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GTM #180 - Vikings & The Duke: The Invasion is Coming!
By Randall N. Bills

Vikings. The word has a power all its own. And conjures images of powerful warriors, distant lands, and, of course, long boats cresting through storm-tossed waves. While much of what we know of Vikings has been mythologized, that very process, perpetuated across centuries - and continuing today - readily demonstrates their primal siren call.

In March 2013 the History Channel debuted the Vikings TV show. The combination of compelling characters, dramatic action, and brilliant cinematography almost guaranteed its success from day one. The ratings have climbed steadily through two seasons, while racking up a treasure trove of critical acclaim. Catalyst Game Labs is exceedingly pleased to have the license from MGM to add Viking games to the list of excitement surrounding this growing TV show.

But where to begin? We immediately thought of a nice, big euro-style game of exploration and resource management, and we solicited numerous game designers immediately to fill that game slot. However, a much closer-to-home concept presented itself.

Two-and-a-half years ago we successfully Kickstarted The Duke tile-laying game, which was then published in the summer of 2013 and very quickly sold out. We just got in the first half of the reprint at the end of last summer, which once again almost immediately sold out, and we’re in the process of selling out of the second half of the reprint, with another reprint already under discussion.

“Well, what’s The Duke?” some of you may be asking. The politics of the high court are elegant, shadowy, and subtle. Not so in the outlying duchies. Rival dukes contend for unclaimed lands far from the king’s reach, and possession is the law in these lands. Use your forces to capture enemy troops before you lose the chance to claim the land for yourself. In The Duke, players move their troop tiles around the board and flip them over after each move. Each tile’s side shows a different movement pattern. If you end your movement in a square occupied by an opponent’s tile, you capture it. Capture your opponent’s Duke to win!

And since its publishing, in addition to a growing community of avid fans, it’s garnered a slew of critical acclaim as well:

  • "…this is one of the best abstract strategy games I have ever played." - Tom Vasel (The Dice Tower)
  • "Most innovative little board game since Chess." - Michael A Stackpole (New York Times Bestselling writer and award-winning game designer)
  • “The best abstract strategy game I own!
" - Bryan Pope (Creator of Mage Wars)
  • "This is an abstract I would suggest to anyone…”" - Ryan Metzler (The Dice Tower)

The Duke was also nominated for 2013 Best Two-Player Game by The Dice Tower Gaming Awards, as well as winning a 2014 Mensa Select.

And if those accolades weren’t enough…it’s just a brilliant game that I’ve played hundreds of times. The unique, changing movement profile on the tiles as you flip them back and forth creates a dynamic, ever-changing game board that means no two games are almost ever alike. Anytime someone wants to play The Duke, I’ll drop almost anything I’m doing and dive in.

In addition to the base game, we’ve released six expansions that provide a variety of additional tiles for various styles of expanded play. These include such sets as the Robert E. Howard and Arthurian Legends that introduce a specific type of flavor and change up the victory conditions, or the Reinforcements: City Troops that is the first of a series of four sets that allow a limited “build your bag” style of play, with each player deciding between the standard tiles in the base game and corresponding alternate tiles found in the Reinforcement sets.

During the development process of the game - as well as the expansions - we quickly realized how ludicrously robust the game was and that it could support a large swath of tiles. And that’s without even touching new movement icons…and if you include those…then the sky's the limit on the adaptability of the game and subsequent fun. For example, in addition to those mentioned above, we kicked around a host of unique sets powered by this phenomenal mechanic, from such craziness as a superhero set to Cthulhu (of course!), to the very serious Shogun set we’ve roughed out. So when Vikings came along, it seemed a perfect fit for our first game, which will publish in spring - Jarl: The Vikings Tile-Laying Game.

~ A Game of Stones ~

In the long winters between raiding seasons, warriors keep their intellect sharp through games of wit and chance. Ragnar, Rollo, Floki, and even the Earl challenge each other to this game of stone placement filled with tactics and subtle maneuvering for victory. In Jarl: The Vikings Tile Laying Game, players move their warriors (tiles) around the board and flip them over after each move. Each tile’s side shows a different movement profile. If you end your movement in a square occupied by an opponent’s tile, you capture that tile. Capture your opponent’s Jarl to win!

Jarl comes with beautiful stone-like tiles, and includes the standard light and dark sets so it’s a standalone game. However, it’s been designed so players can immediately take Jarl straight up against The Duke to see who will be master of the British Isles! Also, while all the tiles are new, unlike many of the expansions already published, we wanted Jarl to feel truly different. As such, none of the tiles make use of two of the movement icons found in The Duke, while making heavy use of two other movement icons noted in the rulebook, but not found on any tiles in the base game, which also introduces a brand-new movement icon. This helps to ensure that not only is Jarl fun to play on its own merits, but as a new “faction” to play against The Duke it brings it’s own wonderful ambience and challenges.

Jarl: The Vikings Tile-Laying Game is for two players and plays in 15-25 minutes. While it’s suggested age is 13+, astute younger players will easily grasp this fun, abstract tactical game. Visit www.catalystgamelabs.com/casual-games and on the The Duke page you’ll find an interactive demo that shows you how the game mechanic works, while the full rules for the game can be found on the Jarl page. Following Jarl, this summer will also see the release of Vikings: The Board Game.

~ All Things Begin and End as Stories ~

Vikings. The name conjures images of longboats, flashing swords, and ruthless warriors without equal: a terror that stretched across the centuries and a thousand miles of raiding! And among the legendary warriors is Ragnar Lothbrok, the scourge of France and England and father to a host of renowned sons that would make rulers and kingdoms tremble for long years.

Vikings: The Board Game is a strategy game of exploration and raiding for 2-5 players based upon the hit History Channel series that allows players to embrace their inner Viking. Each winter players will scheme to acquire appropriate resources while convincing heroes such as Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha, Rollo, and Floki to support them as they launch their longships in the water to raid each summer. Plunder treasures and foreign resources across modular tiles that ensure a different game each time you play, while completing Seer cards, will ultimately lead a player to victory!

The dangers of failure are bloody, but the rewards of victory are legion: you will help build the Viking legend! This great board game builds upon the success of such games as Lords of Waterdeep that wed elegant, Euro-style mechanics with the more Ameri-centric desire for loads of immersive flavor.

Finally, we’ve a third game in development for potential publication in the fall. A fast and fun card game of longship raiding and trying to outthink your opponent. Utilizing the "Prisoner’s Dilemma" game theory, it wonderfully echoes the often-tragic circumstances of the hit TV show, leaving even the losers ready to dive in and try and seize victory…this time!

As the third season of this phenomenal show unfolds, join Catalyst Game Labs and a variety of great games…hopefully you’ll find one that fits your inner Viking!

GTM #179 - Star Wars: Armada
by Fantasy Flight Games

Massive Star Destroyers fly to battle against Rebel corvettes and frigates in Star Wars: Armada, the two-player miniatures game of epic fleet combat in the Star Wars galaxy!

In Armada, you assume the role of fleet admiral, serving with either the Imperial Navy or Rebel Alliance. You assemble your fleet and engage the enemy. Using the game’s unique maneuver tool, you steer your carefully detailed and pre-painted capital ships across the battlefield, even while the battle rages around them.

Banks of turbolasers unleash torrential volleys of fire against squadrons of X-wings and TIEs. Engineering teams race to route additional power to failing shields. Laser blasts and explosions flare across the battlefield. Even a single ship can change the tide of battle, and it’s your job to ensure that it’s in the right place at the right time. You issue the commands that will decide the course of battle and, perhaps, the fate of the galaxy.

~ Capital Ships In Combat ~

Armada balances the awesome scale of the Star Wars galaxy’s capital ships and space warfare with intuitive ship designs and accessible rules for issuing commands and resolving combat. The result is a rich, engaging, and highly tactical play experience.

Capital ships are extremely powerful war machines, but they’re also massive and sophisticated vessels that can’t swiftly react to every development in the heat of battle. Instead, you must plan ahead. Each of your ships has a command value, which determines how many commands it will have in its stack at any given point in time. These commands are then revealed throughout the game, one per round, even as you assign new commands to the bottom of your stack. Each of the four possible commands offers a different, powerful advantage. The key to flying your ships effectively is to issue these commands in such a way that your crews will be ready to execute them at just the right times.

~ An Innovative Maneuver Tool ~

Another reason you need to plan for the future is that the massive space battles of Armada are always in motion. Throughout the Ship Phase, in which you and your opponent activate your capital ships, you’re always exchanging activations. Not only that, but when you activate one of your ships, it attacks first, then moves. This means that you’re always setting your course to set yourself up for the next round’s attack, rather than setting a course to set yourself up for an attack in the same round. You have to consider where your opponent’s ships have already moved, where the unactivated ships are likely to move, and which ships are likely to activate first in the coming round. You also need to consider your ship’s limitations.

Capital ships can’t easily vary their speeds or execute hairpin turns like the starfighters that buzz around them. They measure hundreds of meters long, boast thousands of crew members, and carry tremendous inertia through every turn they execute. Accordingly, Armada uses a unique and innovative maneuver tool to maneuver your capital ships that makes it easy for you to set a ship’s course, even while it lends an element of realism to your ship’s pitch and yaw.

~ Squadrons of Starfighters ~

The Star Wars movies remind us that there’s always room – even a need – for personal heroics. No matter how many Star Destroyers, corvettes, or frigates rain laser fire upon each other as they vie for the fate of the galaxy, there’s always the chance that a single starfighter pilot can turn the tide of battle.

Accordingly, even though they’re dwarfed by the capital ships they accompany, starfighters and their pilots are a critical part of Armada. Entering the game as whole squadrons, your starfighers are highly adaptable and flexible, and only a foolish admiral would overlook the tactical options they can add to your fleet. While squadrons don’t pack the raw power or resilience of the capital ships they accompany, they come with their own rules for movement and combat that make them far more capable of occupying and threatening the exact portion of the battlefield that you choose.

If left unchecked, a swarm of starfighters can tear down even the most massive of capital ships, and while capital ships can return their fire, any shot directed at squadrons is a shot not taken at a larger ship.

~ Assemble Your Fleet ~

With its capital ships, starfighter squadrons, and accessible rules, Star Wars: Armada provides you an unparalleled take on the largest and most consequential battles in the Star Wars universe. What’s more, your first games are only the beginning of your involvement in the Galactic Civil War. Just as it is your job as fleet admiral to assemble a battle plan, it is your job to build the fleet that stands the best chance of emerging from battle victorious. Rules for fleet-building allow you to handpick your strike force as you prepare to meet the enemy.

Within the Core Set, you will find plenty of options. Not only can you choose which ships and squadrons to bring to battle, you can upgrade them with powerful weaponry or call upon the talents of elite pilots and officers. However, these options expand further with starship and squadron expansions that allow you to refine your strategies and explore even more of the Star Wars galaxy.

GTM #178 - Traveling Through The Breach
by Wyrd Miniatures

Through the Breach is a tabletop roleplaying game based in the world of Malifaux where outlaws, mages, mad scientists, and unspeakable creatures vie for power. Unfortunately for most, their destinies are already weaved into the great tapestry of fate, and there is only one path they can walk.

There are others, though, who were not weaved in so tightly. Great individuals who are able to embrace - or deny - their destinies. These individuals are known as the Fated, and they are the true shapers of the world. Players will take on the role of one of the Fated. They have a destiny, and the players will get to choose whether to accept the road that lays before them or wander off to forge new paths. In Through the Breach, the players’ destinies are tied integrally into their characters from the very beginning of character creation.

~ Determine Your Destiny ~

Character creation is a simple process that can be completed fairly quickly. The full details can be found in The Fated Almanac, but for now, we can grab a deck of cards and start making a character.

Through the Breach uses a deck of cards known as a Fate Deck to determine everything random in the game, and character creation is a part of this. The Fate Deck is a standard deck of playing cards with the two jokers, and a simple conversion for all the suits. This deck of cards represents exactly what you’d assume by the name: fate.
Because the deck is standing in for fate, every single player will flip from the same deck in the course of the game. There is only one future for all things, and every flip is leading towards it. For now, everyone should use a different deck to speed up the Character generation process.

After the deck is shuffled, we’re going to deal out a tarot reading. This tarot, known as the Cross Roads Tarot, tells us the character’s past and present, and then we’ll step in and start to determine his or her future. This tarot is the most important step in character creation, and it is made up of five different card flips.

  • The first card you flip goes in the center, and it is called your Station card. This is your distant past. It’s called the Station card because it is your character’s station in life. It tells us the circumstances of your character’s birth and what sort of family they grew up in.
  • The second card you flip goes to the left of your Station and is the western card. Your western card is used to determine your physical Aspects: Might, Grace, Speed, and Resilience. You can start thinking about what your Fated was like growing up. If you’re following along with an open copy of The Fated Almanac, you’ll notice that some of the four values provided by your western card flip are negative. That’s OK. Through the Breach isn’t focused on being the best at everything. It’s a narrative game, and there are even a number of rules that can benefit you for having a negative Aspect.
  • The third card you flip goes above your Station and is the northern card. The northern card contains your root skills. It reflects many of the skills your character learned growing up, and in conjunction with the other two parts of your Tarot so far, should give you a fairly solid idea of your character’s background. 
  • The fourth card is the eastern card and goes to the right of the Station. This card informs your mental Aspects: Intellect, Charm, Cunning, and Tenacity. This is also the point you should start considering your Fated as they get older. The four mental Aspects have a lot to do with learning and interacting with others, and where you assign the values will have a large impact on how your character views the world.
  • The fifth and final card is the southern card, and it goes below the Station. This provides you with your endeavor skills. These reflect more of the skills you chose to learn as you got older, and often reflect how you currently spend your time. These skills cannot be added to the root skills, which means that you’ll often end up with a Fated with plenty of skills at their fingertips.

Once you’ve completed, you’ll end up with a Tarot that looks like the below, and helps tell the narrative about your character.

The tarot also tells you your character’s destiny. Each card of the Cross Roads Tarot has a phrase that, combined with all the others, is your destiny. Starting with the southern card and making your way back to the Station, you will discover what may lie in store for your character… if you choose to embrace your destiny.

~ Focusing on the Future ~

With the Tarot completed, it is time to looking forward to the future. It’s time to take things out of the hands of fate. The first step is increasing an Aspect or two. Your past may tell you a lot about yourself, but now you’re beginning to break out of your predetermined mold.

Next you’re going to choose your Pursuit. A Pursuit is a bit of a mash-up between mindset and occupation. It tells you a bit of what you’re good at, but it also informs how you approach the world. It is something that you can change about your character every time you sit down to play, and it is one of the core ways your character is able to choose their own fates. This is because the Pursuit, in gameplay, lets you draw cards in certain situations from a personal deck of cards called the Twist Deck. This deck is just for your Fated, unlike the Fate Deck. Your Twist Deck symbolizes your control over your own destiny, the ability to manipulate the very threads of fate to ensure something comes to pass. Whenever you flip a card from the Fate Deck, you can use a card you drew from the Twist Deck to replace it – grabbing a hold of fate and letting it know just who is in charge.

After you have your Pursuit, you’re going to pick a Talent from the list of General Talents. Each Pursuit has some of its own Talents, and coupled with the General Talents this will give your character a lot of flavor as they specialize in different ways. Sometimes Talents open up new actions, sometimes they let you use different Aspects for skills, and sometimes they modify things you can already do. Regardless, it’s in the Talents that you’ll see a lot of your Fated’s individual quirks.

Finally, you’ll need some gear if you’re going to walk the path of fate. You start the game off with some cash that you can use to buy equipment. Maybe you need a pistol or want a musical instrument. Regardless, the final step in creating your character is to fill your pockets by emptying your wallet.

~ Adventures in Malifaux ~

Once you’ve got your character worked up (the full details of which can be found in The Fated Almanac), you’re ready to go gallivanting through Malifaux – fighting with the aforementioned where outlaws, mages, and mad scientists on your journey towards your destiny. Each session you play in, you or one of your fellow Fated will complete one of their destiny steps and move closer to resolving their fate.

You can find more information on this process in The Fatemaster’s Almanac, the guide to running narratives in Malifaux, but the important thing is that every adventure moves one of the Fated closer to their destiny. Character stories, in this way, have a fairly clear beginning, middle, and end. After your character completes all 5 destiny steps, they have finished their journey through the Breach.

Everything in Through the Breach is designed to tie into the core concept of fate. As you saw above, the players all use the same deck, a Fate Deck, to determine the outcome of things. They have the ability to manipulate this by using a hand of cards, which comes from their own Twist Deck. It all gets sewn together to create a single unifying theme that permeates the mechanics and the setting at once.

The Fatemaster, the person running the adventures, also plays into this theme. Unlike in most other roleplaying games, the Fatemaster doesn’t randomize anything. The non-player characters in the game are not the Fated, and therefore they don’t touch the threads of destiny. Instead, the Fatemaster uses simple target numbers to set difficulties. In this way, the game shows that it is the players, and only the players, who have final control over fate. They are the architects of their own futures.

There are always more strands of fate that make up the Malifaux tapestry. You can find a quick-starter adventure, "An Easy Mark," in Wyrd Chronicles 14. You’ll be able to find multi-session story arcs in our Penny Dreadful releases, the first of which is the upcoming "In Defense of Innocence."

Future releases will include books that expand on character options, allowing players to explore more of Malifaux and see it through different lenses. All of our journeys through the Breach are just beginning…