The Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO)

So. I’ve written my own book. I’ve published my own book. Now what do I do?

This was the position I found myself in during the Spring of 2017, and no doubt the position many other self-published authors have found themselves in. Writing a book seemed like hard work. Getting it on Amazon seemed like hard work. But in fact, that’s just the start. If you want people to read your books, you have to be proactive and go sell them. If you’re self-published, no-one is going to do that for you. But someone might…may…help you out a little.

If you write fantasy books, you have the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Created by fantasy author Mark Lawrence and supported by fantasy bloggers, the first competition ran in 2015. 300 books are entered into the competition. The only real rule, is that your book is self-published, and fantasy. It’s a gloriously level playing field, when such things rarely exist. I hadn’t sold a single copy when I stumbled my way into the competition in 2017 – Toric’s Dagger was on pre-order and not yet out. There were other authors like me, but I was also up against writers who had over ten books out, writers who had been traditionally published, writers with multi-thousand-dollar audiobook contracts. It didn’t matter. My book, along with 29 others, was sent off to one of the ten bloggers, and whichever one she liked the best, was going to reach the final. Name and reputation didn’t come into it.

Clearly, with a one in thirty chance of making the final, most writers don’t get much attention. I was luckier than most. Toric’s Dagger finished in the top ten or so in its group, and in doing so got a full review from the blogger. Who didn’t hold their punches. But new writers need to see the bad as well as the good. And anyway, even in a big competition like this, all opinions are subjective. Take on board the criticisms you agree with and forget about the rest. Did all of this get me any sales? Maybe. Not much. But I learned a hell of a lot from the experience and it’s also allowed me to get to know some of the other amazing authors out there, and learn from them.

Those books that win their ‘heat’ find their way into the final. They get reviewed by all ten participating blogs. This is the point where books can get a load of attention. And for the winner? The book that’s beaten 299 other contenders? That’s massive. Massive, free promotion for the book, and for the author. The winner of the 2016 contest, The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French, was picked up by a big publisher. Yes, agents and publishers are keeping an eye on this, and why not? They’re getting a proven winner out of it all.

 

 

So, the SPFBO. Good for self-published writers. Bloggers get to make a real impact in the genre they love. Agents and publishers get to pick up on new writers and trends. Fantasy readers get to find out about books they might otherwise not hear about. I’m declaring it a win-win and overall good thing.

If you want to find out more, the 2018 contest, aka #SPFBO 4, can be accessed via Mark Lawrence’s website

Finally, the casual reader of this article may just want to know, hey, what are the best books to come out of this thing? Well, that’s always going to be subjective, depending on what type of fantasy you’re into as much as anything else. Plus, with 900 books entered in the first 3 versions, there’s no doubt some very good books have been overlooked. That said, here’s a list of books from the competition, either that I’ve read myself and enjoyed, or that enough people have raved about to make me believe there’s a very good chance a fantasy fan will love it. The rest, as they say, is up to you.

2015 SPFBO
WINNER: The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung
I would also recommend: What Remains of Heroes by David Benem, Bloodrush by Ben Galley

2016 SPFBO
WINNER: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
I would also recommend: Paternus by Dyrk Ashton, Path of Flames by Phil Tucker, Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft, Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle

2017 SPFBO
WINNER: Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J Hayes
I would also recommend: The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson, The War of Undoing by Alex Perry, The Eagle’s Flight by Daniel Olesen, Faithless by Graham Austin-King, Darkstorm by ML Spencer, The Woven Ring by MD Presley

 

 

Bolivar’s Sword eBook Out Now – 0.99

So, Bolivar’s Sword has now had its eBook release and will be 0.99 on Amazon for the first half of July until it goes back up to 3.99. The first reviews are also now in and seem to have settled on a 4**** average on amazon.com – see here. It feels good having a couple of books on sale now – hopefully the next one won’t take a year!

I have also started a kindle countdown for Toric’s Dagger, which means that it will be available at $0.99 for a week too, but unfortunately only on amazon.com (US Amazon).

 

Art of War Edited by Petros Triantafyllou

Art of War is a fantasy anthology put together by the BOOKNEST.EU blog featuring short stories by 40 fantasy writers. And it’s an impressive line-up: while I’ve only read a few of the authors in this collection before, I knew of and was interested in reading the work of well over half of them, which makes it a great introduction to some of the current writers in the genre. Of course, reading a short story isn’t the same as reading a novel, and (to be honest) I tend to prefer the latter. I think particularly in fantasy, it can be hard to get a story going in a few thousand words. And these stories are generally on the short side (I don’t know how long, and no, I’m not counting the words for you). So, a writer’s short doesn’t necessarily tell you what their series are like. Also, when I got to reading, I actually enjoyed quite a few from authors I hadn’t come across before, which is even better. The other point worth making here is that profits from sales go to Medecins Sans Frontieres, which some readers may want to know.

So, on to the book itself. It’s well designed for a start, and after reading a lot of eBooks recently, it was nice to have a chunky book in my hands. The theme is obviously war. As a collection of writers, obviously the authors approached this from a number of angles. The most common was ‘war is hell’. This is something of a truism and therefore didn’t always spark my interest. Linked to this was a number of stories that were set in trenches, which I found slightly odd in a fantasy story. Given that despite the central truth of war is hell, humans are still engaged in war in the twenty first century, is a depressing fact, but still one that could be explored. War as a driver of social change is explored in Sebastian de Castell’s The Fox and The Bowman, one of the reasons that particular story stood out for me.

Clearly, with 40 stories, the reader is going to find some they liked better than others. There were a few I thought were pretty poor, but only one I didn’t finish, which isn’t a bad hit rate. When writers decide what to write they have to decide whether to build on their previous material or produce something new and self-contained. Obviously the former goes down well with existing fans but can be a barrier to new readers if dependent on prior knowledge of the author’s work.

I’ll give a mention to my top ten – these haven’t been chosen in a systematic way, but rather are the ones that stayed with me for some reason – I could remember the characters and their situation. In compiling this list I think it’s fair to say that the odds of being remembered are higher if the story comes at the beginning or end of the book rather than stuck in the middle. So, in the order they appear in the book:

The Breaking of the Sky by Ed McDonald – what’s in the box? Nothing nice, I fear.

The Last Arrow by Mitchell Hogan – captured the unpleasantness of war without becoming hyperbolic.

This War of Ours by Timandra Whitecastle – original, atmospheric, definitely made me want to read more from her.

The Fox and the Bowman by Sebastian de Castell – clever, almost like a fable, with some insight on war.

Violet by Mazarkis Williams – made me root for this character.

Sacred Semantics by Nicholas Eames – genuinely funny, and clever, and about war.

The Undying Lands by Michael R Fletcher – another strong female character, lighthearted feel to it.

The Storm by Miles Cameron – the world-building/setting was interesting.

Flesh and Coin by Anna Stephens – mercenary bands encounter, struck a chord with me because I’m currently writing something quite similar.

The Hero of Aral Pass by Mark Lawrence – my first introduction to Jalan Kendeth, already on my TBR pile.

 

As I say, nothing very systematic about this list and on another day no doubt the list would be slightly different. There are another twenty-odd quality short stories in this book, so would definitely recommend to fantasy fans, it’s a nice one to dip into in between longer reads.

The Eagle’s Flight by Daniel E Olesen

I first noticed Daniel Olesen’s The Eagles’s Flight in the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. It was in the same section as Toric’s Dagger, and while neither book won through, they both made it to the semi-final stage, with Daniel’s book getting a rather more positive review than mine. It sounded like complex, historical, epic fantasy, which is right up my street, and so I treated myself to a read. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, though it’s a book that may not be for everyone. File under historical. With a capital ‘H’.

 

Characters

Like good epic fantasy should, The Eagle’s Flight gives us a feast of characters who inhabit the lands of Adalmearc. The point of view shifts from one character to the next with rapidity. Yes, some people don’t like this, but I do, and I appreciate that the writer trusts that I am intelligent enough to cope with it. The first part of the book centres on the capital, Middanhal, where the powerful nobility gather and politic in the reign of a vulnerable child king. The houses of Isarn and the Vale feud over political office – we are introduced to the leaders of each house, their brothers, children, cousins – and then, there are lesser houses, each with their own ambitions. Some men serve the Order, a military organisation whose duty is to preserve the unity of the kingdom and serve the royal house. Some serve in the Order while also serving themselves. Two characters who stand out are Athelstan, a famous knight and younger brother of the Duke of Isarn, and his squire Brand, scion of a family with royal blood.

In the second part we are transported to Haethiod, a border region where a foreign army has invaded. A new cast of characters are introduced here, including the young Queen of Haethiod, Theodora, the domineering dowager queen Irene, and Lord Leander, illegitimate son of the previous king. Finally, we return to Middanhal, where the complex politics of the capital have led to a state of war.

Given the highly medieval setting, the main movers and shakers in the story are noblemen, but we also follow characters with lower social standing and a number of female characters, who operate in a typical male dominated, medieval society. There is the odd elf and dwarf character, but these are fairly peripheral to the story, in this first volume at least.

I think it is fair to say that this book focuses on world-building and plot, and is therefore less character driven. The characters aren’t as obtrusive as you may find in A Game of Thrones or Joe Abercrombie’s books. But they are arguably more realistic, behave logically, are motivated by their own desires and loyalties, and I found the huge cast to be memorable and I cared what happened to them.

 

Worldbuilding

This is one of the strengths of the book, in particular the historical accuracy which underpins this creation of a medieval European fantasy world. Yes, nothing original about doing this, but it is done very well, which is more important. Right from the beginning, the world is given centre stage, as the narrator introduces the lands of Adalmearc to the reader. We are not yet looking through the eyes of any particular character, and Olesen often starts chapters with this omniscient view.

This is a fully thought out, functioning world. Does the reader need all the detail? Personally, I like this kind of detail to fully immerse myself in a fantasy story. But I know some people will be running for the hills at the thought of this overwhelming historicity. And that’s OK, not everyone’s the same. Can you stand one character asking a second about battle tactics to allow the author to give a lecture on army formations? This can be a bit clunky. But the trade off is battle scenes and sieges where characters have to make real choices with the resources available to them. And honestly, this is pretty rare in fantasy. There are no supermen here who can wield a sword and defeat an army. Archers don’t have limitless supplies of arrows. Generals can’t raise armies in a day. You get the point.

Finally, this is a fantasy book, is there any magic? Well. There are hints of it, of a bigger story emerging in the later books. But much like GRR Martin in A Game of Thrones, Olesen has kept tight control over this storyline to allow himself the space to introduce a realm largely inhabited by humans.

 

Plot

So, without giving too much away, we have internal power politics driving the plot, the kind of strife that can divide people in the same realm. Then, an old threat returns. The border defences are breached by outlanders, a people who have raided in recent generations but now lead an army into Adalmearc. And, perhaps, the two are somehow connected. Can the rulers of Adalmearc unite to fend off the more serious threat? Olesen does a good job of not overfeeding us here, so that we are still not clear about the exact nature of this external threat…

 

…and that brings us to a question – Daniel, when the hell is the next book coming out? This one was apparently published in 2016. It’s a meaty read at 500 pages and I have no doubt was a time consuming thing to write. But hopefully book two is coming soon. I will certainly be encouraging people to read this one – no doubt Daniel would appreciate a purchase, but he is also giving away free copies on his website and through Sigil Independent, where loads of cool fantasy writers hang out.

 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence has been one of the biggest names in Fantasy for a while, so it was well past time I got round to reading him. I’ve come close a couple of times, even buying his books for other people with the intention to borrow them when they had finished with them (what? You don’t do that?), but for various reasons they didn’t work out until I picked up my own copy of Red Sister. I’m not a prolific reader, but there’s no doubt that this book shot to to the top of my ToBeRead pile because of this man’s inexplicable generosity in support of indie fantasy writers through the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) competition that he founded.

Not having read his stuff before, I had few expectations, though those who follow Fantasy will know that Mark is strongly linked to the Grimdark subgenre. As the name suggests, this is associated with adult themes, dark or flawed characters and a depressing/realistic/cynical (depending on your point of view) world view. So before I started reading, I was interested to find out how dark things would get. And…I was a little surprised.

 

Characters

Lawrence is known for his single character led writing and Red Sister is no exception. Front and centre we have Nona, a young (9?) girl raised in poverty and ignorance but claimed by the Sweet Mercy Convent due to the potential of the powers she exhibits. The story of a child with magic powers is hardly a new one in Fantasy and it’s easy for the reader to settle in to a familiar journey. Nona herself is great company, Lawrence mostly succeeds in looking at the world with a child’s eyes and this child is brave and admirable as perhaps only children can be. I find it hard to imagine a reader who wouldn’t warm to her. And this was one reason for surprise – this is surely a departure from Lawrence’s Grimdark roots, making it a more mainstream title. I’m not sure that Nona displays a serious character flaw, does anything reprehensible or is faced with a decision where she doesn’t automatically take the heroic path. Maybe this is because she is a child, maybe it’s because she’s a girl. Maybe these tough choices come in the later books. But for now, she is simply likeable. Nona doesn’t like herself, this is true. The nature of her powers means that she considers herself a monster, in fact. But the reader doesn’t.

The supporting cast is largely made up of the students and teachers at Sweet Mercy Convent. She makes friends here but also has enemies, mostly outside the safety of the Convent. It’s mostly a female cast, which makes the story interesting and distinctive at times. But for me, it didn’t always make it distinctive enough. Two words loomed large while reading this. Harry Potter. It was hard not to compare. ‘Abbess Glass is Dumbledore’, ‘Sister Apple is Snape’ my brain kept telling me. And this is totally unfair, because the characters were well drawn and not copies by any means. But there it is nonetheless. If you want a Grimdark Harry Potter, of course, then you’re in heaven right now.

 

Worldbuilding

The world of Abeth has some interesting sci-fi elements. Four races arrived here, by spaceship. Each race had certain powers – one giants (strength), two magic, one speed (this race is called hunska). These powers have largely died out amongst humans, but some people have retained them in smaller or greater measure – and, in effect, this makes such characters magical. Nona, we soon realise, has hunska powers. Some people may even have more than one of these 4 powers, making them extra special. All this is fine, and for those who like an explanation for magic in fantasy, this one is satisfying and has its own logic and rules. It means that the Convent can offer different classes to suit these different abilities.

Abeth is also distinctive because it exists in a solar system where the sun is dying. Huge walls of ice have enclosed most of the planet. All that is left is a thin corridor in the middle, where the ‘Focus’ moon passes and heats the terrain enough to keep the ice at bay. It’s an interesting idea and by the end of the book starts to drive the plot, presumably taking an even bigger role in the sequels. On the other hand, despite this crisis the parts of Abeth we see are surprisingly ordered. The kind of dystopian chaos one would assume a dying sun would engender happened a long time ago, turning the technological clock backwards, but humans have managed to come through fairly civilised. There is an Empire with currency, a prison system and all the other trappings of civilisation. There are convents and academic institutions and a universal church. It’s a familiar fantasy world despite the unique setting.

 

Plot

[Reviewer’s Disclaimer: I have spent many years as a teacher and this may have affected the following section of this review]

Red Sister is a Coming of Age story set in a school/convent. When I realised this my reaction was ‘meh’. And this is purely personal. But these stories are so dominant in literature right now, plus they are not really my thing anyway, that I struggle to get excited by them. Children’s/teen books, whether fantasy or otherwise, are dominated by the school setting. And in Fantasy, it’s not just Harry Potter. Most books that I have read recently and reviewed here follow this format. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss has a magic school at is heart. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan has a military type school. I understand the appeal and these books are incredibly popular. But I hanker after something different.

Otherwise, the plot chugs along well and there is a neat climax of themes at the end while leaving room for Book Two. Lawrence knows what he is doing and is in full control of the story from beginning to end.

 

Overall, this is a great book with no weaknesses that looks set to develop into a great series. The sequel, Grey Sister, has now hit the stores. I will be reading on, there’s no doubt about that. Now, how do I get my hands on that copy of Prince of Thorns that I bought myse…-cough- that I bought someone as a gift?

 

Toric’s Dagger Audio Book Out Now!

Hot on the heels of the paperback release of Bolivar’s Sword, the Audio-Book of Toric’s Dagger is now also available, at AudibleAmazon and iTunes.

 

Listen to a sample

 

It is narrated by Greg Patmore, with Bridget Thomas voicing the female parts. I honestly think that both narrators have done a fantastic job with the book and I couldn’t be happier. Toric’s Dagger has some challenges to narrate, not least the range of characters that you get with epic fantasy titles like this one. Greg’s incredible vocal range really brings the characters to life, and at times it sounds like several actors have been used in the recording. Another unique challenge was the telepathy used between the two central characters, Belwynn and Soren. In print, this is handled by the use of italics – but of course that’s not an option with an audio-book! Greg has used an echo effect on his and Bridget’s voices. It clearly indicates to the listener that the characters are speaking telepathically, without being intrusive. You can listen to the effect yourself in the first few seconds of the sample above. I think elements like this, as well as the male and female voices, really make this recording stand out.

Greg’s Website

The audio-book can be purchased from any of the websites above and then the recording is downloaded to your device. An alternative option to a one-off purchase is to sign up to the Audible subscription service. Here you pay monthly (£7.99/$14.95) and get one free book a month, plus other benefits. They offer a 30-day free trial. What’s more, if Toric’s Dagger is the first book you choose, I get a nice bonus, so everyone’s a winner!

 

Bolivar’s Sword Out Now!

The paperback edition of Bolivar’s Sword, the second book of The Weapon Takers Saga, is now available on Amazon. It’s been a busier past six months than I had anticipated, but it’s nice to finally make the sequel to Toric’s Dagger available and see them together. Toric’s Dagger was starting to feel a bit lonely.

Bolivar’s Sword takes off where Book One ended, with the heroes divided and in trouble. Things don’t get much easier and I think Bolivar’s Sword has a darker feel to it, with the stakes raised higher. War comes to Dalriya too and the scale of the story expands to cover an even wider range of locations and characters than Toric’s Dagger. There’s no doubt that this series is turning into a monster and will not be resolved as a traditional trilogy. I need to get on with Book Three!

Of course, Bolivar’s Sword will soon get an eBook version too and I anticipate that this will be available in June. Meanwhile, Toric’s Dagger hasn’t been neglected either. I’ve made some changes to the book, most noticeably a new author font for the cover which will now be the standard one used for the series. This is already in use for the eBook version and will soon replace the paperback cover, too. This means that if you own an early physical copy of Toric’s Dagger it will soon be a rare collector’s item. If you don’t own a copy yet, get one now before you miss your chance!

Most excitingly, Toric’s Dagger is getting an audio-book version. The narrating team of Greg Patmore and Bridget Thomas have done a fantastic job of bringing to life the (many) characters of the book and I couldn’t be happier with the result. It honestly sounds like a team of actors have worked on it rather than two. I’m hoping to be able to announce the arrival of the audio-book soon, so watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!