Category: Games & Game Design

Board Game Review – Pandemic Legacy Season 1

As I come to the end of playing a campaign of Pandemic Legacy, I feel it is time to review the game; it is the first “Legacy” or permanent campaign-based game of its kind I have really played (apart technically from Time Stories and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, which have a similar limited-plays nature but are a series of discrete missions to complete one at a time rather than a narrative campaign), and I was interested to see if it was as good as the reviews suggested. I have always had reservations about the idea of a board game with limited opportunities to be played, but I entered the campaign with an open mind.

Now the campaign is all but complete, I have thought about what I made of the experience; I enjoyed the game a lot, but at the same time a number of issues meant I never felt it was a truly great game. The potential is there for the Legacy boardgame model to do interesting things (although I still feel much of the design space it opens could be replicated with non-destructive alternatives such as apps), and I am eager to see how later games develop the ideas seen in Pandemic Legacy‘s first “season.”

Note: This review will discuss the development of the Pandemic Legacy Season 1 campaign, including details of hidden information and scenarios.

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Adults and Their Lies – The “Finale” of Trails of Cold Steel 2

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Official Trails of Cold Steel art, Artist: Enami Katsumi

Note: This article discusses in detail plot events from Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel

In my previous article about Trails of Cold Steel 2 I mentioned how its story seemed to be a safe, comfortable sort of power fantasy at odds with how the characters described their affiliation and intentions; the player spends much of the game gathering allies for various missions in a manner similar to Mass Effect 2 and games in its vein. Each location liberated gives a new set of goals and allies to find, and the aim is to recruit a strong force for the ultimate recapture of the hero’s school, currently occupied by enemy forces. This in its own right is a good example of how the game’s narrative logic falls squarely into adolescent power fantasy; the primary objective for what rapidly becomes an immensely powerful paramilitary force is recapturing a school of symbolic, if not strategic, value. This is in service to a larger goal – trying to convince an enemy soldier who personally wronged and abandoned the heroes to return to the fold. To this end the player takes part in military operations of ever-increasing scope which call into question the “neutrality” which the characters keep referring to.

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The Mission Creep of Class VII (Initial Thoughts on Trails of Cold Steel 2)

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Official Trails of Cold Steel 2 art, Artist: Enami Katsumi

Currently I am playing Trails of Cold Steel 2, which picks up directly from a significant cliffhanger in the same way Trails in the Sky did; it begins with the cast divided, the enemy holding the upper hand and the situation generally bad except certain fundamental details of scale are different, which puts a very different tone on it and one that makes the whole “message” of the story different. It builds on a different set of pop-culture references, evoking more the “magical high school” kind of anime story rather than the easygoing pastoral fantasy Sky built on and so focuses on a cast of truly exceptional, highly-specialised heroes who fill various expected role of that sort of ensemble. Certain decisions in the sequel double down on this, taking the story outside of its initial high-school setting, which create some interesting questions about the story. As it stands I have yet to finish the game, but am some significant time into it, and this article reflects my initial thoughts on where Cold Steel stands as a series narratively.

Note: This article deals directly with story details of Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2, as well as referring to Trails in the Sky

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Heavy Gear Army Backstory – “The Mendez Connection” (150TV Caprice)

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Before reading up on the background for the Caprice faction I wasn’t sure if I would find them interesting – afterwards, I found their background appealed very much, as I am a huge fan of the mecha series Fang of the Sun Dougram.

The idea of being able to play either the collaborating forces of a colonised planet or the resistance working against them seemed very interesting, and as I worked on building this army I realised it would have to be a Militia or Resistance list all the way…

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Heavy Gear Blitz Battle Report (150TV, North vs South)

After playing a couple of demonstration games of the new edition of Heavy Gear Blitz, and having painted two full 150-point armies, I had a go at playing a full-sized game – a rematch between my North (played this time by my friend Phillip Preece) and my South army (played this time by me). In a previous solitaire game to learn the rules, the South heavy units had dealt horrible damage to a Northern patrol – in this larger game, the tables would be turned!

Game Details

Deployment: Corners

TV: 150

Objectives: North: Assassinate (Shou Kyao, Hooded King Cobra), South: Wipe Out (Fire Support Unit, Quincy Piloledge et al)

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Tabletop Game Review – Dropfleet Commander

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As much as Battlefleet Gothic was an often entertaining game, it suffered from a number of issues that I feel show its age, and show how wargame design has developed; while its factions have numerous flavourful rules and are very distinct, most of these rules do not work particularly well to create a fun game. There is absolutely a place for a game which focuses on flavour and narrative over strict statistical balance, but BFG never, I felt, committed enough to doing this and what was left was a game with two well-thought-out factions balanced against each other and a number of strange, often very thematic but not fun to play or face factions. There were numerous other mechanical idiosyncrasies that got in the way of it being a good game; small ships were unviably weaker than large ones and the special order system added far too much unnecessary variation to games by requiring a leadership test on often randomly-generated leadership.

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Closing Thoughts on Trails in the Sky

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Having now finished both halves of Trails in the Sky I feel it is a game that does very little new, but does almost everything incredibly well and with enough charm and character that it is consistently enjoyable to play and highly engaging. I have explained in previous articles how its escalation of scale from small personal problems to an ultimately nationwide threat is well-paced (over around 60-80 hours of gameplay across two games) and turned into a key piece of character development. What is more, the personal aspects (which are what make the game memorable) are very well-woven into the main plot; characters appear in sidequests and then become plot-significant, for example. In a game where a good amount of the story is about trying to work out from zero information what is going on, having the NPCs feel like they are people living lives and carrying out plans that intersect with the party’s travels is a good, immersive touch.

NB: This review touches on plot details from Trails in the Sky SC and FC, and discusses the game’s themes and storyline in some depth.

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Thoughts on the new White Dwarf Magazine

I have not played Games Workshop games for quite some time; the latest rules revisions of both Warhammer Fantasy Battle (now rebranded Age of Sigmar) and Warhammer 40,000 were not to my taste. It is fair to say my initial negativity towards Age of Sigmar has softened somewhat as subsequent updates and revisions have added more to it and addressed my initial complaints – however, while it has become a solid, basic wargame with a quite distinct aesthetic it remains a game I would not choose over the various competitors on the market (and I do question whether it being introduced as a wholesale replacement for the very different WHFB was the best course of action). Nevertheless, I have been following GW‘s shifting strategy as a company and I think they are going some way to improving; while their prices remain comparatively high, they are introducing bundles like the “Start Collecting” sets which seem sensibly put-together and represent a significant discount over buying things individually. Similarly a return to boxed games and the rumoured return of “Specialist Games” ranges like Blood Bowl seem to be reflective of what consumers have asked for, and so it is heartening to see a positive shift in direction.

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“Trails in the Sky Has a Dedicated Sprite for Hugs”

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Note: This article deals with events from the Prologue and Chapter 1 of Trails in the Sky SC, as well as the ending of Trails in the Sky FC

Something I observed on Twitter today was that Trails in the Sky, despite working with quite limited sprite-based graphics has a strong emphasis on personal, intimate character details. This was embodied by the fact it has a set of sprite animations for characters hugging each other; as all cutscenes are done in engine, the repertoire of animations each sprite has limits what actions can be depicted in a cutscene and a good number of things such as sitting down or standing up are elided over with fade effects. Yet nevertheless there are animations for giving a character a hug, a very specific action which is used incredibly well to add a personal, emotive touch to numerous scenes – there is a storyline in First Chapter about an orphanage that is burned down, and so it is natural that there should be scenes of the matron comforting her charges.

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