Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Forlorn: Hope

Forlorn: Hope is a sci-fi tactical wargame.  The basic setup is that a group of marines are boarding the damaged space station "Hope" and there they encounter lots of nasty alien creatures (called "xenos") that immediately set about trying to eat them.  Yes, that does sound vaguely like the plot of a movie, doesn't it?  Lack or originality aside, how does the game play?

You can play the game in two first.  First, as a two player game, with one player controlling the marines and one controlling the xenos.  Alternatively, the game does come with solitaire rules where the player takes on the marines and the system plays the xenos.  No matter which way you play, you will select a scenario to play and that dictates how you set up your forces, the map you will use (the game comes with two), and the victory conditions.  The two sides do play differently.  For the marine player, you roll dice for action points at the beginning of each turn, and everything you do costs action points.  Want to move a marine?  That will be an action point.  Want to attack a xeno?  That will be an action point.  Want to open that yellow security door?  Yep, that is also an action point.  Don't expect to have too many more points than you have marines, so you aren't doing a whole lot with each of them on a turn.

Alternately, the xeno forces don't worry about action points.  Each unit gets to move up to its full movement each turn, and then they can make an attack if in range or a marine.  Simple.  To spice things up, the xeno player gets a hand of Mutation Cards to play during the game.  These all break the regular rules in some way, from making your creatures tougher to getting a special attack to laying eggs throughout the space station.

The game plays pretty fast.  Most units only need one hit to kill, so combat is fast and deadly.  As long as the marines aren't outnumbered, they can usually hold off the xenos if they aren't trying to move.  However, if trying to cover a distance, and/or outnumbered by the xenos, things get nasty quickly.  Because the game doesn't take long to play, you can get a number of plays in one evening, and the variety of scenarios keep the game from getting old too fast.

So how does Forlorn: Hope stack up to other games in my collection?  I have two other games that deal with the same general topic.  Last Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident is almost exactly the same game theme-wise, though strictly solitaire only.  It is also awesome on toast, and hard as all get out.  If I am playing a solitaire "survive the alien onslaught" game, Last Frontier is the one I want to play.  The Awful Green Things from Outer Space also handles a similar theme, but with much more humor and randomness.  Green Things is a two-player only game.  It takes longer to play than Hope does, but in some ways is more satisfying.  Hope has multiple scenarios, though, where Green Things only has the one survival scenario.  So, with all of that, I am unsure if Forlorn: Hope is worth keeping in my collection or not.  It has a lot of play flexibility, but for my money just isn't as fun as the two similar games I also have.  Looks like this one may get traded at some point.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Anima: Shadow of Omega

The next random game from my collection is one I have had a few years, Anima: Shadow of Omega.  The reason for the somewhat odd name is that Anima is not just a card game.  In fact, there are three card games currently available, a tabletop role-playing game, and a tactical miniatures game all bearing the "Anima" label.  All of the above mentioned products are published by Fantasy Flight Games in North America, but all were developed by Edge Entertainment in Europe, which interestingly enough publishes for the European market a lot of games developed by Fantasy Flight in the States.

But what is Anima?  Basically, the series of products are all fantasy adventure games using the trappings and themes of Japanese console RPGs.  This means epic quests, romances between major characters, betrayals, crazy monsters, crazy magical effects, etc. from a story standpoint.  From an art standpoint I can see the resemblance to some characters from Japanese console RPGs, but the European nature of the artists tends to come through in the fact that the characters, while sometimes wearing some crazy looking armor or clothing, all have standard human proportions and don't have the "cartoony" look that many Japanese manga-inspired artists use in console RPGs.  So while the overall themes and look match up to the subject material, visually there is enough of a difference to let you know that Anima is its own animal.

In the card game "Shadow of Omega," which is the first of the three Anima card games, two to five players recruit heroes into their party and try to defeat the evil boss character Omega.  (I should note here that there have been two editions of the game, and I own the first one.  I understand that some rules were tweaked in the revised edition in relation to the boss fight at the end.)  There are actually three different ways to do this, and each game one of the three ways is randomly selected as a 'final mission' card which describes how to defeat Omega.  One mission might have you fighting Omega straight up in a very tough combat, while another mission has you using your Speed rating to sneak past Omega and steal an Orb from him without him noticing.  So there is some variety to each game played.  Another way that variety is introduced is in the use of missions.  At the beginning of the game each player is dealt two random mission cards.  At least one of those missions must be completed before a player can take on Omega in the final mission to win the game, and sometimes it is advantageous to complete both of your missions first.

That being mentioned, the heart of the game is in the characters and the locations.  The game starts with each player getting one character card at random, and the characters range from the archetypical warrior and magic-user to beastmasters and summoners and rangers and paladins and what not.  If you played electronic RPGs you will recognize the character types.  Characters all have a combat and speed rating; as well as having the potential to use Ki, Magic, and/or Trickery advantage cards.  Some characters will have a special ability as well.  During play your party of characters can visit location cards and try to accomplish things, like recruiting new characters (you can have a maximum of four characters in your party, and good luck trying win with less than that number), undertaking missions, having special encounters, or drawing Advantage cards.  You will most likely have to draw encounter cards when at a location, and some of those encounters can be really nasty (like if you meet Omega, who just kills one of your characters no matter what and then you lose your turn), but some can be helpful, from granting you extra Advantage cards to getting new characters for free.

Each player starts the game with three Advantage cards, and can hold up to five in their hands during the game.  These cards range from mean tricks to play on other players, to cards that aid in combat, to items that help you fight.  Most of the cards are keyed to either Magic, Trickery, or Ki, and therefore require a character with that ability to use.  Proper use of the Advantage cards is often key to winning, as one or two combat cards can really swing a combat in your favor.

Anima: Shadow of Omega doesn't have a high ranking on, but I like the game.  It doesn't take too long to play, and I enjoy the general RPG trappings in an entertaining adventure game.  Because much of the game is dependent on card draws and die rolls, it can be frustrating if you have bad luck.  There is enough skill in card play and hand management, though, that I still have fun with it.  I will also note that while I have never played any of the other Anima card games, they are supposed to integrate with each other so that if you had all of the sets you could play a big game with lots of variety in it.  I'll have to try that some day.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Will the NHL play in 2012?

It is now September, the month when training camp and pre-season games occur in the NHL, and nothing is happening.  Based on current news, the players association and NHL aren't even really talking anymore, which does not fill me with hope.  Are we headed for another lockout, a la '04-'05?  I don't think so, though we are almost certainly headed for a lockout of some kind.  I don't think the owners really want to eliminate a whole season again, but I can easily see a scenario like the NBA went through last season, where the first third or so of the season is cancelled while negotiations continue.  I really don't think the NHL wants to lose out of the exposure that the Winter Classic game on January 1 gives them, so I would not be surprised if the 2012 part of the season is cancelled and the campaign kicks off on January 1, or Christmas, or some date around there.  This allows the league to still get in 50+ games for each team, plus they get the Winter Classic in to keep NBC happy.

So what is a Blues fan to do in the meantime?  Well, there's always soccer... Oh, wait, are the Bandits still playing?