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NaNoWriMo NOVEL PROGRESS


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FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ARKHAM CITY ESCAPE BOARD GAME

Today, my 12 year old son and I got to sit down and play Arkham City Escape for the first time since I had picked it up at my FLGS on Wednesday. First, we played a “learning session” of the game for about 45 minutes before breaking to go see the new Star Trek movie. Then, tonight, we played our first full game.

Both times I was the Villains and my son played Batman. We used Side A of the board and in the learning game he used the recommended Utility Belt cards (Detective Mode, Line Launcher, Batclaw, Batarangs). In the full session, he switched to random draw for those cards (R.E.C., Explosive Gel, Batarangs, and the promo card, Hotline to Oracle).

COMPONENTS & SETUP
The components are good, but there’s no “wow factor” to them. Primarily, this is a card-based game with a board for the spatial/movement component. There are also custom dice — eight action/combat dice and one experience die for Batman. The hero gets a cardboard standup but the villains are all on cards that are played facedown on the board and become faceup when they reveal themselves or Batman moves to attack them. The art on the cards is from the “Arkham City” video game and there are some gritty, interesting depictions of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery and allies. The graphic design is clear and effective in communicating the information on each card.

The rulebook is also a good primer on the game, including several excellent play examples. There are some questions that popped up during play that I’m not sure were explicitly covered by the rulebook, but they were easy enough to rule on based on the framework that was there. I’ll be reading back through to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

The board itself features a large Hex overlay on an image of Arkham City, and the fact that there is some kind of quasi-immersive imagery on the board is good — although, again, it is “good enough” rather than special. I’d put it on the same level as the board from Monsters Menace America and a far cry from virtually any Fantasy Flight game board you might think of. In my estimation, it falls just short of the function and fashion of the Summoner Wars deluxe board. However, I give props to Cryptozoic for making a double sided board for replayability and it’s definitely plenty good enough for fairly flavorful play.

In addition to the utility belt cards, which are items that have to use “charges” to function, Batman has a hand of combat cards. It starts at five and he gets to draw one at the end of every turn. The cards have “combo” points that generate dice Batman can use to try to capture villains and the cards might also have other effects, most interestingly ones that “combo” with utility belt items or terrain features on the board to have amplified effects.

There are 10 “setup” cards distributed on the board at the beginning of the game. Half of them are beneficial to the Villain player in some way and half of them are beneficial to the hero. They are hidden at first and become revealed when a faceup villain or Batman moves onto the space. If it is an ally and a faceup villain moves onto that space, they capture the ally and it will be worth more victory points if that villain can escape with the hostage. If an ally is revealed in another way or freed from the villain, it has an effect that helps Batman. Other features include Gargoyles that Batman can grapple to, chaining movement across the board, or things like penguins that benefit the villain by giving him more action dice or there might be more villains that spring up and try to break free.

The villain player also starts with five cards and draws one at the end of every turn. These cards are one-off actions or villains trying to escape, from top shelf baddies like The Joker or Hush to mooks like Lunatics or Henchmen.

ELEMENTS OF PLAY
The villain player is trying to move his Villains across the board and escape off the far side, earning victory points for each bad guy that busts loose. Batman is trying to fight and capture those ne’er-do-wells and he earns victory points for those he puts away. The first player to 10 VPs wins.

The villain takes the first turn, and begins each turn rolling four of the action/combat dice. Each die has a 50/50 success/failure potential, and for each success, the villain gets to take one action. These range from placing up to five villain cards on the board, moving all face-down villain cards one space each, moving a single face-up villain two spaces or a single face-up villain with a hostage one space.

Villains also have free actions, such as turning a card faceup (perhaps to reveal one of the setup cards on the same space) or playing a “free action” card from his hand, which might beef up a revealed villain or bring a new baddie onto the board.

The Batman player can move Batman once, either a single space, or two-spaces (or more if he chains the move) to a gargoyle, or from one sewer space to the other elsewhere on the board. He also has equipment like the line-launcher that can move him on the board without using his move action. Batman can use any or all of his utility belt items as long as he has charges to fuel the effects, and he will fight any villain if he moves onto that villain’s space or that villain moves onto his.

To fight, Batman plays combat cards to generate combo points, which provide him dice on a one-to-one basis to use to fight a villain, trying to overcome that bad guy’s capture value with successes (5 for Killer Croc, 2 for Lunatics, etc.). If he generates enough successes on the dice, he captures the villain and adds the card to his victory pile. A big villain might be worth 3 or more victory points while a goon will only be a single point. Additionally, a successful capture lets Batman roll the experience die, which can recharge items, or bring out allies or useful terrain features. If the Dark Knight fails to generate enough successes to take down the villain, he will suffer the Villain card’s “retaliation” effect, which might move the hero or take away combat cards, etc.

Obviously there are card effects that change some of these rules, but that’s the gist of it.

The fun in the game comes from the cat-and-mouse nature of it. Batman often doesn’t know what villains are heading his way, and he could end up whacking on worthless henchmen while big villains get away, or he could end up burning resources in a big fight with The Joker, weakening himself for several turns while his hand of combat cards regenerates.

Both players can spring unexpected traps on the other — if it’s the villain card that nukes 4 of Batman’s combat cards when revealed or if it is Batman’s explosive gel item that enables him to unexpectedly blast a couple of adjacent villains with four-dice attacks.

PLAYING THE GAME
I must admit, the first “learning” session we played felt very flat. I was immediately struck by a pang of worry that this game was one of those exercises that exists solely to exploit a license. Sliding cards around on a board — many of them facedown — lacks the immersive quality of, say, Space Hulk with its awesome miniatures, tiles and thematic (and more importantly wieldy blip tokens). Sure, I could force myself to think, “Hah! He’s paying attention to that henchman while the Riddler is sneaking out the other side!” But, it felt more like pushing cards around slowly on the board while Batman, somewhat ineptly, tried to intercept those cards and failed to capitalize on heaps of combat cards as his dice offered up few successes. Worse, the thin, flat cards are more difficult than tokens to flip over discretely and remind yourself which villain you have where.

Still, my son and I could see the potential for some interesting combos and traps, and so — after aborting that first foray into Arkham City for a trip to see the new Star Trek flick — we made a point to get back to the game later and give it another shake.

We’re awfully glad we did.

The second game showed off a great deal more of what the game does well and, more importantly to me, generated a pretty cool narrative of a mob of villains pouring through Arkham City on a quest for freedom.

I was able to spring traps like “Sewer Surprise” on Batman, deploying a hero halfway across the board, only to cringe when he revealed explosive gel and blasted away at the lunatics that tried to surround him. Killer Croc took Robin hostage and sprinted off the board, only to see Mr. Freeze get dropped by a flurry of strikes.

Batman jumped out to an early lead in VPs, but his efforts gave me opportunities to react with a couple of helicopter lifts to spring villains and hostages off the board in a hurry. After a half hour or so, he and I each had 7 VPs, and my son looked at me with a smile.

"Are you ready to watch me win the game?" he asked.

"I’d much rather win it myself," I said. "What are you planning?"

Batman combo’d with an inverted attack using a nearby Gargoyle, trying to deliver the coup de grace on Hush, a 4-capture-value villain worth 3 VPs. Batman’s combat cards generated exactly four dice and only two of them were successes. But, before I could taunt my son and execute Hush’s retaliatory ability, the boy played “Counter,” allowing him to reroll his misses. The first die popped up with a success, and my hopes faded. The second rerolled die spun and clattered to a halt, a failure for the caped crusader, and Hush used his retaliation maneuver to sprint across the board, one space shy of escaping.

At the beginning of the villain turn, I rolled my action dice and generated only enough successes to take one action that turn, but it was all I needed for Hush to make the getaway.

That’s the very definition of a close victory. If Batman had earned a single additional success, he would get the 3 VPs he needed to win. When he failed, those same VPs were what the villains needed to secure victory, and fate allowed me to do so.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS
Anyone who has played Mr. Jack will recognize some similarities between the games. In each, the protagonist is attempting to stop a villain or villains from escaping and there are a lot of opportunities for bluffing and using special abilities to move the pieces about in unusual ways to change the game. However, this game is separated by the theme, the fact that the villains and Batman are using their own specific cards to thwart the other, and most especially by the dice. The villain relies on the dice for the number of actions he can take during his turn, and Batman relies on them to win combat and capture the bad guys.

I have heard some lament that the random number of actions for the villains just feels too limiting, but I disagree — having seen the Dark Knight suffer just as much from bad rolls. It gives each player the opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, even in the face of unlikely odds.

The game shines on two fronts. First, both Batman and the Villains have lots of “ace up the sleeve” type moments, with plenty of opportunities to reveal a card in exactly the right situation to foil the other player’s efforts. The second is in the combos that can be executed, either between combat cards + utility belt items and/or terrain features — or villain cards + free actions that can bolster them or move them about unexpectedly, turning a simple henchman into a card-draining opponent for Batman or rapidly moving an arch villain off the board with a hostage in tow.

Additionally, while I have not been shy in lamenting the lack of clear narrative in Cryptozoic’s DC Deckbuilding Game (which I like in spite of that shortcoming), Arkham City Escape can generate some very cool scenes which chain together to create a pretty fun little story. I don’t think the game design or card design is necessarily as strong or interesting as the DC DBG, but the mechanics might marry up with the theme better, creating a satisfying experience in its own right.

The game is light and the components aren’t awe-inspiring, but there’s definitely a place in my collection for a game with a highly attractive theme that plays very differently from many other games on my shelves.

Getting back to my earlier comparison, I think Mr. Jack is a better, more elegant game, but my boy is probably going to err on the side of a game with Batman in it, and that’s going to bring this one to the table more frequently in my house. The addition of the combat elements and dice-based resolution give it a comfortable degree of separation from Mr. Jack, too.

If you don’t like the theme, though, I’m not sure there’s enough here to justify the purchase.

One and a half plays isn’t enough to really rate the game, but my gut feeling is that this game’s ceiling is no higher than 7.5 and its basement is probably a 6. So, split the difference for now and call it a 6.75 based on first impressions. That makes it a keeper for me and probably many others, but I wouldn’t expect to see it in many top ten lists.

Top: The dracolich corners a drow blademaster as dark elven wizards hurl magic up the corridor — using Terraclips 3D terrain for Dungeon Command.

Middle Left: A vampire attempts to collect treasure before being assaulted by a drider

Middle Right: A skeletal lancer attempts to hold the bottleneck against a drider and a drow wizard

Bottom Left:  A zombie shambles toward the nearest treasure while two drow wizards gather across the dungeon in their staging area

Bottom Right: An overhead view of our Terraclips 3D dungeon terrain we used for a game of Dungeon Command. The more intricate structure made for interesting tactical decisions as well as thematic immersion.

So, when the world’s leading comic book companies each grant their license to a deck-building game, and those games are released within a month of one another, it’s a given that the two will be compared. A quick spin through the forums on BGG will show you folks beating the drum for one game over the other. In many cases, logic is thrown completely out the window. Some of the arguments for and against each game seem absurd to me, given my experience with each.
I like both, but after several plays of both games, I’m giving the edge to Legendary.
From a game engine standpoint, DC is arguably tighter, but after several plays, I’m disappointed in the implementation of the one currency system. I also have a very difficult time reconciling any kind of story or the true nature of the opposition of the players. Superman vs. Batman doesn’t make sense game in and game out, and that’s before you even get to Superman using the Batmobile or Batman using the dreaded heat vision.What I do to make the narrative work in my head for the DC game is say that each player is creating a comic book. Player A is creating a Batman comic book and Player B is creating a Superman comic book (or whatever characters you’re using). You’re trying to tell the best story, with the most villain take downs and innovative uses of powers, gadgets and guest starring heroes.That works, but I just feel more story with Marvel. The use of scenarios with twists and separate Villain and Hero Decks to be employed by players working in cooperation to deploy champions to slap down villains and foil the mastermind’s plot just feel more like the kind of exercises that should accompany such a heroic theme. I also really enjoy the use of spatial elements in the Marvel game with the spaces on the villain track often having meaning to certain villain powers or schemes. The way villains escape is a nice touch, too.It comes down to this for me: (YMMV)DC Pros •Better use of art•Quicker set up•Tighter mechanically•Presumably scales better•Each player takes on a separate heroic characteristicDC Cons•Odd implementation Theme/Narrative•One currency system is questionable for such a dynamic range of options•Easy to get hosed in card choice by luck of the draw (like Ascension - although the not replacing the cards in the row until the end of the turn helps some) •Horrible box (less horrible if you don’t sleeve)My Score 7Marvel Pros•••Semi-cooperative play + scenario & spatial elements make for better execution of Theme/Narrative•Dual currency system seems to fit dynamic range of options better — making players have to decide to go for Attack Power or Recruiting Power or Balance.•Better card choice for each player each turn•Excellent storage (Space for sleevers, and/or expansions)Marvel Cons•Repetitive Art•Difficulty tends to run on the easy side of things.•Unlabeled Dividers•Longer (albeit often exaggerated) setup time.My Score 8That being said, we’re lucky to have two good deck building options from such excellent comic book IPs. Both games offer some truly bonkers chain/combo opportunities, and I don’t think a buyer can really go wrong with either. It’s kind of like if your only option is to watch Young Justice on TV or go to the movies to see The Avengers. You’re going to win, either way.Ultimately, preference will be a matter of individual tastes, as, objectively, neither game is inherently superior to the other.

So, when the world’s leading comic book companies each grant their license to a deck-building game, and those games are released within a month of one another, it’s a given that the two will be compared. A quick spin through the forums on BGG will show you folks beating the drum for one game over the other. In many cases, logic is thrown completely out the window. Some of the arguments for and against each game seem absurd to me, given my experience with each.

I like both, but after several plays of both games, I’m giving the edge to Legendary.

From a game engine standpoint, DC is arguably tighter, but after several plays, I’m disappointed in the implementation of the one currency system. I also have a very difficult time reconciling any kind of story or the true nature of the opposition of the players. Superman vs. Batman doesn’t make sense game in and game out, and that’s before you even get to Superman using the Batmobile or Batman using the dreaded heat vision.

What I do to make the narrative work in my head for the DC game is say that each player is creating a comic book. Player A is creating a Batman comic book and Player B is creating a Superman comic book (or whatever characters you’re using). You’re trying to tell the best story, with the most villain take downs and innovative uses of powers, gadgets and guest starring heroes.

That works, but I just feel more story with Marvel. The use of scenarios with twists and separate Villain and Hero Decks to be employed by players working in cooperation to deploy champions to slap down villains and foil the mastermind’s plot just feel more like the kind of exercises that should accompany such a heroic theme.

I also really enjoy the use of spatial elements in the Marvel game with the spaces on the villain track often having meaning to certain villain powers or schemes. The way villains escape is a nice touch, too.

It comes down to this for me: (YMMV)

DC Pros
•Better use of art
•Quicker set up
•Tighter mechanically
•Presumably scales better
•Each player takes on a separate heroic characteristic

DC Cons
•Odd implementation Theme/Narrative
•One currency system is questionable for such a dynamic range of options
•Easy to get hosed in card choice by luck of the draw (like Ascension - although the not replacing the cards in the row until the end of the turn helps some)
•Horrible box (less horrible if you don’t sleeve)

My Score 7

Marvel Pros
•••Semi-cooperative play + scenario & spatial elements make for better execution of Theme/Narrative
•Dual currency system seems to fit dynamic range of options better — making players have to decide to go for Attack Power or Recruiting Power or Balance.
•Better card choice for each player each turn
•Excellent storage (Space for sleevers, and/or expansions)

Marvel Cons
•Repetitive Art
•Difficulty tends to run on the easy side of things.
•Unlabeled Dividers
•Longer (albeit often exaggerated) setup time.

My Score 8

That being said, we’re lucky to have two good deck building options from such excellent comic book IPs. Both games offer some truly bonkers chain/combo opportunities, and I don’t think a buyer can really go wrong with either.

It’s kind of like if your only option is to watch Young Justice on TV or go to the movies to see The Avengers. You’re going to win, either way.

Ultimately, preference will be a matter of individual tastes, as, objectively, neither game is inherently superior to the other.

So, we played Last Night on Earth: Timber Peak tonight for the first time. My son Harrison and I were the heroes and we used Timber Peak’s three survivors from Woodinville and JoJo the Dancing Bear (From Invasion from Outer Space). The scenario was “Radio for Help.” My buddy Billy had the Zeds.

Look. I could do a painfully detailed session report here, and maybe I will at some point, but I think it’s best summed out by this:

Suffice it to say, things went poorly for the heroes. They never really had a shot, failing to acquire the Repair Items until the game was way out of hand, and never getting to the tools at all. Ultimately I believe this is because the heroes fell victim to one of the classic blunders.

Apparently, another one is never put Sheriff Anderson and Sally in the same space to defend the generator in the sound booth because your friend Billy will play “This Could Be Our Last Night on Earth,” Followed by “Bickering” the next turn, followed by another “Bickering” (pulled from the discard pile) the turn after that. Damn. I don’t know, Maybe Billy is Sicilian. I suppose I should just be thankful it wasn’t JoJo and Sally in that space. That could have been … weird.

The game ended with three rounds left on the sun track when the Sheriff, Sally and, alas, poor JoJo had been turned into Zombie Heroes fighting to protect the generator. It was painful. Just painful.

Next time, things will go differently. Next time, JoJo’s bringing the hammer.

1.
So, when my 11-year-old wanted to play an RPG, I downloaded the Pathfinder Beginner Box PDF. Missing the physical components, I improvised with Lego Heroica pieces and an iPad.

2.
But I can do more! I’ll try an expensive BattleMap app, an iPad, and an HDTV. Not overly complicated at all! (Damn, the cable keeps popping out of the dock connector!) Why isn’t this fun? Kid has sad.

3.
Screw it. Fetch the dry erase markers and some D&D minis! Oh, yeah. It’s 1986 all over again. The smile on his face. The marker smudges on my hand. This, my friends, is how it’s meant to be.

"Nothing Ventured …"
A look at the risks and rewards of challenging the Lord of Darkness in Talisman: The Dungeon
• • • •
“So,” the thief’s voice rasped out from the shadows of the dark alley, “a troll, a cultist and a swashbuckler walked into the bar —”
Quiet sniggering erupted from the other shadowed figures.
"— No, seriously,” he said. “I’m not joking.”
A tall robed man held up a hand, and silence fell upon the small gathering. With a comfortable gesture of command, he motioned for the thief to continue.
“As I was saying, they came into the tavern, and the cultist — all legs and eyeliner she was — drops a musty old tome on the table and orders a round of drinks for everyone in the room.”
“And you’re sure it was the book,” the tall figure asked.
“Indeed, my lord. She proclaimed it loud enough for all to hear. She said she’d won the Book of Lore from the Lord of Darkness himself, besting him in a contest of darkest sorcery.”
“Boasts do not proof make,” the tall man said.
“That’s why I asked the ferryman, my lord. He said he’d just rowed her over from The Temple, where she had appeared magically in a puff of smoke and brimstone. He said he could hear dark laughter rolling from — well, from whatever sent her there.”
“Intriguing. Where is the cultist now?”
“Errr … well, I’m a bit shady on that part, my lord.”
“And why is that?” the tall man asked, his voice thick with menace.
“Well … it’s just that the drinks were free, and I was thirsty.”
“You got blind drunk and passed out in the corner again, didn’t you, rogue?”
“Y-y-yes,” the thief admitted, stuttering. “But, I didn’t fight the farmer this time!”
Talisman: The Dungeon offers a high-risk / high-reward alternative route to adventurers seeking conquest and glory in the world of Talisman. Rather than engage in the time-honored journey deeper toward the center of this world of peril, a player now has the opportunity to consider another path, one that offers the opportunity gain experience and power in struggles against the powerful denizens of The Dungeon. If the encounters are not fatal, these challenges will often shape the adventurers into powerful heroes, ready to test themselves in the fires of the Inner Region.
Many a questing character, though, will wade into The Dungeon merely for this crucible effect, often backtracking once they feel they’ve seen enough to test their mettle elsewhere, or when they realize they aren’t ready for what The Dungeon holds. Many adventurers who journey into the dark confines of The Dungeon have no intention of following it through to the Treasure Chamber at its end, fearful of the overwhelming might of the Lord of Darkness who lurks there.
For some, the thought of throwing down with a Strength 12 / Craft 12 demigod is not worth whatever bounty the Treasure Chamber may yield. And, while it is certainlypossible to enjoy and benefit from The Dungeon without challenging the Dark Lord, those who shy away from this conflict are missing out on a great opportunity to make a push for the Crown of Command, no matter how convincing the bout’s outcome.
It is easy to fixate on the most potent potential benefit of putting the smackdown on the Lord of Darkness: Instant teleportation to the Crown of Command. However, by no means is the chance for that devastating shortcut the only valid reward one should consider. Eking out even the slimmest victory can make almost as much difference.
Consider some of the rewards of the Treasure Chamber: A Book of Lore that not only adds +1 to the user’s Craft, but allows the bearer to draw one spell at the beginning of each turn if his or her Craft allows. Or, a Clockwork Owl that gives its owner the powerful ability to move any number of spaces up to its die roll, instead of the full distance. These kinds of items can be huge difference-makers in the final rush to the Valley of Fire.
Even if a character bests the Dark Lord by a tiny margin, the victor will still earn powerful treasure and teleport to a space in the outer region — emboldened, empowered and ready to pursue any tried-and-true means of reaching the Crown.
Now evaluate the risk of battling the Lord of Darkness: While the whole of the journey through The Dungeon is harrowing, this single combat ultimately poses no worse threat than any other. Assuming the character has at least two life left at the beginning of this battle, he will do no worse than to lose a single life and be banished to the Crags — escaping The Dungeon without having to cut through its various nasties during a retreat to the surface. Assuming the character is in possession of some sort of armor, the risk is even more mitigable.
Obviously, there are some basic tactics one should consider in using The Dungeon as a path to glory. While neophyte characters have ventured into The Dungeon and emerged as masters of battle, it is far more advisable to attain at least a couple of raises and some useful equipment before plumbing those depths. Treating The Dungeon with the same respect one reserves for the middle region, at least, will make sure that those who make it to the Lord of Darkness are likely to be in a condition to make it a fair fight. Additionally, it’s a good idea to hold on to spells or one-use items that can boost the hero’s effectiveness or diminish that of the opponent when planning to face off with the Dungeon’s master. While spells and allies can’t fight in an adventurer’s place in this challenge, a little augmentation can go a long way.
So, while some will cower and swear that only a fool would dare challenge the Lord of Darkness, it may just be that you’d be a fool not to.

"Nothing Ventured …"

A look at the risks and rewards of challenging the Lord of Darkness in Talisman: The Dungeon

• • • •

So,” the thief’s voice rasped out from the shadows of the dark alley, “a troll, a cultist and a swashbuckler walked into the bar —”

Quiet sniggering erupted from the other shadowed figures.

"— No, seriously,” he said. “I’m not joking.”

A tall robed man held up a hand, and silence fell upon the small gathering. With a comfortable gesture of command, he motioned for the thief to continue.

As I was saying, they came into the tavern, and the cultist — all legs and eyeliner she was — drops a musty old tome on the table and orders a round of drinks for everyone in the room.”

And you’re sure it was the book,” the tall figure asked.

Indeed, my lord. She proclaimed it loud enough for all to hear. She said she’d won the Book of Lore from the Lord of Darkness himself, besting him in a contest of darkest sorcery.”

Boasts do not proof make,” the tall man said.

That’s why I asked the ferryman, my lord. He said he’d just rowed her over from The Temple, where she had appeared magically in a puff of smoke and brimstone. He said he could hear dark laughter rolling from — well, from whatever sent her there.”

Intriguing. Where is the cultist now?”

Errr … well, I’m a bit shady on that part, my lord.”

And why is that?” the tall man asked, his voice thick with menace.

Well … it’s just that the drinks were free, and I was thirsty.”

You got blind drunk and passed out in the corner again, didn’t you, rogue?”

Y-y-yes,” the thief admitted, stuttering. “But, I didn’t fight the farmer this time!”

Talisman: The Dungeon offers a high-risk / high-reward alternative route to adventurers seeking conquest and glory in the world of Talisman. Rather than engage in the time-honored journey deeper toward the center of this world of peril, a player now has the opportunity to consider another path, one that offers the opportunity gain experience and power in struggles against the powerful denizens of The Dungeon. If the encounters are not fatal, these challenges will often shape the adventurers into powerful heroes, ready to test themselves in the fires of the Inner Region.

Many a questing character, though, will wade into The Dungeon merely for this crucible effect, often backtracking once they feel they’ve seen enough to test their mettle elsewhere, or when they realize they aren’t ready for what The Dungeon holds. Many adventurers who journey into the dark confines of The Dungeon have no intention of following it through to the Treasure Chamber at its end, fearful of the overwhelming might of the Lord of Darkness who lurks there.

For some, the thought of throwing down with a Strength 12 / Craft 12 demigod is not worth whatever bounty the Treasure Chamber may yield. And, while it is certainlypossible to enjoy and benefit from The Dungeon without challenging the Dark Lord, those who shy away from this conflict are missing out on a great opportunity to make a push for the Crown of Command, no matter how convincing the bout’s outcome.

It is easy to fixate on the most potent potential benefit of putting the smackdown on the Lord of Darkness: Instant teleportation to the Crown of Command. However, by no means is the chance for that devastating shortcut the only valid reward one should consider. Eking out even the slimmest victory can make almost as much difference.

Consider some of the rewards of the Treasure Chamber: A Book of Lore that not only adds +1 to the user’s Craft, but allows the bearer to draw one spell at the beginning of each turn if his or her Craft allows. Or, a Clockwork Owl that gives its owner the powerful ability to move any number of spaces up to its die roll, instead of the full distance. These kinds of items can be huge difference-makers in the final rush to the Valley of Fire.

Even if a character bests the Dark Lord by a tiny margin, the victor will still earn powerful treasure and teleport to a space in the outer region — emboldened, empowered and ready to pursue any tried-and-true means of reaching the Crown.

Now evaluate the risk of battling the Lord of Darkness: While the whole of the journey through The Dungeon is harrowing, this single combat ultimately poses no worse threat than any other. Assuming the character has at least two life left at the beginning of this battle, he will do no worse than to lose a single life and be banished to the Crags — escaping The Dungeon without having to cut through its various nasties during a retreat to the surface. Assuming the character is in possession of some sort of armor, the risk is even more mitigable.

Obviously, there are some basic tactics one should consider in using The Dungeon as a path to glory. While neophyte characters have ventured into The Dungeon and emerged as masters of battle, it is far more advisable to attain at least a couple of raises and some useful equipment before plumbing those depths. Treating The Dungeon with the same respect one reserves for the middle region, at least, will make sure that those who make it to the Lord of Darkness are likely to be in a condition to make it a fair fight. Additionally, it’s a good idea to hold on to spells or one-use items that can boost the hero’s effectiveness or diminish that of the opponent when planning to face off with the Dungeon’s master. While spells and allies can’t fight in an adventurer’s place in this challenge, a little augmentation can go a long way.

So, while some will cower and swear that only a fool would dare challenge the Lord of Darkness, it may just be that you’d be a fool not to.

Recently my cousin/life-long best friend Hugh visited for the weekend, and we managed to get in a couple of (increasingly rare) Warhammer Fantasy battles.

I fielded my newest army, Chaos Daemons (of Khorne & Tzeentch), while he unleashed a shambling horde of undead led by fearsome Vampire Counts.

In the first game (not seen here), a Lord of Change led my forces and fortune did not smile on me as one bad die roll after another sealed my fate. I watched unit after unit fall to calamity, and the deal was sealed when the Lord of Change himself was ripped into the warp on an unlikely miscast followed by snake eyes on the miscast chart.

So, it was with little hesitation that I totally changed the primary philosophy of my force, punting the Lord of Change in favor of the more straight-forward brutality of a Bloodthirster of Khorne.

Hugh’s army remained unchanged from game to game.

In the first tilt, we had terrain equally dispersed across the battlefield, including a ruined Chaos temple in the middle. As both of our armies are really about just getting to grips with the opponent, we cleared the middle of the table for the second game and decided on blind deployment, using some large game boxes to shield our deployment zones from the opponent.

Once the dividers are removed and you see our respective deployed armies at the beginning of the video, the arrayed forces are as described below.

The Chaos Daemons are on the left side of the screen. Starting with the unit closest to the camera, they are:

• 5 Flesh Hounds of Khorne, led by Karanak
• 20 Horrors of Tzeentch, led by a Changeling (my lone painted unit in this game)
• 1 BloodThirster of Khorne
• 10 Horrors of Tzeentch
• 20 Bloodletters of Khorne
• 2 Bloodcrushers of Khorne, led by a Herald of Khorne on a Juggernaut who is also the BSB (3 cavalry models total in unit)
• 5 Flamers of Tzeentch

The Vampire Counts are on the right side of the screen. Starting with the unit closest to the camera, they are

• Direwolves
• Big ol’ unit of Zombies
• Big ol’ unit of Skeletons, led by a Vampire Hero
• A Vampire Lord leading a unit of Black Knights
• A unit of Fellbats
• A unit of GraveGuard led by a Vampire Hero
• The Black Coach
• A unit of Ghouls

I won the roll for first turn and elected to let Hugh make the first move. He, of course, shuffled his host en masse toward my army.

When it came to my turn, I had a difficult choice, but elected to throw caution aside and charge the Dire Wolves with my Flesh Hounds and the Black Coach with my Bloodthirster. The greater daemon was within his charge range by just a half inch. If I had failed, it pretty much would have been the whole game right there.

As it was, my primary goal was to stop the Black Coach from charging in and ripping apart any of my units with impact hits. It had been nasty in the first game. Also, I anticipated dispatching the coach quickly and, hopefully, would find the Bloodthirster behind Hugh’s battleline where he could wreak havoc with a rear charge.

To cement this, I would bait his other units with my biggest blocks of infantry, the Bloodletters and Horrors.

In close combat, the Bloodthirster didn’t do quite enough wounds to destroy the Black Coach, but the Flesh Hounds mauled the Dire Wolves, overrunning into the unit of Zombies (where they would grind away for most of the game)

During Hugh’s turn, his Lord + Black Knights charged my block of 20 Bloodletters. His Vampire Hero + GraveGuard charged my Herald + Bloodcrushers and his Vampire Hero + Skeletons charged my large unit of Horrors.

His Ghouls shambled forward and his Fellbats moved behind my battle line. His aim, I believe, was to dispatch my Flamers with these units and then have two decent units available for rear charges.

On to close combat:

My heart sank when my best unit from the first game, the Herald + Bloodcrushers, miscalculated in the combat against the Graveguard. My herald declared a challenge, but the Vampire Hero with Killing Blow dispatched him, even doing overkill wounds on the unit, which the rest of the GraveGuard (also with killing blow) finished off. I believe the final wound may have been a failed daemonic instability check. At any rate, a great many points, around 20% of my total, went bye bye in a hurry.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to watch my Bloodletters weather the charge from the Black Knights. I believe they lost a rank, but they stuck in there, and since the deadly charge turn was out of the way, it would be a much more fair fight from that point on. (Note, my Bloodletters are notoriously difficult to rank up, so rather than remove casualties, I marked them with a six-sided die counting out the fallen from each rank.)

Similarly, I was pleased to watch Hugh’s face when my Changeling declared a challenge against his skeletons. He knew something was afoot and accepted with his unit champion. As the changeling gets to pick and choose from his opponent’s best stats and trade with him for the fight, he easily dispatched the champion. Hugh knew his hero would have to accept the same fate or run to the back ranks to hide in the next turn. The rest of the Horrors and Skeletons just began grinding away at one another with somewhat equal degrees of ineptitude.

The Bloodthirster finished off the Black Coach and the Flesh Hounds absolutely tore through the zombies (although, frustratingly, not enough to eliminate them).

All in all, at the end of the turn, I couldn’t feel too bad, even having lost the Bloodcrushers. I had weathered his charges admirably, had an unengaged Bad MoFo Greater Daemon behind his battle line, and was looking to punk another Vampire Hero the next turn with my Changeling.

I began my next turn maneuvering in supporting charges — one from my Bloodthirster slamming into the Black Knights from the side and my smaller unit of Horrors joining their painted brethren with a flank charge against the Skeletons.

My Flamers hopped back up on their hill and tried some shooting, but that would wind up being somewhat depressingly ineffective overall.

The supporting charges were terrifically effective, with the Black Knights being dusted completely except for the Vampire Lord who led them and the Skeletons being largely butchered (mostly by combat result) after my Changeling played his dirty trick in a challenge against the Vampire Hero.

The comedic moment in this round of combat came when my unscathed Flesh Hounds continued their onslaught against the large Zombie unit but, even after combat result, found themselves engaged against a single rotter.

A single, frickin’ zombie, holding up my stupidly dangerous unit of daemonic dogs. It was maddening.

During Hugh’s turn, his Vampire Lord defiantly stood up to a half-strong unit of BloodLetters and the BloodThirster himself while the GraveGuard and Ghouls maneuvered to give support.

This frightened me more than you might think because the GraveGuard, with their killing blow ability, could get a lucky strike against the BloodThirster, putting him down despite his embarrassment of wound points.

Meanwhile, the Fellbats swooped down on the Flamers in a skirmish that would go down in legend and song as, well, a pointless sideshow with no discernible impact on the larger battle.

Ultimately, the GraveGuard and Ghouls rallied to their dark Undead Lord, but they were hopelessly overmatched against the bloodthirsty daemons of Khorne. The lucky Killing Blow never came, the Bloodthirster destroyed the Lord in a challenge and would join the Bloodletters in wiping out the pesky Ghouls and GraveGuard.

Obviously, the battle was well in hand as the Flamers would finish off the Fellbats, and the Flesh Hounds would bite the head off the lone remaining shambler and turn to position themselves to accelerate the demise of the Skeletons, who were now boringly grinding away against the units of horrors in a battle of close-combat lightweights.

At the end of the day, the cries of “Blood for the Blood God, Skulls for the Throne of Khorne” were bordering on, well, just bad hospitality, and we decided that with two wildly different games of Warhammer under our belts, we’d spend the rest of the weekend enjoying less competitive games of Descent, Arkham Horror and Runebound.

Still, Lord Khorne was most pleased. Most pleased indeed.