Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Wargaming in the world of cult TV

Before playing 7TV, most of my experience of tactical combat games was with collectible miniatures games like Heroclix and Star Wars Miniatures, which really play more like 3D trading card games, where killer combos and extensive knowledge of what each piece does usually win the day. I've also played quite a lot of X-Wing, which is a bit of a hybrid in that, while the pieces aren't actually collectible in the blind-box sense, the game does hinge largely on upgrade card combos and knowing what to expect from your opponent's ships.

7TV is a more traditional miniatures skirmish game of the type favored in Britain and Europe, where painting the figures and constructing the terrain to play on are at least as important as actually playing the game. There are skirmish games based on every imaginable genre, from straight up historical warfare to Tolkien-style fantasy to far-future combat; this one is based on 1960s and '70s cult television, and draws its inspiration (and many of its figure designs) from British "spy-fi" TV shows such as The Avengers, Doctor Who, Danger Man, and The Prisoner, to name a few.

Some of 7TV's Future Freedom Fighters
We decided to jump into 7TV because we are big Blake's 7 fans, and the game's Future Freedom Fighters bear more than a passing resemblance to Blake, Avon and the crew of the Liberator. We ordered a bunch of figures and, after lovingly painting them, sat down to play. Since we didn't have any of the fancy terrain that most miniatures wargamers use, we decided to play on a poster map from the Star Wars Miniatures Game, as many would argue that Blake's 7 was the BBC's answer to Star Wars anyway.

We enjoyed the game quite a bit, but we did agree that we needed some proper terrain to play on, so we put the game on the shelf until we could get some (in our case, the excellent modular sci-fi terrain from Battle Systems). Our second play-through was a lot more enjoyable, which got me wondering: I never minded playing Star Wars minis or Heroclix on flat maps, so why did having 3D terrain seem to make this game so much better?

2D vs 3D - a huge difference
Our conclusion, reinforced by a recent game of Heroclix, was largely that the structure of the games is so different. The rules for Heroclix are significantly more complicated, which I think is intentional. Played at the in-store tournament level, Heroclix is a very competitive game where a players knowledge of the rules and ability to manipulate them is the key to victory, so they need to keep changing the rules in order to keep those high level players interested (and buying figures).

On the other hand, I think the point of games like 7TV is really the tactile pleasure of moving hand-painted miniatures around in an evocative environment, so the job of the rules is to provide a framework for that, and then get out of the way.

That said, the rules for 7TV do have some very interesting elements in the form of two decks of cards that are used while playing: the Gadget deck and the Countdown deck.

Gadgets are one-time use cards that a player can use to spice up the game a bit, providing relatively simple effects such as free moves, re-rolls and extra victory points. They can only be used by a player's main character minis, which gives some incentive to avoid swarming the board with tons of low-level troops. And of course, mad scientists get extra Gadget cards.

The Countdown deck is probably the aspect of the game that provides the most flavor. It adds quite a bit of randomness to the game, which may be a turn-off for more serious-minded gamers, but we thought it was a great way to keep us from taking the game too seriously. The deck is populated with a number of random event cards based on the size of the playing surface, broken up into an equal number of relatively mild "act one" cards, slightly more significant "act two" cards, and game-changing "finale" cards.

Each player draws a Countdown card at the start of their turn, and the game ends when the cards run out, so in addition to random effects, the deck provides the game with a built-in time limit. Effects range from temporarily neutralizing figures on the board to bringing back dead characters, and players have the option to draw 2 in one turn if they wish, which gives them more of the currency the game uses to move figures, but also accelerates the end of the game.

All in all we had a great time playing 7TV, which in a way is unfortunate because it has set us on a path to one of the more expensive and time-consuming aspects of the gaming hobby. But it might also be one of the more rewarding.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) It would have to be, given the amount of cost and effort involved in playing any game like this.

  • 7TV official website
  • 7TV on BoardGameGeek (not much activity here)
  • 7TV Action! Facebook page


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Return to Madness Mansion, this time with an app


The first edition of Mansions of Madness is a great game. It really is a role playing game without all the extra work, however, it does have some issues. It requires one player to play as the Keeper, in charge of unfolding the plot and controlling the monsters, and that player's role is much more difficult and often less rewarding than that of the other players, who just have to bumble around in an old house until they either die, go insane, or (very rarely) solve the mystery.

Its nature as a board game requires it to have a very strict structure, where a "real" role playing game is much more free form, and one mistake during the game's complicated setup can ruin the whole experience. It's also extremely fiddly, with tons of cards and counters on the table -- a strong breeze or curious house cat could end the game in a moment.

For Mansions of Madness Second Edition, the game's designers set out to solve the game's problems by introducing a companion app to take over the Keeper's job, managing the storyline and a lot of the fiddly bits and allowing all the players to work together as investigators.

When this idea was first announced, there was a lot of resistance among players of the first edition, mainly of the "you got video game in my board game" variety, but I believe most of those fears were put to rest. While the app is a vital component of the game, it functions more like a story book, keeping track of the timed release of the game's story elements. What it doesn't do is make Mansions of Madness into a video game. Players still track the majority of the game's progress using a board, miniatures, and counters, but the app has allowed that tracking to be greatly simplified, allowing the players to concentrate on the game's story and atmosphere.

The game play has been modified enough that most of the components from the first edition aren't of any use, but the designers did include a "conversion kit" consisting of monster tokens and character cards that allows owners of the first edition to use the older miniatures and location tiles with the new game. A new dice mechanic for accomplishing tasks (borrowed, with a few changes, from X-Wing) replaces the old game's boring old 10-sided die and counter-intuitive "roll low" system.

It's a very rare case of a game being simplified without losing any of its depth. All the rules changes make the game easier to play, and the app isn't intrusive at all -- on the contrary, its artwork, sound effects and music add greatly to what is already a very atmospheric game.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) A vast improvement on an already great game.



Read our review of the First Edition.