Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cardboard Conarium

For some time there had been a certain amusing acronym kicked around BoardGameGeek. Just Another Soulless Euro, or simply JASE, provided a way of expressing the irritation with a certain method of creating Eurogames, or a new and handy way to stick it to the “Eurosnoots”. Regardless of the term’s origin, its first purpose, and how JASE had been used by different gamers, it did pose an interesting question: what provides a board game with a soul? 


Image Source: BoardGameGeek
A soul is a pretty nebulous concept. There are many definitions and ideas when it comes to human souls, but in terms of inanimate objects, a soul only represents a certain set of almost undefinable features that make it stand out - and that makes us feel more attached to the said object. We often hear that a house, a car, even something as small as an old tape recorder might have a soul, and when we say it, we usually want to show that it is in some way special. Usually, special to us. 

Trying to pick apart the idea of a board game having a soul will thus be heavily biased by personal experiences. For that exact reason, I will always say that Puerto Rico is a game with a soul, as it was my first Eurogame - and my first step into a new world of gaming, a world hidden within the world I seemed to had already explored. Similarly, Through the Ages will (to me) remain a game richer and more beautiful than any other in the world, as it was my first step into tabletop civilization games - and a first spark of the type of love that never burns out. 

But both Puerto Rico and Through the Ages have one more very important thing going on for them: they were both innovative (apart from being solid games), which not only put them high on my personal list, but also made them games highly regarded by hobbyists around the world. The idea of an action picked by one player and then performed by others created almost a whole genre of games, and depicting the process of building a civilization through disassociated mechanisms (which, when coming together, create a surprisingly thematic experience) had proven beyond doubt how creative and diverse the board gaming hobby can really be.
Image Source: BoardGameGeek
With the above in mind, it seems that supplying a soul when creating a board game is a simple process - or, at least, simple if you are making a solid game with an innovative idea. And yet, it is not, and it cannot be, a precise science, as there are some games that seem to hit both of these marks, and yet people generally don’t seem to identify them as games with a soul. Dominion can probably serve as a great example here, being both innovative (so innovative in fact, that it did create a whole new genre of games), and more solid than many of its followers. 

Image Source: BoardGameGeek
Dominion had it all, and yet time has proven it to be a game many refer to as dry, which almost automatically makes a game soulless. So perhaps there is also a matter of theme to consider, an atmosphere created by the game’s elements, making it stand out, sometimes even placating the more critical gamers ready to condemn a game for its mechanical deficiencies. I believe there are many deckbuilders not quite as solid as Dominion, or at least not as versatile, which are still perceived as a bit more memorable, a bit more engaging (on a more abstract level), a bit more… soul-full? 

As I said in the beginning, a soul of a game is often a matter of personal preference, as much as it is a combination of more tangible factors. Our own Progress: Evolution of Technology and Versailles always seemed to me - and to many people from my gaming group - games with souls. And at the same time they were praised as mechanically sound but ultimately deemed soulless by many of those who I’ve played them with. 

Thus, it seems that there is no recipe, not even a final definition of a board game soul we could all use. But at least there are some definitions serviceable for personal use. So, what is yours?

 
Just to put a little plug (and date this note somewhat), we are running a contest now, with ten copies of Versailles - each supplied with this cute little depiction of King Louis. If you want to get your hands on one of them, just go here for details.

__________________
FIND OUT MORE NSKN official website Facebook  | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: @NSKNGames

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mistfall: Sycra the Black Crusader

Today we continue the list of Mistfall biggest evildoers, introducing the one but last villainous boss enemy the players will face: Sycra, a fallen priestess.

Art by Enggar Adirasa
Sycra the Dawnbreaker 

Already at an early age Sycra would display the gifts bestowed by the Dawnmother upon those destined to serve her. Able to spontaneously call upon the Light of Dawn without any training from priests or Loremasters, Sycra became a bit of a problem for the clerics deciding her fate, as it seemed she displayed an aptitude for both healing, and striking down the servants of the Mists. Finally, taken in by the order of the Dawnbreakers she became a battlefield healer and a fierce foe of the nefarious Mists.

During the first few years she had spend in the Valskyrr, she also made some friends among the people of Frostvalley Keep, as she would eagerly accompany Shieldbearers into battle or on missions that would lead them deep into the territories of the undead. And although Frostvalley had an almost permanent Dawnbreaker resident, the Lord Commander would always welcome another bold warrior priestess, happily putting her unique abilities to work.

All changed during what seemed like yet another expedition against a band of brigands aided by a necromancer threatening a small fortified village in the northern Valskyrr. Ambushed in an already overrun settlement and surrounded by enemies, Sycra’s power failed her for the first time. Seeing Shieldbearers fall in battle around her, unable to properly protect or aid them, she reached further and more furiously than ever before. She called out - and something answered. But it was not the Dawnmother.

The Black Crusader 

The battle ended in a tragedy. Although Sycra suddenly gained the ability to smite her foes with a power she’d never seen before, she was still the only one to survive. Wounded and exhausted, unable to heal herself, and seemingly cut off from the Dawnmother, she wandered away further into the Mists, burned by fever and plagued by horrifying visions of great suffering, punishment and betrayal. 

Art by Enggar Adirasa
When she finally emerged from the Mists, her mind and heart were changed by the understanding of what the malicious power threatening the world truly was. And as she entered the first hold of the Blackwood lords, she already knew how to touch the hearts of the ruthless brigands, how to open their eyes to the truth she’d seen - and how to make those already touched by the Mists follow her. 

Although Sycra’s connection to the goddess Dawn seems forever severed, the priestess still exhibits the ability to heal her allies and smite her enemies, and a conviction as strong as before she was taken by the Mists. Seeking final retribution, she now leads a growing army of fanatics who had seen the same truth as she had, and if her Black Crusade is to be stopped, much more than the strength of arms will be needed. 

Sycra in the game 

In many ways, Sycra is a very different type of Special Enemy, as her power is partly a reflection of what the Dawnbreaker Cleric has at her disposal. When facing Sycra, players will have to make a few hard choices and adapt a clear approach to deal with her servants, remembering that simply eliminating them may not only prove more difficult, but also not the best course of action. 

__________________
FIND OUT MORE NSKN official website Facebook  | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: @NSKNGames

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mistfall: Maelgar the Abomination

The world of Mistfall is a perilous place, and the Mists can transform the both the righteous and the wicked. What happens when the ruinous might touches ones that were never pure? The story of Maelgar answers that question. 

Art by Enggar Adirasa
The Brigand Chief 

Nobody really knows where or when Maelgar was born, but most believe he spent his early years in the northern part of the Valskyrr, in a village long since wiped out by beastmen or brigands. Most probably sold into slavery as a child, he was one of the few youngsters who managed to survive long enough to win their freedom by spilling blood, or by proving too useful to a Blackwood lord or a crafty Ghoren warchief to simply be killed or sacrificed.

Maelgar most certainly did not belong to the latter category, as when he finally let himself be known to the Shieldbearers of Frostvalley Keep, it was not due to his intellect, but because of his cruelty and brutality rivalling those of the fierce beastmen blood hunters. And although some of the expeditions meant to bring Maelgar to justice where overseen by the Lord Commander himself, the brigand chief managed to fight his way out of every trap and finally either evade, or – more often – slay his pursuers.

The string of Maelgar’s victories made him a prominent figure with the Blackwood brigand lords, so prominent in fact, that more than one of them started scheming against him. However, it was none of them, but a young Frostvalley Loremaster by the name of Rahlfors, that finally managed to take him down. Leading a group of Shielbearers, Rahlfors found one of Maelgar’s treasure hoards, and knowing that the brigand chief would visit them only alone, he set a trap that finally ended Maelgar’s scourge.

Art by Enggar Adirasa
The Abomination 

The victory was short lived. A little over a year later reports came in of an abominable beast wreaking havoc on a territory Maelgar had used to consider his own before his demise. Shortly after, it turned out that it was Maelgar himself, brought back from the dead by the Mists and transformed into an abomination that seemed to have focused all his cruelty, his malice, and his insatiable hunger for blood.

Having murdered all his past subordinates and demonstrated a rage capable of destruction that would impress even the most Mist-crazed of the Ghoren warriors, Maelgar went on a further killing spree throughout the lands under the protection of Frostvalley Keep. Now, surrounded by a herd of undead – some of them his own comanions he’d killed, others merely his victims – he prepares to strike a mighty blow against Frostvalley Keep. 

From a handful of notes left by Rahlfors after his sudden departure, it seems that the former chief’s treasure hoards might contain powerful artefacts or at least answers that may help in defeating Maelgar once and for all. However, an ominous side note also mentions a strange ritual that may have not only been responsible for bringing Maelgar back, but might also imbue him with even more strength should he be opposed in battle. 

Maelgar in the game 

As many of the Special Enemies, Maelgar’s card is double-sided: with one side being his starting, already twisted form, and the other showing his further descent into becoming a raging minion of the Mists. Unlike other Enemies, Maelgar grows stronger when the card becomes flipped, and as Heroes come closer to their victory, they are also in greater peril of falling to his fury. So, with Malegar’s treasure hoards being spread across the land, and remembering his martial prowess and resilience, the right preparations are the key to surviving the battle against him. 

__________________
FIND OUT MORE NSKN official website Facebook  | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: @NSKNGames

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gaming Lessons

There’s been dozens of discussions, articles and forum posts on what skills one can acquire or develop while playing board games. From making informed decisions based on calculations, assumptions and experience, to teamwork, negotiation, and the ability to cope with defeat, both kids and adults stand to gain (or expand) some abilities that might come in handy in everyday, non-gaming situations. And how about life lessons? 

Image source: BoardGameGeek
One could argue that losing is always a life lesson, as defeat is something that everyone will come to experience sooner or later, and sometimes the reasons for that defeat (especially when they are more than a simple miscalculation) can steer us in the right direction for the future, teaching us to either minimize the negative impact on ourselves, or at least accept it more graciously. Still, is there more board games can teach us?  Are there more complex messages they can convey?

Well, if we take a look at games like Diplomacy or A Game of Thrones, we’ll end up with a few pretty horrible lessons, as victory usually belongs to the person best at lying and most adept at obfuscation. Although, I can also remember a very interesting game of Spartacus, which ended up with the player who would always tell the truth becoming the most successful lanista in Capua, beating everyone else by at least three points. 

Then there are the simplest of ideas, like “Never let your family go hungry!”, which is probably the only life lesson anyone can ever learn from Agricola. Uwe Rosenberg’s classic worker placement teaches us this very effectively, by making it extremely difficult to win, if you ever forget about feeding your kids - and do not have that one special helper that will allow you to literally discard some of the proof of your shame. 

More complex ideas (and on a more serious note) are more difficult or simply more risky to include in a board game. After all, we sit down to have fun, and although some of the more complicated and involved games are able to almost physically wear us out, people are less likely to play a game which might take them out of their comfort zone by touching upon subjects they find difficult, than simply playing one that does not come close to having an important or controversial message. 
Image source: BoardGameGeek

There is also one more problem with board games that may try to make any kind of a statement or make us think about something else than just our final score, and it is a simple, but meaningful obstacle. A game like Tales of the Arabian Nights (as noticed some time ago by Quintin Smith of the Shut Up & Sit Down fame) allows players choices, but seems to reward being a good person (which translates to picking certain options more often) than being a skillful gamer. And although that makes its message (stemming from the message of its source material) clear, it still creates a certain problem. By making some of the choices obviously better than others, it makes for a good story and for a clear message, but it does not necessarily make for a good game. Or does it? 

__________________
FIND OUT MORE NSKN official website Facebook  | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: @NSKNGames

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mistfall: The Frost Mage

The time has come to introduce the story of the final character that joined the ranks of the Heroes of Mistfall. Originally, the story has been published as on of the Updates of the still ongoing Mistfall Kickstarter campaign

Frost Mage by Enggar Adirasa
Dawn of the Frost Mages 

The Frost Mages are a product of an age old alliance between the eight tribes of Ravencrag and Frostvalley Keep. Before the alliance was forged, the tribes would occasionally send small war parties to raid on the territories under the protection of Skard Windbane, the Lord Commander of the Shieldbearers. These groups would often be supported by shamans wielding the power to command ice and snow, using the magic of cold as a weapon against their enemies. 

Windbane had fought the Ravencrag Furies and the wielders of the frost magic on multiple occasions, knowing full well that the Ravencrag people mostly worshipped the Nightfather, but also being certain of them being enemies of the Mists, so when a Shieldbearer patrol came back to the keep bearing news of a Ravencrag raid against the beastmen ending in a slaughter, and a beastman horde preparing to deal a final blow to the eight tribes, he decided to act immediately. 

Leading his Shieldbearers he came to the aid of Ravencrag, turning an almost certain defeat into a costly victory, but createing grounds to forge a lasting alliance. The Lord Commander’s bet paid off, as the eight tribes’ new Jarl formed a blood pact with Skard Windbane, forging an alliance that would last for over a century, serving both the people of Ravencrag and Frostvalley Keep. 

However, Windbane had one condition. Advised by his Loremasters he made it clear that the alliance would go on only as long as the boys exhibiting the talent to wield the power of the frost were properly schooled in the art of arcane magic, as uncontrolled use proved to twist their minds and open them to the corrupting influence of the Mists. The Jarl agreed somewhat begrudgingly, but agreed nonetheless, as those who survived the failed Ravencrag raid had already told him that the defeat was brought on not only by the numbers and the ferocity of the beastmen foes, but also by a sudden corruption and madness many of the shamans would fall victim to shortly after the Furies engaged the enemy. 

Hareag the Frost Mage 

Like all the boys that during their early teens reveal themselves to be the wielders of the frost magic talent, Hareag accompanied the Lord Commander of Frostvalley Keep on his way back home after his custmoray visit to meet the the new jarl of the eight tribes. After six months of being schooled by the Frostvalley Loremaster, he was shipped to Dathnafar to become a Frost Mage, his apprenticeship ending with the customary oath to oppose the Mists no matter which path (Dawn or Dusk) he chooses. 

After returning the the Valskyrr, Hareag wandered the cold wastes and the Deadlands for years, aiding Ravencrag Furies in their pursuits, and earning the respect that would make him an advisor to each of the jarls for the last sixteen years. He only recently resigned from the position and moved to Frostvalley Keep, the true reasons of this known only to a handful of those old enough to know his family’s history, or perceptive enough to see through Hareag’s motives. 

Regardless of any reasons Hareag might have had to relocate to Frostvalley Keep, he has quickly become a trusted ally and a well respected part of the questing company, as, despite his age, he decided not to continue advisory work, and instead become once again an active part of the struggle against the Mists.

Frost Staff by Enggar Adirasa

Hareag in the game 

The Frost Mage is an interesting and powerful twist on the already known Arcane Mage. Being less able to avoid battle or use the advantage of arcane fire against his enemies, he instead strikes at them with the cruel cold, not only able to attack them directly, but also weaken them before dealing the final blow. Did you like the story of Hareag? Share your thoughts and, as always, have a wonderful day! Błażej

__________________
FIND OUT MORE NSKN official website Facebook  | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: @NSKNGames