Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Star Wars X-Wing Episode III: A New Hope

I have recently come across the most extraordinary thing: A game my wife will play.

Now, my wife is not a gamer. She enjoys mainstream games like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit, and she did buy the NCIS board game not too long ago for us to play together. I don't mind some of those types of games (except Trivial Pursuit, which I really hate) but I am a hobby gamer. I like games that have strong themes (especially dungeon crawls) or involve miniatures. They don't have to be competitive, but are not her cup of tea because they often involve war, death and mayhem if possible.

He makes any game better.
However, my wife has come to really enjoy Star Wars. Our first date, in fact, was watching all 6 movies. Since at the time she had only ever seen Episode III, I only have to assume she was really, REALLY attracted to me. It's definitely how I knew she was a keeper.

Ok, so she's beautiful too.
When I first purchased X-Wing, I made some sort of  offhanded remark about her trying it with me and she said she would. We do this with every game I purchase though and it is an exchange that neither of us follow through with generally. I usually ask in order to include her in the hobby, but I don't really expect it because I know she isn't really into it, and that's ok. I just want to let her know she is welcome but I'm not going to push it. A probably she agrees to make me feel better and show interest, but she knows I'm not going to pester her about it either. She has been really good about trying things though, and there are a couple she will acquiesce to (such as HeroQuest or Magic: The Gathering).

So I was stunned one day when I jokingly suggested playing some X-Wing and she agreed. I was elated! She said the ships looked cool, as well as the new mat I had gotten, plus she liked doing Star Wars things with me.

I set up the game with her playing the Rebels and me with Imperials. We started off with the basic game, her with Luke and I with a couple of TIEs. Obviously we had to put Episode IV on in the background while we played.

She said it would inspire her better and I'm always up for some fitting music and sound effects. It is possible that it was too inspiring. This was the result:

In the first couple turns she managed to smoke one of my TIEs. I was on the back foot the entire game from there on out. However, she was having a fantastic time. Neither of us was truly used to the movement system yet, so we laughed about how we were always flying the wrong way or bumping into each other. The dice alternately showered us with both love and hate, so our turns were fairly even. Ultimately though, my luck eventually ran out and she won. She loves kicking my ass, so there was much rejoicing.

I was shocked, however when she immediately asked to play again. Moreover, she was not happy with just Luke. She wanted more ships! I responded by giving her Wedge (or "Wedgie" as she has come to call him).

"Man this flight suit is really riding up today."
In order to make the points even (and to indulge my need for saying "I have you now!" when I'm tailing an enemy ship) I took Vader. There was some discussion following this choice since what she really meant was "Only I can have more ships." Apparently she was happy getting a Death Star destroying hero if I was going to be stuck with only two TIE fighters. After calmly explaining points values and how awesome X-Wings were, she agreed that I could at least defend myself and we got the second game underway. This time we added some life to the mat with a couple planet templates from Battlefleet Gothic.

With more options on either side, the game was a blast. Vader could never seem to close in on the X-Wings, and though I eventually managed to take out Wedge, when it finally came down to just Luke and Vader, she managed to get the drop on me and blew me outta the sky.

We were having an amazing time. She was getting a good handle on the movement and managing to avoid when I was closing in. She also picked up on fire arcs and target locks like a pro. I am both scared and aroused by this turn of events.

And of course we had to play another game the next night. I was stunned when she actually requested another game of her own volition after the fact. That is actually something that has never happened with any game we have ever played, even the mainstream ones. Usually I request playing a game and then she chooses one of those or acquiesces to my choice. This was like the sighting of a rare white elk only with dice.

"I used my crossbow of elk-slaying +2"
So once again we set up the mat with a new planet to fight around and set to work. This time we used a couple of upgrades (R2, torpedoes, missles, etc.) but the lists were basically the same.


Of course it wasn't long until we started taking casualties. In fact, her first shot of the game looked something like this:

Yep, another total smoking of my TIE. If fact, this has become something of a regular event. TIEs are pretty flimsy and she has become very adept at closing in when I least expect it, while I have become very adept at rolling blank faces. Amazingly enough I managed a win on this game.

We have both had a blast so far and I can't wait for a re-match. Unfortunately I have been distracted  by other games and the holidays took up all of our time after out last game. Hopefully we will be able to squeeze in some games now that we both have more time. I know I am extremely happy to have a game we can both enjoy and that she can share in at least a fraction of my hobby. Even if she pouts every time she loses a ship.

This image has been included at her "suggestion"

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Favored Enemy: Elder Sign

There are few things in this world I enjoy more than the Cthulhu mythos and the works of H.P Lovecraft. The idea of malevolent entities of uknowable power and influence perched on the edge of space and time, waiting for the stars to be right to burst forth into our reality and consume it just speaks to me. Gothic horror wows me because the payoff is longer lasting. Its a creeping dread, rather than a bloody spatter. Lovecraft's work makes me believe that the Great Old Ones exist in a nebulous way I will never truly understand, at once knowing that it is all just fiction and yet there is a niggling feeling in the back of my skull that always asks, "...or is it?"

All of that is why I had to pick up Elder Sign from Fantasy Flight games on theme alone. It is a push your luck dice and card game that can be played by 1-8 players and it is fun. It is very luck based, so sometimes it can be truly challenging, other times frustrating and still others a real cakewalk. 

The game in action
Set inside a museum, there is something breaking free amongst the exhibits and it is up to the investigators to search the museum for clues and powerful Elder Signs that can be used to lock that something away before it devours our world. The cards represent a series of encounters that must be completed by players to gain rewards, done so by rolling the dice included and matching them to tasks on the card. Certain items, spells and clues can be used to alter these rolls and help. Sometimes monsters pop up, adding to or changing tasks and screwing up the players' plans. After each player's turn, the clock advances and every "midnight" changes the field in some way, usually for the worse. If the player's don't find enough Elder Signs to win the game befor the Doom track is filled (by various card effects), the Great Old One breaks free and a battle ensues, usually ending badly for the players.

I have only played the game solo, but I really enjoy it. The theme may color my opinion on it, but I think it executes that theme perfectly. When dealing with unknown horrors, you rarely get what you want, always feel on the back foot and sometimes winning that battle is impossible. And you never truly know what is going to happen. Having randomly determined tasks and results with ways to boost your chance of succeeding really makes that come across. You use your artifact, spell or stick of dynamite, roll the dice and hope for the best. And you can use any advantage you can get because you need it.

All I need to take on eldritch horrors are a shotgun, my diary, some hooch and a steak.

You can choose your investigators and the Great Old One you want to fight, but I find that it makes it too easy to find winning combinations. Some investigators can flat out battle certain GOOs head to head. This might make for a great "chosen one" feel once in a while, but it gets boring quick if you can pick it every time. Randomly assigning investigators and GOOs keeps the game fresh and ensures a challenge, in my opinion. I also make the solo game a little harder for myself by not drawing a new investigator if the one I'm using dies, therefore losing the game. This gives a real feeling of being alone against the darkness and speeds up game play a little too.

The game has so many good points and a couple bad ones. Its realatively cheap ($34.99 or less depending on online discounts), stays fresh, beautiful artwork and has great theme. However, games take a pretty long time to resolve (1-2 hours or so) and there are a lot of little rules to remember. The rulebook could use a little better layout as well, and luckily there are several "cheat sheets" (and other great resources) available.

There is only one thing in the game I consider a lost opportunity: no miniatures! I know it would have increased the cost, but some sort of pawn for moving the investigators from card to card would have been nice. They have included tokens, but these are small, flat and fiddly. Given that FFG already produces miniatures for these same investigators (for Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness, which share the same characters), unpainted versions would have been very cool to play with. Even generic colored pawns, or larger tokens with stands would have helped. I usually use one investigator solo, so I have taken using a small Cthulhu statue from FFG's Bag of Cthulhu they sell. It looks suitably creepy and does the job for me, but it would be hard to use multiples and know whose is whose during multiplayer. I have also taken the liberty of buying an FFG dice bag to use as a monster cup and it makes drawing monsters much easier.

Plus it's filled with tentacle goodness. 
All said, though, I love this game. It is a perfect way to spend a couple hours on a free day off, certainly more engaging than a random movie off the TV. It can be tough, outright brutal, but even when you lose you feel like you've played a game. And you can always try to thwart the Great Old Ones another time. Also, there is a tablet/smart phone version of this game called Elder Sign: Omens available for $4.99. It plays a little different, but is almost as good! Some people prefer it, but I like my doom with a little tactile sensation.

Oh hey, a button....

You may notice a little "Donate" button on the left hand side of the page. Yes, it may seem kind of gauche, but its a little bit of an experiment. I'm not begging for money, really. I'm just sticking it down there to see what happens.

I enjoy writing stuff occasionally, and some of it I think is pretty interesting for others to read. I'm probably wrong, but it's possible that somewhere out in this vast universe there's someone who thinks "Oooh a new post on Deep Dark Dungeons!" To those people I say a heartfelt thank you. I'm not terribly good at this blog thing. I don't update regularly. I take pretty horrible pictures. I'm most likely not as entertaining as I think I am.

But if you do enjoy what you've read and want to show your appreciation with a little money, I would appreciate it. And if you think I totally suck and don't want to give me one red cent, that's cool too. And if you like my blog and still don't feel like donating, well, I still love you anyway. Like I said, its just there as an experiment. And who knows, if I get some sort of great response, then maybe I might start producing more content and not be as damnably lazy. Stranger things have happened.