Board Games Review: Part Two (Small World, Talisman, Adventure Time Card Wars, Ticket to Ride)

Small World

Well, this is a personal favourite of mine. It’s a conquest/strategy style board game, so therefore not to everyone’s liking. But the people who chose to play really enjoyed it. Since there were four of us we played with a larger board, but there is a smaller board for 2/3 players.

One reason everyone liked it was the comical setting. Each player chooses a race to start with, with a randomised skill set. So, for example, I began with Commando Elves, whereas my daughter had Seafaring Ratmen. You play with this race for a few turns, before choosing to go into Decline, and selecting a new race. Put simply, the more you conquer, the more points you score.

Another reason is the short time frame. The game we played had 8 turns, so it didn’t drag at all.

Despite this, there is definitely some strategy for those who enjoy that. When to Decline, which Race to select, who to attack, all effect outcomes. Some of us got through 3 races in one game. I stuck with the Elves all game because I was enjoying them a little too much. My daughter won with only 2 races deployed. In addition, because new races can change the dynamic, it’s not clear who the winner is until the end.

Small World obviously has its fans, because there are a number of expansion sets now. I can see why.

Pros: A short strategy game; combinations of races and skills, with random order, plus multiple boards, means that every game is different; comical races make it fun to play for non-strategists

Cons: Playing with armies rather than individual characters is not fun for everyone; it’s still a strategy/conquest game, making it too complicated for some

 

Talisman

This is an old favourite in our family, enjoyed by all generations. It’s quite free-form, allowing fantasy-style characters to roam about a detailed board having adventures. We had a Troll, Dwarf, Elf, Ghoul and Assassin. Events, objects and followers allow characters to increase their strength and craft. Once strong enough, they can attempt to win the game by ascending to the Crown of Command. They must own a talisman to do so.

There’s no doubt that it can be long, with a laggy middle, as some characters who have not been so lucky wander aimlessly around in the vain hope of improving their position compared to stronger characters, who are free to beat them up and steal their objects.  This can be quite upsetting if other players around the board are ruthless in their play. Only one character can win, by killing all the others. Another aspect that I find frustrating is rolling dice for movement. But there’s no doubt that funny moments abound, as you watch your nearest and dearest get beaten up by hobgoblins, get drunk in a tavern, or turned into toads.

We have played this many, many times over the years, which is a testament to its enduring appeal. Expansion sets and a computer game do too.

Pros: Huge range of characters, adventure cards, strategies, allow for replay-ability and allow players to express their personality; easy to pick up the rules (roll a dice, do what the square tells you to)

Cons: Lengthy; can be less fun for unsuccessful characters, though they can always fill the time by complaining about their bad luck

 

Adventure Time: Card Wars

I am assured by my son that this is a game actually played by Finn and Jake in the cartoon series Adventure Time. It is a two player strategy game that reminded me of playing Swords and Wizardry or Stratego with my Dad, though it has a different dynamic to those games. We used the Finn and Jake decks, but there are other decks you can buy for the other main characters that feature in the series.

Each player has four landscape locations to deploy their creatures on, meaning that fights occur across four ‘lanes’. Shuffle your deck of cards, and send in your bizarre Adventure Time creatures to fight for you. Your deck also contains buildings and spells. You have 2 actions on your turn, which you will usually use by deploying a card or drawing new ones into your hand.

The rules take a bit of time to figure out and are not written that well. It’s not a game for very young kids. Indeed, I think there is quite a lot of strategy to it if you want to take it seriously.

We just enjoyed fighting with our creatures. In the end, I took 25 points of damage, making me The Dweeb and my son The Cool Guy. It took a while for the game to end, and younger players might be better off with a lower victory score to aim at, or they may lose interest.

I enjoyed this game and it makes a nice change from video games when you are after a bit of 2 player game time.

Pros: Nicely balanced 2 player game; crazy Adventure Time creatures; infinitely repayable, especially with other packs

Cons: 2 player only; harder to learn and longer to play than you might expect

 

Ticket to Ride

Another new one for us, but everyone really enjoyed this, and it’s perhaps the most accessible of the bunch.

We played the original US version of the game. Each player builds train routes between cities, scoring points each time they do. Routes are built by collecting the right cards, e.g. 3 black car cards, or 5 red etc. In addition, each player receives destination tickets. These contain pre-mapped routes, and if you successfully link these cities, you are awarded bonus points. Finally, there are bonus points available for the longest route.

This was easy to play, but the strategy really kicked in about the half way stage as the board filled up and routes became unavailable, forcing detours. Some players started to add extra destination tickets: this can lead to a huge reward in bonus points – but if you fail to complete a route by the end of the game, these points are deducted from your score.

This is nice and quick to play, especially individual turns – you either draw cards or place a route, so the pace is good.

Pros: Quick to play, easy to learn; simple, elegant rules, but allows for strategic choices

Cons: Placing railway tracks on a map may not get everyone’s pulse racing

 

Board Games Reviews: Part One (Dungeon Saga, Betrayal at House on the Hill, The Goonies)

 

Board Games Review: Part One (Dungeon Saga, Betrayal at House on the Hill, The Goonies Adventure Card Game)

There’s nothing I like more over the Xmas holidays than sitting around a table with my family and a board game. I was lucky enough to play quite a few this time round, including a number that were new to me. I thought that a review would make a good first post of the year, while my memory is fresh.

 

Dungeon Saga

This was a new one, though comes from a tradition of D&D inspired board games. In particular, this was bought as an alternative to Heroquest, a classic fantasy board game once owned by my family back in the mists of time, but now lost. I’m not going to go there, suffice to say old copies of Heroquest are currently changing hands for well over £100.

Dungeon Saga requires a Dungeon Master to be in charge of the campaign, and to control the bad guys. The other players control the 4 heroes: standard fantasy characters of a dwarf, barbarian, elf & wizard. Therefore doesn’t work so well with any more than 5 players, though I believe there are expansion sets which might address that. Unlike Heroquest, rather than one board, there are pieces which can be placed together in many ways to create different shaped maps.

We played the 2 introductory games, which involved learning the rules, and took at least 3 hours. The DM didn’t have to do much setting up. All the heroes did was walk along a corridor and smite a few puny skeletons! Even for seasoned players, it’s a game that requires a lot of learning, and we felt that it didn’t really get going as a game, but has a lot of potential once the more involved campaigns are introduced. Of course, it also allows for a keen player to make up their own campaigns. My son liked that idea, but was put off by the complexity.

We will definitely be playing this one again and look forward to a longer campaign.

Pros: Co-op play for heroes; DM gets to control lots of bad guys and can win by crippling a hero; tactical combat; a linked campaign with a quest book full of campaigns; easy to design own campaigns

Cons: complex rules; lengthy, with the potential for lots of fiddly decisions about movement/range/line-of-sight which will put off the more casual gamer

 

Betrayal at House on the Hill

This was another new game bought for my son, who loves Horror. We turned the lights out, and put on some scary music for this one.

Everyone selects a character (max 6), with differing attributes: might, speed, sanity and knowledge. They begin to explore the House by picking up tiles and placing them down, either on the basement, ground or top floor. In this way, each game has a different shaped house. Once the players do a certain amount of exploring, the ‘haunting’ phase of the game begins. Depending on what exactly has happened, the players are faced with a challenge that must be defeated, such as a monster out to kill them. It seems that one of the players will often become the enemy at this point, and try to kill the other players.

There seem to be a large number of hauntings that can happen, keeping the game fresh. In our game, one of the players became invisible and began hunting down and killing the other players, who had to work together to stop them. Unfortunately, our youngest member became the bad guy and struggled a bit with the responsibility, so bear in mind the 12+ age guidance.

This game was a hit with everyone, and is likely to get played quite a lot.

Pros: easy to pick up the rules; each game has a different twist, adding to replayability; medium setting in terms of difficulty and length, making it a good choice for family play

Cons: Limited strategy and decision making for seasoned gamers; at the same time too complex for younger kids; ‘evil’ player is determined randomly, which might not be appropriate for some groups

 

The Goonies Adventure Card Game

The Goonies is a film loved by all, so what about the card game based on the film?

This is a co-op game, where each player takes the role of a Goonie from the film, who has certain skills to offer, and work together to find the treasures, before the Fratellis get them! For some reason, the game is only for 1-4 players, though we managed to adjust this to 5 players and enjoyed a good game.

There’s no board, but various cards are played on a table. It’s a complicated business, and has a 14+ age guidance, which is a bit strange for a game based on this film. In fact, my kids are both younger than this and enjoy the game, contributing well to collective decisions. But you need to think about the group who is playing, and make sure that no-one dominates.

Each turn, you are given 4 actions, such as searching for the treasures and mapping a path. You have to be very careful about what you choose to do. If not, you will lose. This game is not easy.

We enjoyed this one, though I’m not sure it was a favourite, and if it wasn’t about The Goonies it might be less popular.

Pros: Relatively short, so a good choice when time is limited or as a warm-up game; a fully co-op game, which promotes teamwork and can make a nice change from trying to kill each other

Cons: Challenging, which perhaps doesn’t suit a Goonies audience; individual contributions are limited which can be unsatisfying

 

Board Games Review: Part Two (Small World, Talisman, Adventure Time Card Wars, Ticket to Ride)

 

 

 

Cover for Bolivar’s Sword

So, here is the agreed cover for Bolivar’s Sword, the next instalment of The Weapon Takers Saga.

I really like the colours and feel we now have a ‘brand image’ for the series. What do you think?

I’ve still got some work to do on the text, and struggling to find the time at the moment. But looking forward to getting this story published in the new year!

 

Malice by John Gwynne

Malice, the first book in the completed fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen, is a title that has been on my radar for a while, and I have finally got round to giving it a read. I found it a really interesting experience. The covers for the series are quite similar to mine, with a weapon taking centre stage on each book. Once I got reading, I found that the similarities didn’t end there.

 

Characters

One of the obvious similarities is that there are a lot of characters and a lot of viewpoints. Gwynne doesn’t shy away from this, crediting the reader with the intelligence to follow multiple storylines. While these storylines do overlap, the characters are located in different kingdoms, with their own challenges and problems. Gwynne gives a chapter to each character, following the approach of GRR Martin, and personally I found it all perfectly easy to follow, but I am well used to and generally enjoy this approach.

Corban is a fairly typical fantasy character: a boy growing into a man, living in the capital of the King of Ardan, being taught how to fight by a mentor or two, with a crew of family and friends around him. It is pretty clear early on that he is destined to become a heroic figure. His sister, Cywen, gets her own chapters, but she is largely a support character in this book. Veradis, located in a separate kingdom, Tenebral – the home of the ‘high king’, is a newly trained warrior who is assigned to serve the Prince of Tenebral, Nathair. A third young fighter, Krelis, is located in a third kingdom, Isiltir, at the court of his uncle. Orphaned and isolated, he has an uncertain future.

There are a host of other characters. Like the main characters, a huge proportion of them are men: kings, soldiers, bandits, champions, hunters and the like, many of whom are more than handy with a blade. A lot of attention is given to military aspects. This probably means the series isn’t for everyone. I enjoyed it, though even I struggled at times to differentiate between all the characters, perhaps because some of them were a bit samey.

 

Worldbuilding

Malice is set in the Banished Lands, occupied generations ago by humans who arrived by sea. The humans have formed several kingdoms, who can form alliances and rivalries with one another. One of the kingdoms, Tenebral, has a high king, whose authority over the others is vague. Between kingdoms are lawless forests inhabited by bandits. When the humans first arrived, they had to defeat several giant clans for control over the Banished Lands. The remnants of these clans still exist, seemingly pushed into forests and mountains by the more populous humans.

As a setting its more familiar than unique. But the impressive part of the worldbuilding is the many kingdoms that feature in this book. Each has its own internal and external politics. A lot of thought has gone into this, and it helps the reader to feel like the events are taking place in a real world.

There is magic in the Banished Lands, wielded by humans, giants and other creatures. But it is mysterious and in Malice the reader is kept at arms length from it: none of the main characters are wizards. I tend to prefer this approach, since it avoids the dangers of laboriously outlining a whole new magic system for a character to learn (yawn).

 

Plot

This is a traditional epic fantasy series in many ways. Driving the plot is a good vs evil storyline. Although we are not given too much information, we learn that in the past there have been two Gods (one good, one evil). A prophecy reveals that a Godswar is coming and two figures will emerge as champions of each God: a hero and an anti-hero. Malice reveals who these two individuals will be. It does feel a little corny at times, and the revelation of the hero and anti-hero is so heavily signposted the reader is not really given the fun of guessing. Of course, there may be a twist in the later books here, but it didn’t feel like there was going to be when I read this one.

Again, it is not dwelt on too heavily, but part of this Godswar may well be the location of nine (? or similar) magic items/weapons cast by the Gods. The search for these items may well form the plot for much of the three remaining books of the series. Again, I couldn’t help here but see the connection to my own series, where the heroes have to find 7 weapons to combat the threat to Dalriya. Yes, the search for magic objects can potentially feel old hat. But it injects purpose, conflict and direction into a plot, which in epic fantasy, with sprawling worlds and huge casts, might otherwise get lost.

The plot of Malice did a great job of introducing the rest of the series, with enough going on to start pulling characters in different directions and as a reader I was interested to see where it would go next.

 

 

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to fantasy fans, who have the added bonus of knowing that this is a completed series they can read to a conclusion. I will certainly be continuing with it. It’s traditional fantasy done well.

 

October Update

Toric’s Dagger

 

Toric’s Dagger has fallen at the semi-final stage of the SPFBO contest. The blogger ventureadlaxre put the book into her Top 10, but—let’s be blunt—still didn’t like it very much. You can read her review here.

The book has also recently been reviewed by The Weatherwax Report, a prolific fantasy blogger who is taking on 100 of the self-published books in the contest. She has a great site and you can read her review of Toric’s Dagger here.

 

Bolivar’s Sword

 

I’ve finished writing the sequel to Toric’s Dagger and I am really happy with it. I think it’s a darker, more expansive follow up. The ‘fellowship’ from book one has now been scattered to the four winds, and war comes to Dalriya.

I’m transitioning into the publishing phase for this book, which includes things like formatting & cover design. When I get more news on this I will post it here.

 

The Virtual Fantasy Conference

 

I’m taking part in the 2017 VFC, hosted on Facebook. It’s a chance for fantasy fans to connect with authors and runs for a week, from 15-22 October. The organisers have worked really hard to make it interactive and fun, with panels on fantasy topics. Please visit my Author Booth/Page here from the 15th October.

 

 

What Remains of Heroes by David Benem

The quality of self-published, or indie, books is getting better and better. Not just the stories themselves, but the editing, covers and all the other professional aspects of the business. So much so that the best of the bunch are, in every important respect, the equals of their traditionally published cousins. Here I review one of the leading indie fantasy books from the last few years.

 

CHARACTERS

I would class this as character driven fantasy, in the sense that you feel that the author started with the characters and allows them to take centre stage. We follow the point of view of at least half a dozen as the story develops and all of them have well defined personalities. Lannick de Veers is a broken ex-soldier with a dark past. Zandrachus Bale is another unlikely hero, living a safe life amongst his books in the Abbey until forced to go out into the world. Karnag is an assassin with no moral code. True to the theme of the series, none of the characters are traditionally heroic, and are often reluctant. This adds some complexity to their characters, but at times can be overdone, especially since the reader has the impression they are going to do the right thing in the end anyway. I enjoyed the range of characters, though it does mean the plot moves slowly at times, since most characters have their own separate storyline. Indeed, the three mentioned above still haven’t crossed paths by the end of the book. This would suggest that the series still has a long way to go.

 

WORLDBUILDING

We are in fairly familiar territory here. The kingdom of Rune is under threat from evil forces from the past. There is a solid historical backdrop to the story, with the Sentinels, demi-god style characters, who have defended Rune in times past, banished by the High King some generations ago. And they need to come back. It is a modern, Abercrombie-esque setting, with humans taking centre stage and no mention of elves, dwarves etc. Some considerable thought has gone into the politics, with a High-King gone mad (we never meet him); a Queen in peril; evil figures at court; and a mention of thanes, who sound like regional noblemen, who may well come into the story. I appreciated this attempt to flesh out and make a believable world. In the end it felt secondary to the main storylines, since the principal characters are political outsiders (unlike Game of Thrones, for example), but there are hints that this angle may be developed in later books. Finally, there is magic in this land, often quite dark and scary. Benem avoids incorporating a new magical system with detailed rules into the story, which I appreciated. On the other hand, I didn’t detect what the limits or costs of magic use are.

 

PLOT

The king is mad, war with the kingdom’s neighbour is brewing, and behind it all a dark, hidden sect, who worship an evil God, are pulling the strings. The Sanctum, a group of book reading old men generally held in contempt as ‘spookers’, must begin a search for the long forgotten Sentinels. Some of these Sentinels and/or their followers are revealed in the book, and they are not always what the reader is expecting. As indicated above, this is an ambitious start to a series, with multiple plot lines started, and a story that slowly reveals itself to the reader. There is a lot more to come and it doesn’t surprise me to see that it has taken Benem over two years to come up with the sequel. This is thoughtful, meaty fantasy, and worth waiting for!

 

I would encourage people to pick up a copy of this book and to look out for The Wrath of Heroes, which, according to the author’s website, is due out soon.

 

Toric’s Dagger Launch

It’s been another busy month, but it’s about time I posted some reflections on the launch of my first book, Toric’s Dagger.

Overall, it was a success, with a number of promotions, plus help from friends and family, getting the book in front of readers. I’m sure that the initial 0.99 offer also helped to close a few deals. As well as people buying the book, it has had quite a few page reads on Kindle Unlimited (KU) on Amazon. Members of this scheme get to read it for free, and as the author I get a little compensation for each page read. I now have readers, not only in the UK and US, but in Canada, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. That’s a great feeling.

This initial group of readers has now converted into some ratings/reviews, which are so important for authors. On Goodreads, the book now has 6 ratings, averaging 4.67/5. It also has its first review on Amazon, where it was given 4 stars. Finally, the book also got a great write up on Readper, which you can see here. It’s nice that the initial reaction has been so positive, with no reader yet giving it less than 4/5 (yes, I know it’s early days!).

Of course, I want more readers and reviews, and I will post some news on this very soon.

As for the follow-up, Bolivar’s Sword, I will need to give myself a window to do another round of editing on it before it is ready to go. Then, there is all the publishing that needs to be done, especially the cover design. I will keep posting updates on this process here.

Many thanks for following the blog!

Jamie

The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Here I review another true fantasy epic, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I have just finished reading the last of the series (#7) The Dark Tower, published in 2004. The first book in the series, The Gunslinger, was released in 1982. So, while it took him a fair while, at least King was able to finish the series *cough, cough, George Martin*. A film adaptation has been in the works for several years, and is being released this year.

Characters

The central character of the series is the Gunslinger himself, Roland of Gilead. Roland Deschain is a descendant of Arthur Eld, or King Arthur, and King’s Gunslingers are in part inspired by the knights of Arthurian legend. His old world destroyed, Roland is on an epic quest, to find the Dark Tower. He is the last of the gunslingers, and his quest seems to have been going on for countless years. Roland’s character is also inspired by ‘The Man With No Name’, the Clint Eastwood character from the Dollars film trilogy. He is, at first, equally enigmatic, but his backstory is filled in as the series progresses. There are a whole host of other characters in this series, but most important are the Ka-tet, the group he recruits to help him on his quest. They are trained to be gunslingers. Jake Chambers, Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes are each recruited from a different era of ‘real world’ New York (70s, 80s and 60s respectively) by Roland. This ‘world-jumping’ is an important device in the story. King does character extremely well, and the American characters add humanity to the single-minded obsessiveness of Roland.

Worldbuilding

What you don’t get here, is the meticulously detailed, medieval-inspired secondary world, that is the staple of fantasy literature. This is not Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones. King lets his imagination run riot, and the series jumps from America, to Roland’s Mid-World, to alternate or parallel worlds, with rapidity. What’s more this isn’t a pure fantasy story, either. There are elements of post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi, Horror, Western, Metaphysical etc. Time and space are in flux in this series, which serves as a useful get out of jail card for King, allowing for a vagueness of location which fits in with the spiritual nature of Roland’s quest. And let’s not forget that King is first and foremost a Horror writer: his stories are supernatural and don’t attempt to obey scientific rules or create a ‘realistic’ world.

Plot

The world has turned, or gone bad in some way. We know that Roland must save it by finding the Dark Tower. But beyond that, much of the story is shrouded in mystery to begin with. As a series, we follow the adventures of Roland and his new Ka-tet on their quest. A range of supernatural enemies await them on the way, from vampires/’low men’, a deranged monorail train to the Crimson King himself. But each book has a very different story to tell. No doubt this is partly because they were written so far apart in time. Wizard and Glass (#4), for example, is effectively a flashback to an episode in Roland’s past. Each book, therefore, has a unique feel to it and readers can react very differently to that. Some may feel that as a series it doesn’t hang together as well as others, and that the quality is patchy. Others appreciate the variety that King has introduced. True fans of King even get to see links to many of his other well known stories in the series.

Style

Stephen King writes mighty fine, do ya ken. Well over 1 million words ooze effortlessly by, with much of the series written at the height of his powers. Roland’s language is ‘High Speech’, and by the end of the series I found I had adopted some of these phrases as my own.

Conclusion

This series is a classic of epic fantasy, a unique tale and a great achievement. Yes, there are problems and weaknesses along the way, though that is to be expected in a piece of work this size. Few of the single volumes of this story are, in my opinion, masterpieces, and I would give most of them 4/5. But taken as a whole body of work, The Dark Tower series undoubtedly deserves a 5/5.

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway: Finished

Edit 16/5/2017: it was great seeing people on Goodreads requesting my book, with over 1,000 requests by the end of the giveaway. The winner (from Canada) has been selected and their copy of the book is on the way. The book was added to a lot of to-read lists as well, which is the point of doing this kind of thing. Goodreads frowns on contacting participants, but I’d like to thank everyone who did, for showing an interest. I am thinking of running a second giveaway, so stay tuned!

 

 

Get your hands on a free copy of Toric’s Dagger in its pre-launch Goodreads Giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Toric's Dagger by Jamie Edmundson

Toric’s Dagger

by Jamie Edmundson

Giveaway ends May 15, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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