Lords of Hellas review

Rated: 5 / 5

Source: http://chillingwithzombies.tumblr.com/

I backed this game on kickstarter, and I believe I can say this could turn out to be my favorite kickstarter backed game next to The Lord of the Ice Garden (which also originates from Poland, along with the novel series which that game is based off of, which currently doesn’t have an English release, sons of bitches).  There are expansions that are coming out for this, which last I checked are still being tested and developed, let alone not released yet.  I have played the core set 10 times at all player counts (though have only done a 4 player game once), and can safely say the game plays well whether it’s with 2, 3, or 4 players (though it does play best with 4).

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Start of a game, mostly.

The first thing that attracted me to the game was the theme (which is the main thing I tend to go for in games now, as my collection is covered in the gameplay department at this point, for the most part).  It’s not enough that this takes place in Ancient Greece, with the mythological heroes, gods, and monsters present; they had to make it sci-fi too.  Which I think is awesome, and something to consider next time they release a Cthulhu-based game by making Cthulhu turn his tentacles on his face into missiles that shoot out and blow shit up (or something like that).  Certainly makes it more unique, as I don’t think I’ve seen this done before.  Not only is Hercules (or Heracles, as this game likes to spell it) still strong and buff, but he’s also enhanced with cyberpunk technology, enhancing his strength.

The soldiers (aka hoplites) he leads get enhancements too.  Image uploaded to BGG by Pan3Gr.

The second thing that interested me, and this is what sold me on it (as it should any serious gamer) is the gameplay.  Having multiple paths to victory, and none of them involving accumulation of victory points.  Because let’s face it, games that allow for winning a competitive game in a manner that doesn’t involve victory points doesn’t happen often enough; same thing with games that have multiple ways to end the game.  In this game, you can win by traditional area control (control 2-3 lands), by gaining control of specific regions (control 5 temples), by killing 3 mythological beasts (kill 3 monsters), or by controlling a region with a fully-built monument.  Not to mention you get a choice of 4 unique characters, with unique starting conditions and unique abilities.

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It reminded me of Runewars, which plenty of users on boardgamegeek.com have mentioned.  It’s similar in that controlling regions can net you certain resources to help you win (in this case, controlling temples can get you priests which can upgrade your hero, and in essence your army), but the main similarity comes with the heroes.  In both LoH and RW, heroes are sent to go on quests, and gain artifacts/treasures that give the hero and/or army special advantages.  However, heroes play a more prominent role in LoH compared to RW.  In RW, it’s perfectly playable if heroes are removed.  In this game, heroes are mandatory.  They’re needed to allow hoplites to moves around faster, so it becomes easier to gain control of regions, and to reorganize to defend your borders against other player’s hoplites.  In RW, your army operates optimally regardless of what the hero does (though the hero does allow for a minor impact in combat in that game, plus some items they gain can help you win, but it’s very downplayed in that game compared to this).

Runewars game.  Image by BGG user bullseyetm.

However, upgrading your hero’s leadership to allow more hoplites to move isn’t the only option.  It’s not always that easy.  There are 2 other stats to upgrade on your hero, strength and speed.  So sure, you can focus more on hoplite area control and focus primarily on upgrading leadership (you can move 1 hoplite per leadership point your hero has).  But then you could upgrade your hero’s speed so he can move around further, and thus get to quests and monsters faster, or in the case of Athena and Achilles, move to a strategic position to prepare for or dissuade combat from happening in a region.  Or you could upgrade your strength so you can draw more combat cards when facing monsters.  What you may want to upgrade depends on the hero you choose, and the current state of the map (and how the other players are threatening to win).

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The other decision-making point comes in where you wish to start off on the map.  At the start of the game, you place your hero along with 2 hoplites in one region.  From what I’ve seen, it’s best to start in a region that you can immediately gain control of, as in a region that only requires 2 hoplites for initial control.  There are choices of whether you want to start in a region where a temple can be built, or a region that has a city.  If you start off in a region (and control it) where a temple can be built, you can build a temple early on to get a priest who can be sent off to a monument to pray and upgrade one of your hero’s stats.  On the other hand, if you start in a city, it becomes easy early on to gain hoplites (especially if you get control of a second city on your first turn, and then use the Recruit special action on the next turn to recruit multiple hoplites in each of those cities).  Both are good options, and your threat level for winning will increase either way.  And, once again, it depends on the initial state of the board and your hero when determining what the best path to take is.  And it will take multiple plays to figure that out.  ‘Cause, you know, replay value is a nice trait for a board game to have.

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I had a few concerns with this game prior to playing it.  The monster combat.  Now, one of the other things that attracted me to this game was card-driven combat.  No dice.  There is only 1 die in the game, and it’s only used for monster movement or attack (or doing nothing), which I’m fine with.  However, I worried that battling monsters could get too easy.  Each monster has a sheet with wound slots on it.  Each monster varies, some having only 5 wounds, others have as many as 8 (sometimes more if they get upgraded due to an event).  Each combat card you have (save for 2 types, one of which is a wild card) has a symbol on it, indicating what type of wound it can deal to the monster.  Each monster takes different types of wounds.  So you can get involved in a hunt by prepping ahead of time by building up your combat hand until you have combat cards of the right type (each card representing a weapon; heroes have to go through a lot of weapons to take these beasts out), or go in without the right cards but hoping you’ll draw the right ones.  But you’re limited to a hand size of 4, unless you get a blessing that increases it (more on that later).  At the start of a hunt, you draw cards into your hand equal to your hero’s strength (that’s why that attribute matters), going over your hand limit, which is legal during a hunt.  So the more strength your hero has, the more likely you’ll draw cards of the right type to discard against the monster and kill it before it has a chance to counter-attack.

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Owned!

From my experience, monster hunts actually work better than I anticipated.  Assuming you do wind up with the max strength of 5 and draw that many cards into your hand, and holding 9 cards in total, even then, there’s a chance you might not win the battle.  First, there’s no guarantee that you have all the cards needed to deal all the wounds.  Second, while most monster attack cards tend to be 3-5 strength, indicating you must either discard a number of combat cards which strength number adds up to that amount or greater to block the attack (which results in you adding 2 more cards into your hand, giving you extra incentive to block), there are a few curve-ball cards in that deck to make sure victory isn’t guaranteed.  For example, there’s a card who’s strength is greater the more cards you have in your hand, or one that is stronger when there’s less wounds on the monster, or stronger when there’s more wounds on the monster.  That being said, more often than not, a hero with a strength of 5 who has the right type of cards in hand initially prior to the hunt is usually going to win.

Probably the logic behind getting combat cards from a hunt you don’t intend to win.

On the other hand, it’s also possible for someone who doesn’t have max strength, or even a max hand size, or holds cards of the right type(s), to still defeat a monster when starting a hunt against it.  At that point, it becomes a push-your-luck battle.  Sometimes a player may want to defeat the monster, in which case he must consider which cards to discard for dealing wounds, and which cards to hold onto so that he can brace for the monster’s counter-attack.  Battles can be prolonged by successfully blocking attacks with 1 or 2 cards, which allows the player to add 2 more combat cards to his hand for the next round, thus making for an interesting back-and-forth feel.  Alternatively, a player may just start a battle just to deal specific wounds which could allow him/her to gain a priest or artifact (each monster has at least 1 wound slot of that type), thus providing another reason to fight a monster outside of just defeating it (though another reason for defeating it could be so the monster stops messing up their army by killing of their hoplites, that can get annoying).  And then there’s the 3rd reason to fight a monster, though this isn’t something used often (most games I’ve been in went by without anyone doing this): starting a hunt just to draw combat cards in preparation for a battle against other hoplites, and having no intention of using any cards to wound the monster.  Sure, this results in the hero taking a wound (which happens at least once when a hero fails at a hunt), but it is worth it if it helps out the hero’s army.  Let alone going after a monster so that another player trying to win by monster kills has one less monster to kill, assuming you wipe out the monster.  Because if you fail to kill a monster and deal plenty of wounds to it, those wounds stay, making it an easier target for every other player/hero in the game.  Plenty of reasons to engage a monster, and plenty of tough decision-making to go along with it.

Not to mention it’s possible for a game to start with some, all, or no monsters on the board.  Image by BGG user mercopparis.

There are ways to slow a hero down when it comes to accumulating strength.  Each monument only has 2 slots to place a priest.  Once 2 priests are on a monument, no more can be placed there until things basically “reset” via the Build Monument special action.  So having other players dogpile on the monument can prevent a potential monster hunter from gaining the strength necessary to make hunting monsters an assured way of winning the game (yet another reason why I recommend playing with 4 players, greater chances of blocking off priests at certain monuments).  But that’s not the only way to slow a hero down.  You can also intentionally start combat against their armies, forcing them to play combat cards they may have wanted held for hunting monsters and using them to help their armies win instead (a great game design example of having cards with multiple uses).  After all, controlling lands/temples is an alternate way to win, and you can’t just let a player run away with victory via land control anymore than you should allow someone to run away with a monster kill victory.  And lastly, there’s the Zeus monument artifact, which can be used to wound a hero who is in the lead.  Thus the early-mid-game is a very important part of the whole thing.  How you start out, and how you choose to slow the others down while attempting to get ahead of them, is all part of the game.  Thus you shouldn’t allow a player to get their hero upgraded too far too fast (easier to do in a 4 player game).

Image from BGG user Pan3Gr.

Regarding the monument control victory, this one doesn’t happen very often, and it especially doesn’t happen if all players know what they (and their opponents) are doing.  It mainly exists if all players are at a stand-off, unable to gain victory via monster kills, and very good at preventing the taking of certain territories.  Thus getting a monument built triggers a sort of end-game timer, where whoever controls the monument at the end of a certain number of rounds wins the game.  One way in which this can become problematic, indicating a broken system, is with the Glory tokens, which can be gained by killing a monster or completing a quest (thus you gain the glory token that matches the color of the regions you completed the quest or killed the monster).  When a hero has a glory token, they can do the Usurp special action to immediately take control of a region, and recruit a hoplite in that region, and force any enemy hoplites there to retreat to an adjacent region.  If the player who built the monument has the glory token for the land the built monument is in, then victory seems assured assuming no other victory condition is met up ’till then.

Build the Zeus monument or he will smite thee!

However, as I’ve learned from experience, one shouldn’t attempt to rush towards the monument victory.  Because this causes more and more events to get drawn, and thus allows for more quests and monsters to appear, which provides opportunity for a quest/monster to appear in the region with the built monument, which provides opportunity for another hero to complete the quest or kill the monster, and thus steal the glory token from the player who had it.  And that’s assuming you don’t cause more monsters to appear for someone attempting to win via monster kills.  And the more often you do the build monument action, the more opportunities you give other players to upgrade their heroes and do the same special action multiple consecutive times.  On top of that, the monument build action can be utilized by other players for the purpose of drawing more monsters/quests and adding them to the map to gain glory, or just to move a monster into the land with the monument, kill it there, take the glory token from the player, and use his own strategy against him.  Thus the monument victory doesn’t seem broken either, considering the dangers of rushing it, and the risk factor of usurp.  It’s more of a long-term plan, just in case all else fails.

Image uploaded to BGG by Awaken Realms

As for the other 2 conditions, controlling 2 lands or 5 temples, those victory conditions can be pulled off suddenly and surprisingly with well-executed maneuvers.  You have to keep an eye on players who control 1 entire land and a couple regions in some other land, and keep an eye on players who control 3 temples (and when there’s at least 5 temples built; you built temples to get priests so they can be sent to monuments to upgrade your hero in case you’re wondering).  Because if you overlook that, then they can use a combination of normal hoplite movement and a march action to take the regions needed to win the game.  While these victories can be the most surprising, they are also the ones players can most often see coming if they’re paying attention.

Building Athena from level 1 to level 5.

I’ve noticed that the easiest way to win via controlling 2 lands is in the lower lands, the green and brown lands, both of which are adjacent to each other.  The reason this allows for an easy victory is two-fold.

1.) The city of Sparta, where 4 hoplites can be recruited there at a time rather than the regular 2.  Thus your army can be built up faster if you control the region with that city.

2.) The brown land only has 3 regions, while all other lands have 4 regions, thus requiring more territory to take in order to control the entire land.

Temples.  Image uploaded to BGG by Awaken Realms

So one shouldn’t allow Sparta to be taken too easily, else they risk the player controlling it to build up forces quickly and start flooding the lower regions with troops.  However, this can be mitigated, as invading from the blue and yellow regions can allow for territory takeover.  It also helps that each player has a limit of 15 hoplites, so you won’t have an insane amount of hoplites on the board to flood territories, which helps out against whoever winds up controlling Sparta (assuming they don’t lose it via Usurp, or a regular battle).  That’s why region control markers are necessary, so you can maintain control even when you have no hoplites in the region (heroes can’t control regions).  However, if you leave a region vulnerable like that, all it takes is for 1 hoplite to move in there to steal the region, or have an opponent’s hero move into there to do the Prepare special action and recruit a couple hoplites into the region to steal control that way.  And on top of all that, even with the high number of troops, if they keep fighting multiple battles, sooner or later, that player will start to get drained of combat cards.

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Despite the fact that this game was still in-development and being play-tested during the kickstarter campaign (and I believe briefly after the campaign ended too), it has turned out remarkably well.  The game developers responsible for this game (Marcin Swierkot, Adam Kwapinski) seem to know what they’re doing.  This game isn’t just good looks, there’s some real depth to it.  How deep it goes, I’m not sure.  But what I do know is that the base game is this good, and there are expansions on the way, which will definitely increase the replay value.  Each time I think there’s a way to break the game, I discover some strategy/tactic that proves me wrong.  And while it does play best with 4, with 2 and 3 players, it still seems surprisingly balanced, even if I question the land change-up for control with 3 players (the blue land doesn’t matter for land control victory; I still wonder why they don’t just make brown the irrelevant region, but it still seems to work fine regardless; but I still need to get more plays to determine the strength of the Sparta city strategy).  But most importantly of all, I find the game to be quite fun.

Highly recommended game.

Now if Zeus had a cyberpunk electric whip, he probably would’ve whipped Kratos’ ass.

 

 

PS: If you’re wondering why there isn’t a monument for Ares, the god of war, I honestly don’t think that’s necessary.  Here’s why: war is already being fought all across the game.  So Ares is already being entertained by all this, just sitting back, relaxing, and chowing down on his popcorn that’s been dipped in blood and wine (rather than caramel, because he’s too good for cracker jacks) and cooled in his cyberpunk refrigerator, and enjoying the whole show.

My opinion on Game of Thrones so far.


Source

First off, let me get this out of the way, I have not seen every season of the show, nor have I read every book (only the first 2, and that’s as far as I’m going). I’ve seen the first season in its entirety, bits and pieces of seasons 2-5, and have seen season 6 and 7 in their entirety. Yeah, I know, that seems outrageous, just skipping over seasons where a lot of shit has happened (only catching glimpses of them) before getting back into it. Well, I have my reasons.

It’s my philosophy when it comes to television shows in general to not watch them until they have been completed, whether due to cancellation, or just being seen to the end properly. It’s a philosophy I have developed from my years of watching anime (did that much more often in the past than I do now). Most anime that I’ve seen either ends before it can be resolved (those motherfuckers, them making anime adaptations of ongoing manga; either write your own goddamn ending or adapt something that’s been fucking finished!), or it just has the shittiest ending imaginable that tends to go along the lines of, “Everyone dead, or fucked, or sad and depressed at the end.” You don’t have to go off of Shakespearean tragedy mantra that fucking often!

So yeah, it started as skepticism for anime in general, to where I refuse to watch ANY anime series until it’s finished, and only if I hear good things about it. That being said, it’s not a philosophy I follow 100%. The last anime I watched was Attack on Titan, and that was a while ago. Guess what? It ends on a cliffhanger and it’s not fucking finished! Granted, the chances of them picking it back up to finish it are much better than Highschool of the Dead (I loved every moment of that show, it was made for someone like me, and they won’t fucking finish it, especially since the manga may never get finished), but it still pisses me off that I have to wait. On top of that, I may be waiting on something that’s going to end shittily (that’s a real word because I say so!).

Seriously, you’ve gotta watch this video if you haven’t seen it already. It’s one of the most absurd, ridiculous, defying the laws of physics and human biology, stupid, dumb, perverted, and downright fucking hilarious things I’ve ever seen in my life. You will fall out of your seat.

Which brings me to Game of Thrones. When I first started watching the first season (at the time I was also in the middle of the first book), my thoughts were, meh. It was just ok. The production quality is fantastic, the acting top-notch, the plot intriguing. But there was something about the presentation that never got me fully into it, something I can’t put my (Little) finger on. There was also the fact that, and you’re probably not going to believe I’m saying this, there was too much sex in the show. Too much sex and nudity littered throughout that was only there for the sole purpose of attracting more perverted viewers and to ride off the back of the Spartacus series on Starz. Now look, I like sex and nudity just as much as anyone else (assuming I find them attractive). I also like porn just as much as the next guy. But when it comes to a film or show that aims to be serious and deep/complex, the perverted side of me shuts off and the analytical film/show connoisseur side takes over. I look at what makes it work as a whole for me, and what works against it. This isn’t a show that should have sex as it’s main feature, which it seemed like it was trying to for the first season, or 2, or 3. However, it seems as if the show has lightened up on that regard (at least as early as season 6, maybe earlier), now only showing that stuff when its integral to the plot or character development. As it should be.

Sex and nudity aside, and the fact that I just couldn’t get fully invested in the show, there’s also all the stuff I’ve heard from other sources about how downright depressing the whole thing gets at times. “People you love will die.” Especially when it got to the Red Wedding. It’s at that point that I resolved myself to not get into the franchise unless there was a light at the end of this bleak tunnel. The ending of season 5 sure as hell didn’t make me think there was.

But then comes season 6. I saw a preview of it from the Conan O’Brian show along with a couple interviews. They didn’t spoil exactly what would happen, but they sure implied it heavily enough to where I saw where they were going with this. So John Snow gets resurrected, which makes me think that Amanda Pete (wife of one of the screenwriters) is successful at swaying her husband in how the story is to progress (seemed even more apparent with the finale of season 6 pretty much having women in high positions of power everywhere, replacing men who once stood there). And that wasn’t a bad thing, in my opinion, at first. John Snow comes back, and they end up delivering one hell of an entertaining season. Especially that Battle of the Bastards episode. More optimistic than the previous seasons. A light appeared at the end of the tunnel which now appeared less bleak. And it felt earned after all the depressing bullshit that transpired previously.

Then in season 7, it seemed to me as if we were getting too much of a good thing. Too much optimism. Too many saves at the last minute. Some of that was in season 6, but it became bluntly apparent this season. John Snow surviving a few near-death experiences, getting dragged into the icy water, getting the strength to come out, only to be charged by the army of the dead, only for his long-lost uncle to show up at the last moment to save him and sacrifice himself to do so; all this after Daenerys swoops in with her dragons to also save everyone at the last minute. This is the most extreme of examples, all packed into a few minutes of one episode. Shit like this seems to happen too often not just in this episode, but in others throughout the season. Granted, this all ended up leading to a great plot twist that would make the threat of the army of the dead even greater than ever before, but it could have been pulled off in a less “oh so convenient” manner.

The show is becoming the one thing it should not have been, that it has never been since its inception until now (unless you read the books that the first few seasons are an adaptation of, before they went beyond the books). Predictable. Formulaic. Say what you will about the depressing shit, but at least it kept the viewer on edge and wondering if someone was going to get out of an encounter alive or not. Now everyone has gone from, “Oh don’t die! Please don’t die!” to, “Oh come on, there’s no way they’re going to kill him/her off now.” What has become a breath of fresh air has now become the normal air we breathe, and it’s too healthy. I don’t mind a dose of optimism to offset the pessimism, but it shouldn’t overwhelm the pessimism.

So now I have a pretty good idea on how the show is going to end, and at least 2 characters that are going to be alive by the end of it. Granted, I predicted this earlier on before season 7 even started, but now it seems set in stone. So after season 6, I predicted that John and Daenerys would get together and be king and queen of the realm. My reason for this is because of the name of the series. The book series isn’t called Game of Thrones, that’s just the title of the first book. The series is titled A Song of Fire and Ice. So fire and ice would get together. Daenerys is the fire, John is the Ice (hence his last name, despite what the plot twist at the end of season 7 says about his name). The end of season 7 only cemented my theory further. So if nothing else, those two will by alive once everything is over.

But that’s not the only predictable element. The other big one is with dickless Theon. They’re obviously setting up a redemption angle with him, where he’s going to encounter Euron Greyjoy and either kill him, or free his sister so she can kill him.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Samwell Tarly ended up doing something heroic in the next season, maybe killing the Ice King (doubtful) or the undead dragon (also doubtful). He’s likely going to end up doing something along those lines, but I’m hoping he sacrifices his fat ass as a result. I’ve been waiting for his character to get killed off for a while. Him and the other Greyjoys, and maybe even Sansa Stark.

The newfound optimistic nature of this show that had arisen in season 6 and carried onto season 7 threatens to carry onto season 8. Make no mistake, I’m all for happy endings. But they need to be earned, and the only way they can truly be earned is if the threat of an alternate bad ending is real, just as the threat of death hanging over all the major characters was real up until last season. The series seems set on a path where everything is going to wrap up too conveniently. The only way I can see things ending on a satisfactory matter is if there’s mass murder on a wide scale. Major characters should get dropped left and right, villains and heroes alike. And for the love of God, get rid of those fucking last-minute saves. They can be useful, but not if they’re used often. There should only be two last-minute saves throughout one season of Game of Thrones tops, especially when the new seasons are only 7 fucking episodes in length.

PS: Oh, right. The other reason why I’ve actually gotten into this show, other than I think it’s gotten a bit better, is because it would be impossible to not watch it and avoid spoilers with how often they show up online, even in the form of episode leaks online (which I have not seen nor do I ever intend to see). Plus it’s nice to be capable of following along in conversations about this show with co-workers.

Drunk review: 50 Shades of Grey

Sober Rating: 1/5
Drunk Rating: 4/5

Introduction

Yes, you read the title right. Drunk review. What’s a drunk review in this case? Well I down a drink or two before the movie starts, then start watching the movie, and typing my thoughts down on it in real-time (occasionally pausing the movie if I have to write a lot, which is often, which tends to double the length, pleasure, and fun. Or misery, depending on how I take it. I consider those last two sentences to have better written satirical sex puns than the entirety of this fucking movie.

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