Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Game Expansion Review - Dungeon Lords: Festival Season

It’s the same every year. You can call it the natural order of things, you can call it the “Circle of Life” – heck, you could even get Elton John to write a song about it! – but it’s regular like clockwork. You spend the four seasons hiring monsters, setting traps, and ordering minions to make things danker (with dark highlights, of course!)… then a lousy party of adventurers shows up with their torches and their sticky fingers for anything shiny and makes a mess of all your hard work.

Ah, such is the life of a Dungeon Lord – but things are changing in the kindgom, thanks to that crafty game designer, Vlaada Chvatil (no, I can’t pronounce his name correctly – thanks ever so much for asking). Through some weird fluctuation in the atmosphere, there are now FIVE seasons in the kingdom… and we’re so excited (and we just can’t hide it), so there will be a festival each year.

There’s a whole lot of other new stuff packed into this expansion box… as far as I can tell, it’s only missing two things:
  1. the ability to play with more than four players
  2. your own personal minion to fetch krullers & iced coffees for you and your friends while you play
Since there is probably some legal/ethical/moral questions raised by stuffing a minion into a game box – though these wouldn’t bother your average Dungeon Lord – we won’t count that against CGE or Z-Man. At the same time, I personally think the decision not to add an extra player to the game was a wise move – doing otherwise would likely involve some serious balance issues due to the design of the game.

My capsule review after my first play (with a pre-production copy nearly a year ago) was “It’s Dungeon Lord-ier!” Three more plays has confirmed my initial analysis – this is most certainly one of those “if you liked the original game & wanted more, here it is” kind of expansions. (By the same token, it’s one of those “if you didn’t like the original game, this isn’t going to change your mind” kind of expansions.)

What Dungeon Lords: Festival Season has in copious amounts is MORE:
  • more monsters – to be specific, a Cockatrice, an Elderbeast (a refugee from the Cthulhu Ancient Ones Assisted Living Facility), and an Evil Eye [insert your own lame “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” joke here]
  • more rooms – I wonder what kind of cocktails they serve in the Violet Lounge? On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that the gaming area of a FLGS I used to play at was the model for the Hall of Chaos.
  • more traps – nothing says “Welcome to the Dungeon” better than a spot of Plague (Guns’n’Roses soundtrack optional)… or you can simply Catapult one of your monsters amidst the party. (Yes, we think the imp trap designers watched “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” one too many times.)
  • more spells – as if those scrawny magic-users weren’t irritating enough, now they’ve got the ability to Level Up members of the party (without twinking!)
  • more paladins – two new holier-than-thou warriors, doing their best Gimli & Legolas schtick (yes, it’s a dwarf & an elf – causing the same kind of havoc as the previous human do-gooders… only there’s two of ‘em!)
  • more events – evidently the Minion branch of the Teamsters has been organizing in your area, because you can now be hit with a Minion Holiday. Or someone could send a message to the stupid human paladin and then you’ll have three knights in white satin to deal with.
  • more gifts – for your minions to bring if you’re using the evil (and aptly named) Minions Bearing Gifts variant
  • more delightful humor in the extremely well-written rulebook… as well as more rules variants for you to try
I guess if you want to get technical (like those inspectors from the pesky Ministry of Dungeons), the dwarven & elven paladins aren’t really new – they were an Essen giveaway. But, hey, they are new to me, so under the Inarguable Rules of Reviewer Rightness, I call “shotgun” or “dibs” or “sanctuary” or whatever.

The folks at CGE wanted more than MORE in Dungeon Lords: Festival Season – they also included a whole truckload of NEW at no additional charge:
  • bards – a new character class who know a wide catalog of classic adventurer tunes (including, of course, “Brave Sir Robin”) and use them to encourage & embolden the dungeon party. The cowards (who immediately slink to the rear of the party and begin tuning their lutes) thankfully also know dirges – so as you reduce the number of the invaders, their mournful medieval Morrissey-like ballads make them less effective.
  • unique opportunities – each year, four new opportunities arise, replacing one of the normal places you send your minions. Now you have traps pre-installed, hire really tough monsters, invest gold at the local bank, or even rent a basement in town as an extra room for your dungeon! You do, thankfully, have a one season “warning” about what new opportunity will arise.
  • festival season – those unique opportunities lead to the Dungeon Lords version of a Pampered Chef party. You send your imps to pick up a special bonus, with the player sending the largest party of imps getting to choose first.
  • improved tunnels – a new item that can be built thanks to one of the unique opportunities – you can pimp out one of your standard tunnels with extra features, chrome, and flames painted on the walls. I’m a big fan of the Dark Tunnel, which reminds me (fondly) of the “Your Torch Goes Out” room card from Dungeonquest.
  • dungeon pets – because who doesn’t want a DireBunny or a Baby Golem skittering about underfoot? You now acquire one of these furry friends during the first season of each year. They can be sent into the dungeon to nip at the heels of the adventurers in a variety of ways – or you can hold onto them, feed them overpriced Monster Kibble, and gain a victory point for each one you still have at the end of the game.
  • there’s even a very clever player board addition that folds to fit nicely over the base game player board & give you places for the expanded group of adventurers and your dungeon pets. (It’s really quite impressive – I was expecting stickers but this is much cooler.)
  • Less sophisticated but still nice is the festival season board to add to the regular timeline.
That’s a lot of extra stuff to add onto a game… which begs the mathematical question: does MORE + NEW = better?

The answer (for me, at least) is a resounding “yes”… with a couple of reservations.
  • Reservation #1: The added season and added round of combat each year do extend the length of the game. When playing with two players, the added time doesn’t seem like much, but with a full complement of four, it’s added about 30 minutes to the game. (The time isn’t due to fiddling with bits or uselessly complex rules – it’s more player decision-making & action.)
  • Reservation #2: While I once again applaud the player board addition, I wish that CGE had included a sticker for the main board to remind us when to draw dungeon pets. Almost every time we’ve played, we’ve missed this at least once.
Those are, of course, pretty minor reservations. 

On the other hand, I love the variety of choices & the expansion of the ways things can go haywire in the game. The curve for planning ahead is more difficult (primarily because of the unique opportunities) – but each time we play, my look-ahead is getting better as I get to know the myriad of options. I also believe that the larger mix of monsters, traps, rooms & pets lets each player develop different strategies – I’ve been able to pursue both a “peg the Evil-o-meter at 11” strategy and a “Chamber of Commerce/Good Neighbor Dungeon Lord” strategy with success.

For fans of the game, I think this is an excellent expansion and recommend it highly.

Note: there was some word on BGG about some of the copies having printing problems – Z-Man has moved quickly to deal with those issues and continue to provide excellent customer service. Don’t let this dissuade you from purchasing a copy.

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

State of the Blog: April 2013

I just got back from Alan Moon's The Gathering of Friends on Monday (it should have been Sunday, but United cancelled my flight from Cleveland due to mechanical problems and I ended up in the airport Sheraton eating room service brownie & ice cream on United's nickel) and I'm trying to get my feet back under me, blog-wise.

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting:
  • my review of the game expansion, Dungeon Lords: Festival Season
  • my review of the excellent ministry book, Dangerous Calling
  • my thoughts about The Gathering, the good games I played, and the great friends I got to spend time with
  • a personal response to an amazing blog post by Jen Hatmaker
  • a post about our move to Texas
  • and, God willing & the creek don't rise, I'll start back with more of my Top 100 games!
Thanks for being patient with the sporadic nature of the blog over the last year. 

graphic from

Friday, April 12, 2013

One Year Later: Three Mini-Reviews

Last spring, I had the privilege of attending Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends for the first time in 10 years. (Yes, that’s a long interval – the first Gathering I got to attend was in 2002 and the newfangled Puerto Rico was just off the boat & all the rage.) I got to play a lot of games (71 different games, some multiple times) and had a wonderful week.

Well, I’m getting ready to head out for the Gathering again this year – a thankfully much shorter interval – and that got me thinking about some games that I’d played for the first time a year ago… and wondering how much my opinion on them had changed. So, what follows are three mini-reviews of games that I left the Gathering feeling quite positive about…


review copy provided by the publisher
Extremely Short Summary:

What we have here is your standard “giant robot armies skirmishing on the surface of a valuable but forbidding planet” scenario – filtered through a fog-of-war command system designed by Richard Borg that is a cousin to the Command & Colors system.

Thumbs Up:
  • very nice minis
  • options for play with 2, 3 or 4 players – all of which work well
  • variety of scenarios (with different objectives)
Thumbs Down:
  • the rules could use a polish (though I appreciate the willingness of Toy Vault to include an errata page when the game was published)
  • as in almost all multi-scenario battle games, the introductory/teaching scenarios do a lousy job of showing off how the good the system can be when it’s firing on all cylinders
The Verdict (2012):

When I played Abaddon on a pre-production copy last year (4 times in a week!), I was delighted by the awesome miniatures and the fast & furious game play. I understood why some gamers didn’t like it – it is more chaotic due to the use of both dice & cards for command than any of Richard Borg’s C&C games. At the same time, I could see it really appealing to my elementary age boys.
Two other observations from a year ago:
  • Mike Gray (from Hasbro) passed by the table while we were playing & remarked that Richard had shown him this game as a prototype a number of years ago.
  • I was given the opportunity to play one of the first “web” scenarios – and both the reorientation of the board & the interesting choices that both players are forced to make from the beginning gave me great hope for Abaddon.
The Verdict (2013):

With 15 plays under my belt now, I continue to enjoy Abaddon. My gut feeling that it would be enjoyed by my 11 year old & 7 year old was spot on.

We’ve reached a point in playing where we feel (particularly with two players) that the game tends to run a bit short… and we’re toying with adding 5-10 points to the victory point total required to win those scenarios. (There are two extra official scenarios, btw – available at

I’ve come to believe that some of the lackluster reviews of the game were due to gamers wanting Richard Borg to create “C&C: Robots” rather than enjoying the game that was in the box. In fact, combined with Mike Gray’s comment, I see some commonalities with another classic “old school” Borg game – the excellent (if dated) Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel.

EscapeEscape: The Curse of the Temple

Extremely Short Summary:

A cooperative real-time dice-rolling expedition into a cursed temple… with a soundtrack!

Thumbs Up:
  • extremely involving game (it’s the real-time adrenaline rush)
  • seems to scale well with varying numbers of players
  • the first expansion (Curses) is already in the box
  • beautiful components
Thumbs Down:
  • the game must be played somewhere with a decent sound system (due to the cues you need to hear from the CD)
  • as with all real-time dice rolling games, there is great potential for inadvertent cheating
The Verdict (2012):

My two plays of Escape at the Gathering (also on a pre-production copy) were a lot of fun… and I watched a couple of other games. I spent half of one of my games with my hand glued to my head and my mouth shut (due to a pair of curses) – which actually made the game all the more exciting!
Interestingly, though, I walked away from the experience with some really big question marks about replay value. It was a frenetic & fun 10 minute experience – but how many times would I find myself willing to play?

The Verdict (2013):

Well, the answer is pretty straightforward – I’ve only played Escape one more time in the year since.
That doesn’t make it a bad game – everything certainly “works” in game terms & it gives a consistent adrenaline-fueled & noisy experience. The components are quite nice and the iconography is clear & useful.

But I do think that Escape will quickly become a “once a year” staple… or a game that’s simply brought out with a new group of friends. (Though there may be some limits on that – the speed dice rolling/recognition thing is not for everyone.) That makes it a game I’m perfectly willing to play but not willing to plop down my limited game-buying cash to own


Extremely Short Summary:

Michael Schacht re-purposes the “book” mechanic from his game Valdora for use in a clever pick-up-and-deliver game about exploring Africa.

Thumbs Up:
  • the “book” mechanic both looks cool and adds a slight but important memory element to the game
  • like many Michael Schacht designs, there are opportunities to cascade actions into each other that give you a feeling of accomplishment – even if you don’t win the game
  • the production & components are lovely
Thumbs Down:
  • there’s a sameness that develops from game to game – similar tactical & strategic choices
The Verdict (2012):

I played Africana (with a freshly released copy) three times at the Gathering. My first play was your classic “enjoying the discovery of the first time” experience – which led to the equally enjoyable “now that I know what I am doing” second play.

But the third play began to feel an awfully lot like the first two plays… and I walked away questioning if it would hold my interest.

The Verdict (2013):

Subsequently, Michael Schacht put a PBEM version of it online – and I played exactly one more time. Sadly, my Gathering impression was correct – while I like the game and enjoy the chances to make crafty moves & combinations of actions, it doesn’t feel like there is a great variety of storylines from play to play.

Like Escape, this doesn’t make Africana a bad game. It just makes it one that I enjoy but don’t have to own.

This article originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers blog.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Yom HaShoah

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
one version of a quote form Martin Niemoller

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Meet the Unappreciated Pastor!

No, this is NOT a comment on my current "between churches" ministry status - this is an introduction for all my faithful blog readers to my favorite Twitter feed. Anonymously, a Southern Baptist pastor (you don't make WMU jokes w/out a little SBC in your blood) has been Tweeting some truly funny (and truly pointed) stuff.

What follows are some personal favorites...

on worship services
  • Excited about my sermon this morning "Christ is alive! So why is our Church So Dead?" Working on my resume too.
  • Why do we have an invitation? Mainly to keep the worship leader from leaving the service when the preaching starts.
  • I don't know what the big deal about changing the music style is. What does it matter which type of music you don't sing?
  • Special thanks to the Seminary student for his topical sermon on why we should preach expositionally.
  • "It's important to be yourself in your preaching. Now, sign up here to learn how to preach like Andy Stanley."
on being a pastor's wife
  • Well, I met this beautiful girl & she said "The Lord told me I was going to marry a pastor" & that's how I found my calling.
  • I have no idea why so few people have signed up [for the Valentine Banquet]. My wife is super excited about spending Valentine's Day at the church.
on church life
  • Some people are so politically minded they're no heavenly good.
  • Nothing says “discernment” like saying “There’s a sign up sheet in the foyer if anyone wants to teach children’s church.”
  • Most people came to Jesus wanting one of three things: Food, a miracle or to argue. I'm so glad things have changed in the church.
on Baptists
  • Pretty sure the groundhog is a Baptist. He makes his once a year appearance and expects everybody to listen to him.
  • The Buffalo Bills are looking for their 5th coach in 11 years. I'm betting a Baptist owns those guys.
on being a pastor
  • I think I'd do well on American Idol. I'm used to criticism and getting voted out.
  • I became a pastor because I desperately need the disapproval of others.
  • How did I become a pastor? I was abandoned at birth, dropped off in the Bible belt and raised by a pack of wild deacons.
  • The Pastorate is the only job I know of in which people that don't like you get mad because you don't visit them.
Want to follow the Unappreciated Pastor? His Twitter handle is @Rev_Norespect... and he also has started an Unappreciated Pastor blog.