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Feeling board

Ok, maybe I haven’t been posting as much as I hoped I would, but I’ve been too busy WORKING.

As such, lately I don’t have that much time for the whole building & painting thing which is a core aspect of the hobby.
This can be seen in my forces for the various games I play – my Cryx for Warmachine has remained roughly the same for the past 5 years, for example.
What I have been playing a lot more of are board games and card games.
Board games have come a long way since my early experiences with the likes of  Ludo and Snakes and ladders, which I no longer even regard as games; you don’t play them, as such – you just… watch them happen.
There are plenty out there which manage to blur the line with RPGs and Wargames, with evocative rulesets which really help immerse you in the game’s world.
One such game I’ve been playing recently is Undercity, the Iron Kingdoms boardgame.

Insert song by The Jam

The Iron Kingdoms is a world I’ve become more and more interested in since I stopped just looking at unit stats and actually started reading the background, and I’ve loved playing as a group of adventurers, the Black River Irregulars, murdering their way through the subterranean streets of the Cygnaran city of Corvis.
I’ve played through the whole game a couple of times already and this time round I’m playing the group’s Trollkin ass-kicker, Gardek Stonebrow.
In games like this I typically play the more tactical/supportive characters who can assist others and deal with enemies at range, so it’s good fun to run as a blue-skinned wrecking ball, smashing everything up.

The latest mission my friends and I played involved the group escorting a prominent scientist, Ambrose, from his laboratory to a City Watch safe house, all the while fending off waves of thugs seeking to carve him up, and later a surprise appearance from the dreaded Cephalyx in the form of their brass-clad Drudges.  We had to seal off thug entry points to the area before Ambrose would feel safe enough to emerge from his lab, and a combination of truly unfortunate rolls for enemy spawning resulted in a near constant stream of bandits and Drudges from the same 2 entry points, swarming all over the group.  Except, that was, for Gardek who was on the opposite side of the board, bravely escorting Ambrose for whom his would-be murderers now showed a surprising lack of interest.

This resulted in a level of tension we don’t often experience in board games, and certainly not cooperative ones like Undercity. The best fighter in the group, Gardek, was uselessly distant from the bulk of the fighting; sending him to escort Ambrose seemed like such a good idea at the time, but with random enemy spawning and behaviour dictated by a deck of AI cards there was, of course, a potential for disaster; and characters who operate best engaging enemies with ranged attacks found themselves surrounded.  Much of the group spent turn after turn critically low on HP, and alchemical restoratives had to be used to bring them back to life – something we had yet to do in this run of the game.  Through the carnage, Gardek kept running.  Running, running, running with Ambrose in tow, but not quite fast enough to generate any sense of impending relief.

Average Trollkin, yesterday.

This generated the tremendous image of Gardek in a constant state of emergence, Sir Lancelot-esque, on the horizon of combat; so close but yet so far, right up to that critical point where he finally made contact with the enemy and, perfectly reminiscent of the aforementioned brave and dangerous knight, painted the walls of the Undercity with blood, laughing as he plied his brutal trade, hacking and smashing from one foe to the next.  The battered and bloodied Black River Irregulars were reinforced and Ambrose was hurriedly bundled through the exit point.
Mission accomplished!

The guys and myself had a thoroughly good time with this mission, and there was a genuine sense of relief and accomplishment when we completed it.  It wasn’t just luck of the dice, (quite the opposite, much of the time) but also a result of careful tactical planning of how best to use our characters’ individual abilities.  We normally get such feelings from similar situations we’ve experienced in our time playing RPGs which are, by their very nature, much more immersive.

I’d say this is due in no small part to the use of an AI deck.  In those similar situations in RPGs there has always been a certain human element, in the form of the GM, behind the actions of the NPCs – no matter how much he may try to distance his own emotions from the actions of any opponents we face there is always a part of him which may not want us to fail and will always give us a chance.  Of course, running away is also always an option.
Not so in a board game with an AI deck – we cannot run, because board game, and if the situation ends up really bad for us, then tough; a deck of cards doesn’t care whether we fail or not!
This is the very essence of a cooperative board game – the players banding together and helping each other to succeed!

A few years back I was playing a Player vs Player boardgame, Tannhauser, with one of my friends, which had the similar setup of groups of characters with various combat abilities trying to kill each other. Partway through the game he commented, “It seems very limited.” to which I replied, “Well, it is a board game…”.
With the standard of design I’ve experienced in such games, lately, I’m certainly not feeling that any more.


Oh yeah, also I don’t need to build or paint anything!
You know me; I hate effort.


For those who may have been wondering, the Sir Lancelot music is called Flying Messenger.

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