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Games I Played in 2017

3:16: Carnage Amongst the Stars: I ran two 2-hour sessions of this back to back at Gencon. A great morning dumb shoot-em-up game with added military hilarity.

Apportionment: I ran this at Gencon for a total of six players, probably the theoretical minimum the game supports. Through a mistake that was totally my fault, I mishandled the delicate negotiations, turning what seemed like a done-deal for a peace settlement, and probably doomed Sirai to another generation of war.

Blades in the Dark: Ran a short two session game. This is a game that takes some getting used to. Certainly something I’d try again.

Burning Wheel: I ran a few sessions of a “Burning Italy” game set during the plague. It didn’t quite work out- a botched resources roll bankrupted the entire party.

Call of Cthulhu: I played a one-shot. I don’t particularly care for the BRP system, but the GM had done a lot of research and the characters were based on actual historical people, which was pretty cool.

Carolina Death Crawl: I facilitated a four player game of this at Gencon. It was totally brutal. I loved it.

Conclave: I ran two sessions, one at Forge Midwest and one at Gencon. This one is almost ready to go!

Crowdfund Dungeon: The annual Forge Midwest Crowdfund Dungeon, using the Itras By engine. In 3-D.

Deadlands Classic: I played in a several month campaign of this. The system has some very warty bits but more or less holds up- it’s still much more interesting than the rather bland Reloaded version. Good fun.

Dungeon Crawl Classics: I ran a oneshot of this (using the Scenic Dunnsmouth adventure), and played in a oneshot at Gameholecon. Always fun.

Dungeon World: At a Christmas get together with my family, my sister and I conspired to get my parents to play DW. It was a great success, with my mom saying “well if you’re not going to try to steal the ivory horn, I’m going to,” and “why don’t we play another hour?”

Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition: I ran a Tomb of Horrors one-shot. They won! (Because they didn’t find the final crypt.)

Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition: Played one session of this. Decided not to go back.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: Easily my most played game of the year- finished up a several months long Curse of Strahd game, and recently started running a Tomb of Annihilation game.

Ghost Court: At Gameholecon I ran a small session of this for a very small playgroup of four players (including myself), but we rotated roles of Judge, Court, Plaintiff and Defendant, and it worked very well.

Kagematsu: I ran Kagematsu at Games on Demand at Gencon. Great fun, introduced it to a bunch of new players.

Mermaid Loves Bigfoot: I played a Kappa looking for love in this LARP at Forge Midwest. I didn’t find it with the Nymph, but I hit it off with Old Shuck (a dog that kills pedophiles. Who doesn’t love dogs that kill pedophiles?)

Monsterhearts: At Minnesota Longcon, I played in an excellent multi-session game of Monsterhearts with a lot of really great people. One of the best games of the year.

NSDM: I played three sessions of the National Security Decision Making Game at Gencon. I got a prize for my play as one of the branches of the Pakistani Muslim League, using casual corruption to funnel government funds into my own wallet. I would have done better if I hadn’t gotten caught.

Powered by the Apocalypse World: I ran a session of my satirical game about game designers at Forge Midwest.

Ryuutama: Colin ran a short campaign of this- maybe four sessions or so? A very charming game. I played a jam maker.

SCUP: I ran a short game set in Medieval Italy during the Plague. A continuation of the Burning Italy campaign. Still didn’t quite work.

Shock: Social Science Fiction: I ran a very short one-shot at Gencon for Games on Demand, really more of a teaser of the game, and ran another one-shot for the Fastcast gang.

Sig: Manual of the Primes: I ran a two session game- character creation and adventure, that highlighted the weirdness of the setting, but didn’t quite come together.

Sign: The game where you play Nicaraguan children learning sign language. I played a one-shot at Gameholecon. One of my favorite games of the year.

Smellementary: I got to playtest Eric Farmer’s game about dog detectives wearing hats at Gameholecon. It is just what it sounds like.

Stars Without Number: I joined a campaign of this and played a few sessions at the end. We did the thing and got home!

Swords and Wizardry: I played in a multi-GM campaign for a few months. It was an interesting experience. I wish the groups and players were a little more fluid- it seemed like the subgroups ended up gelling together and there wasn’t a lot of movement from one party to another.

The End?: I played a T-Rex politician. We got to sing the National Anthem of Dinosauria. (Forge Midwest)

The Laundry Files: Colin ran a short game of this- I enjoyed it, playing a lawyer specializing in occult contract law, and the adventure turned out to be about a potential breach of contract between humanity and the deep ones, but any fun that was had was driven by interactions between the players and was in spite of the adventure and the system.

The Watch: Joe Beason ran a great oneshot at Chicago Games Day. Wish it were longer.

Timewatch: I played a oneshot of this at Gameholecon. I saved time. The GM was very excited about the game, which was great, but didn’t have the best ability to pace things for a con slot, so it really dragged in places, and we had some players who wanted to investigate every little thing, rather than move on to the next plot point.

Traveller, 1st Edition: I played in a several months long game of this. I did not die during character creation. I learned a few things about the system- attributes are pretty much worthless, skills are where it’s at. This is a game that started out very sandboxy, but narrowed into a railroad, possibly due to the fact that we had a limited number of sessions for the game.

Traverser: I got to playtest this game by Paul Czerge. Looking forward to more of this one!

Uncharted Worlds: I ran the first few sessions of a game that fell apart due to scheduling. Still, it was pretty cool.

Unknown Armies: I played a truly surreal session of this at Gameholecon, where all of the characters were children and trapped in some sort of time loop.

Verdant: I played Tim Koppang’s game in development at Chicago Games Day. It was like David Lynch presents The Scarlet Letter.


Tomb of Annihilation Boardgame First Impressions

The new D&D boardgame is here- Tomb of Annihilation. Previous games have revisited classic adventures and storylines, like Castle Ravenloft, the Temple of Elemental Evil, or the Drizzt stories. This is the first one to be released concurrently with the adventure it simulates, which had me a little concerned at first that it might feature spoilers for players of the adventure. Looking through it (and having read the adventure), there will be spoilers, but they will be relatively minor- some of the villains the characters will face, and the types of traps.

Visually, the components are pretty impressive. The miniatures are the usual high quality sculpts. There are none of the assemble-yourself fliers that have plagued recent D&D mini sets (or the dragon from ToEE), and the Stone Juggernaut figure actually made me wish I’d considered shelling out for the pre-painted premium set. The dungeon tiles themselves feature both jungle and tomb sites, (each adventure uses one set or the other), and are more visually detailed than previous sets.

Gameplay-wise, it follows the example of the previous set, featuring a campaign mode where characters can level-up, and the adventure deck changes from session to session. One of my complaints of ToEE was campaign balance- the first few adventures were challenging, but character abilities quickly escalated to the point that the final adventures were a cakewalk. There seems to be greater attention to balancing the game here- adventure deck card substitutions are consistent, the cost of canceling event cards increases as the game progresses (and the monster deck becomes filled with higher xp monsters). Failing an adventure lets you do it an again with an additional healing surge, and completing an adventure and spending no healing surges gives you an immediate boon (usually extra gold), but a fewer surge on your next adventure. I played the two adventures, and the deck seemed filled with pretty generous encounter cards and low-powered monsters.

The heroes are a pretty exciting mix. They represent friendly NPCs from the Tomb of Annihilation adventure, and feature a Ranger, a Wizard, a Paladin (only the 2nd), and for the first time, a Bard, and a Druid. At a first glance, they appear to be a bit more powerful than previous adventurer’s counterparts- Arctus Cimber, the Ranger, gets two extra daily powers from a special selection as his special ability, and Ashara the Aarakocra Wizard can spend movement points to fly over monsters and traps, potentially moving three tiles a turn.

The tiles follow the ToEE model- some tiles have more than one monster symbol, some have trap tokens, some have both. The trap tokens are flipped over when stepped on- they might be safe, they might have a damage amount on them, or a new innovation, they might say ‘draw’, and have you draw a trap card, like the trap encounter cards of the first few sets. This combines the best of both worlds- featuring the minor traps and the more exciting trap cards, however they have a different card back, that means mixing them with the other sets may need sleeves if you want to make them more traditional trap cards, and you still have the physical fiddliness of the trap tiles themselves.

Another innovation is the Spell deck, a deck of random spells. The Wand of Wonder can let you cast a random spell from the deck, and certain encounter cards or enemies will let the bad guys cast a spell. I didn’t get a chance to draw any cards from the spell deck, but I’m looking forward to seeing it in play.

The boss monster we encountered, a Vegypygmy Chieftan, came along with three more Vegypygmies, which acted each turn after its activation, and could spawn more if they were defeated. This seems like a pretty interesting innovation- a boss design other than just a pile of hit points and some various attacks, like the Elementals in ToEE.

The booklets say you can play any adventure as a pick-up scenario, which I suppose is technically true, but without the campaign balancing, the difficulty is likely to be a crapshoot. If you liked the campaign experience of ToEE, this seems a bit more refined. If you preferred the modular one-shots of the early sets, you may end up a bit disappointed. Overall, I’m eager to give this one a try.

D&D Adventure Game Analysis: The Scenarios

We have four boxes of the D&D Adventure Game, each with 13 different adventures, for a total of 52. Some of course, are more different than others.

Each adventure is listed with it’s adventure number, the tiles needed to trigger the victory condition, the victory condition itself, and any other notes.

If the tiles is written as a number- like CR-1: 11, it means that the 11th tile will trigger whatever needs to be triggered. If it’s written as two numbers separated by a slash, like CR-2: 9/12, the first number is the minimum tiles needed to be placed, and the second number is the maximum.

Some terminology:

Defeat Boss: A villain spawns. Reduce it to zero hit points.

Destroy Object: An inanimate token that has AC and/or hit points needs to be defeated.

Dire Chamber: Wrath of Ashardalon introduced the Chamber mechanic, whereby finding the objective tile spawns a number of tiles.

Exit: Do a thing, and then go to the start tile or some special tile and then remove your character off the board.

N Monsters: Each player spawns a monster.

NPCs: Friendly NPCs have NPC cards and can be attacked by monsters. It’s often good to keep them alive, and sometimes they help attack the monsters.

Random Boss: The boss is determined by draw of a card, token, or tile. Often a limited subset of bosses from the set.

Random Chamber Objective: In some Wrath of Asharalon encounters, a Chamber card is drawn. It might involve fighting a boss, fighting a bunch of monsters, or some other victory condition.

Solo: This adventure is designed for one player.

Special Setup: The adventure starts with lots of tiles already placed, possibly the whole board.

Town: The adventure is played with the Town setup. Some of the event cards have different effects in town.

Castle Ravenloft:

CR-1: 11. Solo. Find exit and escape. Spawn boss to pursue player (Strahd!) after timer track runs out.

CR-2: 9/12. Defeat N Monsters.

CR-3: 9/13. Chaos Magic- gain new powers. Defeat boss (Klak) and destroy object.

CR-4: Gain 12 treasure cards and exit. Spawn boss to pursue players (Strahd) after timer track runs out.

CR-5: 9/13. Escort NPC (who turns into a Young Vampire and back again). Spawn extra monster each round and defend adventure location.

CR-6: 9/12. Defeat boss (Dracolich). Can destroy object for extra damage.

CR-7: 17/24. Solo. Defeat three random bosses.

CR-8: Special setup. Characters are separated at corners of map. Make way to center, defeat boss (Howling Hag) and hold center tile.

CR-9: Special setup. Wandering monster tiles patrol the board. Defend start tile from monsters. Defeat 20 monsters.

CR-10: 11/14. Encounter deck is seeded with specific cards. Spawn boss midway through to pursue player (Zombie Dragon). Find exit and escape.

CR-11: 9/12. Defeat boss (Flesh Golem). Random tokens can be gained instead of treasure to calm boss down instead of fighting it.

CR-12: 9/12. Defeat two bosses (random boss, and Strahd). Extra treasure cards.

CR-13: 10/12. Defeat boss (Strahd) and destroy objects. Objects heal Strahd until destroyed.

It’s notable that four of these adventures include Strahd, one of the most powerful bosses in any of the sets. It’s certainly accurate for the Ravenloft experience.

Wrath of Ashardalon:

WoA-1: 7. Solo. Defeat boss (Kobold Dragonlord). Find exit and escape.

WoA-2: Defeat 12 monsters over course of the dungeon.

WoA-3: 9/12. Defeat 2 monsters and get object token.

WoA-4: 9/12. Dire Chamber. Defeat Random Chamber Objective.

WoA-5: 9/12. Dire Chamber. Defeat boss (Gauth) plus N monsters.

WoA-6. 9/12. Dire Chamber. Defeat boss (Duergar Captain/Kobold Dragonlord/Orc Storm Shaman). Three part mini-campaign.

WoA-7: 9/12. Dire Chamber. Defeat N monsters. Find exit and escape.

WoA-8: 9/12. Dire Chamber. Defeat Duergar Captain plus N monsters. Defend at least 1 NPC (of 5).

WoA-9: 10/13. Dire Chamber. Spawn two bosses (Rage Drake and Ashardalon) to pursue players. Find treasure, exit, and escape.

WoA-10: 9/12. Dire Chamber. Defeat N monsters and destroy object before timer tokens run out.

WoA-11: 9/12. Dire Chamber. Extra monsters spawn each turn. Find exit and escape.

WoA-12: 13/16. Dire Chamber. Defeat Random Chamber objective. Then defeat boss (Ashardalon).

WoA-13: 9/12. Dire Chamber. Defeat Random Chamber objective. 11/14 part campaign. Complete series of Chamber cards (cumulating in Ashardalon).

We mostly played adventure 4, the random boss encounter, which seems to have informed most of my design on the gestalt boardgame. I don’t have any experience doing the campaign adventures. ToEE certainly seems more interesting for it.

Legend of Drizzt:

LoD-1: 9. Solo. Find exit and escape.

LoD-2: 9/12. Defeat boss (Artemis) and get Treasure.

LoD-3: 9/12. Defeat boss (Shimmergloom.)

LoD-4: 9/12. Defeat boss (random villain).

LoD-5: 5 Black Triangles. Traitor! Defeat traitor. (If no traitor, defeat boss- Artemis).

LoD-6: 9/12. 2v1, semi-cooperative. Find exit and escape.

LoD-7: Special setup. Fissures spawn a monster each turn. Second sealed fissure summons boss (Yvonnel Baenre.) Destroy fissures and defeat boss.

LoD-8: 9/12. Defeat boss (Errtu). Destroy object to release NPC.

LoD-9: Special setup. Competitive. Fissures spawn a monster each turn. Kill the most XP worth of monsters.

LoD-10: 9/12. Find exit and escape.

LoD-11: Special setup. 6. 2v2 semi-competitive. Clear objective tile of N monsters.

LoD-12: 15. Explore as much as possible. Total score is tiles revealed. (Minimum 15 for victory).

LoD-13: 9/12. Defeat boss (Errtu). Inflict extra damage by defeating specific monsters.

Drizzt certainly has the highest variety. Like Ashardalon, adventure 4 has the most replay value.

Temple of Elemental Evil:

ToEE-1: 9/12. Find exit and escape.

ToEE-2: 9/12. Defeat boss (Air Elemental). Optional objective to protect NPC.

ToEE-3: Town. Investigate NPC tokens to find doppelgangers.

ToEE-4: 9/12. Defeat boss (Arkashic Thunn).

ToEE-5: 4 tiles of same elemental symbol. Defeat boss (random elemental).

ToEE-6: 9/12. Defeat boss (Fire Elemental). Optional objective to defeat Fleeing Cultist.

ToEE-7: Town. Rescue NPCs before they are all killed by monsters.

ToEE-8: 9/12. Defeat boss (Water Elemental). Optional objective to protect NPCs.

ToEE-9: Get the Devastation Orb card (the 9th treasure in the deck.) Defeat boss (Earth Elemental.)

ToEE-10: 9/12. Bring Devastation Orb to target tile. Defeat boss (Swerglemergle.)

ToEE-11: Town. Defeat boss (Velathidros). Optional objective to rescue NPCs.

ToEE-12: 4 tiles with Water symbol. Defeat boss (Water elemental.)

ToEE-13: 9/12. Defeat boss (Velathidros.) Possible to set up trap to do massive damage. Optional traitor mechanic.

We can see a clear trend here: there are some exceptions in Curse of Strahd and Wrath of Ashardalon, then adventures in Drizzt or ToEE that explore different triggering mechanics, but for adventures that are “explore until you find the thing, then do a thing,” 9/12 clearly settled on being the optimal choice. Once you’ve gotten through eight tiles, you know that the next tile could be the boss.

We can divide these into some categories:

Defeat a specific boss: 24. (48%) The biggest group of adventures involve plunking down a specific mini and reducing it to zero hit points.

Defeat a random boss: 7. (13%) Much fewer adventures involve a boss that is not known ahead of time, though these adventures have more replayability.

More than one boss: 4. (8%) One of these spawns the Rage Drake and Ashardalon simply to pursue the player, however the other three are grueling meat-grinder gauntlets where you must defeat a series of two (or even three!) bosses.

No boss at all: 16. (31%) Often escaping the dungeon, or accumulating loot or some other goal. 6 of these are in Legend of Drizzt.

Explore the dungeon so you can escape: 11 (21%). Sometimes you have to do something else along the way (find a treasure), sometimes there’s a boss making your life miserable. 3 of these are introductory tutorial scenarios.

Special Setup: 8. (15%) 3 of these are ToEE’s town adventures.

Destructible Object: 6. (12%)

NPCs: 5 (10%) 3 of these are in ToEE.

Special Mechanics: 18. (35%) A catch-all category for any other mechanics of note- extra treasure/encounter cards, rules tweaks, or modifiers.

I found it a bit surprising just how many bosses aren’t featured as a primary adventure antagonist: CR’s Young Vampire, Werewolf, and Zombie Dragon, for example. The Otyugh in Ashardalon, Methil the Mindflayer, Jarlaxle, and the Yochol in Drizzt aren’t even featured as cameos- they only come up as a random boss. As a result, I don’t think I’ve even played against all of these bosses.

My conclusion is that any custom set should try to incorporate as many bosses as possible, and also try to include tweaks or other special mechanics to keep things fresh. Still, even without out that, I greatly enjoy the game and feel it has pretty massive built-in replayability.

Temple of Elemental Evil Boardgame: By the Numbers

ToEE is a bit harder to quantify than the previous D&D boardgames, due to the built-in campaign mechanics. Cards are taken out of and added to the deck over time, and characters accumulate gold, which basically serves as xp to buy level up and bonuses. A number of mechanics that were present in previous sets are simply absent, and others work rather differently (such as trap tiles). ToEE also has the Town adventures, which use a pregenerated map and often have different rules for some of the cards.

Since which cards are added to the deck vary based on one’s performance, each group’s encounter deck will look different at the end of the game, and not every treasure or event may even get seen. Thus, it’s essential look at the cards both by the ‘basic’ versions, and the ‘advanced’ cards that can be added.

Basic Encounter Deck (30 Cards)

Events: 22 (73%)

Attack Events: 8 (27%)

Advanced Encounter Cards (15 Cards)

Events: 8 (53%)

Attack Events: 7 (47%)

Aggregate Deck (45 Cards)

Events: 30 (67%)

Attack Events: 15 (33%)

Entirely missing are Trap cards, Environments, or Curses.

This is three more Cards than Legend of Drizzt, but all 45 cards are unlikely to be in the deck, so it continues the trend of smaller Encounter Decks.

Out of the Attack Events, 7 attack the active hero, 3 attack all hero’s on the active player’s tile, and a whopping 5 attack everyone (I count the especially nasty Acid Fog here- it attacks everyone who has a treasure, and they must discard a treasure card, hit or miss.) 7 of the cards only do damage; 8 of them have other effects, but are fairly uninteresting. The aforementioned Acid Fog strips treasures, along with Invisible Stalker attack, but Magnetic Rocks allows one to lose gold instead. None of these require a hit. Frightful Presence inflicts Disadvantage (and 4 damage!) on a hit, Choking Ash activates a monster, and Distant Shot adds a new one. The most interesting are probably Whirlpools and Avalanche, which move heroes around in different ways.

Out of the events, 6 summon or activate monsters, 15 straight up deal damage (including 4 copies of Rage of Imix, which puts down lingering tokens. Included in that is two copies of Dark Gift and the advanced card Dark Temptation, which allow you to take damage, or have another player take more damage and you get a Treasure. There are also two positive cards, Appease Ghosts and Treasure Cache, which force another draw. Also in the stack is 2 cards to steal your magic items, and 3 to steal your gold.


Basic Treasure Cards: (30 Cards)

10 Treasures (9 Consumable) (33%)

16 Gold (53%)

4 Fortunes (13%)

Advanced Treasure Cards (15 Cards)

9 Treasures (5 Consumable) (60%)

6 Gold (40%)

Aggregate: 45 Cards

19 Treasures (14 Consumable) (42%)

22 Gold (49%)

4 Fortune (9%)

Note that “Consumable” includes cards that say “Flip Over After Use;” these stay with the character from adventure to adventure, but normally can only be used once in a given adventure. The only basic non-consumable item is the Claws of the Umber Hulk.

The quantity of gold is so high that flipping a treasure card is about 50% likely to not impact the immediate gamestate. This actually increases as play goes forward, because treasure cards get pulled out and set aside, starting the game in the hero’s possession.

Also, some of these cards are completely bananas, like the Wings of Flying which cause you to ignore traps, or the Potion of Haste that gives two extra actions. Others are appreciated but underwhelming. The treasure deck is easily the most underwhelming part of the set.


Basic Monster Cards:

3x Air Cultist (ranged, debuff, 1 xp)

3x Doppelganger (melee, spawn effect, 1 xp)

3x Fire Bat (melee, 1 xp)

3x Troglodyte (melee, debuff, 1 xp)

3x Fire Cultist (melee, death explosion, 2 xp)

3x Gnoll Archer (ranged, 2 xp)

3x Hobgoblin Fighter (melee, aoe, 2 xp)

3x Water Cultist (melee, movement, 2 xp)

3x Earth Cultist (melee, 3 xp)

3x Bugbear (melee, 3 xp)

30 cards, 10 different monsters, 1.8 xp average

Advanced Monster Cards:

3x Empowered Air Cultist (ranged, debuff, 3 xp)

3x Empowered Fire Cultist (melee, death explosion, 3 xp)

3x Empowered Earth Cultist (melee, 4 xp)

3x Empowered Water Cultist (melee, movement, 4 xp)

1x Air Elemental (ranged, 4 xp)

1x Earth Elemental (melee, movement, 4 xp)

1x Fire Elemental (ranged, 4 xp)

1x Water Elemental (ranged aoe, 4 xp)

16 cards, 8 different monsters

Fully Upgraded Monster Deck:

3x Doppelganger (melee, spawn effect, 1 xp)

3x Fire Bat (melee, 1 xp)

3x Troglodyte (melee, debuff, 1 xp)

3x Gnoll Archer (ranged, 2 xp)

3x Hobgoblin Fighter (melee, aoe, 2 xp)

3x Bugbear (melee, 3 xp)

3x Empowered Air Cultist (ranged, debuff, 3 xp)

3x Empowered Fire Cultist (melee, death explosion, 3 xp)

3x Empowered Earth Cultist (melee, 4 xp)

3x Empowered Water Cultist (melee, movement, 4 xp)

1x Air Elemental (ranged, 4 xp)

1x Earth Elemental (melee, movement, 4 xp)

1x Fire Elemental (ranged, 4 xp)

1x Water Elemental (ranged aoe, 4 xp)

34 cards, 14 different monsters, 2.6 xp average.

1.8 xp average is par for the course, however the monsters seem to be weaker compared to other sets, making the basic deck mostly a pushover. With a fully upgraded deck, the xp value soars to 2.6, however with a couple of exceptions (the Water Elemental), there aren’t many area of effect attacks. The upgraded Cultists are tougher and do 2 damage instead of 1, but they are much less nasty compared to some of the previous 3 xp creatures. The extra xp does help against the generally nastier event cards.


ToEE features 8 boss monsters, the same as Ravenloft, and 1 more than Ashardalon or Drizzt (which have double-sided bosses). Four of those are Elementals, which mean they are mutually exclusive with the Elemental monster cards (the monster card can be unlocked after defeating the boss.)

My experience playing the set was that the bosses were fairly weak- but this is because the heroes get so many upgrades.

Of the Elementals, the strongest and most interesting is probably the Water Elemental, which always has an AoE attack, and the Fire Elemental which changes its behavior when under 6 hp.

Swerglemergle the Ettin has a fun name, but ends up just being a bag of hit points with a club and a really big rock. Arkashic Thunn the Salamander can spawn new monsters or activate ones in play, which is interesting.

Velathidros the Black Dragon deserves the most attention. It has two versions, one for a town encounter, but there’s really no reason it can’t be used that way in a dungeon. It features a flying mini on an elevated base, which is incredibly impractical- mine kept falling out of the base, and one of the wings fell off. We ended up just using the stand.

The weaker town version tends to hit and run, and the stronger dungeon version has some truly frightening massive damage attacks. These are certainly bosses worth fighting, though probably with a different mini (maybe Shimmergloom from Drizzt, or even the Asharalon mini).

One way to judge the difficulty of a boss is how hard it is to kill. An easy way to eyeball this is its AC times its hit points. I call this its Defense Factor (DF).

Here’s the Dfs for the ToEE bosses:

Air Elemental: 100

Earth Elemental: 150

Fire Elemental: 140

Water Elemental: 154

Arkashic Thunn, Salamander: 130

Swerglemergle, Ettin: 150

Velathidros, Village: 196

Velathidros, Dungeon: 224

The average DF is 155.5. If we look at just the non-dragon bosses, it’s 137.33

For reference, the DF ratings of the other sets are (everything/only non-ubers):

Ravenloft: 156.75/123.33 (Ravenloft features the two weakest and the two strongest bosses, the highest hit point variance of any set)

Ashardalon: 135.8/121.2

Drizzt: 142.85/124.8

…which basically shows that the bosses are actually fairly high, in terms of hit points.  The problem is that their abilities are typically underwhelming, and the players receive stat increases.


The Tiles are where the set is the most interesting. Like Drizzt, the set has tiles that are more mechanically diverse. This set has tiles with no monsters, tiles with multiple monsters, and tiles with built in trap tokens. There aren’t any tiles with printed on game effects, but the tiles play radically different from one another.

There are 32 tiles, same as in Drizzt. As in Drizzt, they are split evenly between White and Black tiles.

White Tiles:

No monsters, traps, x4 (25%)

One Monster, plus traps, x2 (13%)

One monster, no traps, x1 (6%)

Two monsters, no traps, x7 (44%)

Three monsters, no traps, x2 (13%)

Black Tiles:

No monsters, traps, x7 (44%)

One monster, plus traps, x1 (6%)

One monster, no traps, x7 (44%)

Two monsters, no traps, x1 (6%)

Notably, if you get an encounter card, you’re going to get fewer monsters. On average though, it balances out: 1.03 monsters per tile.

Nine of the tiles are Named Locations: The four elemental Altars, the Oubliette, the Guard Room, the Pool of Olhydra, the Furnace Room, and the Massacre Site. Mildly interesting: they all have white arrows.

Tile Orientation:

4 Left Turns (12%)

4 Right Turns (12%)

6 Straight Paths (19%)

4 T-Junction (12%)

4 Left T-Junction (12%)

4 Right T-Junction (12%)

6 4-Way (19%)

Average Exits/Tile: 1.75. (Compared to Ravenloft’s 1.78, Drizzt’s 1.72, and the claustrophobic Ashardalon’s 1.67, many of which are behind possibly trapped doors). In terms of exploration, I never felt trapped.

The Heroes:

ToEE has 5 heroes, the same as Ravenloft and Ashardalon (Drizzt had 8, and they’re all funky.)

Alaeros has the best Fighter stat block so far- speed of 6 rather than Arjhan or Vistra’s 5, and the full 10 hit points. All of the Fighters get one or two fixed powers; Alaeros’s is an at-will.

Barrowin, the Cleric, has the same stat block as the other Clerics. All of the Clerics get a fixed at will and a choice of other powers.

Nymestra the Wizard has the same stat block as the other wizards. Her fixed power is the at-will Shocking Grasp.

Talon, the Ranger, is the same as Alissa, and 1 slower than Drizzt. Both Talon and Drizzt get a 2nd utility power, but are limited in their choice of at-wills. (I throw Cattie-Brie the Archer in with the rangers; she has a weaker stat block, and fixed at-wills.) Alissa, from the core set, is the only character to get only 4 powers.

Ratshadow the Rogue has the weakest stat block of any of the rogues- 14 AC, 8 HP, speed 5, compared to Regis or Tarak, who have AC 15, HP 10, Speed 6. (Kat, from the core set, has 14/8/6). However, it has probably two of the best abilities: first off it gets a free non-attack action each round, which can be used to use the Reliable Talent power, which either automatically disarms a trap or grants advantage to a roll. Compare to Kat, who gets +5 to trap disarm rolls. Granted, Traps in Ravenloft and ToEE work very differently, but the two powers are simply not compatible.

Looking at the power cards themselves, the Cleric’s powers seem just slightly weaker, though Warhammer itself isn’t bad.

For the Fighter, Battleaxe is pretty weak- the Fighter has plenty of at-wills that hit at +8 instead of +6, and Sure Strike is likewise better than Dagger. The utilities are all pretty good- some of the stances from Drizzt are a bit better, but simplicity has its upsides too. All the Dailies are generally worthwhile.

For the Wizard, Shocking Grasp isn’t bad, but Ravenloft’s Thunderwave is probably better most of the time, and it’s much better than Poison Spray. Disintegrate is a pure DPS power that lots of Wizards will probably want.

For the Ranger, Longbow is a straight +2 to hit vs. Cattie-Brie’s Taulmaril, and Scimitars is rather better than her Khazid’hea. (Cattie-Brie is terrible for a number of reasons.) Natural Explorer is quite strong- disarming a trap or giving an extra move. There are a number of daily powers that are straight up better than Cattie-Brie’s stuff: Volley is strictly better than Clustered Shot, and Colossus Slayer is strictly better than Point Blank shot AND Head Shot.

Lastly, for the Rogue, Reliable Talent is just really, really good-too good, since it does not expend itself. Ratshadow’s Shortsword and Shortbow are both pretty terrible, compared to other Rogue at-wills. Sneaky is far worse than Stealth (passing a monster on, rather than discarding it), and Use Magic Device is terrible, throwing away a treasure to do a damage to someone else. Other than Deadly Assault, her Daily’s are pretty bad too. In a vacuum, Ratshadow is probably balanced against the other Rogues, but if the cards are mixed together, most of her cards are not worth taking.


Most of the components, taken individually, are pretty bland.  What makes the box work is the campaign mechanics, but if your group is like mine, we blew through the last few scenarios without spending a single healing surge.  Some mechanics of interest are developed- I quite like the trap tiles, even though it’s such a departure I won’t be able to use them in the gestalt set.  The highest impact cards are some of the treasures, the Dragon boss.  Getting a new Ranger, Cleric, and Wizard is also nice for variety.  When I update the Gestalt set, there will be less elements (pun not intended) from this set than other sets, but that’s okay.  It works as a coherent whole.

City of Wolves

My novella, City of Wolves, is now available for purchase in Print and PDF!

You can check it out on

Games I Played in 2015

Games I Played in 2015

Twenty eight different rpgs. Not too bad. Probably forgot one here or there.

Apocalypse World: I ran a few one-shots (including one at Chicago Games Day) using the preview 2E rules. They’re pretty cool!

Becoming Ourselves: I ran a session over a hangout.

Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish Granting Engine: Sabe ran a few sessions of this. One of the more unique games I played last year.

Dr. Xaos: At Forge Midwest, I played Ron’s playtest.

Dungeons & Dragons: I ran a 5e campaign, played in a few 5e games. Frank Mentzer ran D&D for Tim and me at Gameholecon. And we also played OSRIC at Gamehole.

Dungeon World: I got to play and GM for the players of Chain World. Also played a few sessions ran by Sabe using Class Warfare.

Exploding Kingdoms: Ran playtest games. Sabe ran a short campaign, so I even got to play!

FATE: Colin ran a few sessions of a cyberpunk Fate game.

How The West Was Lost (formerly Apocalypse West): I ran a couple of one-shot playtests of this, and am currently running a longer playtest.

In Nomine: We made characters for a game that Sabe was going to run but decided not to. But I’m going to count this anyway.

Itras By: I ran two sessions of this! One at the end of Forge Midwest, and one as an ad-hoc Gencon game.

Juggernaut: Ran this for my home group.

Kagematsu: I couldn’t find the actual title of the game, but I played a Jane Austen hack of Kagematsu at Gencon Games on Demand.

Marvel Heroic: I ran an Avengers vs. Guardians of the Galaxy one shot at Chicago Games Day.

Masks of the Mummy Kings: Nathan Paoletta ran this for me at Forge Midwest, and then I proceeded to run it for my home group and figure out how to break it. Playtesting!

Monster of the Week: Thanks to Jason Cordova of the Gauntlet for running a Hangout campaign.

Monsterhearts: I ran two oneshots of this at Gencon’s Games in Demand. Good times.

Prime Time Adventures: Most intense roleplay experience of the year. Ran by Larry Lade at Minneapolis Long Con.

Swords Without Master: Got to play this as a Chicago Games Day event.

Tenra Bansho Zero: I ran two one-shots of this, one at Chicago Games Day.

The Casino Game That I’m Writing: Put some more work into this, and did a few playtests.

The Mountain Witch: I played in a game ran by Arnold Cassell, but had to bow out when I got the worst food poisoning ever.

The One Ring: Tried this at Chicago Games Day. The game itself was a disappointment, but I was intrigued enough to pick up the rules.

Timelines: This was one of my #Threeforged games, and we got to play a session. It was pretty cool.

Tremulus: Ran a campaign of this for a few sessions. Sadly, it didn’t quite come together.

Urban Shadows: I ran a few sessions of this, but it was before we had the physical book (which really makes a difference), and the setting didn’t quite come together. Really excited to play more of this in the future.

Worlds in Peril: We got together to make characters for Jim’s game, so I’m counting this. Also, we might still play.

World Wide Wrestling: TWO sessions at Forge Midwest. Ron Edwards yelled at me because I was having too much fun.


The Implausibeast does not have game statistics, technically, since it does not need them.

What does the Implausibeast look like? It is hard to say, since each incarnation of it seems to be different. You should go through your collection of miniatures and find the most ridiculous, strange, and unused mini you can find. Maybe it’s for a monster from a completely different game entirely. If you don’t use minis, browse the internet to find some very strange fantasy artwork.

That’s what the Implausibeast looks like. At least when your players encounter it.

When the Implausibeast is encountered by an adventuring party, and not a moment before, flip through your manual of monsters or other reference tome, and select a monster of more or less appropriate level range that you have never really gotten a chance to use. The Implausibeast copies the statistics, attacks, and abilities of that monster.

You may have to exercise some creativity in how those attacks are structured, especially if the mini or artwork you’ve chosen has dramatically different limbs than the monster profile you select. Perhaps the Implausibeast will sprout more limbs, or use its body in an unexpected manner.

Should an Implausibeast survive an encounter, its abilities reset. If it is encountered again, perhaps even by the same group of adventurers, it will mimic the abilities of a completely different monster.

The dread Numeravore is even stranger, but man was not meant to know about such things.  Only my Patreon Backers have access to such forbidden lore.

Go Watch Sense8

Finished Sense8 today.

This is the greatest TV show ever.

I have felt feels like I haven’t felt before.  I have been made genuinely invested in the fate of fictional characters like I haven’t been in a long time.  I haven’t just wanted them to succeed- I needed to succeed.

This show is so multiculturally and multisexually diverse that everyone should be able to find one (or more) protagonist(s) they can identify with.

There’s psychic stuff, guns, martial arts, car chases, and the most well-portrayed transgender character ever.

Go watch this show!

Three Ideas to Make Hearthstone Better For New Players

I love Hearthstone.  I really enjoy the F2P CCG model, and I’ve been mostly F2P for a year (I splurged for Naxx and BRM), and with diligent play I’ve got a pretty good collection of legendaries and can play most decks I want to.  However, a player entering the field now is going to quickly find themselves outclassed.  New players are key to the success of any game.  How can we help new players have fun, without making changes that alienate older players?  Here’s three ideas that might work.

One:  Casual Matchmaking

Any update to the Casual matchmaking algorithm that would take things like collection size and length of play (especially at smaller values) to make sure newbies get to play against each other more often would be a good thing.  Everyone needs to play against someone more experienced to get better at the game, but most of the time, you want to play a fair game against someone similarly skilled (and with a similar collection.)  The best place to do this is the Casual Matchmaking, to put a few tweaks to try to match up new players a little more often.

Two:  Purchasable Starter Set

What if you could buy a Starter Set (or two) to get you off on a better footing?  I’m thinking something like a copy of every Classic Common card (74), 20 Classic Rares, 4 Classic Epics, and a random neutral Classic Legendary.  I don’t know what a good price point for this would be- something affordable enough to encourage it as a launching point in a game, but at a point where experienced players would probably just prefer packs.  Something like this would be great for new players to establish the foundations of a collection, and getting a Legendary would whet their appetite for more.

Three:  Buff some Basic Cards

Let’s face it, except for some staples, most Basic cards are pretty bad.  Buffing Basic Cards would make things just a little more forgiving for new players, and might shake up the meta and make things interesting for seasoned players.  It looks like the new Tavern Brawl might be a bit of a testing ground for card buffs, so maybe we’ll see some of these implemented there, and then rolled out into the game at large.

Here’s some specific buffs I had in mind.  If I don’t regularly see the card in arena or even occasionally in Ranked mode, it’s on the list.

Ancestral Healing

I think the only time I’ve seen this card on a list is for a janky Heroic Naxx list.  Change to add an additional +1 Health.


The Archmage seems like he should give a lot more bang.  Make him Spell Power +2 and he’d be a lot more impressive, and Spellpower decks would be more of a thing.  Right now the only minion with more than Spell Power +1 is Malygos, so this would make him a budget alternative.

Booty Bay Bodyguard

If he were a 5/5, he’d be an interesting alternative to Sludge Belcher.  (I think the Belcher would still be better in most situations where you want the taunt.  Right now he’s just a little to fragile; most of the time in Arena I’d rather have a Senjin Sheildmasta.

Dalaran Mage

Upgrade to 2/4- I think I’d still rather pack Ogre Magi most of the time, but the power differential wouldn’t be as large, and with BRM, 2/4s are more of a thing.  This along with the Archmage boost would probably make us see a lot more spellpower decks, which I think would be interesting.

Drain Life

With Darkbomb being a card, there’s not much reason to play this (and there wasn’t before that.)  Reduce the cost to 2, and it becomes a similar effect to Darkbomb, but not strictly worse or better.

Frostwolf Grunt

Make it a 2/3, so it trades down a little bit better.  Anodized Robo Cub is still usually better.

Heroic Strike

Would this be too good in Control Warrior at +5 attack?  I think this would be more viable in a budget warrior deck to replace Shield Slam and deal with pesky Sludge Belchers and other 5 Health Minions.

Lord of the Arena

Increase to a 6/6.  Still loses to Boulderfist Ogre, but a little bit more staying power.

Magma Rager

Upgrade to 5/2.  Seriously, when’s the last time you’ve seen a Magma Rager played.  It’s still worse (under most circumstances) than Druid of the Flame, but I can see this being played in aggressive decks, especially in arena.


Upgrade to 5/4, so it can trade with Sludge Belcher or Loatheb.  I think the body would still be a little on the weak side, but it would be better to test a small change first.

Raid Leader

Raid Leader sometimes provides more attack than Dire Wolf Alpha, but most of the time he’s not worth the extra mana.  Boost this guy to a 3/2, and he trades just a little bit better, and would be a more likely pick in Arena.

Silverback Patriarch

Make this guy a 2/4.  Similar in stats to Ironfur Grizzly, a little bit more suited to trading with weenies.  BRM added a lot more 3 cost 2/4s, and this doesn’t seem out of line with them.

War Golem

Make this summon two wisps that explode when killed… just kidding.  But seriously make this like a 7/9 and give it the Mech keyword, and it’s not a terrible card for Arena or a budget finisher.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading this.  Would some of these cards be OP?  Is there another card in dire need of a buff?  What else can we do to help new players experience this awesome game?