Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Brace yourselves. Car Wars is coming!

In my prior post about Car Wars and Gaslands, I noted the Car Wars Sixth Edition Kickstarter was coming "any day now"... and here it is!

On Black Friday, Steve Jackson Games will launch their Car Wars Kickstarter with bonus equipment cards for Day One backers. As announced on their website, "Uncle Al and his crew have been working overtime to prepare a special deal for those who join the Kickstarter campaign on that first day – November 29th." There are also several pre-campaign stretch goals that can be unlocked even before the first day.

Car War Deluxe Edition (1985) cover and Car War Sixth Edition cover preview
Car War Deluxe Edition (1985) cover and Car War Sixth Edition sneak preview (source: Steve Jackson Games)

Over the summer, I got the chance to play several games of the CW6e prototype at game conventions. You can read my initial play impressions in my article here. Spoiler alert: I love the new version of Car Wars.

Car Wars 6e vehicle dashboard
The dashboard shows your current
vehicle speed, handling, and damage.
On the @sjgames web site, Twitter, Facebook, and Board Game Geek blogs, Steve Jackson Games has been showing sneak previews of game components and other in-development ideas they are working on.

The new game will include unpainted vehicle miniatures, cards for vehicles and upgrade/components (ala X-Wing), a vehicle "dashboard" showing the vehicle's current speed, armor, and handling status, a maneuver stick, play mat(s), road section tiles (a stretch goal), and specialized combat dice.

Car Wars 6e custom dice
The different colored dice alter the odds of
getting star (hit) or shield (dodge) results.
While the vehicle design rules have not been teased, one can see the basics from the prototypes.  Like with X-Wing or other squad-building minature games, vehicles have a point cost. Weapon systems and skilled drivers or gunners are detailed on small cards and will cost additional points to upgrade a vehicle. Building a vehicle will be as simple as choosing a base model and adding several points worth of weapon and equipment cards to the build.

Image showing Car Wars 6e miniatures on a play mat
The new miniatures (which come unpainted) are displayed on a prototype play mat. (source: @SJGames)

Previews of the vehicles have shown some amazing paint jobs by SJG artist Ben Williams. Hopefully, those of us with not-quite-as-mad painting skillz can make them look half as good. The scale is going to be 1/64, or roughly the same as Hot Wheels and Matchbox die cast vehicles. This will potentially allow players to kit-bash their own cars, assuming Steve Jackson decides to sell additional bases.

Image showing Car Wars miniatures on a road tile
New miniature on a road tile (source: @SJGames)
SJG has also teased card stock road tiles with an art style that matches the play mat(s). The tiles are planned to be interlocking and double-sided.

At this time, it appears the base rules will only include cars. Motorcycles and trucks may show up in future expansions.

I'm hoping for a stretch goal or two to include additional rules for cycles and trucks, or the option of an expansion released concurrently, but I'm also being realistic.

After all, it took 7 years from the Ogre Designer Edition stretch goal to finally get a Car Wars Kickstarter. Holding one's breath for a Truck Stop expansion is probably not advised at this time.

Image showing Autoduel video game from 1985
8-bit highway combat in Autoduel
On a final tangential note, Steve Jackson also announced that the classic Autoduel computer game from 1985 will be re-released in March 2020. You'll be able to make cargo runs on post-apocalyptic highways in all their 8-bit glory. So keep a look out for that.

If you're curious for more about Car Wars Sixth Edition, check out the Steve Jackson Games Facebook and Twitter accounts and be sure to read my play preview.

You might also like:
Car Wars 6e and Gaslands: First Impressions

Monday, October 21, 2019

Munchkin Treasure Hunt - Owlbear Cubs Review

Episode 1 - Munchkin Treasure Hunt

This is a first in a (hopefully) semi-regular series called Owlbear Kids. In it, my kids and myself review some of our family favorite board games and RPGs intended for a younger audience.

Name: Munchkin Treasure Hunt
Also with an Alice in Wonderland theme: Munchkin Wonderland
Ages: 6+
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Artist: John Kovalic

Game Summary: This is a roll and move dungeon crawler intended for a younger audience. Defeat the monsters with the treasure cards in your hand, in order to gain more treasure cards. Player with the most "gold" (treasure points) at the end wins. Both parents and kids alike enjoy the silly jokes for which Munchkin games are well known.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Car Wars 6e and Gaslands: First Impressions

Car Wars Classic cover
Caveat: This post is based on a couple of plays of each Gaslands and Car Wars 6th edition at Origins 2019. This article isn't a review or about which game is better... It is more of a first impression of the new games from a long time Car Wars buff. Honestly, if miniature car combat is your thing, you'll want both of these games. Gaslands Refuelled is the new, cleaned up hardback revision coming mid September and Car Wars 6e will be on Kickstarter any day now (literally 7 years in the waiting...).

UPDATE: This Friday, November 29!

Game Design and Aesthetic

Gaslands is very much a Do-It-Yourself game. Author Mike Hutchinson recently wrote on his blog about the nature (and joys) of kitbashing Hot Wheels and other toys for a post-apocalyptic wasteland. He provides only the rules. It is up to the players (or community) to paint cars, create the play aids, build terrain, and customize their set up... OR to just dump their kid's toy box on the table, pick out some cars and random obstacles, and go to town! You can see some of the amazing community creations with a simple Google search.

Gaslands Refuelled
Gaslands will take a small amount of pre-preparation by someone in the group. At minimum, you will need to print out the movement and weapon templates on card stock paper. You don't technically need special dice; a standard set of d6's will do. However, you will have to look up the results on a chart rather than quickly scan the dice for the special icons. Custom dice and movement templates are available on Etsy for reasonable prices.

Car Wars, on the other hand, is being produced by Steve Jackson Games which has a long and storied history producing quality board games and RPGs. Their design goal is to provide a slick, out-of-the-box board game experience for the retail consumer. From their standpoint, if Car Wars can make it onto the shelf next to Munchkin and Star Wars X-Wing at a Barnes & Noble or Target, that's a huge win. As such, their box will include a small selection of unpainted cars, rules that will fit in a relatively small number of pages, a maneuver stick, specialized dice, and possibly an arena board or play mat of some variety.

The exact contents are not fully known, but they want to make it as retail friendly as possible. Recognizing that the existing Car Wars community would also like to kitbash cars, they recently made the decision to move from HO scale to 1/64 (Hot Wheel) scale and they will be providing empty vehicle bases for customization. There is little doubt in my mind the growing Gaslands community has had an impact on these decision.

Gaslands arena with oil slick
Lore wise, Gaslands portrays the grim, dirty Mad Max style post apocalypse. Car Wars is portraying the more slick arena racing and death sport side of the game, rather than the gritty apocalyptic highways (at least at first). The Car Wars Kickstarter will only include car rules. Trucks, motorcycles, and other vehicles will likely have to wait for expansions or potential stretch goals, but the SJ team has been somewhat tight-lipped.

What surprised me most may be how quickly the new Car Wars plays. As much as I like the simulation aspect of phased movement, the new system puts you right into the action immediately. The rules are also simple enough to be quickly taught. The learning curve was much smaller than I anticipated. Gaslands rules are also fairly light, but need a little bit of polish here and there (which I expect to see in the new revision coming this month).

Thursday, August 29, 2019

D&D: The Legacy of Gygax and Arneson

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
A recent article on a gaming site has been stirring up quite a bit of controversy on the origins of Dungeons & Dragons. Following off the release of Secrets of Blackmoor, the article challenges the accepted history of the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. In the article, there is a strongly implied theme that Gary Gygax rode the coattails of Dave Arneson's idea of a role-playing game and took all of the credit.

The truth is a lot more nuanced.

In the article, there are several historical events that are presented in such a way that to make it sound like Gary stole Dave's ideas and then didn't give him any credit. This bends the truth significantly and there are multiple literary sources and original TSR employees around that can corroborate actual events.

Original "wood grain" D&D white box
Original "wood grain" D&D white box
The biggest problem with the article is that it is written in a very biased manner meant to tear down Gary Gygax instead of uplift Dave Arneson. Author Cecilia D'Anastasio herself directly stated, "I am a diehard D&D fan who seriously dislikes Gygax and his legacy." It is unfortunate that is not written at the top of the article, because that tells you most of what you need to know.

The original (white box) Dungeons & Dragons was a true collaboration between Gary and Dave. However, Dave left TSR (was not forced out) prior to the development of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the other Basic D&D sets released from 1977 onward. It is a shame that these two amazingly creative men fell out due to business issues, but that can (and often does) happen with any creative endeavor.

So, absolutely lift a glass in memory of Dave Arneson and his early contributions to the game and genre. There is no doubt his ideas were a significant factor in the development of D&D as a table top RPG. However, Gary carried those ideas onward making a viable product for years to come. There is no need to attempt to tear down Gary Gygax in order to properly salute Dave. Dungeons & Dragons as a game could not have existed without both of these men.

For more information on the history of Dungeons & Dragons, I recommend the following:
Playing at the World by Jon Peterson
Designers and Dragons by Shannon Appelcline
Art & Arcana: A Visual History

Thursday, August 1, 2019

B/X-5 Design Log: Dwarf

Dwarf miner
In creating B/X-5, a 5th Edition homage to early D&D, I've tried to engender the spirit of the early Basic box sets while not being a "retro-clone". As such, I've tried to model Race-as-Class in such a way that also incorporates D&D 5th Edition class design. My updated idea of the Dwarf as a 5th Edition class combines some elemental magic with a touch of divine warrior, so it's a bit of a divergence from a B/X Dwarf. Significant play test will be required to test the power curve on this class.

You can also check out the work-in-progress B/X-5 rules as well as the my design log for the Elf class.


Ability Scores. +2 to either STR or CON. +1 to one other ability score.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
Dungeoneer. You gain Advantage on Investigation or Perception rolls related to earthworks, stonework, or clockwork mechanisms, especially as related to traps, secret doors, concealed doors, sliding walls, slanting passages, etc.
Low Light Vision. You can see in dim light within 90 feet of you as if it were normal light. In non-magical darkness, you can only see the outlines/silhouettes of creatures or objects within 30’.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Dwarf.

Class Traits - Earthshaper

Hit Dice. 1d8 per level
Hit Points at 1st Level. 8 + your Constitution modifier
Armor. All armor, shields.
Weapons. Simple weapons, martial weapons.
Spell Casting. Your spell casting bonus is based upon your Wisdom ability bonus.
Saving Throws. Wisdom, Constitution
Skills. Choose two from Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion, and Religion.
Spell Slots per Spell Level
Combat Specialization, Light Cantrip
Spellcasting, Warding Flare
Elemental Spells, Stoning Smite
Ability Score +2, Specialization Talent
Extra Attack
Elemental Spells, Improved Flare
Soul of Stone
Ability Score +2, Specialization Talent
Elemental Spells
Skin of Stone
Improved Stoning Smite
Ability Score +2, Specialization Talent
** Specialization Talents are like mini-feats, giving a small bump to a PC's melee, ranged, or spell abilities. They are less powerful than 5th Edition Feats, so B/X-5 classes get the full ability score bump in additional to a Talent.

Combat Specialization 
At 1st level, Dwarfs may select one melee combat specialization: Defender, Duelist, Great Weapon Fighter, Protector, or Two Weapon Fighter.

Light Cantrip
Also at first level, you are able to cast the Light cantrip as an action twice without expending a spell slot. This feature recharges after a short rest or long rest. 

Spellcasting Ability
Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for your Dwarf spells. You use your Wisdom whenever a spell refers to your spellcasting ability. In addition, you use your Wisdom modifier when setting the saving throw DC for a Dwarfs spell you cast and when making an attack roll with one.

Spell save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier

Spell attack modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier

You prepare the list of spells that are available for you to cast, choosing from the Dwarf spell list. When you do so, choose a number of Dwarf spells equal to your Wisdom modifier + half your level, rounded down (minimum of one spell). The spells must be of a level for which you have spell slots.

Warding Flare
At 2nd level, you can interpose a spark of light between yourself and an attacking enemy. When you are attacked by a creature within 30 feet of you that you can see, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll, causing light to flare before the attacker before it hits or misses. An attacker that can’t be blinded is immune to this feature.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Elemental Domain Spells
Your connection to the elements of earth and fire grant you certain spells.  that do not need to be prepared. Once you gain a domain spell, you always have it prepared, and it doesn’t count against the number of spells you can prepare each day.
Purify Food and Drink, Searing Smite
Heat Metal, Magic Weapon
Elemental Weapon, Meld Into Stone
Stone Shape

Stoning Smite
Starting at 3rd level, when you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can expend one spell slot to deal force damage to the target, in addition to the weapon’s normal damage. The extra damage is 2d8 for a 1st-level spell slot, plus 1d8 for each spell level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 5d8. 

Extra Attack
Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

Improved Flare
Starting at 6th level, you can also use your Warding Flare feature when a creature that you can see within 30 feet of you attacks a creature other than you.

Soul of Stone
Starting at 7th level, your connection to earth and fire grant you the following features:
• You gain resistance to fire damage.
• While wearing heavy armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.

Skin of Stone
At 10th level, you can channel elemental energy to make your skin as hard as stone. As a bonus action, this feature grants the Dwarf has resistance to non-magical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage for 1 minute. This feature recharges after a short or long rest.

Improved Stoning Smite
By 11th level, you are so suffused with elemental might that all your melee weapon strikes carry elemental power with them. Whenever you hit a creature with a melee weapon, the creature takes an extra 1d8 force damage.

Dwarf Spell List (subject to massive change)
1st Level
2nd Level
3rd Level
Burning Hands
Compelled Duel
Create or Destroy Water
Cure Wounds
Detect Evil and Good
Detect Magic
Detect Poison and Disease
Divine Favor
Protection from Evil 
Purify Food and Drink
Searing Smite
Shield of Faith
Thunderous Smite
Wrathful Smite
Branding Smite
Continual Flame
Lesser Restoration
Locate Object
Magic Weapon
Protection from Poison
Spider Climb
Warding Bond
Zone of Truth
Aura of Vitality
Beacon of Hope
Blinding Smite
Create Food and Water
Crusader’s Mantle
Dispel Magic
Elemental Weapon
Magic Circle
Meld into Stone
Protection from Energy
Spirit Guardians
Water Walk

Please let me know if you have any suggestions or feedback in the comments. Thanks!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Amazing Adventures brings pulp action to D&D

Amazing Adventures 5E cover
Amazing Adventure 5E is now on Kickstarter!
Before Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, there were modern adaptations of the d20 mechanics for other genres, including action adventure, investigation horror, sci-fi, and supers. Some of the well known adaptations included d20 Modern, True20, and Amazing Adventures.

If you are interested in playing a non-fantasy genre with familiar D&D-like mechanics, you can! Troll Lord Game is Kickstarting its Amazing Adventures 5E (coming in December), which takes its d20-based Amazing Adventures and updates it to include 5th Edition mechanics.

Disclaimer: I have no association with Troll Lord Games other than being a huge fan of their games and adventures.

Class archetypes include the Arcanist, Gadgeteer / Powered, Gumshoe, Hallowed, Hooligan, Mentalist, Pugilist, Raider, and Socialite.The stretch goals are about to unlock the Archer, Gunslinger, and Soldier with the Acrobat, Duelist, and Pirate not far behind. (Just 5 days left!)

An Amazing Adventure 5E preview can be found here!

If you've wanted to play Dakota James, archaeologist and adventurer... or Professor Ann Igma, investigator of the paranormal... or Captain Conundrum with astounding powers of... riddles...? Amazing Adventures 5E has you dialed in. If you've ever wanted to mix magic, psionics, super powers, and super science, Amazing Adventures 5E provides an easy framework to simulate these within a d20-based game.

Mummy risingNeed Pirates with black power weapons alongside sword and shield? No problem. Want mobsters with Tommy Guns? Got it covered. A Gadgeteer hero with a repulsor ray? Sure thing. Amazing Adventures 5E gives you the tools to abstract these concepts into familiar mechanics of 5th Edition.

If you can't wait until December, Amazing Adventures and the Amazing Adventures Companion are both available from DriveThru RPG. The earlier version of AA also uses familiar d20 mechanics and is worth checking out!

Lastly, even if you find you are not interested in Amazing Adventures, Troll Lord Game has several 5th Edition adventure titles for use with D&D. My absolute favorites are A0 The Rising Knight and A1 Assault on Blacktooth Ridge. They are both available in a low-cost bundle!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

D&D Essentials Kit Review

D&D Essentials Kit coverTLDR Summary: The D&D Essentials Kit is essential for your D&D collection... but wait until September if possible.

If you haven't read my preview, you might not know that the D&D Essentials Kit is also set in Phandalin and can be used alongside the adventure in the Starter Set. However, it also stands completely on its own as an introductory box set for new DM's. The adventure within is independent of events occurring in Lost Mine of Phandelver.

Included in the D&D Essentials Kit is
  • 64 page "Essentials" rule book (including character generation)
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak, a new adventure by Chris Perkins
  • 4 panel landscape DM screen
  • Double sided poster map with the town of Phandalin on one side and the local region of the Sword Coast on the reverse.
  • Quest cards, NPC cards, Magic Item cards, cards, cards, cards...
  • Red crystal dice set with 2d20 and 4d6
  • Blank character sheets
  • Includes a key to unlock the adventure content on D&D Beyond and a 50% discount on the digital Player's Handbook.

Wood Elf illustration So is it any good?

In a word? Yes. Solid. The art. The layout. The adventure format... It really hits on all cylinders. There are a few minor foibles, but they can be overlooked (more detail below).

A New Basic Rulebook

The Essentials Rulebook is a boiled down version of the D&D Basic PDF, but with some new art and layout adjustments. It includes character generation rules for the Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Bard classes. Spell lists go to level 3.

I love this book as a replacement for the Starter Set rules. I was critical of the Starter Set over the fact that players (and DM) would have to download the Basic Rules separately for character creation. Not including character generation rules was a mistake in my opinion. With this change, this new box set feels very much like the early Basic D&D box sets with enough level advancement to give you the taste for the game.

Happy Little Accidents

The art is fantastic. It uses the same color art style already seen in the Starter Set and Player's Handbook as well as the pen and ink sketches found in the D&D Basic PDF (also seen in the PHB Conditions appendix).

The Sword Coast map lacks some detail, but I understand the need to not put extra details on the maps which would not appear in the adventure. The player map of Phandalin is excellent and will give the players a sense of place.

DM screen adventuring party

The DM screen has an amazing 4-panel illustration of an adventuring party about to walk in on some serious danger. I also love the fact that both the Starter Set and Essentials Kit have utilized a dragon for their cover art, something that recent core books have lacked. Some fans on social media have criticized the fact that the DM screen is a lighter cardstock instead of cardboard like the "reincarnated" screen. This isn't really new. Past editions have used lighter cardstock DM screens. It is true they might not take as much abuse as the cardboard ones, but if you treat them with care, they should be fine. I have cardstock DM screens from AD&D and 3.x that have survived the years.

Accessorize Me

The dice are... dice. Basic red gems. I wish they had been pearlescent red similar to the Starter Set, but that's a personal preference. The set also comes with quest cards, NPC (companion) cards, magic item cards initiative cards, etc.

NPC portraits
I'm a fan of play aids, especially for new players. I use Pathfinder Face Cards often in my home game to give the players a feel for the NPCs they interact with. Physical props also add fun. D&D is very much an ethereal game with so much happening in our imaginations. Physical components can aid our mental images, or at the least, remind us what we have in our inventory.

I am a little surprised that there were no pre-gens included as an alternative option to character creation. It would have been easy enough to include an example of each class. They could have just removed the ideals and bonds from the Starter Set characters. It's a minor consideration, but it does mean new players can't just "jump in and play" without going through the creation step.

Digital Dreams

One other new enhancement is that the D&D Essentials Kit includes an unlock key for the adventure on D&D Beyond. This is the first time a Wizards of the Coast physical product has included a free digital version. This is less easily achieved on a product that is not shrink wrapped (like a hardback) where one-time use keys could be stolen. It also comes with a 50% off key for the digital Players Handbook. I have lots to say about licensing a book through a service (which could go away) versus owning a PDF, but I won't complain here. It is nice to be able to use the D&D Beyond maps for virtual table top software.

There is one foible that I ran into. Their keys use a San Serif font. They also mix upper case "I" with lower case "L" and "1" in the same keys. Similarly the letter O is not distinguishable from zero. I am not the only one who has run into issue redeeming a key where the letters are less than obvious.

The Adventure Begins

The Adventure Begins

The adventure isn't perfect, but it works extremely well for the purpose of teaching new DMs, and is probably better than the Starter Set in that aspect. As much as I like Lost Mines of Phandelver, it has a strongly focused story that channels the players along a largely pre-determined route. Each leg of the Starter Set story is also "heavy" for lack of a better word. It contains a lot of detail for a new DM to digest in order to run well.

The Essentials Kit, on the other hand, is much more loose. It consists of a series of smaller site-based encounters than do not have a strict order of play. Each encounter is generally only 2 to 4 pages. This means the DM has a lot fewer things to consider to prep for any given session. Each scenario is very light and easy to run. This format is quite brilliant for new DMs. The adventure feels much less overwhelming for a newbie.

Polearm fighter
The story hooks start out a bit weak, consisting of mostly step-and-fetch quests. The rewards also appear oddly out-of-proportion for what the PCs are sent to do in the early levels. The PCs will receive a fair amount of money very quickly for what are essentially delivery quests... but that's OK. Given that it's intended for a new DM, it sets up the premise for the players that there are NPCs to interact with and they will occasionally ask you to do errands for some amount of gold or other treasure. This basic RPG trope will already be familiar for new players coming from video games. At least there are no "Collect 10 boar pelts" quests. The first few quests also "unlock" later quests.

The encounters themselves often present non-combat solutions as well as what skills a player might use to achieve a skill test. Scaling guidelines are often also presented as this set can be used in a DM and single PC only mode as well as with a larger party. The boxed text for the encounters usually includes just a few sentences to set the scene, leaving most of the description up to the DM to formulate. The adventure is written to foster a learn-as-you-play experience. There are a few things I might nit-pick, but they are relatively minor and largely subjective to my own tastes.

[UPDATE] After some careful consideration, I do believe Lost Mine of Phandelver is a better adventure overall than Dragon of Icespire Peak... However, Icespire Peak is much better as a D&D teaching tool. From the perspective of a new DM and new players, the Essentials Kit does a much better job of introducing newbies to the game at a pace that doesn't overwhelm. I would certainly recommend it to a newer audience over the Starter Set. That said, both are excellent products.

Final Thoughts

There is little doubt in my mind that this box set is a grand slam. It oozes the feel of D&D as both a game and fantasy genre in all the ways the Stranger Things box set failed to do so. It does a better job of teaching D&D in smaller, easier to digest chunks than the Starter Set did. The design team has learned a lot about the presentation of D&D since 2014 and it shows. It sets out to be an introductory set that can work well for a single PC or a party of five. It basically succeeds at every product goal put before it.

The Bad?  As I noted in my earlier post, I do not like that this is being sold as a Target exclusive through September. I truly think this exclusivity is going to hurt game shops because all the posts I see of people buying it on social media are from long-time D&D aficionados and not new gamers.

If you are not currently running the Starter Set, or not immediately going to start a new campain, I urge you to wait until September and order this from your friendly, local game store. If you were planning on paying the full $25 MSRP from Target, you should use the money to support your local game shop instead. They are the ones who often provide gaming spaces to the community and ways to hook up with other players locally. Please support the local community if you can.

I realize I am a bit of a hypocrite, but a review of this set three months from now would be much less relevant than one posted today. If I weren't running a D&D blog, I absolutely would have waited.

So, the long and short is: Buy this box... but wait until September if you can.

PS - For the curious, there are more pics in the Twitter thread.
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