Wednesday, 8 June 2011

EXPO-say: Von's Frugal Picks from the UK Games Expo

There's nothing quite like attending a gaming convention with no money to sharpen the old critical faculties and make you consider the value of the beautiful, shiny objects being paraded about before your eyes.  I'd recommend it to anyone.  Leave your wallet at home.  Take your ticket and a packed lunch.  Just look at things and think about them.  You might notice, as I did, that many contemporary RPGs are needlessly bloated behemoths that attempt to meld the best of four or more existing systems and disguise the stitches with glorious full-colour and glossy paper; you might notice that those very nice lizard-persons are glorious but at £10 for two owning sufficient numbers of them to use them in any sensible context is ludicrous; you might play and discuss the hot new skirmish game in town and finally work out how the design principles generate sales past the buy-in.  I will talk about all of these things later in my usual meta-contexty way but first I want to talk about the bargains that you might find and endorse at such an Exposition, because I told these lovely people that I would.

You might, at this hypothetical event, have a nice chat with the lads from Arkenstone Publishing, whose names are too Finnish for me to remember or spell (sorry chaps) and who are pimping out the Nordic approach to Old School Roleplaying and the rather curious Inquisitio, which reminds me of the party game Werewolf, complicated by the idea that everyone is guilty of something and some amount of guilt will come out.  They described the game as 'a race to not lose'; it sounds like it requires a lot of concentrating but apparently it's possible to play fairly randomly without paying much attention and still end up somewhere in the middle.

You might encounter the excitable Benjamin Dale of Tied to a Kite Games, who produce the marvellous old-school D&D clone Blackswords and Bucklers, which strips out the hippy fantasy nonsense and replaces it with a grubby, low-fantasy Elizabethan English vibe that's pitched halfway between Call of Cthulhu and Blackadder.  The core rules are fifty clean, accessible pages with a heavy emphasis on making the details up as you go along and not burdening the system with unnecessary personalising-my-special-snowflake cruft - the first of a range of supplements adding further classes and mechanics (usually one new class and one new mechanic per book, delivered in detail) is already out - and did I mention it's a fiver?  Five quid for a roleplaying game that won't put your back out.  Bargain.

On the subject of bargains, they also make a came called Numerix, an 'abstract chance strategy' game that reminds me of Go with dice.  It's easier to play than to explain and an explanation is helped by a picture of the board, thus:

Action shot!

Basically, the dice give you three options in the placement and moving of pieces (either place one piece on a square with that number, or move an existing piece into an adjacent square with that number).  It's up to you which of those options you take, and the objective is to enfold the other player's pieces on three sides to remove them from play.  There's a lot of control over what looks like a very random mechanic and the minimal number of pieces means it should be fairly quick to play.  Again, it's very minimalist, without any unnecessary context of the sort that gets Coop so agitated and drives up the cost of everything with the need for pictures and stories and suchlike woven around it.  The wooden one is a cautious £16, the laminated card and plastic one is a trifling £2.10!  Lovely.

In the act of endorsing Tied to a Kite, you might be noticed by Oliver Piotrowski of Table Warfare, who present themselves as the ultimate frugal miniature manufacturer.  After a good whinge about How Those Other Companies Think They Can Get Away With This, the chaps might present you with the notion of a free rules system with an open-ended time travel narrative that allows more or less any miniature or terrain to be slotted in around the Table Warfare factions.

Now with 100% more reflections of your intrepid reporter!

They also make some rather nice fantasy figures which picked up the Best New Miniatures award, and well deserved it is too.  Photographing them was a bit hard what with all those mirrors and Mr. Flash not being my friend, but I did my best.

Trust me, they're pretty.
Oh, and they price the whole lot at around £2 per infantryman and sell them in single blisters rather than the 'buy one for lots or buy more than you want' straitjacketing engaged in by other firms.  It's a small range but it's definitely one to keep your eye on.  Again, endorsed heartily.

You might, finally, pass by the Mantic Games stand and see Jake Thornton, author of Dwarf King's Hold, doing demos and explaining the future for what looked at first like a rather closeted little game.  I like the idea of Dwarf King's Hold, but I frequently find myself needing games for more than two players; while team play seems like a viable option, it's always nice to have a sense of ownership over what your little mens are doing.  Fortunately, it seems that Mr. Thornton agrees; after a similar start-up set involving Orcs and Elves, he has plans for a pseudo-roleplaying approach with named heroes and a multiplayer option involving multiple factions, all on the same dungeon-tile-based grid - part Warhammer Quest and part Song of Blades and Heroes or similar skirmish endeavour, it would seem.  Interesting stuff.  At £35 it's a little steep for a board game, and I'm not sure about replayability with six fairly tight scenarios and not much apparent randomly generated fun to be had, but I'd be interested to see how it develops and how it might synchronise with other Mantic releases (for instance, it could top up the armies from Mhorgoth's Revenge, and adding another game to your collection and adding miniatures to your armies with one purchase seems like it might have some merit).

Also, the 3:1 scale demo figures Mantic take to shows are fit.


grumhelden said...

Dwarf kings hold...looked like a heroquest type game, then I opened the box and thought meh....hope the orchard v elves one tickled me more

Frugal Dave said...

Yeah, I had high hopes for a deep, sprawling dungeon crawl, but was also disappointed. I really want to get a good dungeon based boardgame, I may have to fold and get a copy of 'Descent' :(

arabianknight said...

I had high hopes for DKW as well, but the peices just looked, well, cheap. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of Descent last birthday. £25 more expensive , but much more than £25 better!

Tarragon said...

He fails to mention our demo game of Malifaux... he won, after all!

Neal said...

Just wondering if you checked these guys out at the show. They produce paper based miniatures to print out, as well as RPG's and other bits to go around

Neal said...