Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fearsome Arena

Last night, I finally got the chance to play some boardgames after a gaming hiatus of about a month or more. The four of us (myself and my friends Kevin, Wally, and Hunter) played two games which were completely new to us: Fearsome Floors (by Friedemann Friese) and Colossal Arena (by Reiner Knizia).

What follows is my overall impression of each game...


The gist of Fearsome Floors is that each player controls a band of hapless travelers who have entered a gothic fortress that's home to a terrifying and very hungry monster named Furunkulus. You are attempting to move your group of travelers through this dungeon and escape out the exit before you're eaten by the monster and before your fellow players get their travelers to safety.

In a 4-player game, the first player to get 3 of his travelers safely out of the fortress wins the game, provided that the preset time-limit (14 turns) doesn't expire. So in essence, this is a race game with lots of suspense.

Movement is very straightforward for the travelers. They can move X number of squares horizontally/vertically when it's their turn to move. Move rates are listed on the traveler's playing pawn which is a 2-sided disc. The disc gets flipped over after moving, so a traveler's move rate increases and decreases from turn-to-turn. Travelers can hide behind stones scattered throughout the dungeon, or push them around to block or open up pathways. There are also blood pools that you can slide through to move faster.

Where the real fun lies is in the monster's movement. The slobbering Furunkulus moves towards the closest visible traveler. If he lands on your location, he eats you (gulp!). He can also squish you by pushing your pawn and the stone you're hiding behind into a wall. The monster also moves much farther than the travelers, can push mutiple objects ahead due to his immense strength, can step on magic portals to rapidly teleport to another location, and can even walk through walls and suddenly emerge into the midst of a throng of startled travelers on the opposite side of the dungeon! In short, he's a mean eating machine!

Strategically, you're not only trying to avoid having your travelers get eaten by the monster and outrace him to the exit door, but you're trying to goad old Funky into chasing down your opponents and turning them into lunchtime snacks. Sometimes this means sacrificing one of your travelers to ensure that a whole bunch of opposing travelers get eaten. Oftentimes, clever positioning will force the monster to alter his course, squishing opponents into walls, stepping on teleportation portals, or walking through walls to thwart travelers who thought they were in a safe spot. Sometimes, you have to screw over the other guy to survive!

I thoroughly enjoyed Fearsome Floors. Although the rules are on the simple side, this is a challenging mid-weight strategy game that plays in about an hour. There's lots of chaos which keeps things interesting (the dungeon floorplan is ever-changing and the hungry monster twists and turns a lot), and the light-horror theme lends itself to lots of laughs. I found myself cheering for Funky to "eat, eat, eat" whenever he rumbled towards my opponents' pieces.


The second game we played was Colossal Arena, a card game by the good Doctor himself, Reiner Knizia. In this game, mythical monsters are duking it out for supremacy in a gladiatorial arena. Eight monsters enter this grand free-for-all, but in the end, only 3 are left standing.

The fight lasts for 5 rounds. During this time, you are placing bets on the monsters who you think will make it out alive once the dust has settled. The earlier you place a bet during the monster slug-a-thon, the more risk you're taking, since there are more beasties still alive. But betting early potentially reaps big rewards. Bets placed later on in the competition are much safer, but pay out much less.

The cool part of Colossal Arena is that you have a direct hand in how the fighting turns out.

You have a hand of 8 combat cards which you may play onto the table to influence how well (or how poorly) a particular monster is faring in the fight. Each combat card identifies a monster and has a combat value of 0 to 10. During a round of combat, players are laying cards on the table, trying to allocate high valued cards to the monsters they want to win (those they've bet on) and low valued cards to those beasts who they want to suffer defeat (those of opposing players who have bet many chips on them).

There's an additional twist to all of this action. If you're the BACKER of a given monster (the person who has placed the highest bet on him), then you can use that monster's Special Power whenever you play a combat card associated with him. The special powers allow you to do all kinds of neat stuff like take cards from other players, play 2 combat cards, discard a combat card that someone has already laid on the table, draw extra combat cards, etc. Taking advantage of the unique abilities of the monsters you're backing adds a whole layer of nuanced strategy to the game that's easily overlooked when you're just learning to play the game. But to me, this variety is what truly moves Colossal Arena from a simple betting game to something great.

I'm not averse to "screw your opponent" type of games, and Colossal Arena is certainly that style of game. In order for your bets to payoff, you need to ensure that your behemoths come out on top, and that means whomping on your enemies in every way possible. This isn't a game to play with your Mother or those with tissue-thin sensitivity. Being a fantasy fan, I also love the monster slug-a-thon theme and it's successfully executed by gorgeous card art.

I highly recommend Colossal Arena. It plays fast (45-60 minutes), is highly interactive and never dull, and packs a lot of replay value for your $20 bucks. Go get it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out of Kilter

My life has been out of kilter lately. You can thank my Mother-in-Law for that. You see, she's been staying with us for over a month as she recovers from major surgery to fix her broken hip.

Oh, we've been getting along just fine. So I won't go into Mother-in-Law Bashing mode. It's just that having another adult staying in your home messes with your usual daily routines and really twirls all aspects of your life into unexpected directions. Couple that with the fact that I spent many October evenings watching and rooting for my Phillies in the major league baseball playoffs, and not a whole lot of tabletop gaming, mini-painting, or other extracurricular stuff was being done.

Of course as we all know, the Fightin' Phils won the World Series (WOOHOO!!!), their first in 28 years, so it was entirely worth it. But I'm glad the series is over; my heart couldn't take much more of that nail-biting, gut-wrenching excitement!

Anyway.... I've had no time or desire to blog lately. Hopefully, that will change sometime soon, once my life returns to normal.

At least one major gaming thing is on my horizon.... I'm heading off to FALL IN this weekend! Looks like all of my miniature wargaming buddies are off doing family-related things this week, so I'm going solo. That's a bit of a bummer, but such is the life of 40-something gamers.

This time around, I'm going to focus my wargame shopping on some cool stuff that I've consciously backed away from over the past year or so. Namely, unpainted miniatures. I already have overflowing tubs full of unpainted figures to paint, but it has been awhile since I've added anything new to my cache of tiny tin men. But it's time to unshackle my slobbering inner lead junkie and have at it. SULTAN... NEED... TIN... slobber slobba drip drip....

I recently became a member of the Old Glory Army. This shopping club, which costs $50 per year, entitles you to 40% off most products sold on the Old Glory website and at HMGS East shows. You're also entered into regular prize drawings for free goodies and get a set of 12 free specialty figures with your first order. You need to spend $120 bucks to break even, before you start realizing large savings. But that's not very hard to do, especially since Old Glory has their own massive miniature range to pick from, and you can buy models from Crusader USA (great line of ancients and dark age minis), Blue Moon (cool pulp, horror, swashbuckler, and Robin Hood figures), West Wind (love their Dwarf Wars and Gothic Horror ranges), and Ghost Miniatures (some classic fantasy figs -- great dwarves, ice trolls, orc, and barbarians).

But the thing that really sold me on the Old Glory Army membership was their recent release of Old Glory Painted. These are painted versions of some of OG's metal minis. They're initially releasing Romans and Zulus, but within the next few months we'll see a host of new historical periods offered (including Vikings, Greek Hoplites, Persians, Macedonians) and even Dwarves and Orcs. NICE! The jury is still out on the quality of the figs & their associated paint jobs, but I'm optimistic and hope to see some of the Romans for myself at FALL IN.

Besides whipping out the Old Glory Army card and spending money on the previously mentioned stuff, I'm definitely interested in visiting the Eureka stand. In addition to their awesome warrior Frogs (gotta get some!), I'm smitten with their new range of Beowulf figures which are truly excellent sculpts and full of character. The Empire of the Petal Throne stuff is also enticing. I'm hoping that Age of Glory will still have some Front Rank medievals on hand (they're not going to be carrying them anymore -- damn shame). These are my favorite models for 100 Years War and War of the Roses by far. And finally, I need to check out the WarGods stuff for assorted goodies (Anubi, Sebeki, Spartans, Typhons, Yeti, etc.).

Okay... almost finally.... I forgot about the cool stuff from Bronze Age and Hydra Miniatures. I'm not a huge sci-fi gamer, but some of their stuff is too cool to resist. The Hydra minis have a retro sci-fi feel that really pushes all the right buttons for me.

As for painted stuff, I'll definitely visit Stan Johansen's stand, as his fantasy stuff is beautiful and reasonably priced. Plus, he's a great guy and I love supporting the truly good people in this hobby.

Anyway... Enough rumblings for now. I'll report back here once I return from my journey down to Gettysburg and FALL IN 2008. It will be VERY interesting to see if the piss-poor economy has a negative impact on the convention. I hope not, but I fear it will hurt somewhat.