In Case You Missed It: The Star on the Shore for Call of Cthulhu


In Case You Missed It: A New Continuing Series Highlighting Game Products that May Have Sailed Under your Radar


Do you like going insane in the membrane? Do you like reading dark tomes of Forbidden knowledge only to lose your mind from the evil secrets held within? Is your idea of a good time looking down the slimy tentacles of some two-story tall unspeakable horror while you are armed only with a pocketknife and a lantern?

If so, Call of Cthulhu RPG is for you! But, I am sure you already have heard of the excellent RPG by Chaosium. And unless you live under a rock, you are aware that enough paper and pdf supplements are published to support Call of Cthulhu every year to sink the island nation of Iceland. And a good deal of these adventures are quite good…as are a lot of the old adventures from decades past, but how do you discover a gem in all this rough?

The Star on the Shore: Struggles Against Evil in 1920s New England

Well, one adventure published in 2017 stands out from the rest. Author Ben Burns created The Star on the Shore for Dark Cult Games (the publisher is now New Comet Games). The 95-page adventure stands out for the following reasons:

1-Massive Sandbox Setting

The adventure details the events in Rockport, Massachusetts and its surrounding environs. There are 39 separate locations (all stocked with NPCs) in Rockport plus dozens of other locations scattered around (and maybe I shouldn’t give it away, but also under Rockport) for the players to explore. This adventure is big with a capital B-I-G.

2-Detailed Plot Line with Reference Material for the Gamekeeper

The book includes a large reference section detailing the plot events, all the inclinations of the NPCs, The spells, locations of key NPCs, and possible final scenarios. There are the usual stat blocks for NPCs, monsters, etc as well. In short, Star on the Shore doesn’t just tell a story, it provides the numbers, names, information, and material that the gamekeeper will need to run a smooth adventure. And I am barely scratching the surface of how much stuff is in this book.

3-Gorgeous Maps and Handouts

Call of Cthulhu is always best when the players can visualize the setting. Well, set your peepers on this gorgeous map! Did I say it is a two-page tear out too! I didn’t? Well, I just did! Oh, and the gamekeeper has a labeled version of this map (albeit a smaller map).

–now that is a cool map!

And how about these handouts?

–photocopy, cut out, and terrorize the players with the knowledge of the horrors that lurk around them!

4-The Adventure is Top-Notch

Now this is going to be difficult to explain, so I will do my best. The sandbox feel of Rockport allows the players to roam around where they want and set the pace as they please. However…in the background Ben Burns has given the gamekeeper a timeline of events. And these events move day by day! As the players waste time smoking and joking with the locals, the evil plot (of the locals maybe?!?) keeps moving! Thus, the gamekeeper knows what is going on and can use this knowledge to build the tension.

5-Color Coded NPCs

Okay, I can’t take a photo of this because it might ruin the adventure for those who haven’t experienced it yet, but I am going to make this simple: each block of NPC stats has a background of either green, orange, or red. I think we all can figure out what those colors mean…but only the gamekeeper gets to see them, mwah ha ha!

6-This Adventure Takes Time to Complete

It took my group 4 game sessions of about 2 1/2 hours each to finish The Star on the Shore. And everybody loved it! If you like long-ish Call of Cthulhu adventures, this adventure is for you. Did I also say there is a side-adventure included too? Well, there is!


–does this artwork on the back cover give you a clue about the unspeakable events happening in Rockport? Does this scene actually happen in the adventure? You will have to buy it to find out!So, run don’t walk, to your local game store or the internet, and buy yourself a copy of The Star on the Shore. You might lose your sanity and your limbs, but you won’t be disappointed.

Have fun and good luck on those sanity rolls…you are going to need it.

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In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

— you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

— nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

— Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down


So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!

What did I just get from Kickstarter? A: Helionox

I support a lot of games on Kickstarter. I feel that sponsoring games from smaller companies is a good way to support the “little guy/gal” in the industry. So I am always happy when I come home from work and find a package at my door that contains a game from Kickstarter.

Yesterday I received my copy of Helionox!

I ordered the Deluxe Edition that includes the Mercury Protocol Expansion from Mr. B Games and Zeroic Games. Helionox is “a movement based deck building board game for 1-4 players that can be played in competitive, cooperative, or solo modes.”

I love sci-fi themed games, and Helionox is a dystopian future. “In Helionox, terrible events plague the Solar System as the result of a dying sun. Players are the Architects of the future, vying for influence among the remaining population. Craft your deck with powerful faction cards, explore and exploit the system’s worlds, and gain the most influence so you can lead civilization to a new beginning in the wake of the Helionox!”

The game combines deck-building with the common “threat” mechanism by which the slow build-up of events and catastrophes slowly bring about the end of the game.

The components look top notch (including wooden pieces not included in my photos) and the rules are clear and solid. The art by Luke Green is fantastic and evocative of the dystopian theme.

I can’t wait to play it!

Visiting the Game Store Part Two — 7 Wonders Anniversary Packs

So, I was on the other side of town today and stopped in to Old School Games. I am glad I did! What did I find?

The Cities and Leaders Anniversary packs for 7 Wonders! Each has 15 new cards. Somehow I missed these packs when they were released in 2017… but now I have them!

Game on!

Why Visiting Your Local Game Store is Good — Dice Throne and King of New York/King of Tokyo: King Kong

I am a big fan of buying games from internet sites. I can buy directly from the publisher, I can get a good price from an online retailer like Amazon, I can window shop multiple sites, etc. However, the biggest disadvantage of online shopping is that it is surprisingly easy to miss things. Amazon doesn’t have everything and search results can be more limited than it might appear.

That’s why I love going to my local game store every week to just see what might be there. For those with more inquiring minds, the closet local store to me is The Toledo Game Room. Those of you who go to GenCon might recognize the owner of the Game Room, Daryl, as “The Bits Guy” who sells all the Warhammer bits. Another good store in town is Checkmate Games. If you are in Fresno, Ca, I recommend Crazy Squirrel Game Store.

Anyway, going to the local game store turned up two games/game expansions this week.

First, I found a game that I knew nothing about: Dice Throne

I have only started reading the rules, but Dice Throne looks like a fun game where you can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, or free-for-all. I can’t wait to try it out with my usual suspects.

Second, sometimes I find something new for a game that I like. This time it was King Kong for King of Tokyo/King of New York.

I loved the Cthulhu expansion and I am super-pumped to bust out King Kong in my next King of New York game.

The moral of the story

So run, don’t walk, to your local game store to find unexpected gems. And do it like voting in Chicago–early and often!

Excelsior!

Love Letter: To Have or Have Not the Princess Early

Deconstruction Junction: Finding Strategies to Protect a Winning Hand

In a few recent games of Love Letter (from AEG) my friends and I got into a little, mini debate. While I contended that getting the Princess early was very helpful, a few others disagreed. They argued that it was almost always a curse, because they ended up being forced to discard the Princess and lose the hand. Who is right?

The Princess is the best (in other words, winning) card in Love Letter. But, if you are forced to discard it, you are knocked out of the round–so you have to protect your winning card from discarding effects. I understood what my friends were saying: if any other player suspects that you have the Princess, they are going to target you with a Guard or Prince (and perhaps the King). Or if a Priest is used on you, then your opponent knows what you have, which is going to make it difficult to survive the rest of the round. I argued that in my experience that I could often avoid detection of my Princess card and make it to the end of the round, and of course I would win the round.

So who is right? Well, I think neither. Having the Princess early (or even in your initial draw) is a good thing. Why? There are two ways to win a round of Love Letter: knock out all other players or have the highest card when the deck runs out. If you have the Princess you are sure to win in the latter instance. And of course, you can still knock out your opponents and win. All the other players can ONLY potentially win by knocking you out (or trading their King for your Princess which almost never happens). To make this clearer think about all the opening hands that are sure not to be a wining start: Guard, Priest, Baron, Handmaid, and sometimes the Prince. These players must draw good cards combo cards (for example, Priest and Guard) but if you have the Princess some combos cannot happen for your opponents (for example, Baron then draw a Princess, Handmaid then Princess). Having the Princess gives you a head start or one or two times around the table. Moreover, the more other players use those two Handmaids and two Princes (but not forcing you to discard) the quicker you get to winning. Also, the more players in the game, the less likely someone will be able to knock you out by a good Guard guess or with the Prince just because there are so many other targets.

So having the Princess is a good thing–but you have to defend her. The Princess has two weaknesses. One, if you get targeted with a Prince, the Princess is the only card that forces you out of the round. Two, given that the Princess is the highest card, all the other players are trying to figure out where it is (and they are indeed looking, because they know that they don’t have it). If any player figures out that you have the Princess, expect them to try and knock you out. So how do you defend the Princess against these weaknesses?

Feign Weakness

Love Letter is like a game of poker, a strong hand is better than a weak hand, but bluffing and deception can help any hand. So, like poker, if you have the strongest possible hand (in other words, holding the Princess), you are going to want to bluff a bit of weakness. How can you accomplish this in Love Letter? If you get a guard accuse someone else of having the Princess! That should throw them off your track! If you draw the Baron, go after the opponent whom you think has the weakest card. When they discard that Guard or Priest, the other players won’t assume that you have a Princess. When someone discards a high card, pretend that you wish you were holding that card.

Take Your Time When Playing Your Cards

Nothing signals to the other players that you have the Princess or Countess more than quick play on your part. You need to deceive your opponents a bit. When you draw your card, look at it, put it in your hand, shuffle your two cards, and then look at both of them. Pretend that you are trying to figure out which to play. Good poker players do this as a matter of habit–you should too.

Don’t “Tell” Your Opponents That You Have the Princess

Take another cue from poker here: when you draw that Princess stay calm and don’t make it obvious how happy you are. Don’t smile, make some positive noise, don’t look happy, etc. Also, don’t sell it too much the other way. We all know when a player starts moaning loudly about his bad luck that he probably drew a good card. Also, if someone else forces you into a Baron fight, don’t make it obvious that you are going to win. If someone hits you with a Guard and guesses wrong, don’t be so eager to triumphantly say how wrong they are. And as the deck gets low, try to look as concerned as the other players who are holding weaker cards.

Confuse Your Opponents

When you get that Princess early and make it all the way to the end and win, tell them that you drew it on your last draw! They will think that you have Lady Luck on your side and that they just can’t win. Again, deception is your friend here. Also, if you used the Guard trick where you accused an opponent of having the Princess, after you win let others know about your deception. This will get in their heads. The next time you are sitting on the Countess, use a Guard, and then accuse someone of having the Princess, everyone will think that you have it! After a short bit of time no one will have any idea when you have the Princess in your hand or not.

Learn to Love the Princess

So next time you play Love Letter, remember that having the Princess is always better than not having her. Use the tips above to better protect your winning card and maybe you will collect those little wooden cubes instead of watching others collect them.

Hello Dolly! The Smash Up Sheep are Here!

I took a break from the soccer match I was watching and went to go get my daily mail. What did I find? Was it a horse’s head? A bunch of junk mail from political candidates? Utility bills?

No — it was the free Sheep deck from AEG for Smash Up!

The deck has plenty of minions: Flock, Ram, Little Bo Peep….and some nice action cards, including the sure-to-be infamous Wood for Sheep!

Aren’t ewe jealous that you didn’t get one too? I just couldn’t resist the shear hilarity of that last pun! Look, I made another! Hahaha!

What I Learned in only 2 Games of Forbidden Island

Lee gifted me Forbidden Island from Gamewright for Christmas.

The game is cooperative in which 2-4 players race across a sinking island to secure four treasures and get to the helicopter before everything descends into the murky, watery abyss. It plays similar to Pandemic in that players get to take actions, collect sets of cards, and slowly reveal what sections of the island sink each turn. As the water rises, the pace increases, and the players must try to stay one step ahead.

As a veteran of Pandemic (and Pandemic Legacy) as well as Ghost Stories and similar games, I felt I had a good handle on these sort of cooperative race games. Boy was I pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was! After two games, here is what I learned:

1 – The Island Sinks Fast

Compared to Pandemic, the pace in Forbidden Island is much quicker. The game plays in under 30 minutes….easily. I found that what I thought were reasonable actions (like shoring up some tiles–in other words, flipping a tile from flooded to unflooded) were completely wrong. I realized after two defeats that I would have to optimize my turn much more than I originally thought.

2 – Hand Management is Tough

To get a treasure, a player needs a set of 4 matching cards. There are two big issues: 1) there are only 5 of each treasure card available in the Treasure Deck and 2) a player’s hand limit is 5 cards. Unlike the higher hand limit and excess matching-color cards in Pandemic, the scarcity of cards in Forbidden Island and small hand size mean that players must trade cards more strategically.

3 – Protect Fools’ Landing

Fools’ Landing is the tile with a helicopter for the players to escape the sinking island after grabbing the treasures. If it sinks beneath the waves, game over Man! We lost a game because we chose to leave Fools’ Landing flooded while taking care of other tasks. We paid the ultimate price when a Waters Rise! card was drawn and the first Flood Card drawn was Fools’ Landing, sinking the tile.

4 – This Game is Fun!

Despite two losses (on Novice level, egads!) I am ready to try again. The gameplay is quick and enjoyable. I have a lot to learn, but the fun will be in the trying.

New Games that I am Pumped About: Northern Enchantress and Fragged Kingdom

Today was my lucky day! Two new games that I can’t wait to play showed up in either my email inbox or on my front door.

Northern Enchantress — Expansion for Heart of Crown

I really like the new deck building game Heart of Crown from Japanime Games. And just in the time for the holidays the second expansion, Northern Enchantress, has arrived (along with my setup playmat)! Heart of Crown is quicker and simpler to play than Tanto Cuore. The new expansion adds magic and non-humans. I can’t wait to give it a try.

Fragged Kingdom

A while back I picked up the Fragged Empire RPG. The game has some really cool ideas in it, like attribute damage, an innovative combat system, a nice “Spare Time” character development system, and streamlined rules for dealing with items and resources. Fragged Empire is Sci-Fi while Fragged Kingdom is fantasy. It promises to have rules for PCs to have “Holdings” and rule over territory, plus simplified mass combat rules. One gripe I have always had about traditional fantasy RPGs is that they typically deal with holdings and mass combat quite poorly. From my quick perusal of the rules, I have a feeling that Fragged Empire is going to get it right. I gotta get a campaign started right away!