Roll Through the Forbidden Nexus of Castle Ravenloft

Even though I took Samantha home and got her all fed and ready for bed, I was still able to make it back to game night by 7 o’clock or so.  Games were pretty much already in progress, so I used the time to, using some store credit and my 20% discount from game night attendance, purchase the new hotness, Castle Ravenloft

So while Kenny ate his supper, I tore into the box and punched out tons and tons of dungeon tiles and counters.  I was a little freaked out at how little was in the box, until I happened to lift up the box insert and realize that something like 2/3 of the cardboard punchboards were actually placed there instead of on top. 

After all the furious punching and sorting, Kenny was finished with eating, so we jumped into a quick game of…  

Forbidden Island [GeekDo]

We were joined by the youthful Cristian, who is, quite paradoxically, at least partially Jewish in heritage.  We didn’t really inquire about this little tidbit of information, however, and instead tried to redirect the conversation to setting up and playing Forbidden Island on the Elite difficulty. 

The luck of the cards was definitely with us, though, because we managed to find three of the treasures on the first pass through the deck, and won with little difficulty soon thereafter.

Time: 21 minutes
Score: Explorers (Cristian, Kenny & Me) – Win; Forbidden Island – Lose
Ratings: Cristian 10, Kenny 7.5, Me 8

I just heard Paul Tevis talking about Forbidden Island on the most recent Garrett’s Games & Geekiness, and his comment about it was that while he really liked Pandemic on an intellectual, problem-solving kind of level, Forbidden Island did a better job of reaching him on a visceral level.  But I just don’t see that at all. 

Now, I like FI a lot, but that’s mainly because it’s quicker and has some interesting twists that strike a nice balance between keeping what is great about Pandemic but still making it fresh and different.  But between the lighter theme and lower overall investment to set up and play, it completely comes across as being less dire and therefore less emotionally engaging.  Because, for me at least, the real visceral anguish in Pandemic comes from how deeply you have to invest yourself into working together and solving the “puzzle” that will save all of mankind.

But for what it is (an incredible, family-weight coop with amazing art and a $16 price tag), Forbidden Island is still a truly amazing game. 

Nexus Ops [GeekDo]

And then as the other games finished up, we set the table for this month’s hotly debated “championship game” for Nexus Ops.  Based on Alton’s magical formula, he was set to face off against Chris, Chip, and myself.  I went last in turn order, but managed to still get  a rock strider on top of the monolith before anyone else.  Alton didn’t let that stand for long, though, but he left his home base pretty much undefended. 

Chris took the chance to move in and take away a mine very close to Alton’s territory, and then I used an Energize card to move four Crystalline warriors over to it and take it as well.  While Alton and I had done a lot of attacking up to this point, we seemed to have to continually rely on the single-point “win a battle” cards since we weren’t holding anything better from our hands.  I changed that soon, however, when I was able to attack and win a battle on his central home space, playing out the 3-VP card for doing so.

Chip and Chris were both being more cautious in their expansion, and Chris especially was getting a ton of rubium each turn.  But they were also winning battles and racking up points as well.  The game was the most competitive all-around game that I’ve played in, with all of us being very close and in a position to win.  In fact, on the last turn of the game, Chris was one (very lucky) die roll away from winning.  On Alton’s turn, he racked up his last two points (for the win) based on one lucky die roll (killing my last unit with a human’s attack), and I would have won on my turn (barring terrible luck) as well.    

Time: 64 minutes
Score: Alton 13, Chris 11, Me 10, Chip 9
Ratings: Alton 8, Chris 6, Me 7, Chip 7

In thinking about Nexus Ops on the other side of its reign as Game of the Month!, I still a little conflicted about it.  Based on my plays of it earlier in the month, I was fully prepared to drop my overall rating down to a 6 or so, but then this game proved to be so much fun, so efficient (coming in at just over an hour), and competitive, that I decided to leave it at a 7.  With experienced players, who understand not only the rules of the game, but also really how the game is supposed to be played (which’d be aggressively!!!), things move quickly and the game is full of action.  Unfortunately, the “baseline” way for new people to play it is more like they would play other conquest games (such as Risk), where moving slow, building up your forces, and making sure not to leave yourself open to counterattack is more important.  And when the game runs more into the 90-120 minute range, it really wears out its welcome to me. 

So basically, I’d love to keep playing Nexus Ops from time to time with other experienced players, I really don’t want to bother much with introducing it to new players.  And that’s sort of a shame, because for geeky-type people with a history in games like Risk, it works really well as a gateway game.     

Castle Ravenloft [GeekDo]

I’m a pretty big fan of the Ravenloft setting for Dungeons & Dragons, and have been interested in this game since it was first announced.  After hearing enough positive buzz about it from GenCon, I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger and reserve a copy at Hypermind.  I knew that it was supposed to arrive on Tuesday, so I had already read the rules a couple of times online, and felt relatively comfortable that I could run it in case a few others wanted to try it out as well.

I actually had four others jump at the chance to play, and I even had to turn down a person or two who wanted in.  As I started explaining the rules, though, I found that learning rules without the actual game in front of you to see and understand doesn’t always work.  Now, the basic concepts (of combat, anyway) are really simple and were a breeze to understand and teach, but there are a lot of little things that aren’t clearly discussed or defined in the book (nor is anything very easy to find), so a lot of time was wasted both in the rules teach and throughout the game as I or others searched through the rules text to find an answer.

But anyway, we eventually got to the game, in which we played the recommended Find the Icon of Ravenloft scenario.  Things went pretty smoothly in actual mechanics, but a few players kept getting hung up on how things were different from “real” D&D.  We explored, encountered monsters, got smacked around, and used healing surges to recover.  In the end, we thought that we won the scenario, but I think that we should have actually lost.  There are five Healing Surge tokens in the game, and I assumed that you were able to use them all throughout play.  But in actuality, even though it doesn’t say so in the Setup portion of the rules (it’s mentioned way back in the section specifically about Healing Surges, which I thought I understood and therefore didn’t reference in play), you only get two of them, and I’m pretty sure that we used three.   

So yipee, I think we lost, guys.    

Time: 97 minutes
Score: Heroes (Brad the Rogue, David the Ranger, Kenny the Dwarven Cleric, Michelle the Wizard & Me the freaking Dragonborn Fighter) – Win**; Castle Ravenloft – Lose**
Ratings: Brad 7, David 6, Kenny 7, Michelle 7, Me 7

** or so we thought

Obviously, no one was really blown away by the game.  But let me give a few caveats and warnings to any of you out there thinking of picking this up.  This is not D&D lite.  In fact, I don’t know that I’ve even say that it was “based on” the current edition of D&D; “inspired by” might be a more accurate description.

Sure, it’s got the basic idea of rolling a d20 to hit and uses terms like Armor Class, Hitpoints, and “Powers”.  And, of course, it’s also got the whole Ravenloft setting thing going on.  But in order to enjoy it for what it is (and not hate on it for what it’s not), you’ve got to realize that, at its heart, Castle Ravenloft is first and foremost a cooperative game about exploring a generic, randomly-generated dungeon.  Without a “Dungeon Master”/overlord-ish type person, you’re not going to have complex tactical combat or “realistic” encounters.  Monster movement isn’t actually tactical at all; they just follow a scripted course of action listed on their cards.  And the Encounter cards are intentionally abstract and vague when it comes to time and details.

Don’t read more into the rules than what’s there.  For instance, one thing that hung me up a little was knowing where to put the monsters when they move.  It may say to move a monster forward one tile, but I was trying to figure out where exactly (as in, to which space) the monster would “want” to go, and looking for rules to guide their placement.  But then I figured out (with help from some people on the BGG forums) that since it’s actually a freaking coop game and not a “realistic tactical game”, so the player gets to decide where exactly to put it.

With all this said, though, my biggest issues with it now are related to how poorly written and organized the rules are.  It’s not the worst rulebook I’ve ever read, but for such a huge company with such a large game that is apparently going to be the flagship for a whole line (or series, whetever) of similar games, there are some really obvious issues.  And why the heck don’t they have either a glossary or index to help looking up important details throughout play?  

Still, though, I’m pretty excited about getting this back to the table.  Last night, I went through my extensive D&D Minis collection and pulled together prepainted replacements for pretty much all the ones actually included in the game.  The Strahd/Young Vampire figure was missing from my copy of the game, in fact, but I just happen to own four of the “real” Strahd figures (which, for some reason, is not the same sculpt they used in the game) from the minis game, along with a few other vampire figures I can use, so I don’t know that I even need to bother getting it replaced.  

But I can’t wait to try it solo, and will be bringing my pimped-out copy back to game night for a while if anyone else wants to give it a try.        

The dungeon just after we found the Chapel (where we found the Icon of Ravenloft)

Roll Through the Ages [GeekDo]

It was almost midnight, but I really wanted to get in another game, so we pulled out Roll and gave it a shot.  I did pretty miserably, ending exactly where I began with exactly 0 points.

Time: 29 minutes
Score: Alton 21, James 19, Kenny 17, Me 0 (a big, fat goose egg!)
Ratings: Alton 8, James 8, Kenny 8, Me 7

Especially after playing this a lot on the iPod, RrtA is becoming less and less appealing to me.  While I used to be impressed with how many different paths you could try to score points, it’s becoming more and more formulaic to me as I play it more.  Unless I’m missing a really huge strategy point somewhere, it is pretty much always more advantageous to roll workers in the first 3-4 turns than anything else, because building cities and having more dice is required for doing well.  I don’t know that it’s always required to get all 7 built, but I can’t imagine trying to play with only 3 or 4.  And since this pure luck element (of who rolls the most workers early) gives a real advantage in the game, it makes it far less interesting to me.

I’m wondering, though, do any of you disagree with me?  Is there some strategy out there that doesn’t depend on getting more cities?  Or, even better, has anyone tried a variant where you maybe start with 5 cities and have the possibility of building up to 9 or so?  That might really open things up to more variety, so maybe I’ll have to try that out myself… 

Other Games Played

Apples to Apples
Time: 27 minutes
Score: Matt 6, Chris A 4, Graham 3, Chris F 2, Keith 2, Michelle 0
Ratings: Matt 9, Chris A 8, Graham 6, Chris F 10, Keith 6, Michelle 6

Castle Panic
 43 minutes
Score: James 11, Chip 10, Graham* 7, Keith* 7, Chris 6, Alton 4, Monsters – Defeated
Ratings: James 8, Chip 7, Graham 8.5, Keith 7.5, Chris 8, Alton 7.5

 23, 18 & 21 minutes
Game 1: Graham 670, Keith* 630, Chris* 390, James* 330, Michelle* 260
Game 2: Graham 550, Chris 540, Keith 500, Michelle 500, James 350
Game 3: Graham 700, Michelle 620, Chris F* 340, Keith 300, Chris 300
Ratings: Graham 9, Keith 8, Chris 8, James ?, Michelle 8.5, Chris F 8.5

No Thanks!
 64 minutes (for 5 hands)
Score: James 124, Graham 132, Chris 137, Alton 165, Shawn* 204
Ratings: James 8, Graham 8, Chris 8, Alton 8.5, Shawn 7

Thurn and Taxis
Time: 70 minutes
Score: Alton 32, Chip 30, Shawn 12, David* 2
Ratings: Alton 9, Chip 9, Shawn 9, David 7.5

Tribune: Primus Inter Pares
 60 and 45 minutes
Game 1: David 4, Kenny 2, James 2, Shawn 1
Game 2: Alton 4 (33), James 4 (28), Chip 2, Keith 1
Ratings: David 9, Kenny 8.5, James 8, Shawn 8, Alton 9, Chip 9, James 8, Keith 8

* First play for that Person

After the Championship game, Chip and I played Nexus Ops again againt Graham Prime and Graham Mark III. 
I didn’t bother to report the results, though, because they had some sick little “clone alliance” going on, and in the end, it was just a big ole cluster duck…


  1. Keith Carter

    Great picture of Graham Prime and Graham Mark III.

  2. Chris, we have to play Money again soon. I totally owned that group, but we had a lot of fun! I’d be interested to see what someone who has played as much of the app as I have can do.

    And Castle Panic was nice! It reminded me of an Xbox Live Indie title, Protect Me Knight. Everyone that owns a 360 should try that thing out. Really.

  3. That’s not Prime! He and Mark III haven’t really gotten along since MIII started getting really into windbreakers. You were actually playing against Graham of the Year Edition. Smug little punk, him — thinks he’s better than the rest of us because he comes with all the DLC pre-installed.

  4. Chris Ingersoll

    Regarding RTTA…

    You’re putting way too much thought into what is essentially a slightly deeper variation on Yahtzee.

  5. I had a blast playing games this past week. I would have loved to try the D&D game that you bought. Unfortunately having to leave for work at 5AM every day it doesn’t allow me the time to stay late at game night. Maybe we can get the D&D game in at an early time some time in the next few weeks?
    Also, ALTON, please get me a copy of that No Thanks game 😉

  6. Chris Norwood

    Well, yeah… I guess you’re right.  It’s just that I perceived it having a greater depth based on my initial impressions of it.  And now that my perception of it is changing, my (perhaps unrealistic) expectations of it are not being met.

  7. Chris Norwood

    Obviously, we’re going to have to institute a “no clones” policy at game night.  We just can’t have this kind of inter-“family” conflict raising the tension in the store…

  8. Chris Ingersoll

    In theory, rolling a bunch of coins and goods and just blitzing toward the “5 developments” end condition would act as a counter to the standard procedure of building up cities.

    However, there are two main problems with that plan:

    1) Your people would probably starve you into negative points, even if your first development was Irrigation to fend off the inevitable Droughts.

    2) This is a dice-based game and as such trying to apply any sort of pre-conceived strategy is a waste of your damned time.

  9. Alton

    Shawn, That would be ah “No” thanks for you. 😉

  10. Alton

    That one Scary Picture. Shame on you Chris N. for putting a little kid’s face on a old man’s body.

    Laws have been broken in at least 39 states. 🙂

  11. Little kid? Alton, I’m 22. I’m roughly the median, age-wise, of the game group.

    But yes, the picture is creepy. I decided to ignore it and try to make a joke.

  12. Chris Norwood

    I’ll give you the fact that you’re no little kid, but 22 being the “median” of the group is a pretty big stretch.  The range is something like 18 (Michelle) up to 78 or whatever Alton is.  And there’s a big glut of us that are in the 31-39 zone, so even the mean is skewed way above your age. 

    Heck, Kenny and I have been playing hobby games together for 25 years, so our “gaming life” is even older than you!

  13. Michelle

    LOL i love that last picture!!!!


  14. Oh, I don’t dispute the mean in the slightest. That thing’s way higher, because the people that are younger than me aren’t that much younger.

    But even this week in late August, when school has the kids busy, there were ten older than me and five younger. Going back to the mid-summer, that second week of July when I was there? Seven people older. Seven people younger.

    Yes, I went back to your posts and counted. At 2 a.m., even. But my point is made. You just may not realize it, since you tend to play the same group of regulars more often than not, but I’m safely in the middle range.

    On another note, though, it’s nice that you and Kenny can still play after so long. Extended friendships like that are hard to come by.

  15. Chris Ingersoll

    On another note, though, it’s nice that you and Kenny can still play after so long. Extended friendships like that are hard to come by.

    Especially when you move 800 miles away from your childhood friends.

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  25. Jay

    I do think you’ve missed out a bit on RttA. The question of where to go after the 4th city is quite open. I know for a fact of several wins at 4, and almost all the rest at 5 cities. Yes, you need to build a bit – 1-2 more cities, but the last 2 are very much open to question and revolve around strategy decisions.

    As for it being a lot of luck: yes, sure, but over time, the luck evens out, and the best decisions win. Period. To dismiss it as trivial because there is a substantial amount of luck would be, well, unfounded in my opinion.

    In my last game I went for a combo of workers and skulls right away, allowing a bit of starvation on turns 1 and 2. But I also got several developments at the same time which was quite a slingshot. Stopped at 5 cities, went for quarry and engineering, swooped in for two single-turn monument builds, and ended up winning by a handy margin.

    Sure, it’s on the lighter end of gaming, but there are significant choices/trade-offs to be made, and under a fair amount of time pressure.

  26. Chris Norwood

    You could certainly be right.  I think that my opinion of RTtA has been colored a lot by both a certain amount of “groupthink” and the fact that I have played it a metric crap-ton as a solo game on my iPod.  Especially with the iPod, there’s no way to accelerate the game or to make it end prematurely (since it’s always 10 rounds), so I’ve found that what I learn through it is a detriment to multiplayer play.  The next time I play it with my group, I’ll explore some of your ideas.


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