Board Game

This Is Shadows Of Brimstone

I thought I understood pain.  As a former attendee of the high school educational regimen, an attendee who was not terribly liked nor disliked, I thought I understood apathy.  Demoralization.  These feelings are mere constructs when laid bare against the foundation of Brimstone, they facsimiles of an emotion which is only a shadow-sliver of its true strength.  As a frequenter of the streets of Arkham, I have become hardened against the potential dark waiting with its maw and its suckers and its gaping hate, and in those things I find no fear.  Only resolve.  But in Brimstone, in the mines outside the dust of an old west town where inspired abominations pull at the fabric of our world, my will was tested.  It was broken.  There is no love for my avatar now.  No bond forged by tribulation.  Having suffered defeat upon defeat in the face of these eldritch terrors, I dash my pawn willingly against the beach of that sharp shore, thinking not of their sacrifice, but of my lust for revenge.

My brother and I have approached the first scenario in the game – the basic, introductory scenario, I might stress – a total of eight times, and in those eight attempts, we have come close to victory twice.  Those two, that bleak twenty-five percent, is close only in the way a tornado missing your home before changing its trajectory is close, a brief moment of hope before realization settles, and the inevitable quiet follows.  We would reach our objective ahead of the curve: in good health, sound mind, and with our “continue” (a Revive token) still in hand.  Things were up.  Then the card draw, the Fate-capital-eff of our heroes decided by what it read, what monsters we would face, and the overwhelming crush chasing after.

Rinse.

Repeat.

There were times we made it only one tile into the mine, a series of terrible rolls drawing Darkness cards which unleashed poisonous gas through those narrow shafts, the putrid air sickening us so deeply we collapsed, quite literally per the flavor-text’s painting, in pools of our own vomit.  There were times we were outnumbered, and in a fit of strategic brilliance I’d lit my stick of dynamite and sent it howling into those devil hoards only to overshoot my mark, that stick taking one unlucky bounce, a second unlucky bounce, a final unlucky bounce before detonating at the feet of my partner, around a corner, turning his fine black suit into red mist.

I respect a certain amount of luck in my games.  I even respect a certain amount of luck in my life.  A small part of me understands my making it safe to work is a roll of infinite cosmic die, my car a working heap of human-constructed parts surrounded by hundreds of other heaps of human-constructed parts all traveling at an incredible pace, all driven by people with more vying for their attention than the person racing next to them.  In my own life, however, I have some semblance of control.  That control may be mythical, the idea of balance where none exists, but an idea is still a powerful thing, and in that idea, I feel control.  It is one thing to roll the dice and witness the result.  It is another thing entirely to believe you chose the result.  This concept is the root of my love and my hate of Brimstone.  This, like so many of Flying Frog’s other games, are wholly dependent on a six-sided cube.  Eight-sided if you’re playing the Marshal, a cube which statistically lands on the number two far more than odds or science or whatever dictates this sort of thing professes it should.  All the planning in the world will only carry you so far.  My choosing door A over B for a strategic purpose matters little when Hell comes shooting from it, a Hell spawned by the roll of a seven and not a six, or a poorly timed series of doubles, and my actual decision held no weight in the outcome.  Things like that make me want to crawl into an Elder God’s belly and be devoured for millenia.  This is a game of random outcomes, and there’s very little planning you can do which will affect your Fate.  Chances are you were dead before you set foot in the mine, you just didn’t know it yet.

Here’s the good news: it’s fun.  A lot of fun.  For all the hours spent exploring and dying and repeating, I don’t see any of them as wasted.  There’s something wonderful about playing a Saloon Girl (yes, a Saloon girl) with a hidden pistol who lays waste to a creature with tentacles for a mouth.  There’s even something wonderful about a stick of dynamite with a vendetta against my family.  Or a portal ripping open to unleash sadness into an otherwise innocuous room of bones.  Moan though I may about performance issues, I understand nothing here wishes my success, and the mountain and the climb to save the world is great.  This is a stacked deck.  A number of stacked decks, come to think, the Darkness cards, Growing Dread cards, Encounter cards, Threat cards, even Scavenge cards all sorted and randomly filed to shut your excitement down the moment you start shaking those dice.  What could make for a miserable experience is mitigated by the enjoyment when something goes right, the ability to string this curiosity of a story together and finding laughter in its retelling, and the presentation.  I like the miniatures.  Yes, I wish I didn’t have to assemble them myself because I’m terrible at it, but whatever.  Having finished with the setup, I’m incredibly happy.  The components are typical Flying Frog and very well done.  The setting is outstanding.  Like I mentioned in a previous post: western meets Lovecraft equals yes.  My only legitimate complaint as far as game design goes is also something of traditional Flying Frog stock.  A lot of care has gone to make you feel as though you’re in a roleplaying game.  Between the personal items your character begins with to help flesh out your history, and the ability to go to town between missions and further these adventures as you travel, you’re meant to become attached to your person.  Again: any love I once held is gone and they are now merely vessels for my hate, but the intent is there.  Trouble is, all the other stats your character comes loaded with – Agility, Cunning, Spirit, so on – are there only for use when an encounter occurs.  Rather than use my Agility to nimbly thread the grip of a Strangler in an effort to buy myself distance and set-up a kill shot, that Agility goes unused unless I’m told to make a skill check due to some environmental hazard.  Like I said, this is something all FF games do for the most, and I’m not surprised nor really put-out by it, but with such a heavy focus on the craftsmanship of self alongside all these other stats, it’s tough not to be a little disappointed said skills are a rarely used trigger rather than a choice in the Player’s arsenal.

There are two base sets: City of the Ancients, and Swamps of Death, both of which are independent experiences with the ability to mix/match should the fancy strike you.  I have the former.  I think Swamps comes with some lady who shapeshifts into a bear which I’m a little disappointed about, but Saloon Girl > Bear-Lady.  My copy was about $90.  Worth it?  Totally, if you can handle the sheer size of garbage you’ll need to dodge in a string of lucky rolls.  I don’t mean to sound as though there are no decisions you make which will change the outcome, there are, though these are very few and very far in comparison to some well-placed prayers.  I get my pure strategy fixes elsewhere, and while I’d be happier if the needle was tilted ever-so-slightly further in that direction here, I’m mostly involved to posse it up against the coming dark.  And that’s exactly what I get.

If I ever manage to make it through the ten missions included, I would absolutely get any and all expansions for this thing.  Even if not, I like the game enough to just put them on my shelf and stare at the potential dangers inside.

Recommended.

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Board Game

This Is Fortune And Glory

I’d like to think Jason C. Hill and I would be good friends.  We seem to share a fair amount in common, if the games he designs are any indication.  All the necessary genres are covered: zombies, aliens, a Sleepy Hollow-esque confrontation of good and evil, and Fortune and Glory, the game born from a love of 30’s era pulp comics.  I suppose it helps the majority of Flying Frog’s games are, or can be, cooperative in nature, which allows me to play them solo as a result of my bridge-burning loneliness, but their track record is incredibly solid to boot.  I say this with a caveat, which is going to give away my review before getting into the details, but Fortune ultimately falls short for me, though it’s the only game in their library I’m lukewarm to, and the only game of theirs not hitting my table on a regular basis.  In fact: I can’t remember the last time I actually played it.

The setting is what first drew my in, just like it did with their other game.  Players take on the role of pulp cliches like the Night Club Singer, the Flying Ace, or the Mad Scientist, all racing to raid tombs and temples in order to gain their guarded treasures while thwarting Nazis.  Or the Mob.  But really Nazis, because a Zeppelin > no Zeppelin.  Nothing in that description is or sounds bad.  And, what’s more, the treasure system is brilliant, pairing two cards to create exactly what you’d expect when playing an interpretation of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, or Nathan Drake, with names like The Spear of Hades or The Monkey Skull of Atlantis.  Again I say: nothing in that description is bad.  And further, there’s the dangers you face, sand traps and sharks and boats and plane chases, all with the potential to have a cliff-hanger ending should you fail to pass the test.  Here’s where the cracks begin though.  I love the concept of racing to cross a bridge with the treasure in sight when the path gives way and that Night Club Singer must ride the bridge down, hanging above the roiling river with an unsure grip.  Those moments are wonderful.  The trouble is: there’s a deck of about one hundred of these cards, and that’s a lot of flipping and die rolls.  See: you draw a card from the bottom of the deck so the trial remains a mystery, roll dice appropriate to the skill you’re testing – maybe Agility, maybe Cunning – if you pass, repeat, if you fail, flip the card for the cliffhanger and your turn ends.  Treasures have certain numbers of trails which need completed in order to acquire them, so this draw/flip/roll might continue for quite a bit.  What’s worse, other players are just hanging out while you do this, and though they obviously don’t want you to succeed, there’s little motivation to be invested (I’ve found) due to the repetition.  The narrative as a result of this random draw also suffers.  I understand it’s impossible to expect any fair amount of cohesion here, but when I’m in a temple and I go from quicksand to plane chase to fire pit to pygmis, I have a tough time stringing that into a workable line.  This is a personal nitpick, and isn’t terribly reflective of the game itself, just something I wanted to mention if you’re anything like me.  Pulls me out, as well as a moment inside a story featuring a wealthy British Lord stealing the Crown of Charlemagne from a Nazi zombie camp can pull you out, but there we are.

I think my biggest gripe is the lack of variety.  Each treasure is worth a certain amount of glory (or maybe fortune, I get the two currencies confused), of which you need fifteen in order to win.  After you’ve gotten your prize, Players will return to a city to turn them in for fortune/glory, and zoom off to the next temple or dungeon, of which four are active at any given time.  This also allows for very little interaction between Players.  As travel is somewhat cumbersome, even with the ability to fly between cities, there’s little incentive to actually go after your opponent when it’s much easier avoiding them altogether to delve into a tomb of your own.  Otherwise, you run the risk of them beating you to the treasure or injury, both of which are a waste of time.  Couple this with trying to avoid Nazi leaders doing their own digging, and even multiplayer games tend to be incredibly single player.  This may simply be the way I’ve chosen to play, and again a possible reflection on style versus rules, but after about a dozen games, it sums my experience pretty well.

There are a lot of pieces.  That’s typical of most Flying Frog games, but after you’re done getting everything set up, the reward for your time in terms of gameplay just isn’t worth it to go through the setup in the first place.  I see they have expansions out, and maybe they mitigate some of my complaints, I don’t know.  While I haven’t read up on them much, I have a difficult time believing the core game would be changed radically enough to address them.  There’s so much potential (there should be given the theme and volume of cards/possibilities), but with no real motivation to seek out anything but treasure and ignore everything else, much of that potential feels wasted.  I can think of only a game or two where I actually went after gear to buff up my character in a meaningful way, where in something like Arkham Horror or Flying Frog’s own A Touch of Evil, tougher choices need to be made, and all options explored.

Personally, this is a non recommend.  Everything on paper looks good.  I want it to be great.  Heck, I asked for their newest game Shadows of Brimstone for Christmas, and hope to get it.  It too sounds perfect on paper: Lovecraftian horror set in the old west?  Yes.  Just… yes.  And I still count Flying Frog’s track record as outstanding.  So I have hope.  Fortune just doesn’t do much for me outside the setting.  Which is a shame.

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