Battleshed Diaries

Friday 1 January 2016

The sounds of a blender and mewing from the House on the Hill

Happy New Year! The Battleshed is back on-line! After a couple of weeks of festive wargaming stasis, things are getting back to normal. As mentioned in my previous post, my wargaming calendar (Kelly Brooks again this year!) for 2016 is looking pretty busy. I've a lot of painting to do, not to mention terrain and board building. So the heady fug of paint and glue will soon be brewing in the Battleshed!

I also excitably, if a little anxiously, visited the local cinema to see the film I'd been waiting a very long time for: Star Was - The Force Awakens. No spoilers here. All I'm going to say is WOW. Just WOW!  For me, JJ Abrams nailed it. No surprise it's broken so many box office records already. If you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?!

Dangerously, I also found myself being mesmerised by Fallout 4 on the PS4 the last few days. Which could have dire consequences for my gaming agenda if I succumb to its digital sirens, encouraging me to linger in the post apocalyptic wasteland. Luckily, my PS4 has a fail-safe - it's connected to the big tele in the lounge, so opportunities for extended sessions whilst the family are around are limited.

One of the few benefits of the Festive period for us Humbugs, are the possibilities of receiving unexpected gaming goodies and the plethora of useful packaging that normally stuff the recycle bin. I've rescued a nice little collection of plastic food trays of various shapes and sizes that could be useful hobby wise. I just get that look from the wife. It's kinda like a wargaming version of beach combing. Without the beach. Or sand everywhere.

With guests visiting and staying over during the festive period, traditionally its board games that get an annual airing for those looking to fill the hours after an over-stuffed Christmas meal. I suppose they're easier to explain than attempting to describe the concept of tabletop wargaming to, let's say, the more elderly guests! Believe me, I've tried and failed! Which leads me nicely onto...

Betrayal at House on the Hill (2nd edition)

This board game, published by Avalon Hill and designed by Bruce Glassco, was an unexpected Christmas gift from my brother-in-law, JohnI tried hard not to invoke the logic of Dr. Sheldon Cooper on the subject of gift giving. John is a wargamer too, and has quite a quirky collection of board and card games. Which explains this excellent gift choice.

The game box, with its evocative haunted house artwork, is very appealing. One of the few things I miss from switching my fiction reading from traditional paper novels to a digital reader is the fantastic cover artwork. Indeed, in the same way novels compete to draw your eye in a book store, the board game producers these days apply the same tactic with some fantastic looking box designs.

So what's' with this spooky House?  Well, it's for 3-6 players who each play one of twelve characters, such as Professor Longfellow or Jenny LeClerc, exploring the mysterious House on the Hill. It always seems to be houses on hills that are haunted. Maybe the spirits like a view. Who knows? Anyway, It's a game of two halves - initially the explorers work together discovering new rooms and floors in the house, finding items, building up their attributes and dealing with unexpected surprises as they creep along the creaky old hallways.

At some point, one of the explorers will trigger the Haunting, whereupon one of them will Betray the others by following one of 50 scenarios from the Traitor's Tome. The other players then have to survive the House and the traitor's deadly scheme, with the aid of the Secrets of Survival handbook. It's all deliciously tension building stuff!

The House is explored by revealing a new floor tile (44 in total) as the players pass through unexplored doorways. The tiles are very well produced, with many of the rooms affecting explorers passing through them in differing ways. When they're first discovered, they may also trigger a sub-scenario from the one of 80 Event, Item or Omen cards. Some could be beneficial, others decidedly not!

The twelve characters supplied come on 6 double-sided character cards, along with 6 pre-painted - yes, pre-painted, miniatures! Having painted miniatures just adds to the quality of this game. Each character comes with two physical traits, Might and Speed, and two mental traits, Sanity and Knowledge, which are used for various tests along with the 8 custom dice.

The character cards have numerical tracks for each attribute, the players using the supplied plastic pointer-clips to mark their character's current attribute levels. The characters also have secondary attributes - age, height, weight, hobbies and date of birth - which all play their part in the decisions the explorer's make or the events they trigger as they move about the House.

The Event and Omen cards are very well done, with some really atmospheric descriptions, helping to build the suspense. The explorers may unwittingly trigger the Mists from the Walls or a Secret Passage, whilst the Omen cards may reveal a Spirit Board or a Revolving Wall. Similarly, explorers can stumble upon useful or mysterious items, such as an Angel Feather or an Amulet of the Ages, along with a more mundane, but reassuring, axe or revolver!

There are creatures and darker things in the house too. Often controlled by the traitor, such as Demons, Zombies, Rabid Bats and even Blob People! Dracula might even put in an appearance too! These can be from Haunts such as House of the Living Dead, The Abyss Gazes Black or the Tentacled Horror. Various monster tokens are supplied to track their movements through the house.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Betrayal at House on the Hill was a surprise gift. And it proved to be a surprisingly well produced, atmospheric and very well produced game. It has quality components, (I did mention the pre-painted miniatures didn't I?), and has a well designed rulebook allowing for a quick start to what initially looks a complicated game. Our wee party of explorers were soon tentatively exploring the House within minutes of opening the box. Highly recommended for those looking for a roleplay-lite and thematic, if tongue firmly in cheek, board game.

Nox Arcana

As an aside, there was an article in the November 2015 edition of Miniature Wargames magazine (I'm a subscriber) on options for providing atmospheric soundtracks to accompany our wargames or RPGs. The band Nox Arcana - from Ohio and described as a neoclassical/Dark Ambient duo - were recommended so I downloaded their Darklore Mannor album.

Perfect for games such as Betrayal at House on the Hill! There's a whole bunch of other thematic albums from Nox Arcana, such as Necronomicon, Winter's Knight, Transylvannia, Gothic, and  Grimm Tales etc. I must say, I'm really pleased with the Darklore Manor album. I often try to select suitably atmospheric soundtracks when in the Battleshed. For example, the Ennio Morricone albums often come out for Dead Man's Hand!

Kittens in a Blender!

No, this isn't a link to a distasteful You Tube video, it's a good, wholesome family card game of the type we call traditional in our openly nerdy house. This was one of The Teenager's presents, which is a simple, if twisted, game from the Brothers Knudson, where players have to save as many of their kittens from the blender as possible. Even made all the more shockingly realistic by the sounds of a real blender emanating from our kitchen! Our cat, Wookie, looked slightly nervous!

The cards come in a box, where the lid is used as the Blender and the box bottom used as the, um... Box! The Box is where you get to save your kittens. The space in between the two is called the Counter, where cards placed there represent the kittens on the move between certain diced death and a nice, safe comfortable box!

There are 64 Kitten cards (4 colours, 16 of each colour) each with a cartoony cute kitten picture with names like Coco, M.C.Catnip and Zippy. Surely nobody's going to mash up poor old Zippy?! There's also a number of other cards that are used to 'play' the game, such as Kitties on the Move which allow players to move kittens in various ways. Then there is the Dog's in the Kitchen cards, that force players to pass their hand to the players on their left or right. That really mucks up malicious plans, eh Teenager?!

Are you gonna' save or blend the poor kitties?!
And then there are the Blend cards, which activate the Blender, pulping all the poor mewing fluff balls contained within - but crucially, also saves any kittens in the Box. There are also Blend/Pulse cards which can be played to stop the blender activations. Its all about the timing really.

This makes 110 cards in total! But it is a game for 2-8 players and it's very simple to play. You must play two cards from your hand of six each turn, which could me made up of a mixture of game cards and kittens. Its gruesomely huge fun to play, although I warn you now that the wife really doesn't like it when everyone seems to be cramming all her kitties in the blender!

More Battleshed arrivals

A couple of purchases, courtesy of an Amazon gift card from my parents who still ritually send this middle-aged gamer a little something. The teenager wanted assurances that I'd continue the tradition.

Firstly we have the the Daisho rulebook from The Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare, ordered via North Star Military Figures. This is skirmish warfare set in mythical Japan, and a system that I've no doubt I'll be playing in the months to come. Which, of course, means buying more figures. My painting queue is becoming mythical too!

Next, we have the Kalidasa expansion set for the Firefly board game. This adds another star system to the 'Verse along with two new work Contacts, Magistrate Higgins and the twin brother's Fanty & Mingo. Careful how you say that (!) It also introduces the Operative's Corvette to complicate our Firefly class pilot's business arrangements along with a new port of call, Beaumonde.

So, that's what's been happening over the festive period. I do try and put a break on my regular gaming projects over this period, which explains why I may have seemed a bit quiet!

Mostly because of the disruption but also, for me, its good to allow some tabletop gaming downtime occasionally to avoid becoming jaded with a long line up of projects vying for my attention. So now I'm ready to go for 2016. Already there is movement in the 20mm chariot rank...

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