Back in May, I got the chance to head out to Friend Taylor again and throw down some more games. It was a good time and I got to see a few new games of interest. We usually focus on miniatures games but this time, the time was 50/50 board games.

To kick things off, we started with some classic Rangers of Shadowdeep. Last time I was out here, we ended up hitting a campaign for most of the trip.

Because this time around, we had more people coming in and out, we left up the board after narrowly getting through the first mission of the Burning Light campaign. It had some fun hijinks as Taylor ditched his wayward companions and decided to explore further. This overreach almost lost us most of the team but we triumphed in the end and got clues to explore more of the abandoned keep.

With more friends arriving, we decided to hit a new board game, Foundations of Rome. This game is pimped out to excess (just the way I like it). The box is almost a full cube in size and holds tons of plastic buildings to get your city-building-game itch on.

For all its presence, it is a very simple drafting/area control game. It has a lot of nice things going for it and we actually hit the game three different times. We threw in several different micro expansions to see what they offered and all are solid additions. The game is quite fun but is one I would never own. The shelf footprint eats up way too much space and the cost maxes out what I’d ever consider as reasonable for a game of this weight. This is a very fun $50 game experience locked behind a $150+ paywall. It is a game that belongs in a game convention or store library for people to pull out and have a great time.

Foundations of Rome ended the first night and in some discussions with Taylor, he told me about a light skirmish game called Relicblade. It sounded interesting so I skimmed the rules later that night and we decided to throw down a quick demo game before people started to arrive again.

Using the Storms of Kural starter set, I took the good guys (Advocate) while Taylor pulled the bad guys (Adversaries). We did an easy mission of trying to light three central pyres and away we went.

The game is rules-light and played on a 2′ x 2′ game area that wants a lot of terrain. The art style leans on the cute side of fantasy with a cartoony bend. This is refreshing as so much of my gaming is for serious adults pushing their serious miniatures around a serious and fate-of-the-world-critical scenario. The game is based on d6s and has target values for the actions you want to take. Characters have an action pool they use to execute all the things they want to do and it is very intuitive.

Led by my gnomish sharpshooter, the Advocates quickly overwhelmed the forces of bad and ended up decimating them to the point where they could no longer finish the mission objectives. Taylor even had an extra figure he wasn’t going to use and gave me my first “hit.” Ever the smart dealer, he knew this would be the tipping point for me and sure enough, I went in and picked up a set of minis for further exploration.

After the Relicblade demo, we moved on to the main event: Dracula’s America. I’ve been focusing on Dracula’s America from the non-supernatural angle but Friend Musgrove and Taylor wanted to explore the full game. I built a Twilight Order posse and we set up a three player map filled with some very interesting dimensional mechanics.

The mission had the posse’s exploring a ghost town that literally would phase in and out of the spirit realm. Taylor’s Skinwalker tribe excels at passing in and out of spirit realm so he would have a leg up.

Taylor was playing the Red Hand Coven, the natural enemy of my Twilight Order. One thing that is interesting is the campaign has each posse deciding whether they are fighting on the side of Order or Chaos. While this may seem obvious as “order = good, chaos = bad,” it is actually not that simple. If you are really getting into the narrative theme of the setting, Dracula is the firmly established President of the US. His reach is national and his Red Hand is keeping the peace in most of the territories and states. That actually aligns them with the “order” as they are trying to keep the current status quo.

“Chaos” can be seen as trying to subvert the status quo and overthrow the current regime. But even this can be viewed differently and is really open to interpretation. It is an interesting little twist to the beginning of the campaign as victory is tracked game by game and the “winner” then has a narrative result that furthers the history of the setting. The only real requirement is that you have to have equal numbers of players for each side (or as equal as you can).

The game went on a bit too long and I take full responsibility for that, not because I played too slow (which is a common occurrence) but rather, I did not have a tight grip on all the supernatural rules and we had our noses in rule books a lot of the time. In spite of that, I thought it went well with a lot of twists and flips in who was winning as the spirit realm kept flipping things back and forth on us and supernatural events came into play, causing some crazy unanticipated challenges. All of this cemented our like for the game and I look forward to hitting it more in the future.

As the day moved into night, more people showed up and we decided to set up and learn a five player game of Star Trek Ascendancy. This sprawling 4X-ish game was one that had interested me when I first heard of it years ago. We never got a chance to try it but with everyone onboard, we put it to the table.

I chose Romulans and almost immediately felt attacked by the those snobby Vulcans. The game has you exploring systems out into the open board until you can make contact with another player system. The open board means you can force this to happen early by head directly to another player or avoiding it and building in ways to push forward as slowly as possible. In my mind, I thought this meant that players would have a little bit of time to build out and establish things before bringing trade and war to the table.

The Vulcans don’t need contact, however and can just plop down into your sections and occupy the systems you explored and Musgrove did that right away to me and few other players. Romulans are terrible at trading so this gained me nothing and actually lost me some of the space I was trying to tame. I declared open war on Vulcan and spent all my energy building a force to wipe those dirty Spocks off my land. Then I turtled into a very xenophobic stance, castling territory and never allowing trade or anything to come my way. Eventually I did make contact and while everyone else was having a great time trading and making massive armadas to eventually launch the galaxy into full-scale war, I started hoarding resources. Soon I realized, I was gaining the right resource to convert to victory points and ultimately win the game. I played small and weak, slowly acquiring what I needed and then all hell broke loose. All the trade alliances died as massive armadas roamed the galaxy destroying system after system. Luckily, my area had few inroads and Vulcan overextended too early. As the only neighbor with real connections to my network of systems, he was a buffer against these aggressors and I silently took the victory points needed to eek out a win a turn before the aggressive races could gain their own victory.

The game was quite long at five hours but a great game to play in a convention or house con setting where you have the time and everyone is relaxed.

The next morning, Musgrove, Taylor and I threw down Mantic’s Armada. This naval combat game is based Warlord’s Black Seas. As I’m not a fan of the fantasy ships Mantic has created, I wasn’t really interested in getting into this game but would definitely demo it.

Taylor and I built half force armada’s against Musgrove’s large fleet. I ran Orcs as they were supposed to be easier and didn’t really bother with magic. Taylor and Musgrove did throw everything they could include magic and other shenanigans at each other. The game is fun but I still am not a fan of a lot of the minis. I’m not sure how to compare to Firelock Games Oak & Iron as I don’t feel like Colton and I got in a good game of it to really see it in action. Oak & Iron seemed more realistic as a naval game but didn’t seem as compellingly fun as Mantic’s Armada which ignored a lot of the basic rules for how ships actually sail in the open ocean. Apparently the system has rules for more logical use of wind and sail but we didn’t really use it. I may look into Black Seas later but all of that will have to wait as my dance card is too full to add it to the queue of games I’m already in or plan to get into.

We ended the game-a-thon weekend with a group game of Massive Darkness 2. This is another set of heavy plastic minis based dungeon crawler. I’ve never played the video game or the first version of the game and didn’t really understand the concept of dark and light (they seemed reversed to me). It is a game that looks pretty great on an individual minis basis but falls apart when actually trying to play it.

I seriously don’t know what CMON is thinking creating a bunch of awesome minis and then throwing them en masse into cramped board spaces like lame tokens. Repeatedly, we would have stacks of 5-10 minis in a space that could maybe hold 3 comfortably.

The game mechanics are fine though. To quote Taylor, it takes you from “zero to hero” in the span of one adventure and can be played as fun one-offs or a campaign. We went through a boss fight so the one-off was a bit more involved but it was nice to see that even between the one-off and campaign options, there is even more options to play a big one-off and get an epic feel from it. The game plays more like a puzzle than a narrative dungeon crawler but that is what Rangers of Shadowdeep is for. I find most boardgame dungeon crawls to be more of puzzle game with dice so this does that pretty well.

As always, it was a lot of fun hitting all these new games and meeting some new people while reconnecting with Taylor and Musgrove. A big thanks to Taylor for hosting again and I look forward to doing it again.