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What’s Hot: Small World Underground

When you’re in a hole—keep digging!

Small World UndergroundSmall World Underground is a stand-alone boardgame set beneath the surface of the same fun, light-hearted Small World universe of epic conquests and fallen empires.

Designed by original Small World author, Philippe Keyaerts, it features all new Races and Special Powers, and introduces Monster occupied regions that protect Relics and Places of great power!

Play Small World Underground on its own or combine it with other Small World game elements.

Game Contents: 2 Double-Sided Game Boards, one for each player configuration; 15 New Fantasy Races with matching banners & tokens; 21 New Special Power badges; 9 Popular Places & 6 Righteous Relics; 9 Black Mountains & 1 Volcano; 8 Mushroom Armor, 7 Silver Hammer, 4 Vengeance Markers, 1 Bag-o’-Many-Things & 1 Game Turn Marker; 1 Balrog, 1 Ghost, 1 Great Ancient & 1 Queen
106 Victory Coins; 5 Player & 1 Game Turn Summary Sheets; 1 Reinforcement Die; 1 Rules Booklet.

What’s Cool: Memoir’44 Winter Wars

Winter WarsAfter five long years of weary battles you’re about to embark on one of the coldest and most bitter fights of the war—and Days of Wonder have packed this expansion with everything you could ever need to combat in a snow-covered environment!

But judge for yourself, soldier!

Inside the new Winter Wars: The Ardennes Offensive expansion you’ll find:

– 88 double-sided Winter tiles, 28 Special Unit badges, 20 round markers and 16 obstacles
– 20 Winter Combat cards, similar in concept to the Urban Combat cards introduced in Battle Map Volume 3: Sword of Stalingrad
– 80 new Command cards, designed specifically for Breakthrough battles
– New Winter Combat rules
– New Troops, including the all new Tank Destroyer and Heavy Anti-Tank Gun units and Late War model versions of an Anti-Tank Gun, Mortar and Machine Gun

These will all be critical to fighting (and winning!) the ten scenarios in this expansion—all focused on those crucial two weeks of Christmas 1944 in the Ardennes.

The first six scenarios included are all standard scenarios, playable with a single base game and this expansion alone (though a Winter/Desert board will add a nice cosmetic touch to your battlefield). The four scenarios that follow are gigantic Breakthrough renditions of the Battle of the Bulge. These will require a single copy of the already released Eastern Front expansion, and the Breakthrough kit of board maps, in addition to the aforementioned expansion.

It’s a Small World After All

Small WorldSmall World is one of those fantastic games that Days of Wonder do so well: a fun, thematic, high-quality boardgame that appeals to gamers and families alike. With the release of the brand new stand-alone version of the game called Small World: Underground, let’s have a big look at the Small World universe and some of its great expansions.

It all started with the main game of Small World, a quirky, light-hearted area control game for 2-5 players with fun artwork and lots of attitude!

Small WorldSmall World was designed by Philippe Keyaerts as the fantasy follow-up to his award-winning game Vinci. Inside the box there are 2 beautifully illustrated boards that feature different maps for 2, 3, 4 or 5 players, and 14 different races that can each be combined with one of 20 special powers (along with lots of tokens, a special die, and a well-designed token tray). But despite all these options, the gameplay itself is simple and easy to learn. Basically you choose a race and a special power, grab your race tokens, and begin conquering regions on the board. You score coins for the regions you’ve conquered, and can redeploy the tokens you have on the board among them. Later when you run out of race tokens you may choose to put your race ‘into decline’ and choose a new one with a new power. Because there’s limited space on the board, you’ll have to choose just the right time to put your race into decline—you still score regions with your old race, but they can’t use their special power anymore and they’ll probably be quickly destroyed by other players. And everyone is jostling for the limited space in this small world! Picking the right combination of fantasy races and unique special powers, players rush to expand their empires—often at the expense of weaker neighbors.

Small World is inhabited by a cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and of course humans. Each race has a special ability—the Giants can more easily conquer mountainous regions, or the Ghouls can continue to conquer new regions even after they’ve gone into decline, for example. There’s a wide range of special powers as well—bonus coins for conquering particular regions, the ability to more easily conquer certain regions, or form brief alliances with other players—that mix things up and keep players on their toes throughout the game. And it’s a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome either; it’s fast-paced, fun and engaging from start to finish.

Despite the huge amount of variety in the Small World game, dedicated players were soon clamouring for new races and powers, and Days of Wonder even ran a competition to bring in ideas by players.

The Grand Dames mini-expansion features some of those winning contest entries—Priestesses, Gypsies, and the ghostly White Ladies, all with their unique special abilities. The two new powers are the Historian, who gets a bonus Victory coin whenever a race goes in decline, and Peace-loving, who collect 3 bonus coins for any turn they refuse to attack another active race.

The Cursed! mini-expansion has yet more winning entries—the Goblins and the Kobolds, and 5 new powers: Cursed!, Ransacking, The Hordes, Were-people, and Double-Jeopardy.

The Be Not Afraid Expansion (With Bonus Necromancer Expansion) includes 5 new races (Barbarians, Homunculi, Pixies, Pygmies, and greedy little Leprechauns) and 5 new powers. Also included is a new storage tray solution that fits the tokens of all existing Small World expansions in a single, easy to sort, easy to access, container. Plus, you get the Necromancer expansion which adds the Necromancer, who must build up his army of ghosts from the other races who have been killed off during the game!

For something completely different, add the Legends & Tales expansion to the game, which introduces 54 new Event cards that change the storyline of each turn. The cards are organized into 6 different themes, each with its own unique flavor, and also rated by their impact on the game: Little Lore cards have only a minor effect; Tall Tales have worldly consequences; and Lordly Legends are guaranteed to turn your Small World upside down!

At the start of each turn (except the first) a new event card is drawn and put into play. The next ppcoming event is also visible, so players know what faces them on the next turn. Will you end up drinking the Philter of Forgetfulness, be flung from the Great Catapult or perhaps have a chance to seduce the White Queen?

Small World UndergroundWhich brings us to the latest addition to the rapidly growing Small World universe—and this time it’s a complete stand-alone game! Small World: Underground takes the madness beneath the surface of the same fun, light-hearted Small World universe—you’re no longer fighting over farmsteads, woods, and swamps, but abysmal chasms, mystic crystals, mushroom forests, and mudpools! The game features 15 all new races and 21 new special powers, and introduces monster-occupied regions that protect relics and places of great power!

What’s more, Small World Underground can be played on its own or combined it with other the other Small World game elements. For Small World fans everywhere, the crazy conquests continue!

You’ve Got A Ticket to Ride!

Ticket to Ride

With the release of the Ticket To Ride Alvin & Dexter Monster Expansion and the Ticket to Ride boardgame on iPad, now’s a great time to look over the incredible range of Ticket to Ride boardgames. If you haven’t played this fantastic game yet, grab yourself a copy and enjoy what is probably the most successful boardgame of the last decade!

Alvin & DexterThe Ticket To Ride Alvin & Dexter Monster Expansion is a crazy new addition to the Ticket to Ride family. How many times have you pulled out a copy of Ticket to Ride and said to yourself, “What this game really needs are some awesome monsters attacking the cities!” Okay, maybe that hasn’t happened to you, but now that the idea is out there, it’s hard to get it out of your head, isn’t it?

Alvin the Alien and Dexter the Dino are two finely detailed monster figures that bring their own special brand of chaos to cities across the Ticket to Ride landscape in this ‘Victorian era meets Monsters’ expansion. Alvin and Dexter are not only charming (with the kind of charisma that only a monster can bring!), but they also introduce a new devious, tactical layer to a game of Ticket to Ride. The monsters stymie players both during the game and once it ends—during play, no routes can be built into or out of a city where Alvin or Dexter are currently hanging out, and during the final score tallying, any destination ticket showing a city where either monster stands is worth only half its normal value (which is a good thing if yoiu built an incomplete track!) Fortunately, they can be moved at the cost of one (or two) locomotive cards and you can move the monster up to three (or six) cities away from its current location. Players also accumulate Alvin or Dexter cards which award bonus points at the end of the game. Finally, at the end of the game, missions that initiate or end in a city with Alvin or Dexter are worth only half points.

The expansion includes the two highly-detailed monster figures, 20 Monster cards, two Bonus cards, and multi-lingual rules, all packaged with a transparent window box displaying the two figures. Alvin & Dexter is compatible with any complete, stand-alone board game from the Ticket to Ride family.

Now it’s time to go back the beginning. New players should start with the classic Ticket to Ride boardgame with the map of the USA—the one that started it all. It’s a boardgaming classic (winner of 14 international game awards, including the Spiel des Jahres—Game of the Year—for 2004) and an excellent way to introduce people who have only ever played games like Monopoly or Scrabble to the wide world of boardgaming. The rules are simple and easy to remember—all you have to do is collect sets of coloured train cards and trade them in to build train routes across the map—but there’s plenty of opportunity to foil the plans of your friends, push your luck, and try different strategies. A game that should be in every boardgamer’s collection!

The Ticket to Ride USA 1910 Expansion is a new card expansion for the original Ticket to Ride board game which consists of 181 new large format cards: 35 new Destination Tickets, a new GlobeTrotter bonus card for completing the most tickets, plus a complete replacement deck of all the cards from the original game deck. Also included is a new rulebook that gives Ticket to Ride players three new ways to play the game including 1910 rules (games using only the new Destination Tickets); the Mega Game, featuring all the tickets; and Big Cities, which uses only tickets to certain large cities.

The USA 1910 cards and rules variants will really change your strategies and tactics when you play Ticket to Ride, and will surprise even long-time veteran railroaders and bring hundreds of hours of new fun to your family and friends! (Note that in order to play Ticket to Ride USA 1910 you must have the original Ticket to Ride game.)

EuropeTicket to Ride Europe was the first expansion game, and can be played completely by itself without the original set. Build your train routes across turn-of-the-century Europe, from Edinburgh to Constantinople and from Lisbon to Moscow. Ticket to Ride Europe is more than just a new map however; the game features brand new gameplay elements including Tunnels, Ferries and Train Stations. Like the original, the game remains elegantly simple, can be learned in five minutes, and appeals to both families and experienced gamers.

The Ticket To Ride Europa 1912 Expansion allows you to upgrade your ticket with exciting new routes to the great rail destinations of Europe, and adds fresh new gameplay to all versions of Ticket to Ride with Warehouses and Depots! This expansion includes 101 Destination Tickets—the 46 original tickets, plus 55 new ones that enable 3 new variants to the Ticket to Ride Europe map: Europe Expanded, which adds 19 new routes to the original 46; Big Cities of Europe, with tickets to 9 major European cities; and Mega Europe, which uses all the new routes as well as the 46 original Destination Tickets.

This expansion also introduces Warehouses & Depots—new game rules and pieces that create an additional strategic layer and can be played with any of the Ticket to Ride maps. (Note that an original copy of any complete game in the Ticket to Ride series is required to play with Warehouses & Depots. New Destination Tickets are for use only with Ticket to Ride Europe.)

For something different again, try the Ticket To Ride Marklin Edition. The vertically-oriented board is based on a map of Germany and introduces Passengers and Merchandise to the game—Passengers are used to pick up Merchandise worth different numbers of points along the routes that they claim.

Train hobbyists consider the Marklin to be the premier name in the model train world; this German company has been around for over 140 years and is the world’s leader in the miniature train hobby. Each train card in the Marklin Edition features a different image (118 in all) of a Marklin model train car or locomotive.

Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries takes you on a Nordic adventure through Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden as you travel to the great northern cities of Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki and Stockholm. Visit Norway’s beautiful fjords and the magnificent mountain scenery on the Rauma Railway. Breathe in the salt air of the busy Swedish ports on the Baltic Sea. Ride through the Danish countryside where Vikings once walked. Hop on the Finnish railway and travel across the Arctic Circle to the land of the Midnight Sun.

It’s the much loved gameplay of Ticket to Ride—including Tunnels and Ferries, but played throughout the Nordic Countries. Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries stands on its own and is designed specifically for 2 or 3 players.

Ticket to Ride has proved so popular that new versions of the game have been developed in different formats too! Ticket to Ride: The Card Game delivers all of the exciting, fun and easy-to-learn elements of the original board game, but with several new gameplay twists in a stand-alone, portable, card game format. Players collect sets of illustrated Train cards which are then used to complete Destination Tickets—routes between two cities depicted on each ticket. But before their Train cards can be used, players must face the risk of ‘train-robbing’, where another player may force them to lose their hard-earned cards. Every fan of the board game will want to own a copy of the Ticket to Ride Card Game!

Dice GameAnd finally, you can roll your way to victory aboard the fun-filled expansion Ticket to Ride: The Dice Game, which is compatible with any board map of Ticket to Ride.

In this expansion, players still attempt to complete their Destination Tickets and claim routes and block each other on the map. But rather than draw and collect Train cards, they roll 5 custom Train dice each turn. Depending on the outcome they can reroll some or all, then use the dice to claim routes on the board; grab Route Tokens for future use; or draw more Destination Tickets. And for board maps that feature Tunnel routes, such as Ticket to Ride Europe, 3 Tunnel dice are also included. This expansion requires trains, Destination Tickets and a board map from any of the Ticket to Ride series.

As you can see, there’s an incredible number of ways to play Ticket to Ride, and lots of different strategies to be added with the expansions and different maps! So hop on board with your friends and family to enjoy the best train route building game in the business!

Days of Wonder Classics

Days of Wonder

It’s always an exciting event when boardgames publisher Days of Wonder release a new game, and their latest, Cargo Noir, is now available for preorder!

Unlike many of the large game publishers, Days of Wonder only release a couple of new games a year, so every new release is a bit of an event for boardgamers. The company favours games that have a broad appeal and can be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike. Their games are also characterised by wonderful artwork and extremely high design and production values. Let’s have a quick look back at some of the Days of Wonder classics that have become staples in most gamers’ collections.

On a personal note, this writer was lucky enough to have lunch with the company’s CEO, Eric Hautemont, on his visit to Sydney several years back when BattleLore (now published by Fantasy Flight Games) was first released. I found him an extremely friendly, charming fellow, and his enthusiasm and dedication to making quality boardgames was very obvious!

Ticket to RideDays of Wonders’ greatest success would have to be Ticket to Ride and its many variants and expansions. Originally published in 2004 and designed by Alan R. Moon, it has won numerous awards and sold close to a million copies. Why is it so popular? Probably because it’s the perfect ‘gateway’ game. This means it is the kind of game that is perfect for playing with people whose previous experience with boardgames has been mainstream games such as Monopoly and Scrabble. The rules are easy to learn, the theme is straightforward, it’s a nice blend between luck and strategy, and it’s always a hit with new players.

Basically, Ticket to Ride is a game of set collection. Players try and collect sets of matching coloured cards, which they can then trade in to place rows of their train carriages on the board, connecting routes between cities and scoring points for doing so.

Ticket to Ride was so successful for Days of Wonder that it wasn’t long before they began to create expansions and new versions. Ticket to Ride: Europe was the first, featuring, of course, a game board of Europe, plus new rules for Tunnels, Ferries and Train Stations that add some new strategies to the game.

The Ticket To Ride: Marklin Edition is played on map of Germany and introduces Passengers and Merchandise to the gameplay; plus every one of the 118 train cards features a different image of a Marklin model train car or locomotive. Train hobbyists can tell you that Marklin has been around for over 140 years and is the world’s leader in the miniature train hobby.

Ticket To Ride: Nordic Countries takes the train routes through Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and is especially designed for 2-3 players.

For a more portable Ticket to Ride experience, there’s Ticket to Ride: The Card Game, a stand-alone, easy-to-carry card game version of the game with a few twists. An exciting new variant on the original game (compatible with any map) is Ticket to Ride: The Dice Game, which uses special dice instead of train cards.

The USA 1910 and Europa 1912 sets are card expansions; the first replaces the small cards in the original basic set with large-format cards, plus some new cards and variants, and the second adds more cards and variants, plus the Warehouses & Depots variant.

As you can see, there’s plenty of Ticket to Ride to keep even the most dedicated fan happy for many, many games!

Memoir 44The other Days of Wonder blockbuster is undoubtably their WWII light strategy game Memoir ’44, created by Richard Borg and and also first released in 2004. Still one of my all-time favourite games, Memoir’44 never fails to entertain and engage, and is the perfect introduction into more complex historical wargaming. Based on Borg’s popular Command & Colors system, the game board is split into three sections, and the play of various cards activates units in these sections to move and attack. With a wealth of historical scenarios, extra rules and expansion sets—and of course the joy of moving little plastic army men around a large board divided into big hexes—if you haven’t played Memoir ’44 yet, you are definitely missing out!

The base game covers the D-Day invasions and comes with German and American troops, but additional sets like the Eastern Front Expansion, the Pacific Theatre Expansion, and the Mediterranean Theatre Expansion supply Russian, Japanese and British troops respectively, and make possible the recreation of battles and campaigns from throughout WWII.

Talking about campaigns, the Campaign Book Volume 1 is a fantastic hardback collection of over 50 battles linked together into three campaigns: The Battle for Normandy in the summer of 1944, the Blitzkrieg to the West in 1940, and Operation Barbarossa on the Russian Front in 1941.

The flexibility of the Memoir ’44 system means that it can be played in several different exciting and unique ways. The Operation Overlord expansion, coupled with huge Overlord pre-printed battlemaps like Hedgerow Hell, Sword of Stalingrad or Tigers in the Snow, lets you play a battle royale with up to 4 players per side. I’ve played Memoir ’44 in this way with six players and it was a memorable game, I can assure you!

There’s still more to the Memoir ’44 experience: Breakthrough is an expansion that features four oversize, long boards that expand scenario possibilities, and the Air Pack Expansion includes 8 pre-painted airplanes that bring the skies above your battles alive!

All in all, Memoir ’44 is undoubtably the premiere light WWII wargame system; a game with just the right level of complexity to keep things interesting, but simple enough to introduce to young players and inexperienced gamers alike. And it’s also an educational experience that teaches a lot about the battles of WWII.

Apart from Ticket to Ride and Memoir ’44, there are some other relatively recent DOW releases that are fast on their way to also being classics: the fun fantasy conquest game Small World and its expansions, and the Cluedo-like murder mystery game, set on the Orient Express, Mystery Express.

Don’t forget some of the older Days of Wonder games; classic games that are often still brought out on gaming nights: Colosseum, Pirate’s Cove, Mystery of the Abbey, and Shadows Over Camelot.

But for now, everybody’s talking about the brand new Cargo Noirpre-order yourself a copy now!

Friday’s Gaming News Update

It’s the last Friday before Christmas eve and time to wrap up (boom-tish!) the latest gaming news.

New Releases from Games Paradise
7 Wonders is the highly anticipated card development game by Antoine Bauza, designer of Ghost Stories. Fans of Dominion and Race for the Galaxy will definitely want to check out this stunning-looking game.

Also from Asmodee and a must for card game fans, Gosu has also been collecting excellent reviews. Players raise goblin armies and send them into battle. Check out the Drake’s Flames review here—Matt doesn’t beat around the bush, and he can’t come up with anything bad to say about the game!

Days of Wonder’s light-hearted favourite Small World has a new expansion: Be Not Afraid. It features five new races to add to your games (Barbarians, Pixies, Homonculi, Pygmies and Leprechauns), five new special powers, and a new storage tray. It also comes with a bonus Necromancer expansion!

Don’t forget to get your pre-orders in for the 15th Anniversary Edition of Settlers of Catan. Every dedicated gamer will want this deluxe wooden edition as part of their collection.

News From the World of Gaming
The website for Earth Reborn, the upcoming post-apocalyptic combat game from Z-Man Games, has posted new scenarios and a map editor.

WorldWorks Games make amazing papercraft terrain for gaming (you might even find the set that was created by yours truly)—be sure to take advantage of their Christmas specials.

The usual surfeit of riches from Fantasy Flight Games:

new hardback and Vault versions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay are coming soon. Whether you get the core set or the hardcover books and separate components (or whether, like me, you’ll get both), this brings a lot more flexibility and clarity to the WFRP roleplaying game system.

Yet another expansion has just been announced for Battles of Westeros: Lords of the River, which brings the forces of House Tully to the battle. FFG are also making available premium plastic banners to replace the original game banners; yes BattleLore fans, they are the same design as the banners in that game.

Talking about BattleLore, you can find a link to the rules to Bearded Brave, the new dwarf expansion, here. And talking about dwarves, the new Reiner Knizia game The Hobbit should be available soon.

Tannhäuser fans will soon have another character to add to their Reich forces – the clairvoyant Hoss.

Battlestar Galactica just keeps getting better and better with the announcement of the new Exodus expansion. Check out the FFG designer diaries here and here to get all the details.

Enjoy your gaming this Christmas!

Books and Boardgaming

If you enjoy boardgaming the chances are you enjoy a good read as well, and books have certainly been a rich source of inspiration for boardgames over the years. Here’s a quick look at some of the myriad games based on well-known books. if you enjoyed the book, now play the game—or vice versa!

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a classic of science-fiction writing, and a series that has gone on and on (though, to this reader, the first three—Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune—are the original and best). A game of the book was released in by Avalon Hill in 1979, and it is universally recognised as being an excellent game that captures the flavour of the books incredibly well, with a lot of player interaction. You’ll represent various factions trying to control the planet of Dune and its spice trade using negotiation and bluffing, all while dealing with sandstorms, the mammoth sandworms, and the military forces of the other players. Some gamers have gone to amazing lengths to create their own versions of this much-loved game—one even created his own custom-made table inlaid with rare woods! The good news is—for those of us with far less time and money on their hands—Fantasy Flight Games is in the process of re-releasing Dune in a brand new version. The bad news is that it will no longer be based on the Dune books, but on a different licence—Warhammer 40,000 perhaps?

I’ve mentioned the epic wargame War of the Ring several times before, and there are no prizes for guessing which famous series of books this game is based on—yes, J. R. R. Tolkein’s timeless Lord of the Rings trilogy.WotR is an exceptional gaming experience in its own right, but the way it captures the feel of the novels, and builds upon their epic quality by also focussing on the epic battles of the Third Age, is extraordinary. There are several games based on the trilogy, but WotR is the most impressive in my opinion. Also don’t forget to try the other fantastic wargame by the same authors, Age of Conan, which is based on the series of swords-and-sorcery classics by Robert E. Howard (and other writers such as L. Sprague de Camp). It doesn’t quite capture the adventuring spirit of the Conan stories, but it is an excellent wargame in its own right.

Arkham Horror (2005) has also been mentioned many times in my previous articles. This game draws on the inventions of H.P. Lovecraft and later writers who created fiction using his unique Cthulhu mythos. The Mayfair game Witch of Salem (2008) also draws heavily on the Cthulhu mythos, this time from Wolfgang Hohlbein’s book series, and it features some stunning artwork. They are both very different games, and while re-creating the unique atmosphere of Lovecraft’s books is a challenge that will probably never be met—you’d probably have to go insane first!—there’s plenty here to keep cosmic horror fans happy.

Fantasy Flight Games has certainly got a lot of mileage out of its licence of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. I discussed the new Battles of Westeros in my last article, but don’t forget the Game of Thrones LCG (2008), and the A Game of Thrones (2003) boardgame. The Living Card Game has been expanding for some time now and at last count there were 32 expansion packs and more on the way! The boardgame has two expansions, A Clash of Kings (2004) and A Storm of Swords (2006). In the game, each players is one of the great Houses of Westeros and attempts to control the land with a mixture of resource management, diplomacy and cunning—and of course wielding armies and unique characters from the books. I have yet to play A Game of Thrones, but I hear it captures the flavour of the books extremely well.

Another game I haven’t played myself, 1960: The Making of the President (Z-Man, 2007) is based on The Making of the President, 1960, by Theodore White and published in 1961, which won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. This two player, card-driven game explores the 1960 American presidential race beween John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, and is played on an electoral map of the USA. You’ll have to deal with a wide range of political and social issues of the time in your race for the White House.


The Pillars of the Earth (Kosmos, 2006) is based on the best-selling 1989 novel by Ken Follett, about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. The game was awarded the 2007 Deutscher Spiele Preis, the Spanish ‘Game of the Year 2007’ and the Norwegian ‘Best Family Game of 2007’ and the GAMES Magazine Game of the Year 2007. A new stand-alone game, World Without End, was published two years later and is based on the book’s sequel. In classic Eurogame style, these games involve lots of resource management, production, buying and selling, and victory points!

Kosmos have published an entire line of literature-based games, among them Reiner Knizia’s co-operative Lord of the Rings game (2003); Around the World in 80 Days (2005) and Journey to the Center of the Earth(2008) based on the Jules Verne classics; Beowulf: The Legend (2006, and later published by Fantasy Flight); The Golden Compass (2008), based on Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy; and The Swarm(2009, published by Z-Man in English) and based on the novel by Frank Schätzing.

Ravensburger published a game in 2008 based on Umberto Eco’s wonderful story of murder and deduction in a medievalmonastery, The Name of the Rose. The Days of Wonder game Mystery of the Abbey (1996) could also be said to have drawn heavily for its inspiration on this novel, involving as it does the deductive search for a murderer among the monks of an abbey.

There are some old fantasy and science-fiction classics that are certainly ripe for re-publishing in a more modern form, amongthem Starship Troopers (Avalon Hill, 1976) based on the classic Robert A. Heinlein story; and Dragonriders of Pern (Mayfair, 1983), from Anne McCaffrey’s series of fantasy/sci-fi novels.

Of course, early out-of-copyright classics are a goldmine for game designers—and not only because no intellectual property rights need be obtained and paid for! Games Workshop’s Fury of Dracula (1987), and its Fantasy Flight Games re-vamp (pun intended) in 2006 are of course drawn from the Bram Stoker book we all know and love, Dracula, first published in 1897. The game is one of my all-time favourites and positively drips with the atmosphere of the novel. Tales of the Arabian Nights (2009), recently completely redesigned by Z-Man Games (with graphic design by yours truly), recreates the world of One Thousand and One Nights and the timeless stories of Scheherazade. The first English language edition of this collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales (including the tales of Aladdin and his lamp, Ali Baba and the forty thieves, and the seven yoyages of Sinbad), was published in 1706 as The Arabian Nights’ EntertainmentTales of the Arabian Nights is a game of pure fun where players create their own story; strategy gamers beware, this is a game for those who like a good laugh and a lot of fun and are happy to let control of the game run away from them!

Days of Wonders’ Shadows Over Camelot (2005) is a beautifully produced co-operative game inspired by Arthurian legends, most notably those written down by Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur, first published in 1485. It could be said that this game kicked of the current craze for co-operative games; it’s an enjoyable game that is great for families, and the lurking possibility of one of the players being a traitor definitely spices things up a bit!

Of course this article just touches on the huge array of games available that seek to re-create the many places available to us between the covers of a book (or the electronic pages of an iPad, if you’re that way inclined). Whether immersing yourself in a familiar world, or changing the course of events, or creating your own stories, games offer an extra level of interactivity that a book cannot—yet another reason why gaming is such an absorbing and interesting pastime!

by Universal Head

For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek (www.boardgamegeek.com). You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (www.headlesshollow.com/freebies_games.html).

Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites www.tekumel.com andwww.battleloremaster.com. His blog site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

Battles of Westeros: First Impressions

Last night I finally got a chance to play the brand new ‘BattleLore’ game from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), Battles of Westeros, so I thought I’d write up my first impressions of the game for anyone who is wondering what this new incarnation of BattleLore is all about. Battles of Westeros is set in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy world of Westeros, from his Song of Ice and Fire series of books.

After creating a fan site for the original BattleLore game at www.battleloremaster.com, back when it was first released by Days of Wonder (DOW) in 2006, I was  very interested to try this latest evolution of Richard Borg’s Command & Colors (C&C) system. When Battles of Westeros was first announced, there was a frantic flurry of opinions by old BattleLore players, most of whom were concerned that their favourite game was going to be superseded. While it’s still not clear how much Fantasy Flight intends to support ‘classic BattleLore’ with new expansions, it’s fascinating to play this new game and compare the two systems.

First, let’s see what you get. Battles of Westeros comes in a deep box, the same size as the original DOW BattleLore but a new box format for FFG. Inside you’ll find over 130 plastic figures belonging to the Stark and Lannister house factions, a double-sided mounted map board, several decks of cards, and a plethora of cardboard counters, along with a rules book and a book of battle scenarios. There has been debate about the quality of the figures; some have said the designs are a little ‘generic’, though we must remember this is really just a core set and future expansions will no doubt add more distinctive troop types. You may have to do a bit of wok to straighten some of the swords and lances, but this is pretty much par for the course for plastic game pieces these days. Dip the bent figure part into a bowl of very hot water to soften, straighten it, then plunge it into a bowl of ice cold water to ‘set’.

There’s a nice selection of individual heroes, and a good bunch of basic troops, cavalry, and archers for each side. The most interesting figures here are the kennelmasters—big bald guys holding on to a couple of snarling trained hounds each!

BattleLore fans may be a bit surprised to discover that the figures come detached from their bases, and a decent amount of preparation is required to glue the figures into the bases. FFG suggest that gluing is an optional step, but really there’s no way that the figures would be usable by just pushing them into their bases. I found that a few dabs of superglue, and pressing the figures into the base slots with the end of a pair of tweezers, did the job well. No doubt the cost of producing these figures has increased since the initial release of BattleLore—in fact the CEO of FFG, Christian Petersen, has admitted on the company website that it is currently unaffordable to produce classic BattleLore in its original form and in the shorter print runs that FFG prefer. What this means for the future of classic BattleLore is anyone’s guess, but in the short term it means that a little more work is involved in preparing your Battles of Westeros figures for play!

I was keen to have the figures painted for our first game, though of course you can happily play the game without painted figures. There really is nothing like a BattleLore game with fully painted armies however, so I recommend taking the time and effort. To make the task more manageable, I set aside the figures required for the first battle scenario and painted those in one batch; that way you can start playing the game without facing the daunting task of painting the entire 138 figures in one go. I’ve written an article on figure painting before  (A  Beginner’s Guide to Figure Painting), but remember that washes are your friend! Painting the base colours of the figures and then giving them a wash (I used Devlan Mud for the Stark figures and Gryphonne Sepia for the Lannister figures) can give you fast and attractive results.

So, your figures are painted (or not), you’ve downloaded the rules summary available on my website (or not) and you’ve set up the forces for the first scenario, ‘Clash on the Kingsroad’. The big question is, how does the game play?

Well, the first thing to do is put thoughts of Memoir ’44, Command & Colors: Ancients, and BattleLore out of your head, because this is quite a different beast. Yaes, there are many similarities, and the game certainly looks the same as a C&C game, but gone is the division of the board into three sections and the restrictions of activating units by section.

Firstly, each player makes up a Leadership card deck with ten basic Leadership cards and five special Leadership cards for each of his commanders on the field. There’s also a new Morale track and a round track. The banners attached to each unit are different too; in addition to identifying unit types as usual, they have become an integral part of the game system, and are rotated to face the player to indicate whether the unit has been activated that turn or not.

Basically, players roll a number of eight-sided dice equal to the Order Rating of the battle plan, and then take Order Tokens matching the symbols rolled. When it is a player’s turn, there are two ways to activate units on the battlefield. One is to spend one of your order tokens to activate a unit—for example, a blue shield token activates a blue banner unit. You can also spend two tokens of one type to activate any unit. This allows you to activate any of your units on the field. The other way is to play a Leadership card, and this is much more restricted by the position of your commanders on the field. The units (usually multiple units) activated by a Leadership card must be within your chosen commander’s Zone of Control—a radius of 2 hexes from the commander’s unit.

Already you can see that this means the game plays very differently from your usual BattleLore game. It’s very important to keep your commanders alive—as I learnt when one of mine died early in our first game and the abilities of my units were suddenly very restricted! Also, the number of options available means that there is far less of a feeling of being controlled by your card draws. There’s definitely more strategy on offer here, which suits the more gritty, medieval feeling of the game, as opposed to the light, fun fantasy feel of classic BattleLore.

As you activate units, moving and attacking with them in a way that will be familiar to C&C players, you rotate their banners to  mark them as activated. You can’t activate them again that turn unless you manage to either play  Leadership card to rally several units (ie, rotate their banner poles back and make them available for activation again) or spend a Morale order token to do them same to one unit (and take a morale hit to do so). So it is possible to activate a unit several times in the same turn.

A small change to combat also introduces another level of strategy to the game: when you engage an unengaged enemy unit, you place an Engagement token between the units. Then, if you attack the target from another hex with a different unit, it is designated a flanking attack, and you get to re-roll all the dice of one symbol, which can be devastating. So instead of single discrete attacks and hoping to get the right cards to activate units on the same flank, you can really plan and execute multiple attacks that can destroy your opponent’s units.

Another welcome change to the C&C system, I feel, is that victory conditions are no longer so reliant on just destroying the other player’s units. Not only does destroying a unit reduce your opponent’s morale—and in some scenarios you can successfully rout your opponent’s army as a result—but each scenario has specific victory conditions that are much more interesting, usually tied to controlling various objectives on the battlefield.

All in all, I was highly impressed with my first play of Battles of Westeros. In fact, I think that classic BattleLore might find itself sitting on the shelf while we explore all the possibilities of this new game system. FFG have created an interesting, more strategic take on the classic system, and while the branding is a bit confusing—it really does sit in an uneasy place between being a BattleLore-type game and a brand new game—I think once things settle down it is going to be a winner for the company. I’m looking forward to more distinctive troop types in future expansions, and I hope the battle scenarios continue to be varied and interesting (by the way there’s a set of ‘skirmish’ rules for setting up your own battles, so there’s endless variety there). Two expansion sets have already been announced: Wardens of the West (new commanders, pikemen, crossbowmen and militia for the Lannister house) and Wardens of the North (new commanders, lancers, shieldmaidens and trident bearers for the Stark house). I also like how the individual commanders really stamp the game with their personalities and style of play, depending on their special abilities and selection of Leadership cards.

If you’re a fan of other games in the Command & Colors family and you’ve been wondering if Battles of Westeros was just more of the same, I can safely say this game has something new and exciting to offer. Grab yourself a copy!

For more information about Battles of Westeros, visit FFG’s site (www.fantasyflightgames.com) or BoardgameGeek (www.boardgamegeek.com). You can also find a rules summary and reference sheet for the game at Headless Hollow (www.headlesshollow.com/freebies_games.html#bw).

by Universal Head

Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites www.tekumel.com and www.battleloremaster.com. His blog site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

Learning History By Gaming

Yet another great thing about boardgames is you can learn a lot while you enjoy a game—sometimes without even realising it. Historical events and boardgaming have long co-existed happily together. I won’t be looking at the long and extremely detailed history of wargaming in this article, but let’s explore a few slightly more mainstream boardgames that actually can teach a lot about the past to old and young players alike—and they’re fun too!

The Days of Wonder game Memoir ’44 (2004), has, more than other game, been an education for me to play. I’ve certainly learnt a lot about the battles of World War II from this excellent game—one of my top five favourites. Of course it helps that my regular opponent is a bit of a WWII buff, and everytime we sit down to play and I read out the title of the scenario he says something like “ahhh yes, this battle; this was when the blah met the blah and the blah blah happened.” But even if you don’t have a gaming friend with an encyclopaedic knowledge of every battle of the war, the scenario introductions can teach you a lot about the conflict you are about to play out; and actually playing the game can give you an insight into the forces and factors involved in each battle.

Of course to get the full enjoyment of this game you really should invest in all of its expansions. Expansion sets for the Eastern Front, the Pacific Theatre and the Mediterranean Theatre bring those aspects of WWII to life, and there really are few gaming experiences as enjoyable as playing an Overlord scenario with two boards and multiple players. Adding the Air Pack brings in a number of very nice little pre-painted planes to spice up the action, and I’m really looking forward to the new Breakthrough expansion that lets you play with a board designed for deeper end-to-end scenarios rather than the usual side-to-side ones.

One of the most satisfying Memoir ’44 experiences is playing a series of scenarios together as a campaign, and the Memoir ’44: Campaign Book Volume 1 (2009) is designed for just that. Included are more than 50 scenarios and advanced campaign rules covering three Theaters of Operations throughout the War: The Battle for Normandy in the summer of 1944, the Blitzkrieg to the West in 1940, and Operation Barbarossa on the Russian Front in 1941. If you don’t have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the passage of WWII after playing that lot, you just haven’t been paying attention!

Staying in the World War II period, another excellent game that explores the time is Tide of Iron (2007) by Fantasy Flight Games. Armed with this game, and of course the expansions Days of the Fox (2008), and Normandy (2008), you can learn a lot about the course of World War II, and replay many of the major conflicts. Tide of Iron is more complex than Memoir ’44, and goes into much more detail, with a far greater emphasis on strategy and specific scenario goals. Along with the scenarios that come with the game and its expansions, you can also purchase the hardcover book Designer Series Vol. 1, which gives you another twenty scenarios designed by some of the best in the wargaming business. Anticipation is high for the Russian Front expansion slated for this year, Fury of the Bear.

For a completely different take on WWII gaming, try Duel in the Dark (Z-Man Games, 2007) and its expansion Baby Blitz (2008). This very clever game simulates the British nighttime bombing raids on German cities during the war, but not in a ‘traditional’ wargaming fashion. The expansion explores the Luftwaffe raids on London and western England. This is more a strategic boardgame than a wargame, as you win by scoring victory points either by successfully completing your secretly plotted bombing runs or strategically placing civil defences such as flak and floodlights to thwart them. The detail in this game is incredible and it’s a very unique gaming experience.

Heading back in time to WWI, Wings of War (Fantasy Flight Games, 2004) and its many expansions may not recreate specific air battles—though I’m sure that is, in theory, quite possible, but for any fan of airplane design history, this game is a must. The rules are simple and fun, and the game is great out of the box, but to get the most of it your really need to get yourself some of the stunning airplane miniatures. There’s a continually growing range of this accurately modelled and painted miniatures, and flying them around a tabletop is huge fun. You can even buy large mats to give you a suitably attractive surface of fields to fly over. Wings of War: The Dawn of World War II (2007) brings the game into WWII; I just played this for the first time and was impressed how the same system has been adapted to feel faster and more frantic with the more modern planes such as Spitfires and Messerschmitt, and it was a huge amount of fun.

Back to more traditional wargaming territory, Britannia (Fantasy Flight Games, 2005) takes us considerably back in time to explore the history of the conquests of the British Isles. This is a fascinating and involving boardgame that traces the Roman invasion in 43 AD, through the conflicts between Angles, Saxons, Picts, Norsemen, Scots, Irish, and other tribes, finally all the way to the Norman invasion of 1066 AD. There’s a certain amount of pre-scripted activity to keep the history roughly on course, but players still have the freedom to change the history and explore what could have happened. If you can never remember the difference between Angles and Saxons and Picts, this is the game for you. Set aside a long afternoon and some dedicated players, and the game will definitely be rewarding.

The setting for The End of the Triumvirate (Z-Man Games, 2005) is that period of history when the fate of the Roman republic rested in the hands of three men: Caesar, Pompeius, and Crassus, and explores what would have happened if these three had engaged in civil war. As you can tell from the title, this game is definitely best with three players, though, less satisfyingly, it can be played with two. There are three ways to win: politically (a player must win the election to Consul twice); militarily (a player must control nine regions); or a mixture of both. It’s a cleverly balanced and very strategic game, more Euro game than wargame, and gives the player some interesting insights into the Roman world and its struggles for power.

Wind the clock about one hundred and fifty years back to play Hannibal: Rome Vs. Carthage (Valley Games, 1996). This classic game, first released by Avalon Hill in 1996 and now back in a beautifully designed edition by Valley Games, uses a card-driven system to recreate the events of the Second Punic War from 218 to 201 BC, when the Carthaginian general Hannibal came close to defeating the might of the Roman Empire. Famously, Hannibal drove war elephants with his army over the Alps to invade Italy, and so can you if you play this involving game, nut you’ll have to wield political control as well to achieve victory.

Finally, an excellent way to refresh your high school ancient history is the wargame system Commands & Colors: Ancients (GMT Games, 2006). If you’re familiar with Memoir ’44 you’re well on your way to knowing how to playC&C: Ancients, as it basically uses the same system of card-driven unit activation by Richard Borg (variations of which form the basis of Battle CryBattleLore and the brand new Battles of Westeros as well). C&C:Ancientshas five expansion sets that allow you to recreate a wide variety of battles  that took place between the Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians and the invading barbarians, from 3000 BC to 400 AD.< So if you still think of history as something you only studied in high school in boring textbooks, maybe it’s time to try out some of these games and discover the thrill of battles, strategies and personalities past. The games are great fun—and you might even learn something! For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek (www.boardgamegeek.com). You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (www.headlesshollow.com/freebies_games.html).

by Universal Head


Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites
www.tekumel.com and www.battleloremaster.com. His blog site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

Small World, Tales & Legends

Small World – Tales & Legends was created by Laurent Verrier, Special Prize Winner of the Small World Design Contest. Philippe Keyaerts, the original game’s author, provided additional development assistance.

Small World – Tales & Legends introduces 54 new Event cards that change the storyline of each turn during the game.

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