Monday, January 20, 2014

Orcs of the High Mountains

The next random board game from my collection that I will write about isn't really a board game in the traditional sense, but more of a tabletop role-playing game crossed with a miniatures skirmish game crossed with a choose-your-own-adventure book.  This would be Orcs of the High Mountains, part of the Legends of the Ancient World game series by Dark City Games.

The game can be played from one to five players.  One of the players can "run" the adventure, controlling all of the opposition forces and reading through the game book, or all of the players can be the good guys, and one of them is designated to read the book and they all figure out what the opposition forces will do together.  I played it solitaire, which also works.  In Orcs of the High Mountains, the players have a total of four characters, built per the Legends of the Ancient World rules to be a little bit tougher than your standard new character.  This is a swords-and-sorcery fantasy game, so your characters can either be fighters or magic users.  Fighters get a specific number of skills to pick from a fairly comprehensive list, while magic users select spells from a separate list.

Characters have three attributes, which are used for specific skills.  They way a skill check works is you roll three six-sided dice and total them up.  If that is equal to or less than the attribute, then you succeed.  For example, if my character has the Climbing skill and a Strength of 11, then I need to roll 11 or less on the three dice to succeed, otherwise my character fails.  Combat works the same way, with Dexterity being the attribute tested against.  Strength also acts as your hit points and fatigue points.  Intelligence is the attribute checked against for magic using characters who cast spells.

The adventure itself is governed through the use of a booklet with a bunch of numbered sections.  You start at section 1 and read the description.  You may then have to fight some orcs, and after that is done you can select from a series of listed options to choose your next action.  The game does come with a small map with lettered hexes.  This is used for all combat encounters.  You will need counters or wargaming figures to represent the orcs and your characters.  Most gamers will have plenty of those laying around somewhere, but if you don't you should be able to find free counters on the internet (and see below...).

In fact, this entire game is free!  Yes, Orcs of the High Mountains is available free from the company's website as a teaser for the Legends of the Ancient World game series, of which there are many different games for sale.  The company also sells some sci-fi games, and a Wild West game.  You can get files you need from the following links:
Overall, the game is all right.  The rules work well enough, but I found the game slightly boring.  That could easily be because this is an introductory game and rather short, and I can't fault the price of FREE.  Because the rules state that they are compatible with GURPS, I am tempted to try the rules with the old Orcslayer module from Steve Jackson Games to see if I like that experience better.  Or, I could just buy one of the Legends of the Ancient World modules and try that out directly, I guess.  Bottom line, the system has some promise as a light RPG/skirmish game system, but this sample adventure felt kind of sparse.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Khyber Rifles

Khyber Rifles, published in 2012 by Decision Games, is part of that company's Mini Games Series.  It contains a four-page rules folio for the "Hand of Destiny" series rules, and a one-page rules sheet containing the specific rules for Khyber Rifles.  So, five pages in total, which is pretty slight.  The game also comes with 11" x 17" map sheet, 40 counters, and 18 cards, nine each for the Afghan and British players.  The game covers the year 1842 in Afghanistan, which saw the Afghan warlord Akbar Khan crush a British army, and another British army come in to teach him a lesson.

In fact, that is exactly what happened when I played the game!  The Afghans killed lots of British forces and captured Cabul, but in the last turn the British relief force retook Cabul, kicking out Akbar Khan and sending him into the mountain passes to lick his wounds.  This mattered because of the different ways that each side scores victory points.  The British player gets victory points for controlling fortified spaces, and Khyber Pass, primarily.  The Afghan players score points for having Akbar Khan in Cabul or Kandahar, and for eliminated British units.  So the Afghans just need to focus on killing British and getting their leader into a victory space at the end of turn 11, while the British need to cover lots of terrain (though Cabul is worth the most points to them).  Thus, the Afghans are incentivized to pick off British units and make a big rush towards their chosen major fort at the end of the game, while the British have to cover lots of ground.

One nice touch (though it can be frustrating) is the use of the cards.  Each turn a player turns over the top card from their deck and does what it says.  Each card tells you how many reinforcements you get (if any), what units you can move, how far each type of unit can move, and any special rules for the turn.  Thus, you can't just run all of your units around each turn, and you never know from turn-to-turn what you will be allowed to do.  I can see some people not liking this, but I thought that it added a nice "fog of war" aspect to the game.  Let's be honest, back over 150 years ago nobody had perfect C3 in the mountains of Afghanistan, so it makes sense that only certain commands get to move each turn.  It can ruin your day if you get the wrong card at the wrong time, but such is life.

Overall I like this game more than I originally thought I would.  Small games can be iffy as to whether a small rules set can properly capture a historic situation and provide fun gameplay, but in my opinion this game delivers.  It is a fun, short diversion for those interested in the historic conflict.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Puerto Rico

In general, I am not a fan of worker placement games.  There is an exception to this rule, but for the most part games like this just don't click for me.  Which brings me to the next game as I randomly walk through my game collection, Puerto Rico.  The general theme for this game is that the players are all helping to build up the new Spanish colony of Puerto Rico during the age of colonization.  Throughout the game the players will be erecting various buildings and planting crops.  The crops, when harvested, can either be sold for money (needed to erect more buildings) or shipped back to Spain to earn victory points.  At the end of the game buildings are also worth victory points based upon their type.  The game runs until someone has filled up all of their available land plots for building, the game runs out of victory point tokens, or the game runs out of colonist tokens.

The core of this game is in the roles.  Depending on the number of players (the game handles between 3 and 5 players) there are six or seven roles to select from.  Each round the players select one of these roles to perform, and then all the other players get to perform it as well, if they can.  There are bonuses for each role to whoever selects it, outside of the fact that sometimes not everyone can perform every action, so the order in which the actions are taken can be important.

  • The SETTLER role lets you place a new plantation tile to grow more crops.
  • The MAYOR role lets you place new colonists.  You need to have colonists on your plantations and buildings to have them perform their functions.
  • The BUILDER role lets you erect new buildings.  This is important as most plantations require a related building to be operating in order to produce goods.
  • The CRAFTSMAN role lets your plantations produce goods.
  • The TRADER role lets you sell goods to the neutral trading hours for cash.
  • The CAPTAIN role lets you ship goods back to Spain for victory points.
  • The PROSPECTOR role (only available in four and five-player games) lets you get one coin.
The players go round and round selecting roles and taking the related actions.  Every round one of the players is designated the Governor and goes first.  The next turn, the player to their left becomes and Governor, and that position rotates around the table so that one player isn't getting consistently hosed by going last.  Also, as there are more possible roles to select than players, any role not selected in a particular round gets a coin on it, as an incentive for someone to pick it in the future.  Coins continue to build up on un-selected roles until they are selected, so sometimes you might select an otherwise sub-optimal role just to get all the cash on it.

And that is the game.  Some people really like this game, and for a while in the middle part of the last decade this game was REALLY popular in the hobby gaming scene.  It seems to have faded in popularity, but many people continue to hold it in high regard.  I am not one of those people, though.  I can see how some people would like it, but I just can't get into this game, most likely because its underlying mechanic is one that I just have trouble getting into.  I'll take a good tile placement game over a worker placement game any day.  As such, I will probably trade or sell this game in due course.  I do have the iOS version on my iPad in case I ever want to play it, so I don't see a need to keep the tabletop version around.