Winsome Lose Some

Winsome Lose Some

Before anyone leaves a comment: the title of this week’s comic is not a typo, it is a poor attempt at wordplay. You may not find this to be a preferable alternative.

Second note on this week’s comic is that I think Aileen really knocked this one out of the park. Since we moved house we now have a separate office space, so I don’t usually see the comic artwork until is it complete. Previously, due to a shared living/work space, I would get to see Aileen producing the artwork all week. I love not seeing it until it is complete, as it’s always an exciting surprise. She is really good at adding detail that I never thought of in the script, which is a constant delight. Opening up the art file to letter it is becoming a highlight of my week.

 

Arkham Horror LCG is designed as a campaign game. You play a scenario, note down your results, and then play the next scenario, carrying over your successes/failures so that they have a continuing impact. Your character can be injured or traumatised, bad guys you fail to kill will turn up again, and much more.

The interesting thing is, though, that you don’t play a scenario until you ‘win’. Each scenario has a variety of end conditions, including the investigators ‘resigning’ whenever they feel they have done enough, or from fear of not surviving. The consequences of a scenario ending this way will still carry over, essentially forcing the players to live with their defeat. Instead of chasing a victory, you find yourself taking whatever kind of win you think you can get. That can be as simple as surviving.

Forcing players to accept defeat, and to deal with it, rather than giving them the opportunity to try again and do better is not something that games do very often. In Pandemic Legacy, you get a second chance in every month, after which you move on regardless. A defeat stings, but the game doesn’t acknowledge it to the same extent as Arkham. It just adjusts the difficulty in your favour until you find a winning level. Which is a brilliant mechanic, but an altogether different feeling.

In Arkham, you have the option of replaying a scenario as often as you like, so accepting a less-than-perfect game is the player’s choice. Putting it in your hands is humbling, and frustrating-as-hell. You have to take the defeat, and carry it with you. You will not be a perfect hero, you will just be good enough to get by, and hopefully do more good than bad.

The video game L.A. Noire is the only other instance of this that I can think of. If you failed a case in L.A. Noire by accusing the wrong suspect, the game didn’t restart and make you replay the case. You got chewed out and demoted. It was horrifying and brilliant, and it made me love the game.

Noir is not a genre filled with clear-cut heroes and world-savers. And in allowing you to fail, L.A. Noire became the most authentic noir experience it could be. Similarly, in the works of Lovecraft, you won’t often find heroes. You will find failures, cowards, and people unable to deal with what they have seen and experienced.

Of course, facing down an Elder God with pistols and a book of spells isn’t exactly faithful to the source material. But the Arkham Horror LCG makes up for this by putting its players through hell, and making them really feel like they are fighting against forces that cannot be easily defeated. This flavour, this feeling of struggle, makes it Fantasy Flight’s best take on Lovecraft yet.

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Arkham Horror Horror

Arkham Horror Horror

Not the most original of comics, I know. We haven’t actually had the opportunity to play many games at all these past few weeks – besides one game of Arkham, it’s just been Pandemic Legacy. And while Pandemic Legacy is one of the most tense, exciting, brain-burning, and brilliant board game experiences we have ever had, it has had more than its fair share of coverage in our comics already.

By the way, if you are playing Legacy, and have gotten past April, check out this old comic of ours. We made it just after Pandemic Legacy was announced, and only just realised how inadvertently prescient it was.

 

Meanwhile, in Arkham … much like Fantasy Flight’s flagship LCG Netrunner, it took us a few games of the Arkham Horror LCG to actually get our head around the rules, how it plays, and how you need to play it to stand any chance of winning – or even surviving a scenario.

The gameplay is not that complicated, it’s just that the mechanisms are not that intuitive. The rulebook is also written to cater for years’ worth of expansion, and new mechanics, so by necessity it is more detailed than it needs to be for just the core set, even including several timing charts. There is a quick ‘learn to play’ guide, which is useful, but at the same time won’t take you very far.

Unusually for an LCG (Limited Card Game, if you are unfamiliar with the term, it means that instead of random boosters to increase your collection, the game uses set decks of new cards released regularly), it is a co-op game. Two players fight their way through a nightmarish stew of Lovecraft-ian settings, monsters, and horrors, all distilled into one convenient encounter deck.

The thing the game does so well, though, and what ultimately broke our resolution to never touch either CCGs or LCGs, is that each time you play, you are playing through a story-driven scenario. It is guided by ‘Act’ and ‘Event’ cards, which tell the story, and also time the game. The clock is always ticking, as you race to discover clues and fend off winged ghouls. Each expansion (typically around 15 LCEs (Local Currency Equivalent)) gives you another scenario to play through. They include cards to add to your deck, which allow you to level your characters up between sessions.

Deck-building, co-op, and campaign games are my three favourite types of game. So, despite the collectible nature of it, I was never really going to be able to resist its siren call, which could have been designed specifically to lure me onto the rocks of excessive acquisition and poverty. Collecting further expansions to continue the story of your investigators is fine though, great even.

The issue I have is with the assortment of cards with the base game. The core box provides five investigators, and cards to build decks for two of these investigators at a time, but only in select combinations. You can play Roland Banks and Agnes Baker, for example, but you can’t combine Agnes with Daisy – they use a similar card type in their decks. Even this I am fine with. Five investigators is generous, as is allowing all of the deck archetypes to be played with straight out of the box.

The issue is with the deck-building. If you want to go even slightly beyond what is suggested and craft a custom deck out of the core box, you will very quickly hit a brick wall, and the only way around that obstacle is to buy a second copy of the core set, something I will not do out of principle. I am willing to buy future expansions (there are already a lot) and over time, this will allow me to customise my deck. With time, I will have a wealth of options. But having basically no options out of the box feels like it’s just asking players to go for a second core set, and that can’t help but feel a little dirty.

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Megabytes of Madness

Writer_smallerRobo Cthulhu

In actual fact, we did make a comic without having played the game. With a weekly schedule, and a limited budget, both time-wise and money-wise, this is often necessary. I would feel bad if we were reviewing a game on these terms, but as all we try to do is add some more humour to the hobby we all love, I feel it’s OK to poke some fun at games from a distance, particularly as we try to keep the comic topical.

I did read and watch a number of reviews on the new edition of Mansions of Madness, and oddly, I can’t seem to get a clear handle on whether or not the game improves on its first, original edition. It’s a game I have long wanted to play, so I was very curious about the new edition, and the changes made. Replacing the role of dungeon master with an app is actually a great idea for a game like this. Obviously, this could never be done with an actual RPG, but with the more limited scope of a board game, it is altogether more feasible. Fantasy Flight Games tried and succeeded in their first app-driven game, XCOM, which runs brilliantly, and fits thematically with being run by technology. Having an app to inject added chaos into a real-time game by timing events, interrupting players and throwing random spanners into the works is actually a brilliant conception.

Mansions of Madness doesn’t quite seem to work like this, though, and appears to simply replace the role of games master with an app in order to make the game fully co-operative. There don’t appear to be any integration issues (unless you count hyperbolic, unfounded, apocalyptic fear), and the game apparently runs smoothly. The issue seems to be with replayability, and the number of scenarios given with the game – which is a sparse four. There are add-ons and expansions, of course, but they seemed to be priced closer to full games rather than expansions. They are of course chock full of tiles, cards and miniatures, but that doesn’t really take the sting out of it for me.

Having said all of this, what I have written above is not a review, nor should it be regarded as such. This is not a game I have played, but while it is not really on my purchase list, it is still certainly a game I want to play. I enjoy Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, and Mansions Madness takes these games further, crafting a more immersive, spooky and mysterious play experience, all of which are steps in the right direction as far as I am concerned.

In the meantime, we have plenty of other games to fill the dark evenings in the run up to Halloween – Ghost Stories and Mysterium being top of the list in that regard.

Anyone played Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition? And more importantly, what are your recommendations for a good night of spooky gaming?

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Arkham (oh the) Horror: Part II of II

Writer_smallerHappy Halloween!

Part one of the comic can be found here. Or by pressing the back button underneath the comic. The choice is yours. It’s like a really, really poor “Choose your own Adventure” book where there is only one choice and it leads to the same page anyway.

I guess it’s kind of like a regular book then?

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Arkham (oh the) Horror: Part I of II

Writer_smallerHalloween Special

We are trying something a little different this week: the comic is part one of a two-parter Halloween special. We hope you like it? In fact, do let us know whether or not you like the idea of an occasional multi-part story. While one-off comics will continue to make up the bulk of our posts, if feedback on this is good we might mix it up a little. We are still only a young comic, particularly in web terms, and so want to try new things, stretch our creative limbs to find our limits, and indeed, our most comfortable spots on the creative couch.

In fact, any and all feedback is welcome and gratefully received. More of a particular type of comic, a game you would love to see featured. Like the proverbial genie (only less blue and 50% less bearded) your wish is our command. Unless you wish for more wishes. Nobody likes a smartass.

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This really happened

Writer_smallerWelcome

Welcome to Tiny Wooden Pieces. If you want to chat to us, please use the comments section below. On your right, you will find buttons to talk to us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also email us, if you’re willing to poke about the site a little, you won’t have too much difficulty locating our email address.

We are not affiliated with any of the sites linked on the right sidebar, but they are all sites we admire and respect, so if you don’t know them, have a look. Obviously, they are all about boardgames. If you don’t like boardgames, you are probably lost. Here’s the exit.

If you are using the comments, please be nice to your fellow commenters. I’m sure you are all lovely people, so there’s no reason we can’t all get along.

While we did just launch, we have been running quietly for a few weeks, so with judicious use of the back arrow located under the comic you will find previous comics. We do hope you enjoy then, and browse with us again sometime.  (more…)

3 Comments on This really happened