Pimp My Board Game

a pursuit of fruitless endeavors and endless refinements

Tag: hnefatafl

Gen Con 50 Recap Day 2

As I said in my Day 1 report, seeing the Time of Legends: Joan of Arc display case had me ditching events to check it out in the dealer hall.   My friend and I lined up at the appropriate entrance and bee-lined to the Mythic Games booth to sit down for a demo as soon as the hall opened.

This game isn’t a full tabletop minis game but it really tries to blur the line between board game and miniatures game. The design immerses you in the setting by adding physical terrain pieces instead of cardboard templates or drawn in graphics.  The miniatures themselves help limit the need for any text or rules on the actual play surface as every thing it taken care of on stat cards set off to the side.

The system is supposedly set up to handle full-on tactical combat scenarios where the goal is mainly combat focused, as well as combat light or even no combat “investigation” scenarios that will play more like a deduction board game.  This second type of game wasn’t really explained in much detail and no purely deductive scenario was available so I’m not sure how that will really work.

Instead, they had a hybrid scenario that combined the combat elements with the investigation style mechanics.  This particular scenario centered around a werewolf hiding in the village and the local Lord called in to help deal with the issue.  All the scenarios in Joan of Arc are rich in historical mythology of the era and this scenario was no exception. The rules will talk about an actual legend from the time period that the particular scenario is dealing with this one featuring a village overrun by wolves and stolen church artifacts.  The priest in the village asked for the Lord of the area to help and so we have one side playing the French Lord hero coming into the village with the priest.

The other player is playing the werewolf.  The wolf is hidden as one of the villagers, secretly chosen at the beginning of the game. The wolf player needs to survive 6 rounds and the French player needs to discover the werewolf and kill him.

The game is played in game rounds, each player taking their entire turn before the other player takes their turn.  Turns are given a set number actions depending on the unique card that is revealed at the start of the round. These actions are then allocated as the player sees fit until they are either done and want to save actions for later or they have no more actions to spend.  The actions available vary per scenario but basic actions are moving and interacting (or attacking).

What struck me as interesting in this game were the varied action options.  In this scenario, I could ride in with my hero and priest and talk to a witch living in a nearby glade (on the map). Talking with her was done through a randomly drawn card by the opposing player. That player read the two discussion options I had and then, after I chose which path to take, told me the result.

Later, I had the chance to interrogate the villagers, one of whom is the werewolf.  If my knight is doing the interrogation, he rolls a die and a positive result means the other player must answer my question truthfully (yes or no questions only). If the result fails, they can lie or ignore me.  If I want to be ruthless, I can just start cutting down the villagers but this is risky in that each villager I kill that isn’t the werewolf burns an entire turn, accelerating the ending and my loss.  I must confess, I grew frustrated with these stupid peasants and their lies (couldn’t roll a success to save my life) so I did chop one innocent down. It didn’t bring the others in line…

The priest, however, can ask villagers questions but they can’t lie (no die roll).  These questions are always yes or no answers (no “who is the werewolf” instant win questions).  Finally, I asked the right question and the werewolf was revealed. The options in this game expand ever more as the buildings aren’t just pretty terrain, you can go inside them (via a cut out template depicting the interior) and gain clues or items or more. The werewolf turned out to be a villager that had made its way into a secret crypt in the church and was busy praying to it’s dark God.

I surrounded the church and fought my way in, past the werewolf’s wolf pack guards and cornered the beast in the crypt.  With one turn remaining, I was able to score the killing blow on the last die roll to win the game.  It created a very epic story and my friend and I enjoyed the game so much, we cleared Saturday morning to race over and play the other scenario.

While I was standing around chatting with the designers, another of the werewolf scenarios was wrapping up and ended in equally epic style with a last round, last die roll werewolf kill. Bodes well for game balance, at least for new players.  The game comes to Kickstarter October 10th and I will definitely be backing this excellent game.

Having wrapped up what will end up being the best new game at the Con, I walked around the Mythic Games booth to see the Monolith Games side as they had another game I was interested, their new Batman game.

They had a great looking display and with the game “engine” based on their Conan game, I thought it might be pretty interesting. I checked out the models in the display case and they all looked great.

Probably having nothing to do with the great diorama they set up.

Then something struck me.  That diorama looked great and really set the tone for the game I’d really like to play.  But when I looked over at the demo table…

Hmm… I want to play the scene that is going on in that display case, not the drab 2D map with board-gamey lines all over it.  Then it hit me, I do play the game in the case with Knight Models’ Batman Miniature Game.  With this (obvious) epiphany, I moved on without even trying a demo.

Having ditched my only event, for the day, I had plenty of time to wander. So I went searching for some industry friends and checked out some other interesting dealer hall items.

Pandemic Legacy Season 2 had a preview demo going on but I avoided it to not witness any spoilers.

Santorini had a great giant version of the game set up for play.

The event hall had a massive 54 mm fantasy pirate game going on with this awesome 3D ship detailing multiple levels.

I jumped upstairs to see if CGE had anything to show for the new Adrenaline Expansion but all they had was this oversized mock up model of the 6th player pawn.

Spin Master Games is making a nice version of Hnefatafl.  Talking with the production team onsite, I learned they are also making a realistically priced version of Kubb.  I’m really interested to see where this goes.

I caught none other than Lord Snow playing the new Game of Throne themed Catan.  He’s playing red, smart man.

Having exhausted the afternoon in the dealer hall and environs, it was time for me to get to work.  I decided to run a few events of my own again this year, starting with Pitchcar in a “death race” variant I made up.

I’ll do a write up about these custom pieces later but this event featured my new 3D cut car discs.  These were created in CAD and then CNC’d on existing crokinole discs.  Some easy painting later and my complete set of eight cars were ready for this premiere event.

The group loved it and the rules variant held up very well.  I even ended up overselling the event because someone really wanted to join in the game.  It was great fun and had a ton of lead changes and disc flicking shenanigans. After Pitchcar, I went straight into 4 hours of Catacombs games.

These events were also sold out and filled with a lot of fun gamers ready to delve into the flick-filled dungeon.  A couple of surprises were in store for the players as I had some early promos to hand out from Catacombs Conquest (the recent Kickstarter) and I premiered my 3D board that made earlier.   Halfway through the event, Aron West of Elzra Games stopped by and was able to talk to some of the players and even finished out the finale of one of the games.

I brought out the custom Rat King disc that the Catacombs Artist, Kwanchai Moriya, had made for me.  And I also was able to provide the Wyverns of Wylemuir expansion for some enthusiastic Catacombs fans to try out.

The players seemed to have a lot of fun and it was great seeing them all enjoy the games. The event finished a little after midnight so I packed it all up and headed back to the hotel to crash.

Showcase: Hnefatafl, Tablut variant

Earlier this month, I was at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and was inspired by some of the ancient game pieces they had on display to make my own Hnefatafl game.  I posted earlier about how I was making the pieces and sourcing for the board and today I have it all completed.  I’m beyond excited about how it all turned out and can’t wait to start playing the game.

A look back at what I had done before shows that I still needed to stain the “attacker” pieces dark and get the board in from The Merry Merchant. With that now finished we can see the final game in all it’s glory.

To finish off the outside attacher pieces, I decided to go with a dark Espresso stain using another Polyshades 2-in-1 from MinWax.  I used the same technique as I did with the lighter pieces and found that I liked the light, brushed approach best.  MinWax recommends two coats but the first coat went on with a lot of brush strokes that I didn’t like at first but as the stain set, the strokes grew soft and created this tiger eye-like look to them and so I ended up keeping it at one coat.

These dark attacker pieces then contrast very well with the light stained defenders.

As you can see from above, the board is not just some simple burned in squares but rather, The Merry Merchant put a lot of excellent imagery into the design as well.

The designs aren’t just there to look pretty though. They help guide the player to set up the board and know where the victory positions are (the four outside corners).  I can’t praise quality of this piece enough.

When everything is all done, the board folds and gathers into a bag to hold all the pieces.  With everything complete, now all that is left is to play.  Since it travels so easily, I’ll likely bring it almost anywhere.


Tafl Making: Following the Obsession to its Logical Conclusion

As I discussed last week, I was pretty excited about seeing some 8th Century board games.  The more I researched into what the games might be, the more intrigued I became and so I decided to make a replica of that Tafl game (I assume it is Tablut) so that I can play it and complete the circle, so to speak.

If we look back at that artifact, we have these simple rounded pieces that were legitimate and some replica board.  It’s hard to say how well the curators did on the replica of that board since there weren’t any images of the original.

While I’d like to replicate exactly what I saw, I realize that I also want to be practical and so for the board, I’m going to go a different route and make it a traveling game, so the board I make will be flexible and easily transportable.

I thought about making a board but then found some nice options on Etsy, in particular this version from The Merry Merchant:

image from The Merry Merchant’s Etsy listing

That is perfect for what I’m going for so I ordered one and it will arrive in a few weeks or so.

With the board out of the way, I started working on the pieces.  The semi-round pieces from the museum item looked approximately like spheres with a flat side cut out.  Not wanting to have to cut 25 of these out myself, I looked around and found that they are approximately the same as wooden drawer knobs.  I found a set of 1 inch wooden knobs pretty cheap at my local hobby/craft store so I picked up enough to experiment on.  The 1.25″ knobs are closer to the museum item’s size but seem a bit unwieldy for a travel game. I could also have gone smaller at 3/4th inch knobs but I think the flat surface would be small enough that the pieces would tend to roll around a lot.

The knobs are perfect for another reason.  They have a very handy hole in the bottom and I can mount them on craft sticks to make it easy to stain.

For the staining of the main “king” or “Swedes” pieces I wanted to go a bit dark so I stained them in a 2-in1 polyurethane blend in dark walnut.  I tried two approaches, one where I run a light coat over and let it dry and the other where I dip the knob completely, let it soak, then wipe the excess stain off. I ended up preferring the darker coat/dry approach so I finished out the required nine pieces in this style.

I needed a way to distinguish the “king” piece so I tried two options with gold spray paint. The first one was to make the entire piece gold and leave a cross symbol in the original wood stain

The second option was to emphasize the wood stain and accent with a golden cross.

I printed out a quick board to lay the pieces out and decide which one I liked better.  The printout was just a mock up as the true board size will need to be 9 inches x 9 inches, which won’t work on standard Letter-sized paper.

I’m more partial to the less glitzy, gold cross accented piece so I’ll go with it. Traditionally, the outside pieces (“Muscovites”) are dark so I’ll likely go real dark with a black stain.  I ran out of time for that so it’ll wait for when I have the board in hand.

Pimping Games in the 8th Century

A new exhibit opened up at our local History Museum titled “Vikings: Beyond the Legend” and it caught my attention so we decided to check it out.  While going through a lot of the standard museum artifacts and the kids were busy talking to several of the reenactors the exhibit had, I stumbled upon a set of artifacts that caught my eye.

Board games! Viking ones! I immediately started reviewing the scant information they had on this and asked around about the pieces but there was very little info.

What little info they did have was that the board was a reconstruction (it would have been nice to see what the original survived as) but the other pieces were all from a grave site and made of varying materials. It was a bit disappointing that there was so little information about these pieces.  The exhibit didn’t try to explain what the game might be or even what approximate year they came from.

I got home and started doing some digging and found that the grave sites likely came from this site in Sweden, which dates from the 8th-10th Century AD.

Now that we had a date, it was time to look into the game itself.  At the exhibit, I thought it looked similar to some of the Nordic Tafl games like Hnefatafl but the piece layout at the exhibit was strange.  That was, until I realized the curators likely just set up some pleasing image and had no clue how to set anything up since they didn’t bother trying to research what games it could have been.

Realizing that they likely just set up something to look nice, the reconstructed board still was smaller than I remembered. Doing a bit more research revealed that the 9 x 9 grid board was commonly thought to be used for the most documented Tafl game variant: Tablut thought to be of Finnish origin.

Ironically, this historical game was made modern in the 70’s by Milton Bradley, called Swords and Shields.

The exhibit also had some pieces that didn’t quite survive their 1000+ year slumber.

I was fascinated also by the dice.

Gaming historians don’t have a complete collection of rules for most Tafl games but a lot of the finds have dice so the belief is they played a role in the games but exactly what, we don’t really know.  Conjecture is that it was used to possible dictate the moves a piece can make or whether the piece could move at all.

I find the shape (even broken and partly incomplete on the bottom side) to be amusing.  I wouldn’t expect a “fair and balanced” die to appear in the 8th Century but I would have thought they would have tried to make the die a little more square. Maybe they liked the odd weighting tossing this die would yield and I wonder if it played into the game’s strategy as I doubt they would dismiss obvious improbable results for long.

The game pieces weren’t always of antler and bone as these interesting pieces are from Elk teeth instead.

All of this has got me itching to get a copy of some of these Tafl games and try them out.  They look like fun abstract games and see the history behind them makes for a fascinating connection to gaming in the past.

Lastly, its also great to see that pimping out games has been around for a very long time.  Check out the gilded bronze top on that “king” piece.

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