Monday, January 27, 2020

The Romanovs Under House Arrest (Holy Trinity Publications)

When we in the United States of America think of Russia, we think of Putin, election tampering, the Cold War, Sputnik, socialism, communism, Lenin, Stalin, and many other negative things. However, unless you are versed in European/World History, you quickly forget that just 100 years ago, Russia was not a socialist nation, but instead was ruled by Tsar Nicholas II. With his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children, they made up the Russian Imperial Romanov family. In February 1917, mass protests occurred (now known as the February Revolution) with discontent in the monarchy. The Romanovs (and those loyal to them) were captured and imprisoned in the Alexander Palace. In July of 1918, the Romanovs were brutally executed and over the next three months, friends and relatives of them also were. There has always been some shroud of mystery and conspiracy surrounding the time from their imprisonment to execution. Recently, Holy Trinity Publications released a book entitled The Romanovs Under House Arrest, which is the diary of the palace priest, Afanasy I. Belyaev.

The book begins by giving us a historical setting for what occurred. It went all the way back to 1881 when Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, the short reign of Alexander III, and the eventual succession of Nicholas II in 1894, when he was just 26 years old. We saw the events of Bloody Sunday, the first Russian constitution, and the eventual abdication and imprisonment of Nicholas II. The diary entries begin on March 2, 1917. In the initial entry, Fr. Belyaev recounts being called to the palace to perform a prayer service for healing of the Romanov children's cases of measles. The entries continue until August 3, 1917 where Fr. Belyaev recounted that the family had been forced to leave the palace and be exiled to the north in Tobolsk. The book closes with an epilogue, brief biography of Fr. Belyaev, and a brief summary of persons of interest mentioned in the diary entries.

The entries in this diary offer a first person account of what happened the first five months of the Romanovs exile. Within these accounts, we learn of the daily lives of the family and their faithful friends and servants. We see their daily struggles and daily sorrows. However, what is at the center of all these entries is Jesus. There are many accounts of Divine Liturgy, daily prayers, and the celebration of Pascha. Tsar Nicholas and his family took their sufferings with extreme grace and it was evidenced in the diary that they instilled the love of Jesus in each of their children. They did their best to carry on about their daily lives like normal citizens. Deep in their hearts, they knew they were not normal citizens but prisoners, and would not escape their eventual fate. This was a sad book to read when looked at through an earthly lens, but when looked at through a heavenly lens, it is a story of faithful martyrs of Jesus who received the greatest reward in the end. Truly a beautiful book!

Sanctum (Czech Games Edition)

When I was in college, I completely failed my freshmen year. While my peers were making the most of their time, completing courses towards a degree, I was not. I was up until all hours of the night. I skipped classes. I dropped classes. I failed classes. I’d like to say I had the “normal” college experience and did all this because I was too busy partying and drinking. The reality was I was playing video games, primarily Diablo II. I enjoyed the thrill of beating the monsters, honing my skills, collecting the loot, and oddly enough the economy of trading with other players. I eventually transferred schools, received a degree, and became a functioning member of society. I’d like to say I never fell down that rabbit hole again, but then World of Warcraft happened, and then board games happened.

This backstory brings me to the game I am reviewing today called Sanctum. In Sanctum, you and your fellow players will embark on a journey to destroy the Demon Lord. Reminiscent of my favorite hack and slash games, there are skills, gear, and achievements. Though, you and your fellow players all have the same goal, you are also fighting to be in the best position to ultimately be the one best equipped to defeat the Demon Lord. Let’s learn how to play.
1. Place the Hordes Board with the three Demon Decks shuffled and face up in their respective spot.
2. Set up the Act Boards (where the adventure happens) based on player count. Note: you will only need two boards at a time.
3. Place the Achievements Board with the eleven shuffled achievements tiles face-down on it.
4. Place Divine Intervention tiles, dice, and all tokens (Hit Markers, Potions, Stamina, and Focus) within reach of everyone.
5. Have each player select a champion – Huntress, Outlaw, Slayer, or Dancer. Each player will then set up their board composed of a figure, rage tile, stamina tokens, focus tokens, a health counter, two dice in front of them, one dice on the angel icon, one white gem in their gem pool, and skill cards/tiles to make their character.
6. Players will then receive starting bonuses based on player count and turn order.

Game Play – On your turn, you must perform one of the three actions:
1. Move. This is the action you must perform on your first turn to get your figure on the Act Board. After your initial turn, you will advance (move your figure to first open space), reveal demons (per the icon on the space you moved to), take demons (add demons to your queue to fight later), and potentially reveal a treasure chest for loot.
2. Fight. Here you will take potions (if necessary), roll your dice, attack by matching the dice with the monster cards, block (if you don’t kill the enemies), gain levels and items (from dead enemies), and check achievements.
3. Rest. With this action, you restore all your stamina and focus previously used, equip item (that you have matching gems for), buy potions (one for each discarded item), and again check achievements.
The game will progress to Act V where one player must defeat all their enemies. They may then breach the wall and call on others to answer the call. Players can choose to keep fighting their enemies for a time, but eventually all must answer the call. Act VI is the culmination of the final battle with the Demon Lord. The game will continue until the Demon Lord is defeated or everyone is dead.
While no board game will replicate the experience of a game like Diablo II, this one tries its best to. There are your four heroes, who resemble your typical classes of warriors, hunters, and rogues, but they have a dancer hero (not traditional), and they give us an equal amount of men and women classes. The formula of stamina and mana pool is tried and true and present here, as is the tried and true leveling up by killing lesser monsters and collecting loot they drop. At the end, you must face a giant demon who is not named Diablo, but is every bit modeled after him.

There are several aspects I liked about this game, including the art and the components, which are both top notch. The game didn’t need to give us miniatures for the characters, as standees would have sufficed, but it was cool that they did and felt a little more tactile. With that said, if you give me hero minis, a slightly bigger final boss mini would have been cool too! The box is a bit on the large size, but I’m hoping that means expansions (more on that later). Another aspect I liked was the replay value. Monsters will be different. Turn order will be different. Equipment will be different. Dice results will be different. There isn’t unlimited replay value, but it will be different enough each time you play it. Like Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”

With regards to what I didn’t like, I would say that movement is a bit uninspired. Move one space if you’re in the front of the line or move to the front of the line. Branching paths could have been cool or skipping ahead for a treasure chest or create a mini-event on some spots that you could race ahead to and gamble on winning or losing the fight. The winner determination is also anticlimactic. If multiple people defeat the final boss, then highest health wins? That’s kind of a yawn and I want achievements to mean more in that case and not just used to help fight the final enemy.

I have played this game several times now and won one time. I have also tried several different classes and each brings their own flavor to the game and puzzle to solve. This isn’t your typical dungeon crawler, but it is a fun one. I hope that this game has some popularity to it after the initial buzz, because it could benefit from some expansions. Perhaps, we could add a different final boss or an even more epic boss after the current one. There are also easier expansions to accomplish, like additional characters to swap out, different minions, and different gear. Overall, a fun experience and one I’d recommend if you’re a Diablo fan like myself.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Red Outpost (Imperial Publishing)

My favorite type of games is worker placement games. However, with the glut of them available, I need one with a unique theme or twist on the style of play. Red Outpost, currently on Kickstarter delivers on both counts. In this game you and up to three other players will be controlling a shared pool of Soviet workers on a distant planet, shortly after the space race. In addition to competing to win, you are all using the same six workers most efficiently to accomplish the mission.
The game is played over two rounds with five phases each round - Morning, 1st half of the Day, Lunch, 2nd half of the Day, and Evening. Each phase you will have a player turn. The first step of your turn is to move a standing worker to an unoccupied space on the board. Next, lay the worker down to make him unusable the rest of the phase. Then, place one of your influence discs on the portrait of the worker you used. Also, adjust the mood of said worker, based on the location you moved to.
Locations you can move to are primarily used to produce goods. However, these aren't your private goods, but communal goods. The non-production locations consist of scavenging the space ship, visiting the storehouse, visiting the beer house, administration, which is where the bureaucrat lives, and lastly visiting the palace. Different phases have slightly different rules, number of turns per player, and different locations they are allowed to visit.

Overall, I found this to be a very unique game. Deciding when and where to play communal workers is a great twist. Do you want to go to the right location with the right worker, even if it gives you goods or actions you might need? Do you want to go the right location with the wrong worker, even if it results in a morale loss? These are tough decisions you have to make each phase. There is also a slightly advanced way to play, which provides some asymmetry to the game. I wouldn't start with this variant, but give it a try after a few games. I highly enjoyed this game, and with only two rounds, I felt I could play it two or three times on a game night without it overstating its welcome. If you like worker placement games like me, this is one to check out!