Okay, let’s take a look back over the last two months. What have I been up to, what lovely geekiness has filled up my life? Well, it can mostly be summed up with just one word… mud!
That’s right, mud. The last two months have seen it do nothing but rain, with a lot of localised flooding. The River Severn burst its banks in a few places by us, fortunately mostly onto designated flood plains, and several roads were a good foot deep with water.
We live right in a trough surrounded by the Shropshire Hills, and Wenlock has been regularly known to flood, mainly caused by the run off from the hills, but also because we have a high water table. Lots of new flood defences have recently been put into place here, and they appear to have done their job this time round.
The only impact this really had on us, apart from one heavy downpour that proved too much for the drains to handle and flooded the road outside our house for an hour, was, and still is, mud. Everywhere you go there’s this horrible, claggy, sticky, messy, slippery, clingy… stuff, and walking the poor dog turns out to be a very messy time indeed. Still, if this is all we have to put up with I can’t complain, others have been affected far worse, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your house, and your belongings, submerged in dirty river water.
Anyway, moving along. The Geek has now become a bi-monthly post so there’s plenty to get through…
I say plenty, but there’s only one item in this category, and that’s our Halloween visit to Harry Potter Studios.
My daughter, Yasmin, is a massive Harry Potter Fan, so as a treat we took her back (yes back, she’d been before a few years ago, courtesy of Nanny & Grandpa) so she could experience it all again!
After far too many hours stuck in traffic we finally arrived, just before our booking time. Having to pre-book time slots is a great idea, as it keeps the crowds manageable and you can guarantee you’re going to get to be able to see everything.
Yasmin engaged constant chat mode, as she delighted in sharing her unsurpassed HP knowledge, and so my ears went into shut down and it all became a white noise, with me nodding and muttering a few words every now and again, just to make it appear like I was listening. (I know you’ll read this Yasmin, and you know it to be the truth!)
Yasmin can talk the proverbial Donkey’s legs off when she gets going, especially about a subject she’s passionate about, but when it come to HP, well, there’s not going to be a lot of that donkey left!
I am not a Harry Potter fan. Some of the later films are okay, but I find the books a lot of gibberish. So, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the trip, however, it actually turned out to quite enjoyable!
I know nothing about the HP world, but that didn’t really matter. What I found immensely interesting was how the whole thing was made. There are pictures showing the original ideas for locations and monsters; there are scale models that were used as templates for the scenery, and there’s a massive landscaped model of Hogwarts, which is pretty impressive.
One thing that really caught my eye was Hagrid’s head. I took a photo and then zoomed in on the picture; it is so life like it’s eerie!
I tell you; even if you’re not a HP fan it’s well worth a visit just to see what goes into making films like this. I found it totally fascinating – more pictures at the end of this post.
Where to start? I’ve managed to get quite a few games in over the last two months, but let’s start with, what was for me, something special…
After much coercion I finally got Yasmin to sit down and play this fantastic game, and guess what… She loved it!
I bought Scythe some time ago, mainly because it gives an excellent solo experience, especially when you play against a couple of Automa factions rather than just the one, and I’d been pestering Yas to try it for ages.
Scythe is an economic, engine building, area control type of game, where each faction has some asymmetry built in – for example: Polania has the ability to select 2 options per encounter card as opposed to one, and Factions also uncover differing abilities when deploying mechs. This is built upon by each player having a different player mat, as each of these are geared towards a certain play style – mechanical, patriotic, or industrial for example.
Playing the game, despite the look of it, is actually quite simple – you select an area of the player mat, which in most cases has to be different from the one you selected last turn, and carry out its top action and then its bottom action, both of which are optional. You can do things like, move your units (workers, mechs or your character), trade, produce, or bolster (increase your military might), which are all top actions and effect things on the board. And then you can choose to enlist, deploy, build, or upgrade, all of which basically fine-tunes your ‘engine’.
Easy to play, but difficult to master! There are many different strategies that can be employed to reach victory, and each one seems pretty viable, that is until you lose. But no matter, you always feel as though it could have been you – just another turn or two! And this is the beauty of the game – it makes you feel always on the edge of victory, but it all comes down to being able to read the board and to time your big push perfectly, just before someone ends the game by earning their sixth star.
Yasmin surprised me with how quickly she picked things up, and after five games she pushes me into some series grey matter moments, with the last game ending with me placing two stars in one turn to end things. And the difference came down to 10 points, which was earned by those last two stars! So far I’ve clung to a 100% record against her, but I feel it is only a matter of time until she knocks me off my mantle!
I’ve got an unboxing post of this game coming up, hopefully in the next few days, and after I took all the pictures we played through the introduction scenario – basically a learn to play intro. Yasmin played through with me, as she’s shown an interest in this one, and now I’m so excited to get into the campaign for real.
Of course, you play the part of heroes… Oh, scrub that, actually, you don’t! You play the part of the normal people, those deemed unworthy of being heroes, each having their own tainted background. The Guardians of Avalon are failing, and the Wyrdness spreading. The Heroes have set forth to do what needs to be done, and you’re left to pick up the pieces if they fail!
Its locations spread across the table in a similar vein to that off 7th Continent, but you can only access locations that are within a Menhir’s (Guardian’s) sphere of influence. There is a large, meaty book of exploration to consult; giving you plenty of options and choices to make, and the characters are meaningful, with a thematically immersive backstory and their own decks of combat and diplomacy cards. There are also some lovely miniatures to cast your eyes upon, all of which are longing to be painted.
The combat and diplomacy encounters play out in quite a unique manner, offering a fair amount of tactical thought. These decks develop along with the characters, as they gain and spend experience. There’s a lot to this game, and I’m sure I’ll be mentioning it many times again in the future.
I’m running the campaign that came with the Essentials kit, Dragon of Icespire peak, with just one player, Yasmin. Now, she’s never, ever played D&D before, has never played any RPG, the closest she has come is playing D&D The Temple of Elemental Evil: The Board Game, and games of that ilk, so I knew it was going to be a learning curve for her.
What I didn’t take into account, though, was the learning curve I was going to have to go through!
I’m a little out of practice when it comes to running a game, but I thought I’d soon get back into the swing of things, and in some respects I did. It was the first time I’d ever used a computer to aid me in running a game, and I had the campaign open in D&D Beyond, as well as her character sheet. I found this quite handy, especially being able to hover over things within the campaign and it give you information about them. It was also easy to update her sheet as we went along, so all good so far.
I then ran into a few issues: One player, one new player, is very difficult to DM for when you’re out of practice yourself. When running a game for a group you usually find yourself with a little thinking time, as the group discuss things, role-play amongst themselves, and other little time consuming things, which enables you to think about what’s coming, how you’re going to play the next encounter, what’s this NPC going to be doing, and what does that next room actually hold.
This valuable thinking time was nowhere in sight playing with one player, and boy, did it make it hard. Coupled with the fact that she was a total novice, it made the game stutter, stopping and starting as I kept getting thrown off track.
I’ve run games for single players before, though never D&D, but they’ve always been experienced players and I knew the game and the campaigns inside out – I’d written the campaigns myself, so that made things easier. Playing with Yasmin I soon realised that she really did have no idea how to approach this kind of game, and that’s no detriment to her – if anything, I should have been more on the ball.
It didn’t take me too long to realise the error of my ways, and I’ve learnt a few valuable lessons along the way. I started playing the NPC’s differently, and had them act far more helpful than they had any right to be, as Yasmin really did get into the actual role-playing side, playing her arrogant, ‘I’m… speaking… slowly… because… you’re… an… idiot,’ Elf a little to well!
Where she struggled, though, was in the adventuring sense. By that I mean she was totally naïve when it came to the possibility there may be secret doors hidden away, or even a trap just waiting for some unsuspecting new player to spring. I started to point these things out by using the NPC’s, especially the sidekicks, to make suggestions like, ‘This is an odd place for a dead end, surely it must lead somewhere?’
By the end of the first quest I think she was starting to get the hang of things, and appeared to be enjoying herself, but I feel like I let her down somewhat. I didn’t, and at the moment still don’t, know the game well enough to make it flow, but I intend to rectify this issue relatively quickly.
It did get me thinking; how on earth would a new DM cope playing this with just one new player? There are a lot of issues with the difficulty scaling of the campaign, especially within the early quests, and I had to think on my feet a couple of times, as foes were quickly dominating the character and her sidekicks. I scaled an Orc encounter down from three to just one; otherwise they would have creamed the party. I mean, the damage one Orc can do is enough to wipe out a first level character with one well aimed blow, so I decided to make it the one, and make it a ranged combat, which gave the impetus back to the characters. But, unless you have some experience as a DM, how do you know you need to change things in advance? Without any concept of the relative strength of the characters vs. the encounter, you won’t know that one is vastly more powerful than the other until it’s too late!
I’m in the process of writing up Yasmin’s first adventure, so hopefully that should see the light of day in the next week or so – I’m never the quickest of writers!
Here’s a quick run down of the rest of the monthly plays…
Suburbia – Yasmin played an absolute blinder, joining up sets of her civil buildings with her last tile to take all three goals. I could see it coming but was in no position to stop it. Score 90 – 113, just a little short of her 123 high score.
Dominion – Another win for Yasmin 42 to 33. We played with the randomiser and it was a close game, coming down to who could grab that last Province.
Museum – Yasmin didn’t beat me at this one though, mainly because I played solo! I need to do a little digging into the correct way to score Alphonse, the AI, as it is somewhat unclear. At the time I went through the BGG forums, but despite others asking the same question, there was no definitive answer. I scored 112, with Alphonse coming in at either 84 or 105.
The Mind – We spent a few hours down the local pub and took a few games with us, though the Mind is the only one that we got to play. Our first game was amazing, and without a life we charged through to level six. Now, level six is our Bugbear, never have we progressed past it, and this time was to be no different. After such a great start everything came tumbling down, and before we knew it all our lives had dwindled away… Yet another excuse to drink more beer!
Arkham Horror: The Card Game – We continued working our way through the Dunwich campaign, with the Essex County Express. I have a fondness for this scenario; I find it really thematic and dramatic, but bloody hard! I had a rough time of it – the cards were against me right from the start. My weakness, cover up, came out early, meaning I couldn’t discover clues, and my horror just kept building up. Monsters kept engaging with me and in the end I went off my trolley, despite Yasmin’s best efforts at healing me. She lasted a minute or two longer, and then was whisked away with the carriages, and that was us – scenario over! Still, we picked ourselves up and we look forward to the next one, though after this defeat, things are looking grim.
Magic The Gathering – We only got to play four games, and we kept the same deck for each – I played my ‘Monster Magic’, Red and Green deck against Yasmin’s all black Living Dead one. The results were a tie 2-2. This puts us at 21-9 to me for the year. We’re hoping that Santa brings us both more cards this year, we need to spice our decks up some, as we tend towards playing the same ones over and over.
Gloomhaven – Last time I played, as a result of increased reputation, I’d managed to unlock my first new character. Now, two scenarios on, I’ve managed to unlock another two! Both of these were down to retirements – The Brute, who had managed to kill 15 different monsters, and the Scoundrel, who had managed to accumulate 200gp. Wow, these new characters are totally different. The boxes I’ve unlocked are: the 3 Spears, the sun, and the Bear faced one that has two boxes. No spoilers, all I’ll say is that they introduce yet more tactical variation into the game – brilliant!
I’ve made fair progress in the painting department with Garrak’s Reavers post just awaiting pictures, and the T-47 Airspeeder just needs the base finishing – so expect to see these pretty soon.
As characters are retiring from Gloomhaven they are moving to my painting area, and I’ve already base coated the Brute and hope to finish him pretty soon.
The Scoundrel is next on the Gloomhaven list, and then I really should get back to finishing the Scythe figures, they’ve sat there far too long. Most of the Mechs just need something doing to their bases, but I want continuity with their main character, so I have to finish them before I base.
I’ve also progressed the old Airfix Model of HMS Hood – it isn’t a great model!
It’s quite a low skill level model, and I though it would get me back into the swing of things before I hit the more detailed version of it by Italeri. But the fit of the pieces is terrible, and I’ve had to constantly apply putty to fill the gaps – I sometimes wonder why I’m bothering, and maybe I should just move on to the better kit?
Still, it’s only something I turn to when I’m not in the right frame of mind to paint, maybe if it were a better kit then it would drag me away from the other stuff, and I’m not so sure I want that!
I’ve hardly watched anything of note over the last two months, though we did enjoy World on Fire from the BBC.
This Wartime drama follows the story of several interlinking characters, and starts with the calm before the storm, as Germany invades Poland.
I really liked the perspectives of the different characters, and it’s nice to see that different perspectives have been taken from the norm.
The Polish girl, married to her English boyfriend (Harry) in order to aid her escape from Poland, but she shoves her young brother on the train with him, and stays behind to look after her mother. She then has her world torn down around her, forcing her to go to lengths she never imagined, carrying out the murders of unsuspecting German soldiers.
The Polish boy goes on to be thrown under the wing of an unsuspecting, and un-emotive upper-class widow – the Mother of the aforementioned Harry.
And then there’s Sean Bean, who seems to become a more ‘comfortable’ actor as he gets older, and plays the part of a WWI veteran turned pacifist, who’s suffering from shell-shock.
Other main characters include Bean’s on screen daughter and son. She becomes pregnant after a one-night-stand with Harry, after which she dumps him (they were an item before he went to Poland). She then joins the Entertainment National Service Association and, of course, they end up clashing as he joins up. The Son tries his best to avoid action, but ends up on the beaches of Dunkirk – his father then gets the telegram that he’s missing in action.
And running through all of this there are those caught up in the world gone mad – A German family with an epileptic child, which brings a sad and sour note to the back of ones throat as things unravel to an unavoidable conclusion.
There’s also Helen Hunt, who plays the part of an American Reporter trying her best to report the true facts from her broadcasting base in Berlin, and how she tries to help the German family with their daughter.
There are other characters too; all meshing in and out of each other’s lives, and it makes for some fascinating viewing. It isn’t an all action drama, so if you’re expecting that you may be disappointed, but the story line is solid and believable, despite the odd faux-par with the Spitfires and not a Hurricane to be seen anywhere!
Between the sheets
I can’t believe that I’ve read one book in the last two months, I usually manage one every fortnight at least!
I say read, but tried to read is a better description. Sue bought me Peaky Blinders: The Real Story, by Carl Chinn, for my birthday, as we’d both really enjoyed the series’ and I am from that neck of the woods, well, almost!
I managed a couple of chapters before passing it on to my Dad; I just didn’t find it appealing. As you’re probably aware, if you’re a fan of the TV show, that the Peaky Blinders contains a modicum of fact. The facts are taken from a wide timescale and condensed into the short period of the show, between the two World Wars.
So, when it says, ‘The Real Story’ it isn’t the story of a gang called The Peaky Blinders. What it really is, is a social history of the gangs of Birmingham, from which the characters and storylines (some of them at least) were drawn from.
Much about the show, in fact, turns out to be fictitious – such as the razor blades sewn into the caps. In reality they were called The Peaky Blinders because of the way they wore their caps, pulled down to cover one eye, and the razor story came grew up from false reporting – initially it was reported that they had a piece of metal sewn in, so that it would cause more damage when it struck. This then became a sharpened piece of metal, and finally escalated to a razor blade. Ah! The power of the press!
This I gleaned from flicking through and reading bits of interest, but I couldn’t face reading the whole book, it just wasn’t something that interested me.
Even if you are a big Peaky Blinders Fan, I can’t recommend looking this one up. On the other hand, if you’re a fan and have an interest in social history, then this will be right up your street – it is well written with lots of interesting facts, it just wasn’t for me.
I’ve found Dungeon Mastering a game these days is a whole new experience compared to the last time I donned the hat. The biggest difference being the use of tech.
I can have my computer set up in front of me, with the adventure open in one tab, the map in another, and alongside that I can have the character sheets, all easily updated as we go along. I can even have it roll the dice for me if I was so inclined.
But the biggest impact, for me, is the ability to create a deeper atmosphere. One can have images projected onto a larger screen; maybe to give the players an idea of the wilderness through which they may be travelling, and one can also create sound, and it is here I want to focus this Geek’s spotlight…
I’d heard about this app some time ago now, whilst listening to a podcasts episode of Dragon Talk, and starting back into RPG’s gave me the urge to look it up.
You can download several different players (it is possible to port all content through one player, I just haven’t got that far yet!), such as Fantasy Player, Sci-fi Player, and board game Player, each with an amount of free content.
These provide plenty of excellent background sound effects and music, for example: Fantasy player can create the atmosphere of a crowded Tavern, or even a near empty one, as well as sound effects such as creaking doors, spells being cast, and arrows hitting flesh!
The free content is limited, but on both the Fantasy, and the Sci-fi player, but there’s enough content for you to get a real feel for what you can do with this system.
The Board Game player is a little more restrictive, with far less content than the others, but hopefully this will grow.
I had my computer streaming through my stereo system, and the atmosphere it created is superb. You can easily adjust the volume, not only of the main source but of the individual sounds, such as making the talking louder in the tavern, or drowning out the bards tones when in the market square.
You can set up customisations, ready for that encounter you have up your sleeve, and there’s also content tailored to official D&D releases, such as Dungeon of The Mad Mage, though you’ll need a subscription to access it.
If you’re looking to add a little something to your RPG’s, or just looking for a little background atmosphere when playing board games, check out Syrinscape, it maybe just what you’re looking for.