Monday, September 19, 2011

Colonel Hoffman vs. the World

This is a Gears of War battle report with my custom Col. Hoffman, in mission number 1: Emergence.
Hoffman’s special ability is both nice for team play and solo.  Once per turn, he can either swap one of his cards for a new one, fresh from the deck, or he can exchange a card with another gear.  As long as you’re in a position to plan ahead, this is great, though since he can only do it on his turn, you do still have to play cautiously with it.  To balance with this, Hoffman starts out with a Gnasher Shotgun, making him very short ranged until he can pick up a new weapon.  Unlike Dom, he does not have the ability to move an extra area per turn for free, so while he is more versatile overall and a better team player, he personally does suffer from range problems.
Turn 1: Use ambush on locust drone in adjacent space.  Since Col. Hoffman starts with a Gnasher Shotgun, this is an extremely powerful combo.  Six hits!  That’s one dead grub.  The Drone drops a Hammerburst, a very lucky first turn drop.  This will go a long ways towards countering the fact that Hoffman starts out as a very short ranged character.

Locust Turn 1: All locust on the board, currently three Wretches and one Drone, move to four areas away from Col. Hoffman.  Then, a Boomer spawns near the exit.

Turn 2: I had been planning on moving over to the equipment area to pick up a few more grenades on my way this turn, but the Locust rushing up to greet me all in the same area like this is just too good to pass up.  I play assault to move three areas and then make an attack, tossing a grenade in at the unruly mob.  Again, six hits!!! With area of effect attacks, you only roll the attack once, and then each enemy rolls defense separately.  But since all four Locust in ths attack only get one defense die, that means they all go down.  A worthwhile investment for one of my starting grenades, methinks.  Then, I use a “Follow” action from my hand.  In multiplayer games, this lets you move along with another Gear, but since you can’t do that in single player instead it lets you shift up to one space.  Since the Col. seems to be feeling lucky taking on all of these punks, I’m going to risk rushing up further with just his one remaining grenade.   Since I have a lot of attack cards in my hand, I also use Hoffman’s special ability to discard one of them in the hopes of getting a card with a “Guard” icon on it, which I do.

Locust Turn 2: The only locust model left on the board, the Boomer waaaay at the end, advances towards me!  A whopping one space.

Turn 3: I use my freshly-drawn “Scavenging” action card to move up two squares into cover and snag another ammo token for my Gnasher shotgun.  I’m hoping to keep around three ammo tokens on my Gnasher for the end of the mission where the last wave of baddies spawns, and have a “Slaughter” card in my hand that I’m hoping to use with it to take them all down in one fell swoop.  At this point I have five cards in my hand, so if I wanted I could spend another card to shift forward and still be at my full six health next turn when I draw.  However, even though the boomer on the table has already used two of its action cards from the deck, I’m not willing to risk getting shot by him with only one point of cover if I move.  Instead I’m going to take the cautious approach and keep five cards this turn, and use one of them to shoot on Guard if anything moves my way.  If only I had a certain communications specialist on my side to tell me what was going to happen… hmmm. :-)

Locust Turn 3: All Locust in play (i.e. the Boomer) move to three spaces away from me.  Then, the Boomer prepares to attack!  Good thing I kept that card to make a Guard attack with.  Since the Boomer is too far away to hit with my Gnasher, I burn an ammo token on my shiny new Hammerburst.  Clearly the Colonel thinks he has nothing to fear from the slow, ungainly Boomer, as he lets rip with his Hammerburst for two wounds and an Omen, bringing the total to four hits.  The slow, ungainly Boomer tries to avoid the attack, but only rolls a total of one on his defense, so he too goes down.

Turn 4: Drawing back up to six cards, I get another Guard reaction, which is good as I’m nearing the emergence hole at the end.  However, I don’t really have any good movement cards right now.  I could move and also spend a Follow action to move an extra space, but that would still leave me in the open on this big ol’ board section.  So instead, I call upon Hoffman’s special ability again, swapping an attack card for a new one… which happens to be “Explore.”  This card lets me move four spaces and pick up equipment without having to spend an extra card.  There is an equipment space four away from me, but it’s in the open.  However, with this card in particular I’m willing to risk spending an extra card to shift one space into cover, since that will get me exactly where I want to be to finish off the scenario AND will give me three extra ammo tokens.  I strongly dislike going to four cards on my turn since I may need to use one in reaction, but since there are no locust on the board and I’ll end up properly armed and in position, I’m okay with it.

Locust Turn 4: Awww shoot.  Reinforcements.  I now have a Wretch and a Drone in my space, and a Boomer standing over the emergence hole.

Turn 5: Now things get dicey.  I know that as soon as I close the e-hole I’ll have another Wretch and another Boomer to play with.  I also have three models near enough to attack me right now.  So while I had been hoping to spend my slaughter card on the last wave of attackers, it looks like I should spend it now to clear the path instead.  But first, I’m going to shoot with “Active Reload.”  This lets me make an attack, and if I use an ammo token I get to take another full action.  So I unload the last round from my Hammerburst on the Boomer next to me, and get another six wounds because Hoffman is a beast like that!  I then “Slaughter” the remaining two enemies, burning through two more ammo for my Gnasher.

Locust Turn 5: Two Wretches spawn on the e-hole.  Oh noes!  Because it’s not like I was planning on…

Turn 6: …Tossing a grenade on that spot anyway.  I shift to the elevated cover by the doorway with the equipment, and fingers crossed, toss a grenade on the e-hole, sealing it with yet another six hit attack and an omen.  The door crashes open, and a pair of locust come charging through the smoke!

Locust Turn 6: Distracted by the flying door and the smoke, Hoffman drops some of his pistol ammo in the confusion.  Then, hearing a thunderous voice saying “BOOM!” he rights himself from the floor and takes a shot at the Boomer.  The shot goes a bit wide, only getting four points, but the Boomer is caught off guard by Hoffman’s sudden return fire and this is enough to bring him down before he can bring his weapon to bear.  Then the Wretch shifts around to flank Hoffman.

Turn 7: Hoffman turns towards the last remaining enemy, and Charges!  “Charge” lets him move one area and then make an attack against a figure in your area with an extra attack die.  Unloading a final, resounding shot from his Gnasty Gnasher, Hoffman does a whopping ten points of damage to the poor little wretch.

Game over, man.  Game over.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gathering my Thoughts: new MTG intro pack.

Magic the Gathering has a new little intro pack out, called a "Two-Player Booster Battle Pack."  The pack contains two boosters and "20 semi-random cards" as well as a pair or 60-card deck boxes and a quickstart rules guide.

The deck boxes are nice enough, but they are hinged together by a perforated edge rather than being put in separately for whatever reason.  The "semi-random cards" aren't really much one way or the other.  You get four ten card packs, each being one of the five colors.  Each pack consists of five lands, four commons, and one uncommon.  All of them seem to be decently useful cards at least.  I don't know if every pack is the same five cards, but the ones I got are:

Goblin Fireslinger
Blood Ogre
Lava Axe
Stormblood Beserker.

Sacred Wolf
Giant Spider
Greater Basilisk
Lure (fyi these last three make for a really annoying combo.)

Skywinder Drake
Chasm Drake
Frost Breath
Azure Mage

Siege Mastadon
Pride Guardian
Armored Warhorse
Divine Favor
Serra Angel

All of the above cards are from the M12 set, as are the lands and both boosters.  Not the best buy ever, but not bad, especially if you need some decent commons to round out a deck or want a few more deck boxes.

OVER-RULED! house rules for Gears of War

So having given Gears a good few plays, there are a few different things that have come up that I think would make more sense or just be more fun if slightly altered.  Here's a list so far.

Grinders: The Grinders are a variant type of Boomer that use a Mulcher instead of a Boomshot.  Grinders use the same models, wound tokens and AI cards as the Boomers.  However, the card for the Grinders specifies that they do not drop weapons when killed, even though the Mulcher as a weapon is present in the game.  The only reason I can really think of for this rule is that the Boomer wound token shows a Boomshot as the weapon dropped, and apparently saying you should count it as a Mulcher instead if dropped from a Grinder was too complicated.  I guess?  It makes little sense to me.  So we have HIZZOUSE RULE #1!

  -A Grinder drops weapons just like other models.  Use the Boomer wound tokens to determine this.  However, if a weapon is dropped, use the Mulcher weapon card instead of a Boomshot.

Troika HMG: One of the map tiles has a Troika HMG as an equipment icon.  If you begin your turn on it, instead of spending an action card you may make a six-die attack against one enemy on the board section.  This, however, is inconsistent in several ways.  One, the board section is four spaces wide... so if you can only target models on the board section, you either have a max range of one, or of two, depending on where the locust are standing.  Secondly, this is a heavy machine gun, and it has a maximum range that is only better than the shotgun if it is pointed in the right direction.  Say what?  Hence, to bring it in line closer with other weapon rules, hacienda el rule #2.

  -The Troika HMG is a six-die attack with a range of two (note, you may fire beyond it's range as per the normal rules for defense).  Line of sight is measured from the center of the equipment icon.

Boomshield: The Boomshield item is featured as a random weapon drop in the Gears boardgame.  It's ability grants the wielder plus two defense, but limits them to using only pistol weapons while carrying it.  As it is worded, you could benefit from both a Boomshield and cover at the same time.  However, this doesn't fit very well thematically, not to mention that it makes the wielder almost impervious to damage and throwing off game balance a bit in my mind.  In the Gears video game, the Boomshield literally is cover; you just carry it with you.  One of the actions you can take with it in the video game is to plant it standing up in the ground, at which point it is treated like a regular barrier.  So again, in the name of keeping the Gears boardgame in line with its own rules and with it parent, rule #3.

  -The Boomshield provides Full cover (+2 defense) to the wielder.  No cover bonus is granted for attacks from other models in the defender's area.

That's all for now, folks.  Though on a different note, does anybody else have two copies of Wretch card #9 but no #10?



Grenades!  Must not forget!  We have house-ruled that you may only carry four grenades at one time, like in the video game.  This normally doesn't come up, but if you take Baird in mission one and just sit his butt on the grenade area, you can get one for free every turn, no card spending required.  Four is more than plenty to complete the mission, but more than that is just silly, not needed, and breaks from the theme.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

First Impressions - Gears of War: the Boardgame

I'm a bit of a Gears fan.  I'm a lot of a miniatures game fan.  Cooperative GoW boardgame with 28mm figs and slick looking terrain tiles? I'm sold just on principal.  I was not, however, expecting much from the gameplay.  I began to seriously question that assumption when I first cracked open my fresh new copy Thursday evening.

First off, the simple things.  The art is gorgeous, the minis are probably the best looking Fantasy Flight set to date, the map tiles are varied, detailed and good-looking.  Lots of tokens, cards, etc as you'd expect from a FF big box game.  So far so good.

The dice are what initially scared me about the game.  I was afraid that Gears was going to fall prey to unintuitive, over-specialized dice that end up being nothing more than a gimmick and a nuisance.  Not so!

The GoW dice are not only not ugly, but pretty, although in a very manly, chainsaw-wielding, dirt-covered, chest-bumping sort of way to fit with the rest of the game of course.  And they don't try for any strange gimmicks; defense dice have zero, one or two defense on them.  Attack dice have from zero to two hits, and an omen symbol to serve as a critical hit effect.  DONE.  I generallhey prefer a normal d6 (or d8, d10, d16 etc) in my gameplay, but the dice in here do fit for keeping the game streamlined.  You don't need "X to hit and Y to save," it's just roll and go.  It's worked since Battlemasters and Siege of the Citadel, and in this context, I think it works just fine too.

The game is scenario-driven, as is the pleasant trend in games today. Now, I have heard some people say that since it only has about half a dozen scenarios published until they (fingers crossed) come out with an expansion set, it has limited replayability.  Really?  Because while there may be many strategies to some of the top rated games on the interwebs, they still only have one scenario: get VPs.  Gears has no farmers, or even sheep to trade wood for, but every single scenario is replayable.  The tiles for each are randomly placed every game, the enemies move and spawn differently on different playthroughs and vary further based off of the number of players, and the characters themselves offer slight variations on your strategy and synergy.  There is one requirement that precedes playing the game again and again though.  Playing it once, and enjoying it.  So is Gears fun?  No.

It's awesomefun.

First playthrough today, Charlie control of Dom with me running Fenix, highly reminiscent of how we do this type of thing on the console, come to think of it (seriously, it took years to get this far).  We played through mission one, forgot a few rules for a bit like reactions and that you could carry more then one grenade, and got up near the end of the mission having a grand ole time.  Shut down the baddie spawn point, had four new dudes show up to protest our conduct (bringing the total near us to five), and we were golden as soon as we took them down.  Then something slightly unexpected happened.

I was positioned juuuust right with the card I drew for the AI to have every single bad guy on the board attack me on the same turn.  Following this, there was some running back and forth, and a lot of "Stop lying down on the job!" as we proceeded to try to keep each other alive while fending off the last few Locust baddies.  We died.  Afterwords, I was commenting that the game seemed to be cool and have a lot of potential, and that we should pack up so we could start our roleplaying "NO"

"We're playing this mission until we beat it."

Okay then.  I guess we're saving humanity, round two!

Play was much smoother the second time round, knowing the rules, cards and such.  Up near the end, we had another unexpected event where we accidentally spawned four extra wretches (little melee monsters) on one turn.  Which made me realize something I like about the AI card system and the critical hits.  You know, roughly, what the bad guys are going to do.  You can influence this by moving, shooting and using the right cards.  But you never know exactly what's coming.  Just like the GoW video game, or for that matter, real life.

We managed to eke out a win on game two, but only just.  Again, we were both only just scraping by for the last few rounds, and had to be very careful about how we managed.  Which was something else we both love in a game.

If we do everything just right in a game, loose anywyay, but you can point to a dozen die rolls and card draws and honestly say "We would have won if that one had been X," then the game is done right. Any game that you can win purely based off of knowing the right moves holds very little joy for me.  I used to play competitive chess, and very well, but who won really boiled down to who knew best.  Games like that can be fun, but if you're good enough at them, they aren't really a game anymore.  They're just a mental exercise, done by rote.  Gears doesn't let you win; it makes you work for it.  Gears doesn't make you loose; it gives you a chance to haul yourself up regardless of what it throws your way.  It possesses one of the key qualities in Space Hulk, that makes it a fun game to play even after doing "Suicide Mission" for two decades.

Every good game will be a close one, right up until you win....or get chainsawed.