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Jonathan "deadmarlowe" (UK)

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Age of War Dice Game
Age of War Dice Game
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple dice game that needs a rules fix, 16 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Age of War Dice Game (Toy)
Here's a simple but addictive dice game from Reiner Knizia with a Japanese theme (it's a re-branding of the old Risk Express card game). A set of cards on the table represent castles to be captured. They are colour-themed into different clans. Players take it in turns to attack castles by rolling 7 special dice.

The dice have 6 symbols: a "daimyo" (king, a red face), archers, cavalry and 3 infantry worth 1, 2 and 3 points each. The same symbols are shown on the castles in different combinations over 1 to 4 rows.

After a roll you allocate dice to match the symbol requirements of a row on one of the castles. Then you roll again with the dice that are left and try to match the symbol requirements of another row on the same castle. If you can't match symbols on a row, you set aside one die as "casualties" and try again. Eventually you either capture the castle or run out of dice. Then the next player rolls.

The castles are all worth points and once the last castle on the table is captured, players add up their points to determine a winner. The game should take no more than 15 minutes.

Two rules complicate this simple process (which other reviewers rightly compare to the rather-more-complex Elder Sign Board Game).

Firstly, you can attack and capture castles held by other players. Each castle's top row has an extra "daimyo" symbol that you ignore when attacking castles on the table but have to match when stealing castles from rivals. This makes the top row tougher to fill.

Secondly, once you have completed a set of all the castles of a particular clan (colour), you flip the cards. The set is worth slightly more points than the individual cards and, more importantly, completed sets cannot be stolen from you by rivals. One of the clans (Oda, yellow) has 4 castles, making it particularly hard to collect the set, but it's worth 10 points if you do. Another clan (Shimazu, green) has only a single castle (Kumamoto), so if you capture that you automatically flip it; it's worth 3 points but you need to fill 4 rows to claim it, which is tricky.

That's it. Players grab cards from the table and then from each other. Whoever is ahead on points will try to end the game by capturing the last castle on the table. Once they succeed, game over and score up.

Lots of other reviewers have praised the game for being simple and fun. Unfortunately the game has a flaw. The endgame "spins" and can become very frustrating. It often happens that one player is far ahead on points and the others look on as this person tries and fails to capture the last castle, turn after turn. This lack of a dramatic and decisive endgame is a flaw in a lot of Knizia's elegant and maths-based designs. Even before the endgame, Age Of War can get bogged down as players repeatedly roll and fail to capture castles. Fortunately the forums on Boardgamegeek have suggested 3 simple house rules.

1. Divine Wind
If your first roll produces all the symbols you need to capture a castle or steal one from another player, you can do this without needing to acquire the castle one row at a time. This only applies on your first roll. This rule speeds the game up immensely and reduces the number of failed assaults.

2. Shogun
If your first roll matches the top row of a castle on the table along with the additional "daimyo", you can fill that row as if you were stealing it from another player. It's harder to capture a castle this way but if you succeed, you can have another turn - but only to attack or steal another castle of the same clan (colour). You could perform this multiple times. Shogun only applies to attacking castles on the table, although you could use the free turn to try to steal a castle of the same clan from another player. Shogun can be combined with Divine Wind. This rules makes it easier to complete sets.

3. Siege & Revolt
Whenever you fail to capture a castle on the table, turn the card anticlockwise. A card turned this way represents a castle under siege. Once the card has been turned 4 times (back to its starting position), it is "in revolt" and is moved to one side. A castle in revolt can only be captured by matching the extra "daimyo" on the top row (as if it was owned by another player) but, crucially, it is not considered to be "on the table" as far as ending the game goes. This rule brings games to a swifter conclusion because, after 4 failed assaults, the last castle will go into revolt and the game will end. This makes a winning strategy for a player ahead on points.

I don't take any credit for these house rules but I've tried them out and they work beautifully. You can add all of them or some of them, as you like. They turn a charming but slightly unsatisfying game into an exciting and fast-paced game that's a bargain at this price.

Runebound Board Game
Runebound Board Game
Offered by docsmagic
Price: £47.44

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take an easy amble through a fantasy world, 13 April 2016
This review is from: Runebound Board Game (Toy)
Runebound (now in its 3rd edition) is a big, spacious sandbox fantasy adventure game. You play your broad genre stereotypes (aggressive dwarf, dotty wizard, elven archer, orcish shaman, big fighter), distinguished by a couple of key powers and slight variations in expertise, and wander off across a fantasy landscape, activating quests and battling monsters. A timer is ticking down, in a leisurely way, until a Big Bad appears (here, a Dragon), whereupon someone needs to win by fighting and killing it.

Like most games of this type, this is all about levelling up until you’re ready for the boss fight. You can acquire new powers through skill cards and purchase helpful equipment in markets. Each game your character will develop differently, through a mixture of choice and luck, but you can skew things in your favour by playing towards each character’s printed strengths or offsetting their weaknesses.
The levelling-up progress is fun and, crucially, you never get set back significantly. Unlike, say, Firefly, where a failed job or Reaver attack can cost you crew and gear and bust you back to the start again, in Runebound the worst that happens if you’re defeated is that you must spend a few of your 3 actions next turn healing.

The game has two attractive features. One is the terrain dice. These dice have symbols on each face matching terrain types and you use them to move through matching hexes across the landscape. Optimising the terrain dice may involve taking roundabout routes or going for different targets than you intended, but the existence of roads helps you out here. Getting a good movement roll that sends you scuttling across rivers and over mountains is very satisfying.

The other feature is combat, which involves tossing a handful of coin-like tokens whose symbols describe attacks, blocks, magic powers or opportunities to flip other tokens. Another player gets to throw tokens for the monster, making combat quite a tactical affair. Gaining swords and armour adds new tokens to your selection while Skills enable tokens to do new things. It’s very absorbing.

Ultimately Runebound is fun, engrossing, a bit aimless and expansive. It will fill an evening gaming session. Competition is oblique and a problem might be that there’s not much room for interaction. One of the characters (Corbin the Dwarf) gets to challenge other characters to duels and some of the Quest cards send you chasing after other characters to challenge them at fighting, riddles or arm-wrestling, but otherwise it’s multiplayer solitaire. Set against this, playing the monsters is fun and allows for streaks of inventive cruelty and the lack of direct competition makes this a game of goodwill. As with most level-up games, a bad start with unlucky card draws or an uneven match against a too-tough opponent can set you back so much you spend the rest of the game playing catch-up. But at least that means there are some consequences of actions.

By way of comparison, Runebound is much more forgiving than Legends of Andor but lacks that game’s tension and focus. It’s similar to Mage Knight in duration and scope has similarly indirect competition, but it's much less demanding in concentration and ingenuity. By allowing characters to wander off and explore alone, it offers a different experience from Enter The World Of Myth, which offers a similar sandbox and level-up experience, or Mistfall, which is a level-up game with a timer, but doesn't have the wide-open board.

Eagle Games Defenders Of The Realm - Minions Expansion: Orcs
Eagle Games Defenders Of The Realm - Minions Expansion: Orcs
Offered by UniquelyFrom
Price: £20.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Now your Orcs look cool, 5 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
These green miniatures, attractively sculpted in heroic scale, replace the functional pawns that come with Eagle Games Defenders of The Realm Board Game. There are 25 of them, representing the Orc legions threatening to overrun the realm. Of course, you'll need Defenders of the Realm to make proper use of them, but they're nice miniatures for use in other fantasy board games or roleplaying games.

Now Defenders of the Realm is a very challenging cooperative game in which the players work together to bump off four monstrous Generals before their minions can overrun Monarch City. The Orcs are the Green Minions, representing about a quarter of the pieces on the board, but in fact turning up more often than the other minions because of "Orc Patrol" cards that call for extra placements. Therefore, if you're thinking of upgrading the featureless pieces that come with the base game, you'll probably start with the Green Minions.

There's an additional benefit of upgrading. As an interesting variation, 5 of these miniatures are Orc Wolf Riders, larger figures mounted on dire wolves with a particularly dynamic pose (and stupidly small quivers for their arrows). The Wolf Riders function like normal Orcs, but have an additional power: Heroes cannot enter a space occupied by a Wolf Rider unless they discard a Green card first. That can be a major tactical and strategic headache but it showcases the value of Heroes like the Ranger, Barbarian or Druid who can remove minions from a distance, without having to enter the space.

If you choose to use the Wolf Riders as distinct minions, they are deployed like this: the third Green Minion on any space will be a Wolf Rider and when the Green General moves, the first Green Minion he deploys will also be a Wolf Rider. That's pretty simple and it has Wolf Riders turning up often enough to be a menace but not so often that they fundamentally alter the play of the game.

Thick cards describe the abilities and dice rolls for regular Orcs and the Wolf Rider Orcs; there's also a card describing Elite Orcs for anyone who wants their game of Defenders of the Realm to be just super-difficult. Elite Orcs inflict Wounds on Heroes if they appear in the same space as the Hero outside of a player's turn. Nasty.

Although the Orcs and Wolf Riders look nice, the art on the cards is particularly crude. This is disappointing in a game that sells itself on the name and reputation of Larry Elmore, the artist associated with Dungeons & Dragons whose work adorns the box cover and Hero cards in the base game. It's a baffling disappointment, because it's not as if Larry hasn't illustrated orcs before!

This is definitely an inessential purchase. Defenders of the Realm is a beautiful and tightly constructed co-operative game that works fine with its green pawns representing orcs. The Orc miniatures certainly make the game more attractive and the Wolf Rider and Elite Orc powers make it more challenging (as if you need that!), but if you're going to upgrade all 4 sets of minions this way, you'll end up spending way more than the purchase cost of the original game. Still, if there are games worthy of this sort of loyalty, then Defenders of the Realm is probably one of them.

A final minor gripe: the new Orcs are on a different scale to the Green General that comes with the base set. Now the minions loom over their master, which is tonally odd, and make it hard to spot him on a crowded board (and in Defenders of the Ream, the board gets crowded quickly). Of course, fantasy gamers have probably got nice 25mm Orc Chieftain miniatures tucked away somewhere, at the back of drawers or rattling around the bottom of other game boxes, that they could use to replace the Green General. But then, they probably have a couple of dozen orc footsoldiers too that they could use instead of purchasing this.

Mistfall - Board Game - Brettspiel - Englisch - English
Mistfall - Board Game - Brettspiel - Englisch - English
Offered by Shop4World
Price: £46.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative fantasy co-op game in a land of freezing fog and mountains, 29 Mar. 2016
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Mistfall is a co-operative fantasy adventure game from Polish designer Blazej Kubacki. Each player takes the role of a heroic adventurer (two types of warrior, an archer, a thief, a fire-priestess and two types of mage) and the group undertakes adventures together. If one person dies, you all lose; if you make it together to the end, you might just prevail over the final enemy.

There’s no board as such, but each quest (the game comes with 4 but 2 more are available as inexpensive promos) presents you with a layout of terrain tiles. You always start at the Hearthfire Inn and make your way as a team towards the destination, flipping over the tiles in between and facing an encounter on each one.

The encounters are described by cards that match features on the tile and also mandate drawing a certain number of enemy cards, representing the beasts, monsters, undead and sorcerers inhabiting this vaguely Nordic wilderness. The artwork, by the way, is beautiful, with a distinctive style of its own.

There’s quite a lot of variety in this arrangement. Even if you draw an encounter you’ve seen before, it may be linked to different monsters or have terrain effects from the tile that make it play out differently.

So far it sounds like a more complex version of The Sorcerer's Cave, right? But what sets Mistfall apart is the characters’ decks of cards. Each of the 7 heroes has their own customised deck of cards, representing their equipment and feats, both basic and advanced. You start off drawing only basic cards but as you defeat monsters you acquire more of your advanced feats to add to your deck. Choosing which advanced feats to add is the main strategy in the game and, once again, no two games need turn out alike if you build your hero in different ways, adding different advanced feats each time.

Furthermore, each hero has a selection of magic reward cards and, as a player, you decide which to add to the reward deck at the start of the game. You get rewards for resolving encounters; most are one-shot potions but if your own special rewards turn up then your power level gets a significant hike.

So, the heroes:

Fengray the Shieldbearer is your classic tank. He dishes out damage but mostly he takes it, lots of it. He’s ideal for first time players but his ability to leap to the rescue of other Heroes or recycle his weapons and use them again makes him satisfying for more experienced players too.

Venda the Ravencrag Fury is an axe-wielding madwoman. She’s very effective in battle and her taunts ensure that monsters head for her, rather than her team-mates. She's never going to run out of attacks and her deck lasts a long time too, although experienced players might find her range of options a bit limited.

Arani the Dawnbreaker Cleric is a healer but wields an impressive mace and her advanced feats roll out some devastating fire magic. She's a real all-rounder, perhaps even a trifle over-powered.

Ardenai the Arcaneweave Archer has a lot of ranged attacks, as you’d imagine, and his advanced feats let him fire lightning arrows, fire arrows, all sorts of arrows. He has some good agility feats as well based around weaving and dodging. Because he needs to keep track of ammo, he's not an ideal choice for a first-time player.

Celenthia the Arcane Mage specialises in lightning but she can save up arcane power for some spectacular artillery spells. Working her magic takes a while to get your head around and she can seem a bit weak until you do, but once you figure out how to make her deck work she's immensely powerful.

Hareag the Frost Mage is the most complex character to manage but potentially the most powerful. He starts weak but if he can access his advanced feats he can freeze groups of enemies then blast them with blizzards or ice shards. There are a lot of conditions limiting his powers, but he has the widest range of physical and magical attacks.

The game works well solitaire (though some of the characters function better than others alone – Arani is best solo, Hareag is worst) but it comes into its own as a cooperative experience, with players rushing to each other’s rescue, performing crazy power combinations and bickering about whose need to spend the team’s shared Resolve on new advanced feats takes precedence.

There’s a lot to like about Mistfall. It has evocative art, its own distinctive mythology and a chilly, Northern European atmosphere of its own. A game _feels_ like a wilderness quest adventure in Dungeons & Dragons, despite the absence of miniatures, a Dungeon Master or dice.

On the other hand, it’s an odd game that takes some getting used to. There’s a steep learning curve in the rules, not helped by a few misprints and omissions and the fact that the introductory quest is insanely difficult. The rulebook itself is clear, in a functional sort of way, but doesn’t give you much of an idea of HOW the game is played. Fortunately, there are tutorial videos and the designer, Blazej Kubacki, supports the game’s community on Boardgamegeek.

If you’re new to this sort of thing, Mistfall might not be your first port of call. You might try Legends of Andor to get your head around cooperative fantasy adventure games. Mistfall resembles Andor because it also pits you against a timer and has a tightly-constructed, puzzle-like quality to it; there’s an optimal way to play each hand of cards to make sure you don’t run out of time or run out of cards before the final encounter. Sentinels of The Multiverse superhero-based, but it provides a fine introduction to cooperative games where each character is defined by their own unique deck of cards, representing their powers, tactics and equipment.

Experienced gamers won’t need such an introduction (and have probably played those games anyway). If you’re a veteran, you might compare Mistfall to the classic Mage Knight Board Game. It comes out well from the comparison. Both games involve playing a basic deck of character-defining cards (though Mistfall characters’ decks are more distinctively different than in Mage Knight) and the characters advance by adding more powerful cards to their repertoire. Because it’s hard to get cards back after you’ve played them, careful thought needs to go into which card to play and in what order. Both games have a cerebral quality to offset the mayhem of unleashing fireballs or decapitating beast-men. However, while Mage Knight will take up hours of your day, Mistfall fairly accurately describes itself as taking half an hour per player; that’s a manageable duration for most gaming groups.

The Mistfall: Valskyrr Expansion develops Mistfall with campaign rules, allowing your heroes to progress between adventures and making the adventures progressively tougher.

In conclusion, this is a very distinctive, very addictive fantasy co-op game that will hit your table a lot once you get over the hurdle of digesting the rules and mastering the gameplay. It’s a simpler game than it looks and the bespoke character decks give it a depth of play you don't find in most dungeon-crawl games. Once you’ve finished a quest, you’ll want to do it again, but do it differently, to see how the powers you _didn’t_ choose would work out.

Firefly Gale Force Nine The Kalidasa Expansion Board Game
Firefly Gale Force Nine The Kalidasa Expansion Board Game
Price: £30.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Lacklustre expansion slows down the game, 20 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
GF9's Firefly Board Game never won any awards for innovative play, but it's a sleek and attractive game that's steeped in the atmosphere of the beloved show. Not a game for deep play but light-hearted, a bit whimsical and occasionally dramatic. Kalidasa fills out the 'Verse with a new set of star systems, two new Contacts and a new Supply World as well as the dreaded Operative who cruises about in his Corvette looking to punish the guilty.

First off, this doesn't grab me like the Blue Sun Expansion did. That also expanded the 'Verse (leftwards) but it focussed on the dreaded Reavers and their mysterious homeworld; the unusual stuff for sale on Meridian and Mr Universe's quirky Jobs gave that expansion a real tone of its own.

Kalidasa is just more... stuff. Fanty & Mingo fill an inessential gap, offering Illegal jobs that aren't as deadly or immoral as Niska's. Higgins is another Contact offering a lot of Immoral shipping jobs. There's a place for it, but it's a bit "meh". Beaumonde is a Supply World without the exciting stuff for sale that justifies a journey out into the Rim by itself.

More problematic is the Operative, whose ship moves about in a way similar to the Reavers. When he pounces on you, he stops you in mid-flight and arrests/kills any Fugitives on board and one of your Outlaw crew. No dice roll, nothing. Just removes the crew member. Farewell River. Farewell Simon. Was nice knowing you!

Now maybe you were finding in your games that Outlaws were ruling the roost, in which case this expansion definitely re-sets the balance in favour of law-abidin' citizens. Personally, I always found Firefly to be skewed in favour of people doing lucrative cargo runs. The arrival of the Operative gives thoughtful players even less reason to misbehave, which seems to me to be counter to the spirit of Firefly...

The other problem is that, if you play with both this expansion and Blue Sun (and of course you want to do that) then the 'Verse has gotten too damn BIG. Firefly was always a game that felt more like multiplayer solitaire than a competitive board game, but on a board this size most players will never cross each other's paths and Piracy Jobs become very hard to pull off.

It's not just that the board is big and journeys take too long. The new cards add to the fiddly pernickertiness of gameplay. Now you're playing blue Alliance Alert tokens as well as red Reaver Alert tokens. The board gets cluttered despite being big and you can't go more than a couple of sectors without triggering a Reaver or the Operative to come swooping in on you.

More to the point, everything slows down. The game's Story Cards were always a bit optimistic saying you could do a Story in 2 or 2-3 hours, but with both boards in play you can definitely double that and then some. Firefly's charm was its lightness, it's don't-take-it-too-seriously romance. Now it's a slog. Flying a space ship feels like wading through mud. Tempers fray. Games get abandoned.

There are some house rules you can adopt to offset the stodginess of the game in its fully-expanded form. Double starting money and double-prime the pumps. I recommend waiving the rule that says you can't perform the same action twice in a turn. In a 'Verse this big and this hostile, captains will need to tool up quickly and get to where they're going before it all gets taken away from them.

So, fans of the game will want this expansion to fill out the 'Verse, but they may find they've lost something in the process. Once a game like Firefly swells up to the sort of commitment demanded of Through the Ages or Twilight Imperium, something's gone wrong.

God's Not Dead [DVD]
God's Not Dead [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kevin Sorbo Willie Robertson
Price: £9.90

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Christian matinee movie with a brain, 7 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: God's Not Dead [DVD] (DVD)
When sneering philosophy tutor Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo, in magnificent scenery-chewing form) insists his students sign a waiver asserting "God is Dead", freshman student Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper, earnest and likeable) refuses. He is challenged to convince the class of God's existence in three debates with his atheistic lecturer.

These debates form the brain and spine of this Christian feel-good movie. Wheaton brings out the Design Argument but is flummoxed by the Big Bang, only to come back in round two, asserting Biblical Creation to the fury of his teacher. Arguments from Cosmology and Morality are briefly touched on, with powerful delivery and excellent graphics, and the lecture room scenes are delivered with the intensity of courtroom drama. I was a bit disappointed that the final debate descended into simplistic ad hominems (Prof. Radisson is revealed to be an atheist because of his personal hang-ups, rather than intellectual convictions), but then Wheaton is supposed to be studying towards a Law degree, so maybe that's quite appropriate.

Around this vigorous plot are strung various interweaving storylines that are far more conventional and sometimes insipid. At the insipid end, clueless Chinese student Martin (Paul Kwo) encounters theism for the first time (we are led to believe) after leaving the People's Republic, chooses to follow Jesus and goes to his first rock concert. Josh's girlfriend Kara (Cassidy Gifford, channelling her inner spoiled princess) is implausible as the bright, sincere hero's brattish girlfriend, but the scene where she dumps him for standing up for his religion raises a weary cheer. Barely less humdrum is Radisson's longsuffering girlfriend Mina (Cory Oliver), who, sick of his passive-aggression and insults to her faith, is prompted to dump him afer a disastrous dinner party in which Radisson's academic buddies make a wonderful parade of snooty, snickering nastiness. Her brother Mark (an under-used Dean Cain) is the epitome of yuppie narcissism, defined by his business suits and greed-is-good mentality. The scene where Mark dumps his cancer-stricken girlfriend Amy (Trisha LaFache, giving 110% in a thankless role) is priceless for his utter villainy. Mina and Mark's mother is in a state of advanced Alzheimer's, but still delivers the film's most powerful soliloquy to her worldly son, whom she doesn't remember.

Less effective and (for me) more aggravating is the sub-plot concerning Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu), a Muslim convert to Christianity who attracts the wrath of her pious father. OK, this is an evangelical fantasy in which Muslims are stand-ins for Biblical Pharisees (they have tick-box morality, they believe in works rather than faith, they beat their daughters, etc) and - yes - there are serious issues for inter-faith converts and apostates in the real world who suffer rejection, abuse and violence from their families. A whole film could be devoted to this issue. A better film! But really, Ayiisha's plot is just tokenism. She makes 4 brief appearances, as a disgruntled Muslim, a secret convert, an abused apostate and a recovering Christian, and there is no investigation of her motives or decision-making. To the film's credit, it presents her punchy father as grieving over the loss of his daughter, but really, this is just clumsy stereotyping and Christian triumphalism. Scenes the skip button was meant for.

All of this is tied together by the character of Reverend Dave (played with easy charisma by David White). Dave is trying to take his missionary friend Jude (Benjamin Onyango, also exuding effortless virtue) on a road trip to Disney World, but the repeated car breakdowns suggest God is the mystical saboteur, keeping Dave in the zipcode so he can offer spiritual nudges to the rest of the cast. It's a cheesey conceit, but it works, because the two actors keep smiling, the light hearted comedy is so welcome among the tears and arguing, and because it nicely reflects the themes of divine providence versus Shakespeare's "tale told by an idiot" set up in the debates between Josh and the Professor.

At the end, the atheists are brought to bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord, on their deathbed or otherwise. In some cases this feels shoe-horned (Sorbo's Professor Radisson is too fantastic a villain to be served such a sudden and shallow change of heart) and in other cases merely under-cooked (LaFache's Amy has a story worth telling, but a brief encounter the CCM rockers The Newsboys hardly seems like a worthy epiphany given the emotion she's invested into her character). But, hey, it's a feelgood film and when the class stand up to salute Josh with a refrain of "God's NOT dead", you blink the tears from your eye like you're watching Spartacus.

Overall, this is mainstream Christian cinema with some intellectual ambition. Actual philosophers get mentioned: Nietzsche! Richard Dawkins! The lecture room debates are thrilling and thought-provoking, but the movie too often sags when Harper and Sorbo aren't on screen. Nonetheless, there are strong production values here: a llively and atmospheric soundtrack, a script that occasionally surprises and some good character work from up-and-coming actors. The camera work is effective, especially in the debates and in the treatment of Amy's cancer diagnosis and her reactions. The villains (Sorbo, Cain) are memorably horrid.Oddly, for a Christian film, it's the redemption that feels a bit lazy and tacked-on.

There are production gremlins. Scenes clearly got shifted around in post production to beef up the dramatic beats, and this results in some glaring continuity errors when day becomes night and tomorrow turns into yesterday. In one scene, Radisson berates Josh for humiliating him in class, to be followed by the scene in which the humiliation happens. Careless.

So, it's no Citizen Kane. But it's superior matinee entertainment, in which the Christians bear gentle witness, the smirking unbelievers get their comeuppance and a few valuable and universal lessons about integrity, relationships and faith get aired. It well deserves its $60M haul on a $2M production budget and, I suspect, everyone involved will go on to better things. Better things too may come from Christian cinema if more films follow this route, but maybe ditch some of the lazy stereotypes and invest a little more effort into the mechanics of redemption, rather than plucking it, rabbit-like, from the hat in the last act.

Defenders Of The Realm: The Barbarian Expansion by Eagle Games TOY
Defenders Of The Realm: The Barbarian Expansion by Eagle Games TOY
Offered by a1 Toys
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Inessential but enjoyable additional hero with monster-culling powers, 27 Feb. 2016
All you get for your money is a plastic miniature and the hardstock character card (pictured). However, the Barbarian is one of the better heroes for Defenders of The Realm Board Game and changes the balance of play in a good way.

She's a bruiser, really. By spending actions to reduce the difficulty of her attacks, she's great for taking out those resistant pockets of monsters that just won't budge. If she kills 2 in a single attack, she gets to remove a minion from every neighbouring space as they flee in terror. This makes her great for crowd control, She also tends to build up good hands, with her ability to draw 3 and choose the best 2 Hero Cards each turn she finishes on a black space or an inn.

The Barbarian's ability to thin the board or take out hard-to-dislodge pockets of Dragonkin makes her an interestig alternative to the Wizard or the Ranger. She lacks movement powers and has no particular advatage against Generals, though she does get to draw more Hero Cards on occasions, which may help.

One more thing: unlike some of the other miniatures in the base game, the Barbarian sculpt actually looks like the Larry Elmore illustration (though the face is very indistinct on my figure). This makes her a pleasure to paint.

By no means a vital purchase and certainly not inexpensive either, for what you get. However, she adds a lot to the game and I think someone who invests in this promo hero won't be disappointed with her in play.

Eagle Games Defenders of The Realm Board Game
Eagle Games Defenders of The Realm Board Game
Offered by UniquelyFrom
Price: £49.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Deeply thematic fantasy adventure game with replay value, 27 Feb. 2016
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The Dark Lord is sending his 4 Generals agaist Monarch City and you play the (up to) 4 heroes defending Free Peoples against the Orcs, Dragonkin, Demons and Undead. The beautiful art by Larry Elmore (of Dungeons & Dragons fame) sets the vanilla high fantasy tone beautifully and the heroes may be a Ranger, Paladin, Cleric, Dwarf, Rogue, Sorceress, Wizard or Eagle Rider (a hobbit on a giant bird!), each with unique powers. Each hero comes with a resin plastic miniature as do the four Generals - and Sapphire the dragon is massive! The evil minions are represented by generic plastic minis.

Comparisons with Pandemic are inevitable. Yes, this games works on a similar mechanic. The minions pop up around the board on their coloured territories and adding a 4th minion "taints" the land, placing a tainted crystal there and causeing an overrun, which adds more minis to neighbouring territories and maybe taints more land. There's a tendency for evil to build up slowly, then suddenly get out of control, sendinging players scurrying to crisis-stricken regions to cull the hordes of evil.

Meanwhile, the 4 Generals advance slowly and haphazardly towards Monarch City in the centre. Killing them is more complex than slaughtering their minions; you need sets of cards of the right colour which translate into numbers of dice that are rolled to wound the monster. Each General has certain powers and immunities that should be taken into account.

There are a lot of ways to lose this game. Obviously, if just one General reaches Monarch City, it's game over. But you can also lose if 5 minions end up inside the City, or if you are called upon to place a minion anywhere on the board but can't, because they're all already in play. Finally, you lose if 12 "tainted crystals" are already in play and another taint occurs.

This makes for a game with a lot of running about. You can play cards to travel by horse or eagle or teleport between standing stones and placing new teleport stones in key locations is crucial for victory. There are three remote Inns to visit and search for rumours, which adds more cards to your hand. Each hero also has one Quest card at any given time and some of these direct you to kill certain monsters but others to visit certain territories. Fulfilling the Quests unlocks more one-off powers but may prove a dangerous distraction.

A delightful mechanic adds to the tension whenever you kill a General. Dispatching one of these monsters moves the War on a stage, from Early War to MId War and then to Late War. This causes you to draw more Darkness Spreads cards, accellerating the placement of minions and speeding the remaining Generals on their way to Monarch City.

You could dismiss all of this as "Pandemic-with-dice", but that would be to miss the distinctive features of this game. It's a longer and more languid game than Pandemic. Yes, it builds to a climax of tension and a race against time, but the early game affords opportunities to cull monsters and pursue individual Quests, with the heroes converging together to bring down Generals from time to time. It's also chock-full of THEME, something that Pandemic somehow lacks. In Pandemic, you all have various roles but no one really thinks or acts like their character. In Defenders of the Realm, you identify much more closely with your Rogue or Dwarf and the drawig of cards seems to create a narrative. It's all very compelling.

It's an expensive game in a big, colourful box with a sprawling board. The quality looks great on first inspection, but there are disappointments. Despite being based on Elmore's art, several of the sculpts do not resemble their accompanying artwork, which is aggravating if you try to paint them. The board itself is a vague map with locations represented as abstracted art bubbles. A 3-D perspective board would have given a clearer sense of geography and distance as well as being prettier. The locations all look rather similar and have pretty banal fantasy names (Serpent Swamp, Ghost Marsh, Thorny Forest, etc) which all blur together, so learning your way around the board may take a while; you will spend your first few games squinting as you hunt for the location where new monsters are to be deployed. Finally, despite the gorgeous cover art, the cards themselves are lacking on the design front. Yesm you get some pleasing heavy stock cards for the heroes and Generals, but the Darkness Spreads Cards, Hero Cards and (especially) Quest Cards are either pure text or else boast only the most functional ilustrations.

Despite these criticisms, the game is a heap of fun to play and by varying the permutation of heroes you change the style of play greatly. Despite the inclusion of dice, the game doesn't feel more random than Pandemic and its certainly no less forgiving. You can expect to lose 3/4 of the games you play and when you lose, you lose hard. Different strategies demand to be tested: is it worth culling Orcs at all costs? should you prioritise trying to remove tainted crystals? should hard-to-hit Dragonkin be left till last or targetted on their first appearance? should someone stay to defend Monarch City? which General should be killed first? when do you break from the main mission to pursue side quests? These variations make it quite satisfying to play Defenders of the Realm solo (ie running two heroes), which can't really be said for Pandemic.

The game becomes even more entertaining if you invest in the expansions. You can add extra heroes (the Barbarian Expansion can be bought as a promo and is probably worth adding to the base set) and you can replace the generic minion minis with rather beautifully scuplted monster armies that include elite units like Orcish Wolf Riders and Dragonkin Priests. For people who got on at the ground floor on Kickstarter, that was probably a great deal, but nowadays you will need to sink a lot of money into this game to get all those expansions. Is it worth it? Well, there's a lot more replay in the base game than you'd think and the expansions increase replayability exponentially and also add some scaling features, like super-elite powers for minions and Global Effect Cards that help tell a more epic story.

If I've a serious criticism of the game, it's the scaling in the base set. Two Heroes will really struggle; the game works best with 3 or ideally 4. Regular gamers won't habe a problem with running 2 (or 4!) heroes each, but I wish there was a simple mechanic that made the game a manageable challenge for 2 heroes - or just one!

So, a very immersive co-op fantasy game with shedloads of theme and a stiff challenge. There are some irritating lapses in production values in what looks like (and is priced as) a luxury game. Especially if you're prepared to shell out for expansions too, you will get hours of replay value out of this.

Legends of Andor: New Heroes
Legends of Andor: New Heroes
Price: £17.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New Heroes arise and Legends are re-told, 1 Feb. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Legends of Andor: New Heroes (Toy)
Once you've fallen in love with Michael Menzel's Legends of Andor, you are clamouring for two things: more Legends and more Heroes. Given that the 5 Legends in the base game get progressively tougher, and take several attempts to accomplish, you're probably going to get bored of the four original Heroes before you exhaust the Legends. So this expansion doubles your number of Heroes.

Everything is in the style of the original game, right down to Menzel's art: you have two standees for each character (male and female), the character dashboard, themed coloured dice, Strength marker cubes, a couple of coloured disks each and, in the case of Fenn the Tracker, three new items, and, for Kheela the river witch, a water spirit ally standee and its bigger white die.

Kheela is very much a party buffer. Her combat powers are pretty modest (1-die all the time, like the Wizard) but she can move the water spirit as an ally (like Prince Thorold in the base game). The spirit lets anyone in its space use its white die (numbered 4-7) instead of their own dice. It's basically a weaker version of the black die you get from a set of rune stones but it can be a boost for 1-die heroes like the Wizard, or anyone desperately low on Willpower or armed with a Witch's Brew. Essentially, she can help out in combat while simultaneously being somewhere else, searching for rune stones or exploring the fog.

Fenn is another buffer with only 2 dice, but three awesome items. His raven can search any space, flipping the tokens there to expose what's in the fog or reveal rune stones. His knife lets him re-roll one die but the jewel in his crown is his horn, which lets him and any other Heroes in the same battle roll their maximum dice, regardless of current Willpower. Fenn's only disadvantage is that he can't carry any other small items, like water skins, rune stones or herbs.

Bragor is a 'Taurean' beast-person with a bigger-than-normal dashboard. Like the Archer, he can attack from a neighbouring space, but in the same space as enemies he rolls all his available dice. This makes him a flexible fighter, but he maxes out at three dice, so the Archer is still better in the long run. Bragor has another perk: when on the last row of his Willpower track, he has the option of gaining +1 Strength instead of +3 Willpower from a well. This is a serious boost and puts him in competition with the Warrior for well-draining. The downside is that Bragor does not have slots for large items (shields, bows) or a helmet.

Arbon is a shady assassin (or "renegade keeper of the black archives") who rolls up to 3 grey dice. He too can attack from neighbouring spaces but always rolls one dice at a time. His ability is that he can "backstab" ordinary foes (gors, skrals, wardraks, not trolls or final adversaries), moving their Strength cube one slot to the left (reducing their reward value too). He can do this even when joining battle with other Heroes.

These new Heroes are certainly interesting and in no way over-powered. If anything, they're slightly weaker than the original four, but they complement the base set's Heroes in interesting ways. For example, Arbon helps take down difficult monsters like skrals in the early game and wardraks at any time in the game; he makes a nice castle-defender because he can whack gors all by himself as they approach the walls. Kheela can go exploring while her water-spirit helps out with battles. Fenn is another who helps with exploration and is invaluable in a team-up battle. Bragor makes a good substitute for the Warrior if you want variety but if he's playing at the same time as the Warrior, someone may have to forego visiting a well and the two overlap too much.

The only bummer is another of those translation/printing glitches. Talvora (the female Arbon) and Kheela have the wrong powers printed on their boards in the first T&K run of this game. If you email the company, they'll send out replacement boards free of charge and this problem might disappear in future print runs.

All well and good, then, but there's more. The set includes rules for 5-6 players. These are artfully done. Instead of cluttering up the time track with everybody's markers, you ditch the coloured time markers and use a set of 4 black ones. Each player can choose which marker to move for their action or "go to sleep" by putting their standee on its side. A "Sunrise" token is awarded to the first Hero to sleep and replaces moving your coloured marker to the Sunrise box.

This is a nice mechanic because there aren't enough markers for everyone to get their full 7-hour day, but each turn some characters can "go to sleep" early, freeing up extra hours that others can use. For example, Fenn might send out his raven or Kheela move her water-spirit, then immediately snooze, letting other characters have busy days doing lots of moving or fighting.

There are quick and elegant rules patches for the few Legend instructions or Fate Cards that are affected by this new mechanic (which, incidentally, might work nicely in a standard 4-player game too).

In the interest of play balance, you get a replacement monster track, giving new (tougher) Strength scores for gors, skrals, wardraks and trolls in a 5- or 6- player game. These cards fit over the original track on the board. This sort of attention to detail used to get admiring gasps from gamers and, yes, it's still nice to get an edit to the base game material that fits easily on the board without cluttering things up, but I would have been much more impressed if T&K had also included replacement cards for the ones with transation glitches in the FFG base set (though I suppose T&K don't see flaws with the earlier edition as any business of theirs).

You get a couple of extras for your money. The "Drunken Troll" is another standee that moves around the board every time an event card is drawn. He doesn't attack and can't be attacked, but other monsters still "hop over" his space. This introduces unpredictability into things, because the lines of approaching beasties might not move quite the way you expect them to, potentially robbing you of victory.

The Brother Shield is a magical item placed randomly on the board, like the rune stones. It can be used (twice) to swap Strength with someone else. This invites a strategy like sitting Kram the Dwarf in space 71 and sending him money to buy cheap Strength Potions, then someone else using the Shield to borrow his awesome Strength and clobber a troll.

The Black Herald is actually two standees, one for the 5-player and one for the 6-player game. It adds a Strength boost to the Final Adversary in any Legend. This is actually a bit disappointing, because although the Black Herald _looks_ the business (think: moody ringwraith), he might as well be a card or chit reminding you to add +4 or +8 to the baddie's Strength. A disappointing and uncharacteristic failure of imagination here. I'd prefer a rule where the Black Herald moves around the board (like the Drunken Troll) boosting any monster it accompanies or is adjacent to; that would make more sense of having a standee like this.

All in all, a pleasing new set of Heroes that will add variety to the game and might tempt you to revisit previous Legends with a different cast. The quality is high, except for the aggravating (but fixable) printing mistake and the strangely boring Black Herald.

Legends of Andor (Base Game)
Legends of Andor (Base Game)
Price: £40.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful fantasy puzzle-game that's not what it seems, 30 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Legends of Andor (Base Game) (Toy)
Andor is a classic fantasy kingdom beset by classic fantasy threats: goblin-like Gors and orc-like Skralls, with trollish Trolls and devil-hound Wardraks close behind. Orchestrating the onset of darkness is a villainous necromancer and, ultimately, a dragon. Players take the roles of classic fantasy heroes (Warrior! Archer! Dwarf! Wizard!) and play cooperatively to defeat the evil forces: either all the players win together or they all lose together. No GM or refereee is needed. There are 5 separate scenarios, or "legends", in the game and two boards: one side depicts the forests and castles of Andor, the other side the dwarf-mines that are clearly modelled on a certain Seminal Fantasy Novel.

First off, this is a beautiful game. The boards are wonderfully evocative landscape, packed with detail and terrifically atmospheric in a style that blends the style of the American Hudson River School with the fantasy flourishes of D&D's Larry Elmore. In fact, the artist is also the game designer, Michael Menzel, and this unity of vision shines through. Legends of Andor is a complete package you will either love or hate. For instance, no plastic miniatures here. Instead, the are ardboard standees on plastic basis; the standees share the same art as the board itself.

Second point, there's rich concept work in the characters. Each gets his/her own character board and there's a separate male/female variant for each one. Gendered characters - this is the sort of attention to detail I for one appreciate. Each character has their own coloured dice (a bit small and fiddly; I replaced mine with larger 16mm dice). Thick cardboard equipment tokens (helmet, shield, bow, etc) sit on top of your character board, effectively "dressing" your character for action.

The game itself surprises. You're expecting Ameritrash fantasy action and it does resemble that up to a point. You move around collecting empowering items and attacking monsters by rolling dice. However, the game more closely resembles an intricate puzzle in slow motion. The monsters advance inexorably towards the Castle (or other critical site in the Dwarf Mines) and if too many monsters make it inside, you lose. Killing monsters advances the turn counter (called the Narrator) and if this reaches the end of the scale, you run out of time and lose. This makes the decision to kill a monster a finely judged one. Embarking on a killing spree will lose the game for you; judicious assassinations and sniping are what this game is all about, not a massed battle. Each Legend is played out through a series of Legend Cards that set your victory condition and unleash new events upon the board at pre-determined or random points. For example, in one Legend you need to find the friendly Witch and learn from her the location of a magic herb; bring the herb back to the castle then confront the monster warlord in his newly-revealed tower. There's a lot that needs doing before your time runs out, so every move counts. Your watchword should be "Efficiency".

During the course of a turn, each player has 7 hours worth of action. Moving a space or attacking a monster takes up an hour. When yur hours are up, you snooze, but you can "push on" at the cost of losing Willpower. Lose all your Willpower and you pass out (in some Legends you die) and losing combat costs you Willpower too, but you can refresh it at mystic Wells dotted around the board. You also have a Strength stat that adds to your die roll and this can be increased by buying Strength Potions at three trading posts. Also for sale from the trading posts are other items of equipment, notably a Bow (that lets you attack monsters in adjacent spaces) and a Hawk (that lets you send items to each other). Items are represented by sturdy card tokens that are placed on your character card, attractively "dressing up" your hero.

Characters have their special talents. The Warrior gains the most combat dice as he increases his/her Willpower - and gains more Willpower than the others fron using Wells. The Archer has a Bow at all times and gains an advantage interacting with the Witch. The Wizard can alter the facing of a combat dice after it has been rolled, reducing the element of chance in battles. The Dwarf can boost his Strength cheaply if he buys Potions at the Mine. In some Legends, Fate Cards give each character a personal objective to fulfil before the quest can be accomplished.

People hoping for fantasy adventure action, like Hero Quest, will be disappointed. This is a surprisingly think-y game. In some ways, it plays like a simplified Mage Knight that you can finish in under an hour. The first Legend is a one-off tutorial and the second poses no great difficuty, but the third is a complex fantasy quest with lots of random elements that bears repeated plays even after you've solved it once or twice. Legend 4 takes you down the Mines, trying to sneak past monsters, snaffle gems and dodge firestorms and is especially tricky. Legend 5 confronts the Dragon. The company website has an additional Mine-based Legend you can download for free.

I've played a couple of dozen games and I've still not reached the final Legend, so I'd say you get your money's worth with this game. It works well solo: you can play Legend 3 as a solitaire variant or tackle any of the other Legends by playing 2 or 3 characters together at the same time. Set-up can be a bit fiddly. The game rules are very short but new rules are introduced as-you-go on each Legend card. In a way, this is nice because you can start playing immediately and get taught as you proceed, but it can be inconvenient as a reference tool and it prevents you "skipping to the end" if you don't want to bother with the earlier, easier quests.

If you're looking for a satisfying solo/co-op game Legends of Andor is comparable to Darkest Night, but with a better board and more variety. As a co-op game, it's a tense puzzle you will lose more often than you win; everything hinges on doing the most efficient actions in the right order. If you're looking for a rollicking sword-and-sorcery action game, you might prefer Defenders of The Realm or Enter The World Of Myth- the former offers more mayhem, the latter more flexibility and open-ended play. But if you want an episodic campaign that you can bring to the table in one-hour bursts and that will test your ingenuity as much as it ravishes your eyeballs, then Legends Of Andor will delight you.

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