Here to Slay (@UnstbleUnicrns) – The strategic RPG card game that’s beautifully illustrated & quick-to-play but difficult to read

I DON’T EXACTLY REMEMBER WHY I ORDERED HERE TO SLAY. I think I saw a review around the time the Kickstarter campaign started. I pledged for the $39 Kickstater Exclusive + Expansions level. I’m glad I did because this quick-play RPG-based card game is fun to play and makes a good addition to the family game collection even while it can be challenging on the eyes.

Here to Slay is a “strategic RPG card game” for 1-6 players. Basically, each player has a Party Leader with a special power. On your turn, you can play up to three Action Points to Draw cards, play a Hero, Item, or Magic card, Attack a Monster, or Discard your hand. The quick game (30-60 minutes) ends when one player has either slayed three monsters or has built a party with at least six different Classes of Heroes.

bd74962d326e4f8a32aab0314669a410_original
Courtesy Here to Slay Kickstarter

By far the most appealing aspect of Here to Slay is the artwork on the cards. Fun and whimsical but also dark and foreboding when necessary. The artwork keeps Here to Slay from devolving into a depressing game as the key features of play are plenty of ‘take that” between players and slaying monsters (which aren’t slayed as much as they are recruited into your party to use their special power). The other strength of the game is the quick play; rules are very light and uncomplicated. Our first game of three players took, with rules explanation, just under one hour. We all agreed that future games will surely go much faster, maybe as short as 30 minutes even for three players.

Here to Slay is not a perfect game. First, you need to make sure you play this game understanding that ‘take that’ is the rule, not the exception. Here to Slay is built upon Challenging other players and stealing or destroying Heroes or Items. In a three-player game it’s very easy for one player to feel beat upon by the others. This is not to say the ‘take that’ element of Here to Slay is necessarily a negative; instead it must be recognized for what is is – an essential element of the game design that not all may enjoy.

IMG_0617

My second quibble with Here to Slay may be more from my age but I don’t think even the youngsters these days would disagree. While the artwork in Here to Slay is incredible, the layout of the cards creates challenges in play. Specifically, the size and font used of the cards. It appears to me that in their quest to show off the art, Unstable Unicorns reduced text size to the point the thin font used is difficult to read unless you have the card literally in front of you. Reading a card across the table becomes challenging if not outright impossible. Although there is some graphical symbology used, it too is smaller in size and helpful, but not helpful at the same time.

Here to Slay will take its place in the RockyMountainNavy Family Game Collection alongside where Quarriors (WizKids) sits. Both games are light fantasy with cards and plenty of ‘take that.’ Both are relatively quick playing (less than 60 minutes) and can be ‘long fillers’ or part of a multi-play game night. Of the two, Here to Slay is far more portable so maybe it will be a travel game too.


Feature image courtesy Here to Slay Kickstarter campaign

Family root issues of a #boardgame #wargame – Root (@LederGames, 2018)

pic4608840Although I have owned Root (Leder Games, 2018) since I was a late backer, until this weekend I have only played the game solo or against my alter gaming ego, Mr. Solo. With a notice in my inbox announcing that my Kickstarter fulfillment of the latest expansion, Root: The Underworld Expansion, was shipping, I finally decided to bite the bullet and bring this game to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. For our first full-up play it had some rough points but overall the game shined.

To help introduce the game we set up the walkthrough. We found it not very helpful. I think as moderately experienced gamers it actually slowed us down. I think that with moderately experienced or more gamers can be given an explanation of the rules with an emphasis on what is the same across all factions (movement, combat, Crafting) and then a walkthrough of each board (Birdsong, Daylight, Evening) is sufficient at the start of play. Being able to describe the different root game mechanics (no pun) of each faction (engine building, programed action, deck building) also helped us understand how faction plays differently within the shared game environment.

We played a three-player game with the Marquis de Cat (RockyMountainNavy T), the Woodland Alliance (RockyMountainNavy Jr), and the Eyrie (myself) seated around the game table in that order.

Early in the game, the Fox Dominance card came out. Both RockyMountainNavy Boys became fixated on the card and very curious about what it represented. At the time it appeared, both the Marquis and the Woodland Alliance each ruled two fox clearings. So tempting was the card that both RMN Boys lost focus on their basic VP generation path. More experienced players know that going for a Dominance win in Root is difficult; newbie players don’t have the benefit of that experience. It therefore came as little surprise that one of the Boys (Jr – Woodland Alliance) grabbed up the showing Fox Dominance card as soon as he could. Nor was it surprising that very soon after the Fox Dominance was picked up that RMN T (Marquis) played the Bird Dominance card he had in his hand.

Not only did the playing of the Dominance cards totally change the character of the game, but the subsequent play (fully legal) of RMN Jr. almost derailed the entire night. Our general inexperience with the game allowed the Woodland Alliance to spread much Sympathy and accumulate way too many Supporters. RMN Jr used brought the hammer down and staged multiple Revolts with, alas, the main target of most of the Revolts being the Marquis. Thus, RMN T saw several clearings get wiped out. This was a major “take that” moment of the game, much more powerful than any of us expected. Now, RMN T is my Autism Spectrum boy that has challenges dealing with major changes in his environment. The multiple Revolts, all aimed at him, and the major reduction of his position on the board almost unhinged him. He was very angry – almost to the point I was ready to end the game. The only thing that kept hi in was that he recognized that the Woodland Alliance was now very near their dominance win condition and he swore vengeance. The next few turns there was a major ‘catfight’ with clearings bouncing back and forth between the Alliance and Marquis. Both came very close to their win condition only to be knocked back at the last moment by the other.

Meanwhile, my Eyrie kept plodding along. I went through several leaders as I repeatedly fell into Turmoil as I was unable to fulfill my Decree. Gradually, the Marquis and Woodland Alliance recognized that they had left me alone for too long. They both then turned their attention to me – and it was brutal. Fortunately, I had just enough Roosts out and a useful Leader with a good Decree that even as they knocked me back I still was able to satisfy my Decree and generate enough VP to reach the victory.

My winning was probably the best outcome on several levels. First, if RMN Jr had won after what he did to his older brother, I don’t think the older one would ever play Root again. Likewise, if RMN T had won his younger brother would likely never play again because he would feel ‘punished’ by this brother after what he did to him. Next, the fact that both lost when playing a Dominance card showed them that maybe they need to stay focused on their basic win conditions like the Eyrie did. Additionally, we all learned the lesson that you have to keep an eye on the other and understand their way of play to keep them in check. This is perhaps the hardest element of playing Root for not only do you have to ‘know thyself’ but you have to ‘know thy enemy’ too. In Root the fact that every faction plays differently creates a learning challenge that can only really be overcome by multiple plays with multiple exposures to the different factions. As it is, this first game of Root was rough  and although I feel it will land on the gaming table again I will have to be careful about how the new factions are introduced.

On the very positive side, all of us agreed the art in Root is incredible. RMN Jr wants to explore the game and play different factions. RMN T is less positive, but will likely play again if done right. That’s my Root challenge.

IMG_0084

 

Tough Game Night Moments – thoughts on rules, factions, and “take that”

After missing the RockyMountainNavy Game Night for two weeks the boardgame Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) landed on the table. Although there are other games unplayed waiting for a slot at the table, like AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) we pulled Enemies of Rome out at the request of the youngest RMN Boy as it matches what he is studying in history at school.

It did not go so well.

I have said before that Enemies of Rome is not the game it appears to be. What looks like an area control game is actually a Battle Royale. Glory Points are scored by winning battles which means one must think very offensively. Although the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have played Enemies of Rome ten times now, and even discussed the victory demands, it has yet to fully sink in to the Middle RMN Boy. In tonights game, like the last one, he “turtled” early and fell far behind in points as he built up his forces without attacking any of the enemies of Rome. Unfortunately, the enemies of Rome also were building up their forces right in his neighborhood. It also did not help that the Youngest RMN Boy chose to lash out at his brothers outposts and seized several provinces. As a result, Middle RMN fell far behind in points and was very sullen and not fully into the game.

It would be very easy for me to blame this on his Autism Spectrum condition but that’s too easy. Tonight was a good reminder that, no matter how familiar one is with a game, it behooves players to review some of the basic rules and mechanics of a game. In this case, a gentle reminder to all that Glory Points are earned by attacking is only part of it. A review of the die odds is also helpful. If one waits for overwhelming odds in their favor they will fall behind. I know that I often gamble with 2:1 or 3:2 attacks because I recognize the need to generate Glory Points. I save the 3:1 or 4:1 attacks for battles against other Legions because the penalty for losing those battles is loss of Glory Points.

zm7124_box_front_520px
Courtesy Z-Man Games

I think Enemies of Rome will sit on the shelf for a bit and cool off. This doesn’t mean we will be hurting for games; indeed, it clears the way (and maybe even creates a demand) to get the semi-cooperative AuZtralia to the table. All the RMN Boys are also excited that the cooperative Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018) has been shipped. As a family, we really enjoy Pandemic and the Middle RMN Boy has proven to be a bit of a whiz at playing. I hope that these games in particular bring joy to the gaming table.

Dk_yqCEWsAki4_HIn the same vein, this weekends events have forced me to reconsider introducing Root (Leder Games, 2018) to the RMN Boys. The asymmetric nature of the different player factions in Root demands that each player play a bit differently. For the Middle RMN Boy this may be challenging. I remember the first time we played with the Invaders from Afar Expansion to Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) and the Middle RMN Boy got a whole new faction. He struggled mightily to figure out how the faction worked. When he tried to watch his brother and I play our factions it was of little help because every faction plays differently. Root may work if I can convince him to play the first time the using the Marquis de Cat as I think that faction is mechanically the most straight forward.

As a wargamer, a game with a “take that” mechanic doesn’t offend me. However, events like this weekend’s game reminds me that not all players are like me. I don’t think I will ever fully turn into a Eurogamer with their “let’s just all get along and make a farm” attitude but bringing out more games with less “take that” for the Family Game Night probably won’t hurt.

Featured image courtesy Worthington Publishing.