Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fantasy Gaming Review :Pathfinder

We start our review of the fantasy gaming genre with an absolute juggernaut.  Pathfinder Roleplaying, by Paizo, represents a very typical fantasy gaming experience.  It offers the expected fantasy heroes (warriors, wizards, clerics, and rogues, to name a few) and splashes in some new ideas (Gunslingers, magi) and even goes as far as to take iconic parts of some heroic ideals and mix them with others.

Set in the fantasy world of Golarion, Pathfinder has a little bit of something for every player type.  Explorers have darkened monster infested jungles, the ruins of lost civilizations, and the joy of running into the deepest darkest places below the surface.  Builders will find the options for establishing their own businesses and areas of control a refreshing change of pace, and for the monster hunters, there are no less than five tomes full of monsters waiting to tear them limb from limb.

Pathfinder boasts an impressive product line, and the best word i can use to describe the complete system is Options.  Pathfinder has a staggering array of options and choices for the player, and as much as that can be a strength, it can also be a weakness.  A new player who is making full use of the available product line is overwhelmed by an array of choices.  Exacerbating this potential issue is the fact that not all the choices are equal.  Some choices are representative of player choices for what they want their character.  Others represent the best combat option for a character of that level.

Options drive the Pathfinder Role-playing Game in more ways than one.  The Game Master has a very deep bench of published material to work from when setting the game up.  With options including the 6 part adventure path campaigns, to individual modules, to all the tools needed to build an adventure form the ground up, Pathfinder has a brick load of options for the all of the players around the table.

My full write up for the overall system is available at http://zardozgames.blogspot.com/p/pathfinder-writeup.html  

Next up we'll cover a couple of other interesting fantasy games and then we'll gear up for Star Wars December.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Product Review: Wyrmwood

Wyrmwood is a bespoke woodworking shop in Massachusetts that offers a variety of amazing products, including a system bundle that groups three of their products together as a single item of tabletop enjoyment and amusement.  We’ll take a look at their options and then move into a breakdown of their products.  

Also, they have successfully launched a kickstarter campaign to provide the Hero Vault, which is a very snazzy looking case that you can use to safely transport your character miniature (or dice, or really anything that will fit in the box) from place to place.  Keep in mind, the Hero Vault is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, so it won’t carry an army of minis, but it will carry you in style and safety.    



For a full read up on Wyrmwood, check out our review above, and Wyrmwood's site to check out their wonderful products

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Product Review: Artisan Dice

Artisan Dice is an artisanal dice manufacturer featuring products in a variety of stylistic choices and available materials.  Operating out a workspace in Mesquite, Texas, Artisan Dice provides custom made to order dice using modern techniques and a wide array of choices and options Artisan Dice offers dice in five key materials, and an astonishing array of potential selections for the discerning gamer.  Keep in mind, these dice are custom made and have a price range representative of that fact.   These are rough and tumble enough to be used in daily and weekly gaming while retaining the intrinsic aesthetic appeal that will draw attention from everyone around the table.  Check out or link below for the full article and tell us what you think. 


Thanks again for stopping by

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Book Review: Combat Manual Mercenaries

 Cover Art

Covering another book for a game I have a deep abiding love for, we look at the newly released Combat Manual: Mercenaries book.  This is my first blush of the book, (I've read it once, front to back) and won't cover technical issues or typos.  There are many fine people who love the Battletech Universe who will look through the book with a fine toothed comb, and to be honest, I don't edit well, (shocker, I know).  This book honestly answers a bunch of questions that I had about what this product line was going to look like, and I must admit, I like that look.  

First, a brief explanation of what this book is.  For those familiar with other tabletop war games, this is an army book that covers the mercenary faction for Battletech's Alpha Strike Rules set.  For those new to war gaming, this book contains a brief history of Mercenaries in the Battletech universe along with four key areas that enable a new player to pick up the book and be able to put together a unit for that game.  

The book opens with a piece of short fiction, which is a tried and true component of the Battletech line.  The rest of the book is focused on the mercenary faction and details prominent historical facts and units that appear in the late succession wars and early clan invasion era.  This answered one of my questions about this book, but opens up a couple of others.  

I was concerned about how a book of this type would take the Battletech timeline and how far it would go in covering prominent units and important facts about those units.  This book basically covers the period of the last two succession wars (3025ish forward) to the early clan invasion (which ends right around 3052).  I am happy with the spread of units covered during this time period and I appreciate that this ties in very nicely with the availability of units presented in the Battletech intro box and the alpha strike lance packs. That answer however leads to a couple of more questions

First, is there going to be a Mercenaries supplemental that covers later eras?  Because the Battletech universe is dynamic and changes over time, several of the mercenary units featured in this box are either completely destroyed or changed in such a way that changes the way they should play on the tabletop.  It also doesn't address mercenary commands created after the early clan invasion era moving forward.  

Second, if this is the case with all of the factions, are there going to be separate era books for all of the factions moving through time?  I can see the pro and con of that and it opens up an interesting dynamic for gaming.  If there are era specific updates for each faction, will that make the earlier book irrelevant, (in which case you only need to buy the era book for the faction you care about) or is it an accessory that requires the base book to play with (meaning that it serves as an update and details changes, which refer to the original book).  I am curious about the potentials for the way this works, and I am curious to see how later eras are addressed.  

Moving on to a better description of the book, I have to admit I was impressed by the Combat Commands section of the book.  I've been a fan for a very long time and I had units I had to go look up to see who they were.  Many fan favorites are included (I'm looking at you Grey Death Legion, and you Crescent Hawks) and the Combat Commands section of the book gives the player an idea of the unit's personality, its rough force profile (how heavy it is, how big it is, other details that help inform a player constructing their version of the unit), its special rules and in some cases special warriors (in custom 'mechs).  

Shadow Hawk in Grey Death Legion colors
Of all the sections of the book, I think this one might be the one that the fans gripe about most.  The unit descriptions are perfect for a new player getting into the game, but long term players may be irritated that they can't field special characters appropriate to their units.  Case in point, the only special character listed for the entire wolf's dragoons unit is Natasha Kerensky (Who albeit is amazing).  This excludes Jamie Wolf, Morgan Kell, Grayson Carlyle and a host of other mercenary commanders that aren't represented with custom profiles.  

Now that may seem like a very tiny bone of contention, but I have a feeling that at some point, a conversation will take place in which one Battletech Gamer will become enraged because he can't field the Grey Death Legion Command unit with Carlyle, McCall and the rest of the characters that they read about in books when they were kids. 

The other fan issue that may occur with this section is that not every mercenary unit that exists in this era is given a full brief.  I understand that the limitations of space mean that not everyone gets into the book the first time, but I can see it causing irritations among some of the fan base.  

From that section we move into the Rules Addendum.  I personally think that the rules addendum is one of the most interesting sections of the book as it details the nuts and bolts of actually building a mercenary command for Alpha Strike.  It gives you as a player a couple of new formations that you can play with, and includes options for purchasing units not on your Mercenary Availability table and a bunch of options that I think are critical.  Among these is the option to go your own way and generate your own mercenary command without using any of the Force Briefs.  That has always been one of the things I’ve found most exciting about Battletech, and the rules are simple enough for the new player while being complicated enough that I can appreciate the options available.  

Guns for Hire lists a group of mercenary mechwarriors you can hire to fill out your combat command.  I think this section is a little understaffed, but I realize that space limitations factor into what you can pack into a book of this size (and the section that follows it is perfect).  I am unsure if I like or don't like the fact that you can only hire a single Gun for Hire for your force, but I haven't played with the rules set enough to come to a final conclusion on that topic.  

The final section of the book is something that I was hoping would be included, but I wasn't sure.  Mercenary Faction Lists includes all of the available units for the mercenary faction in Battlemechs for both eras (Late Succession Wars and Early Clan Invasion) and includes armored vehicles, Infantry, and aerospace unit for the Late Succession Wars Era.  These charts include point cost, unit special abilities and battlefield role, which helps a player assign individual units to appropriate lance groupings.  

 Bad Day

My overall impression of this book is that it’s a very good start on helping to grow Alpha Strike.  I am curious to see what changes from this beta release to the final production version, but I like the direction that this book takes in creating a coherent force construction system for Alpha Strike.  It's a first step, but it’s a very nice first step.  I had most of my questions answered and in most cases I liked the answers I received.  

I would also like to point out that this is the first book i've seen with the new artwork for the traditionally unseen battlemechs.  The shadow Hawk shown above in Grey Death Colors, and the Warhammer and the Locust below are all new interpretations of old models, and they look good.  My artistic ability is limited, but i like that these models have strong enough similarities to the versions that they are replacing that they feel right.  I see the original influences, and i like the modern perspectives for them.  All in all, wonderful work.  

Locust                                                                       Warhammer

So those are my thoughts on the new combat manual, and i for one can't want to see what they've got planned for us next

All images used with the permission of Catalyst Game Labs and at their courtesy

 (Thanks for letting me share your pictures)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Organizing your Gaming Life Part 1

Being a gamer can take up as large or as small of a portion of your life as you decide to let it.  It occupies a healthy portion of my life because I write about games, game related things, game accessories, and other gamey stuff.  Finding the spot for games can be a complicated thing because games take up both time and space.

Time can be a tricky thing for the modern gamer, between work, sleep, family commitments, and a myriad of other things, your time can be a very high priced commodity.  Deciding how you choose to spend that time can make all the difference in the level of enjoyment that Games bring to your life.  If you have the time and the energy to play a tabletop roleplaying game twice a week with friends, then that's a hefty commitment of your time and energy.  If you don't have that much time, but still want to get together and play a board game, that's also an option.  The key point is that you have to decide how much time you personally have available, and how much of it you want to spend gaming. 

Gaming (in most cases) is a social activity, and you have to find people in your life that you're willing (hopefully, these are people you like to play with) to spend an evening playing games with.  You should also keep in mind that they have personal lives of their own and their also allocating their free time to a social activity.  Not everyone will dedicate the same amount of time towards games that you have and that's all right.  Games fulfill different needs for different people, and sometimes that means you may end up compromising to play a game in the time you have available with the people you have available. 

I have two anecdotes for this, one of the involves a specific (Twilight Imperium by those wonderful folks at fantasy flight games) and a general (tabletop war gaming).  Both of this will hopefully illustrate the value (and benefits) of time investiture in your gaming lifestyle. 

Twilight Imperium is a game that will probably take you the better part of a day to play.  The last time i played with friends at college (four players, all of whom were familiar with the game) it took us right at an hour to set up the board.  Now that may seem nuts to some of you, and i will agree, i can see where that might be crazy.  "An hour to set up the board?  Really??"  Firstly, you'll have to assemble a space map out of hexagonal tiles (one of the neat things about the game is that it will be different every time) and choose races and a bunch of other things that just take time to get moving. 

So you might be thinking at this point since the game is set up now it should play fast, shouldn't it?  Well, Twilight Imperium feels a lot like a board game version of Civilization, it's a game where you will start with a very small portion of the map under your control and hope to dominate the entire map by the end of the game.  That means it has a lot of parts, and steps, and other little quirks that just eat time.  It took us about an hour per full game turn (that means that all four players had completed all of their actions and were ready to move on).  We played a nine turn game, so from start to finish, it took us ten hours (and we called the game because the venue we were playing at was ready to close up for the night). 

Tabletop War Gaming eats time in its own specific ways. 

First, you're going to have to find a game you are interested in playing. 
Then you need to find people to play with
Then you're going to need to learn how to play the game (To be fair, most war gamers are interested in finding new people to play with, so you should be able to try the game out a couple of times before you have to spend some money on it).
Then it's time to buy your first couple of things (Probably a starter set, those are tailor made for two people to learn the game)
Then you need to assemble your models (this can be tricky)
Then you need to paint your models
Then you might actually be ready to play your first game with your very own models (This can truly be a wonderful experience, but you should be ready to make mistakes and screw things up, it's the natural way of learning).

The time sink doesn't end there though
You'll probably need to
Build more units to play larger games
find the units you prefer to build your army
Repeat the above steps a couple of dozen times
Find time to paint more models
Play a game once in a while

Some people will look at a war game as a time sink.  It's just another way for you to waste your time and not get other things done.  Other people will look at it the therapeutic device that keeps them from snapping and killing people.  Some people see the canvasses that they can paint in a bajillion different colors.  Some people just want to play the game.  It's all a matter of deciding how YOU want to spend your time. 

Space is a different sort of a problem.  A board game takes up a specific amount of space while its being played and a different amount when its packed up in storage.  Repeat that thought with every version of a game you can think of (war game, card game, video game etc.) and you may have a crisis of space on your hands, especially if you're the one who hosts game nights. 

Storing your games in a method you feel comfortable with (No, i'm not judging the oddly balanced pile of board games hanging off the edge of the table at all) can be hard, and you'll need to find the right balance of games that you feel comfortable with and hopefully stay within your comfort zones.  Does this mean you may not own every game in the universe?  Probably so, as i don't know how much space that actually takes up. 

Some games require little space outside their board set up, and that's great, but other games will require you to bring extra stuff with you.  War games with miniatures, trading card games, and role-playing games all require you as a player to bring extra stuff with you, or to have extra stuff on hand.  This means that you'll need to allocate more resources to storing that stuff when you aren't using it, and to finding a dedicated place to have it during the game you're going to be playing. 

Finding the right balance between time and space is tricky, but i will try and help you find your way around these tricky areas as we move forward. 

Thanks for reading, and i'll see you next week

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Something New (At least to me)

All right gamer fans, today's post is about a new idea (to me at least), Blind Subscription Services, (BSS).  The idea is fairly easy to grasp; You pay a nominal monthly fee, and every month a new package arrives with an assortment of materials drawn from a specific theme.  You don't know what's in the box before you open it, which i think is half the fun.  It's like a tiny christmas (or other seasonally appropriate gift giving) package that you get at a scheduled interval (some services are monthly, others are bi-monthly). If you like surprises, these can be a wonderful way to experience new ideas and products that you may have never thought about before.

First up, we have a lot of pros.

1.  It's a starting place within a fandom.  Comic books, games, movies (especially Star Wars) have enormous product lines and it can be very hard to find an easy point of entry and a comfortable price point.  You could spend thousands and thousands of dollars chasing the fandom experience, and still not get the experience you're looking for.  The BSS model gives you an affordable way to dabble in the universe or products you like without overwhelming the senses.

2. The value is always there.  Most services offer between $50 and $60 of value with every box service for a monthly fee around $20, meaning that the value of the materials you are receiving is always in excess of your money spent.

3.  The monthly theme is a solid indicator of the products you can expect to find in each box.  The companies that are putting these products together aren't just grabbing things off a shelf and sending them.  There's a dedicated thought process that works to compile a group of items that are both coherent and interesting.

4.  It can be an enormous time and energy saver.  If you are a person who works 40 hours a week, takes care of a couple of kids, or has a spouse that all ready has your weekends planned, this can be an excellent way to still get in touch with your hobbies.  Despite the lack of time, you can still get graphic novels, or board games, or really cool video game stuff.

5.  They deliver all over the place.  As a nerd who grew up on a farm, and then moved into a smaller town, i know the pain of trying to find a shop that has serves my particular fandom.  These services help alleviate some of that pain by delivering to your door a group of things that fit into your wants and desires.  

We do have a couple of cons though

1.  These are blind boxes, so you have no idea what you may get. Other than a monthly theme hint, the boxes are a mystery until they arrive at your door. You could get an assortment of graphic novels that have nothing you find interesting (which i like to think of as an opportunity to explore something new) or things related to a game you've never heard of.  If you aren't adventurous with your hobby time and dollars, this may not be the best product for you.

2.  No substitutions.  If you open a box and it has a book, or game, or neat gizmo thing that you all ready have one of, you can't contact the Service provider and request a new replacement.  The boxes they ship out are the products they are offering for that period and they do not substitute.  If you have a larger collection of materials related to this fandom, you are going to run a higher chance of getting something that you all ready own.

Honestly, i think that this is a neat service idea that fills a couple of needs in the market.  If you, as a consumer, are completely new to a fandom, then this gives you an easy, affordable starting point to get in.  It lets you relax your brain's need to find a starting point and trust experts that will give you a direction and a place to start from.  Best of all, if you didn't like that starting point, all you need to do is wait a month and you can try again from a different place.

I also like the mystery aspect of it.  Getting a new box of stuff every month feels like a combination of retail therapy and that joy you feel as a small child opening a gift.  You get "What's in the box?!?!?!" mixed with "Oh i love that stuff!!!!"

So I've talked your ear off about what the idea looks like, let's take a look at some actual service providers.

Comic Bento

 Image Courtesy of Comic Bento


Comic Bento is a company that delivers an assortment of graphic novels every month for a nominal fee.  Each month has a different theme, (November's theme is Button Mash) with four or five different titles that fall into that theme each month.

Each assortment of graphic novels has a retail value around $60, so it's an excellent value for their monthly fee.  They offer three different price points, each representing a different subscription duration.

For $20 a month, you can get the single month service.  This is a recurring charge that you'll be billed monthly, and you can cancel at any point.

For $18.34 a month, you can do a three month subscription.  This saves you a little bit of cash, and you are enrolled for three months of deliveries.

For $15 a month, you can do a six month subscription.  This is the most cost effective option (it will save you $15 over the price of the individual month subscription) and enrolls you for six months of comic bento deliveries.

Note 1:  These prices do not include Shipping and Handling
Note 2:  Multi-month subscriptions are lump sum billed, so you'll be paying up front for your subscription

I like this service.  Comic books are such broad media, it can be overwhelming to find a starting point.  Comic Bento reaches across a swath of publishers to find graphic novels that fit within a theme and then provide the reader with a small, bite sized snippet of what's available.

Board Game Bento

Image Courtesy of Board Game Bento
Like it's counterpart, Comic Bento, Board Game Bento is a blind subscription service that focuses on delivering an interesting package of products monthly.  The difference is fairly obvious (it's in the name), Board Game Bento delivers a monthly supply of board games.  If you're looking to try new games, or have a hankering to play something, but can't for the life of you figure out what it is, Board Game Bento may be a solution to that problem. 
The bundle of games has a retail value of approximately $80, and they can contain a variety of products, including board games and the occasional board game expansion.  Currently there are only two price points to consider.  Keep in mind that the price for the Board Game Bento boxes are higher than the Comic Book Bento boxes, but the products are things that you can use over and over again with friends.  

The Single month subscription runs $50 a month, and can be cancelled at any time. Remember each box will contain at a minimum three games (or two games and an expansion), but could contain more.  

The Six month subscription runs $45 a month and can be cancelled after the six month run.  If you are planning on long term subscription, this is the better deal and will save you $30 over the cost of individual monthly subscriptions. 

Note 1:  These prices do not include Shipping and Handling
Note 2:  Multi-month subscriptions are lump sum billed, so you'll be paying up front for your subscription

I think this service has some very interesting possibilities.  Like comic books, games have a broad pool of interests, and the variation that you can find within each type of game can be staggering.  If this service uses an assortment of publishers and suppliers to provide a variety of games, it can be very rewarding to the consumer, even at the higher price point.

Now for something a little less bento ish

Marvel Collector's Corps


This is a blind box focused on Marvel Comic's properties and is a partnership between Funko and Marvel.  They ship bi-monthly (so you'll get a box every other month) and feature a variety of exclusive Marvel and Funko merchandise.

This will include
A T-Shirt (in your size)
At least one Funko figurine
A Comic book
A variety of other comic related doodads (Always fun to use the word Doodads)
*Contents subject to change)

They offer two plans for purchasing their goods and services

Firstly, they offer a $25 Collector program that is a no commitment, cancel when you want to program like the other single month subscriptions we've seen above.

They also offer a $150 yearly Hero program.  This program locks you in for six boxes, plus an annual gift of a mysterious and awesome nature.

I like this service for two key reasons.  One, having a new, quality comic licensed T-shirt delivered to me every other month is amazing.  Judging by past month boxes, they have a laser-like focus on the comic book theme for that product.  Secondly, the exclusivity of it is kind of a neat idea.  Unless you are a Collector Corps member, this is stuff you can't get anywhere else.  I like the fact that its a bi-monthly service as well, it gives you a break in there to warm up for the next shipment.

Fantasy Crate


This is a blind subscription program for the game Magic: The Gathering.  Magic has a devoted following and this product is designed give you sealed product, and other magic related items such as playmats, card sleeves, deck boxes, or dice to name a few.

They offer two packages, the Monthly crate and the Draft crate.

The monthly crate offers 3 sealed booster packs of cards and a variety of magic related items.  With a base price of $24.95 a month (plus $6 shipping and handling) and an estimated value between $40 and $50, this looks like an interesting purchase.

The Draft crate offers 6 packs of cards to the monthly crate's 3, but reduces the amount of other goodies.  The draft crate offers enough packs to play in a draft environment two different times or to play a single sealed event, assuming the packs are legal for that event type. At a price of $24.95 (with a $5 shipping and handling fee) this is a workable product if you are in an environment that lacks a magic community with a stable source of product.

I like this product because it's another method of dipping your toe into the Magic: The Gathering pool.  The merchandise looks workable and i can see it's place in an area that doesn't have a conventional shopping environment for Magic.

If you think i missed anybody or would like to highlight a company, let me know in the comments section below.

Until next time readers

Monday, November 2, 2015

Product Review: Elder Wood Academy

All right folks, here's our first official product review for the season, and its a neat one

One of the most important part of a gamer’s identity is their unique style.  From the clothes they wear to the game, to the color of the dice, to their choice of miniatures, gamers express themselves in myriad unique ways, and the more different they can be from everyone else, the better.  I recently found a company that caters to the quirkiest and most individualistic desires of the gamer culture.

Elder Wood Boxes is an artisanal shop that caters to the discriminating gamer with two key products.  They offer the Hex Chest dice box, and the Spell Book gaming box.  The Hex Chest is smaller, with two primary formats and a myriad of available options.  The Spell Book gaming box takes the customization possibilities of the Hex Chest and ratchets it up to an 11. 

http://zardozgames.blogspot.com/p/elder-wood-academy-write-up.html has the full write up, but the things that i find the most interesting about these two products are the nearly infinite combinations for making a dice chest or a gaming box that is truly unique.  You'll have your very own piece of gamer equipment that can have your signature on it.  Neat stuff all the way around, and i have some ideas for things that i would like to see the fine folks at Elder Wood Academy try once they get their Kickstarter finished and their orders filled.  Stay tuned to see what they come up with.