10 Awesome Gateway Games to Get You Into Board Gaming

Here is a list of some of the best games to get you started in the wonderful world of board gaming.

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Read the full list at Playboy

 

We are living in a Golden Age of board gaming. Exciting indie Kickstarter projects bring innovative new concepts to the market. Big publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games successfully produce new high quality games every year. Board games come in all kinds of wonderful shapes and flavors, from deck-building card games to miniature wargames, and I truly believe there’s a great game out there for everyone.

Of course if you haven’t played a game since getting your ass kicked by dad in Monopoly all those years ago, you may not be aware of all these great games. Or worse, you may be intimidated by hefty rulebooks and boxes filled with dozens of pieces. Thankfully the industry is full of “gateway games” that are intuitively designed to ease you into this wonderfully social hobby. Here is a list of some of the best board games to get you started.

Read the full list at Playboy

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 4 Report

The runners try to sell the valuable commlinks and end up in the middle of a firefight.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Things wrapped up rather swiftly in our final session of “Splintered State.” The end of the published adventure is quite open-ended and very reactionary depending on whom the players decide to sell the commlinks to. I opted to eliminate the optional final run and instead use the meet as a staging ground for our climactic finale.

The commlink the players find early in the mission is mainly an excuse to suddenly make the runners big targets for many large organizations. They’re hunted and attacked through several scenes before everyone decides to play ball and offer them money.

Shadowrun splintered stateThere’s a bit of story going on but none of it really matters to the immediate plot. It was a bit unfortunate to be introducing this whole other plot involving FBI Agent Dietrich and Governor Brackhaven on top of our finale. To make it work I retconned Gregory Zane, one of the parties interested in the commlink and a shadowrunner working for Brackhaven, the main villain of our campaign.

The players had an opportunity to actually sell the commlink to Zane, as well as Ares or Mitsuhama for a sweet chunk of change. They chose to take the nobler path and sell to Eliza Bloom and Project Freedom, who vowed to take down Governor Brackhaven’s racist and terrorist activities. In hindsight I should’ve made Jeremiah Redd (their friendly fixer they rescued in “Not with a Whimper“) a member of Project Freedom. It would’ve fit perfectly since he was an ork and one of my players questioned him about it. I backpedaled not knowing if that would create some weird plot holes at the time, but it would’ve fit rather nicely and at least tied a few things together.

Instead my players were still left wondering why Zane went to all this trouble to hound them throughout the campaign, and attack them at the end. The players were in the midst of selling the commlink to some Knight Errant forces (whom they had actually battled previously in the adventure) when Zane showed up with a bunch of his own team to kill everyone and take the commlinks.

The final battle was filled with a dozen NPCs, but I quickly killed off many of them off screen to create a sense of chaos and deadly force. Zane’s team murdered most of the Knight Errant forces, then Mauta triggered some C4 she’d strategically laid around the windows and exits of their safehouse, killing some of Zane’s runners. The players had Detective Tosh Athack on their side, but hilariously my first roll with him caused an errant grenade to go off right in his face, knocking adept Falkirk unconscious.

shadowrun splintered state

The runners were actually pretty well fortified in the safehouse, and handled the battle fairly easily. Mauta’s sniper rifle is a one-woman wrecking crew, and nearly one-hit killed both Zane and his partner mage (the woman on the boat that mind controlled everyone at the end of “Road Rage“). Tosh took some heavy hits but revived Falkirk enough to get him up and stabbin’. Soon Zane had to retreat pitifully along with the mage and a single runner providing covering fire.

The players had successfully fought them off, and completed the transaction. Altogether they received 180,00 nuyen for their trouble, a huge increase compared to previous adventures, as well as a bunch of Karma points and some new contacts like Tosh. While the villain and overarching plot came up a bit flat, I think overall “Splintered State” did a fine job highlighting my players’ strengths of tactics, combat, and socializing with fun NPCs. Look for our full “Splintered State” recap episode next week!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Factor, Vol. 6-7

The Secret Invasion tie-ins are awful but the rest is amazing, and X-Factor remains one of my favorite comics to read.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

x-factor volume 7Writer: Peter David

Artist: Larry Stroman (#33-36, 38), Valentine De Landro (#37, 39-45)

Issues: X-Factor #33-45

 

You know that TV show you love? The familiar characters that feel like long lost friends or a second family. The zany situations and clever callbacks that reward viewer commitment. The perfect blend of drama, comedy, and action.

I’ve read a lot of comics since subscribing to Marvel Unlimited digital service and I think I’m ready to declare that Peter David’s X-Factor is my favorite series to read.

As much prepared praise as I have for Volume 7, Volume 6 is actually quite terribly. Half Secret Invasion tie-in and half bringing in new characters in a regurgitated plot of bad guys experimenting on mutants, Volume 6 is also cursed with some of the worst art I’ve ever seen. Characters look like deformed alien monkeys with zero adherence to proportion or skeletal structure. It’s distractedly awful and even a stellar story would struggle to climb its way out of that mess.

The story is less than stellar. Thankfully the Secret Invasion tie-ins are only two issues long, as well as pointlessly crossing over with an issue of She-Hulk. I think it literally boils down to a random street fight with a single skrull.

It does introduce two new X-Factor members – dimensional playboy Longshot with his nebulous probability powers, and the constantly evolving Darwin fresh off the X-Men’s space adventures. Both end up as surprisingly neat characters in David’s capable hands, but in the immediate story following event tie-ins Darwin is captured and the rest of the team are hired to rescue him. It’s familiar ground that the comic has disappointingly tread before in the Complete Collection Volume 1, and wraps up all too easily.

x-factor #39It’s pretty rare for any story to go from its lowest point immediately to its highest, but that’s exactly what happens between Volumes 6 and 7. Syren is pregnant with Jamie’s baby from a drunken tryst during the Complete Collection Volume 2 that may or may not have involved one of his duplicates, and her water breaks right at the end of Volume 6.

In Volume 7, “Time and a Half,” the team rushes to the hospital for the dramatic birth. There’s an intriguing side story with Val Cooper of the O.N.E. trying to protect them. The mutants of X-Factor are understandably resentful of her involvement and fear for the baby, and once again David turns a seemingly minor throwaway character from a different comic into an interesting cast member.

Turns out the one they needed to fear was Madrox himself. In a supremely dark twist, Madrox holds his son for the first time only to absorb him like he does all his dupes. The baby was really the child of a dupe! Syren completely flips out and attacks him and the drama surrounding the event is deliciously crazy and awesome. Madrox’s unique powers and multiple personalities is fascinating, and together with his noir-ish inner monologue make Madrox one of the most compelling characters in Marvel comics.

Madrox reaches a low point and becomes suicidal as he leaves the team to search for a dupe he’d met earlier in the series (another awesome callback). John Madrox represents a life Jamie doesn’t have – a community leader and a loving family. Just when Jamie prepares to off himself, who should show up but the future-flung former member of X-Factor – the teenage psychic Layla Miller, now all grown up.

x-factor #42Layla (who’d teased earlier in the series that they’d be married some day), brings Madrox to the dystopian future of the Summers Rebellion. It picks up a lot of pieces from the Lalya Miller One-Shot but also acts decently on its own, considering there’s about four other stories happening concurrently. Syren and Val have a heart-to-heart girl bonding session over miscarriage. Guido and Rictor visit John Madrox only to be attacked by a mind-controlled Shatterstar. Darwin and Monet guard a new client who’s worried someone’s trying to kill her.

All the plot threads start coming together in a cool way, involving yet another mutant-targeting organization, but at least this one seems to tie in tons of previous events as well as drawing everyone together despite their different situations – and in some cases, timelines.

I say “seems to” because Volume 7 actually ends at a cliffhanger, to be resolved  in Volume 8. I try to organize these Final Thoughts so I’m not trying to cram too many issues in one write-up, but it was really hard not to sprint ahead and read Volume 8. Volume 7 had so many incredible moments and big plot-centric payoffs, and a big reason for that is maintaining the same comic show-runner throughout its run.

X-Factor has that perfect balance of soothing familiarity and exciting changes, all of which have been fantastic. My advice: skip Volume 6, “Secret Invasion” but read everything else, because X-Factor is nothing short of amazing.

x-factor #43

RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 Review [iPad]

The 2004 3D entry in the series is effectively ported to mobile devices with new touch screen controls and same great gameplay.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

rollercoaster tycoon 3

The RollerCoaster Tycoon series was one of the most beloved simulation games on PC. It gave players control of an entire theme park, tasking you with the simple but fun jobs of building rides, keeping your visitors happy, and making enough money to build more rides.

Originally released in 2004, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was the first to take the series 3D. Its big new feature was letting you ride your own custom-built coasters from a thrilling first-person perspective.

In a growing trend, the original developers have now created an iPad version of RCT3. The intuitive design meshes well with the new touch screen controls. However newcomers may be put off by the low-resolution graphics and somewhat slower pace.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 3 Report

All hell breaks loose when the runners meet-up with an important contact at the zoo.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Working off an official published adventure has been an interesting experience. It’s incredibly handy in a lot of ways, with lots of pre-made stat blocks for all the NPCs, hefty amounts of colorful descriptions, and even suggestions for how to tweak the challenge level of various encounters. Even then I can’t help but modify and change things to suit my needs. I can’t get into spoiler-y stuff just yet, but the recap episode should be especially fascinating.

In last night’s session the players had a clear objective in front of them – meet FBI Agent Seth Dietrich at the zoo. He offered to buy back his commlink for a cool 100,000 nuyen. While the pay was certainly nice, my players were much more interested in getting some answers to this confusing mystery.

Having a clear focus of where to go and what to do greatly motivates my players into tackling the objective in some fun ways. In this case they wanted to scope out the zoo location the day before the meet, and check to see if they’d be able to smuggle weapons in. I may have made them a tad paranoid – not only is the world of Shadowrun generally violent, but this adventure has been especially action-packed as the players have been attacked left and right.

In fact on their way to the zoo they noticed a car following them, and opted to pull over and ready their weapons. It proved to be a solid move as they made short work of the crazy cyborg Night Hunters that poured out of the car to attack them. A combination of Ursev’s ball lightning centered on the car and a barrage of bullets put most of the them down. I did the rest by rolling a 0 on a leaping charge attack from a very wounded attacker. I had him sail past his target and splatter on the sidewalk. Hey, as long as it’s fun I don’t mind failing miserably with my NPCs, and I’ll always play it up.

shadowrun

At the zoo it was fun describing the various para-animals that inhabited the enclosures. Falkirk did a great job scouting out the areas and finding a hiding spot for their weapons that they tossed over the wall.

They next day they waltzed in through the entrance. Well, all but Saran the decker who really wanted to hack into the extensive security in order to bring his gun inside. He had failed at this task the previous day, also for no reason other than wanting to walk in with all his gear. His team mates balked at this and finally talked him down, where he went back to the car. I don’t think the decker role suits the player very well, but that’s also on me as someone who’s still not totally on board with how decking (or rigging) work in the obtuse Shadowrun rules.

Inside, the other three retrieved their weapons and met Dietrich in the reptile tunnel, next to the basilisk exhibit. Unfortunately while Dietrich’s body was there, his mind was not. It was currently occupied by someone named Jake Armitage (whom you may recognize from the old 16-bit Shadowrun game or the recent Shadowrun Returns).

Armitage was just as confused as the players as to his situation, alluding to the title of the adventure as well as the confusion surrounding the missing commlink. Like any good mystery it led to more questions than answers – especially when an unseen sniper tore a hole through Armitage/Dietrich’s throat at the height of their confusion.

shadowrun basilisk exhibit

All hell broke loose in the zoo – what you thought this was going to be easy? A pair of highly skilled assassins opened fire on both sides of the players as the basilisks burst through the glass. Falkirk and Ursev were sitting ducks, but Mauta actually got the jump on one of the assassins by being nonchalant at one end of the tunnel.

There were only two assassins but they were both more powerful than any of the PCs (skill and armor wise, at least). The players were also slightly under-equipped since they couldn’t smuggle in Ursev’s battle axe or Mauta’s sniper rifle. Thankfully for them the assassins didn’t want to stick around with UCAS Military Police converging on the location. They left the runners after a single round (though not before doing some significant damage) to deal with the basilisks.

My players have proven heroic in the past so I played up the screaming and crying of the crowd during the chaos, and had one basilisk attack a group of huddled school children in a corner. My players responded immediately with charging melee attacks and Mauta’s deadly shots, making fairly short work of the overgrown lizards – though not without a briefly enjoyable scare as one of them partially petrified Falkirk.

Saran was able to watch the video feeds and then shut down one of the assassins’ cyberware and weapons, further hastening their retreat. Unfortunately he really didn’t have anything to do for the round or two where only the basilisks remained – a bad design on my part. It speaks to our ineptitude at thinking of things a decker/hacker can do, most of which isn’t written in the adventure.

shadowrun

The players were able to blend in with the chaotic, surging crowd leaving the zoo, and escaped with relative ease. Mauta managed to grab the pouch of credsticks and a 2nd commlink that Dietrich had on him – something I specifically mentioned to the players during the conversation and hoped they’d remembered about. Maybe they’ll find some answers in this commlink.

They also have several pending messages from some contacts and unknown parties, no doubt pertaining to this hot potato of a commlink they have in their possession that everyone wants to get their hands on. This was one of our more enjoyable sessions with lots of laughter, jokes, and fun heroic moments in combat. Tune in next week!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Unepic

An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Francisco Téllez de Meneses

Publisher: Ninagamers Corp.

Release Date: October 2, 2011

rogues adventures final thoughts

Unepic has the unique quality of reminding me of a game I’ve never played. It feels like it utilizes a classic gameplay formula of meshing together elements of Metroid and Diablo in a 2D dungeon crawl, but I’d honestly never played a game quite like it. So while I lack any nostalgia for the gameplay, I found it inventive and interesting, despite some annoying difficulty spikes, immature, reference-filled writing, and a boring art style.

As you can quickly surmise from the banner image, our snarky hero is a modern day 20-something transported into a fantasy dungeon. He spends the entire first half of the game convinced that he’s taken some hallucinogenic drugs, and constantly spouts not-so-clever nerd-culture references at every opportunity. It grows tiresome a few hours in, and this is a 20 hour game.

rogues adventure

The one saving grace with the trite story (besides the surprisingly great finale and ending) is the shadowy creature that possesses the hero early on. Dubbed Zera, the shadow fails to possess our hero (who probably has a name but I don’t remember it at all) and winds up trapped within his body, becoming an unwilling companion to our adventures in the castle.

Zera provides a nice foil for our hero to play off of, as he’s constantly trying to get the hero killed so he’ll be freed. In one of the better nerd-references, their relationship is compared to X-Men‘s Xavier and Magento. Their respect for each other gradually builds over the course of the adventure, and by the end I grew to love Zera – murderous tendencies and all.

While the story isn’t exactly as captivating as even the relatively simplistic tales in Castlevania or Metroid (or even Diablo), the gameplay makes up for it. The dungeon is made up of individual rooms that take up a full screen. Each room is darkened and made up of multiple levels filled with ladders, platformes, and enemies. Lighting the torches along your way becomes critical, and a neat way to gauge your progress through each zone.

rogues adventure

The castle is divided up into over half a dozen areas, each with around a dozen screens, creating an impressively large dungeon. I actually found it just a bit too long as the overall gameplay and tactics grew repetitive toward the end – not to mention some rough patches where enemies grew wildly in strength and numbers. Damn the skeleton-filled catacombs!

Unepic leans heavily on the RPG aspects of the genre. Leveling up awards 5 skill points that can be pumped into various weapon and magic skills. The system isn’t very user-friendly, and it’s designed for those that want to min/max their characters by dumping everything into only a few skills to get the best abilities and wield the strongest weapons. Of course you won’t know which skills and weapons you’ll want, so it’s a stressful bit of planning ahead in the early levels. There is a side quest about halfway through that allows you to reset your points – a very helpful feature.

Each area has its own major quest that results in learning a new piece of magic. While some of the quests are fun and take you to different areas of the castle, it also leads to lots of backtracking. It also downplays the latter magic skills (Alteration, Protection) as presumably you’ve already put points into the early ones like Fire or Frost.

By the way, I went with a rogue/ranger type build, focusing on daggers, bows, and axes. A unique dagger I earned from a side quest carried me far, but eventually dropped them to focus on bows and axes. I found a late-game unique bow that absolutely decimated everything, and became my weapon of choice, along with some support from Fire and Healing spells.

rogues adventure

Backtracking is alleviated with an admittedly great fast travel system. Especially coming from Ori and the Blind Forest, which didn’t have one at all. Gates are scattered around the castle, usually 2 per zone, and teleport you to a central room filled with other gates.

In addition you can buy scrolls and spells that instantly take you to the merchants in each area. Quickly moving around the relatively large dungeon wasn’t an issue at all, though trying to remember which merchants sold what ability tomes was a bit annoying.

Limited animations and pixelated graphics are more than fine for a one-person indie project, but I was disappointed at the very limited palette selection throughout most of the castle. The individual room designs are nice, but so much of the castle is brown and gray that it grows repetitive after a dozen hours. Enemy types are also repeated to a high degree, with skeletons, snakes, and goblins making up a bulk of the foes I killed.

rogues adventure

Bosses fare a little better, taking a cue from the large, area-defining bosses of other metroidvanias. Oddly enough despite my haphazard skill management and character planning, I found most of the bosses quite easy. Zera helpfully warned me about each one, and most were slow with easily dodged attacks.

With better writing and a tighter, more varied focus Unepic could’ve been something really special. It’s still an impressive collection of genre parts all working together to produce a fun experience. By the final few areas I was definitely ready for it to be over, though I did very much enjoy the twist ending and interesting gameplay mode they introduce for the final battle. An interesting indie RPG experience that rewards persistence, exploration, and careful character planning.

rogues adventure

 

Pros

  • Solid 2D action-platformer gameplay with lots of loot and side quests
  • Rooms are well-designed and fun to explore and lighting mechanic works well
  • Fast travel system works incredibly well, minimizing backtracking woes and death penalties
  • Neat twist ending that introduces a last minute gameplay switch

 

Cons

  • Immature writing filled with references that are more miss than hit
  • Each area has the same basic structure, which quickly grows repetitive
  • Not enough enemy or art variety for the 20 hour length
  • Bosses are mostly slow and easy, while certain areas are annoyingly difficult

 

Final Say: An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ms. Marvel (2006), Vol. 5-6

Vol. 5-6 represent Carol’s best work as she fights off the skrulls in the Secret Invasion, then explores her past with the Air Force.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Ms Marvel vol 6Writer: Brian Reed

Artist: Adriana Melo, Paulo Siqueira

Issues: Ms. Marvel (2006) #25-34, Ms. Marvel Annual, Ms. Marvel Storyteller

 

Ms. Marvel (that’s the Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel 2006-10 comic) has skirted along my reading schedule by often remaining just good enough to keep me reading regularly. The light but enjoyable tone from writer Brian Reed and decent art has kept me invested even when the series dips a little too far into typical silly comic plots and drama.

She definitely finds her groove in her fifth and sixth volumes, as we dive into her one-woman army approach to the Secret Invasion, followed by a surprisingly fun, intrigue-laden turn as we explore Carol Danvers as an Air Force Espionage Agent before she became a superhero.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ms. Marvel (2006), Vol. 5-6”