an early draft of the solo rules with a first solo scenario…(writted with words and such, on authentic 1918 replica paper). So, testing of the solitary rules began…and, if my first couple of games were anything to go by, they will soon become a reality for the production copy, opening up the Estonian War of Independence to soloists everywhere…I hope.

Exciting times ahead, me thinks.

Giles Pound

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