Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Session Report – Urban Surfin’ – Session 1

[This session happened December 28th.  The Other GM is running and has not told us what he named the run, so I came up with one of my own based on the plan we started putting together.  You’ll understand once you read this report.]

[You may also notice the session report is short on details.  That’s because my notes were skimpy and I did this write-up a month later.  Session 2 has similar issues, but we did a lot of discussion and planning in both sessions, which doesn’t require much transcription.]


Bookie – male elf alcoholic hacker, favors whiskey with a whiskey chaser
Murdoc – male elf kilt-wearing street mage, at home with the hobos
Prometheus – male human street samurai, handy with any firearm
The Fin – female human con artist and gambler from India, by way of Russia, posh and elegant
Sin – male human rigger, knows exactly the wrong thing to say and says it
Void – female human physical adept B&E specialist, a shadow that blends in easily


Killroy – male human street samurai, specializes in hand-to-hand combat (and apparently machineguns)

Wednesday, March 11, 2076
The Fin was contacted at 6:00 PM by Svetlana, a fixer she has a good relationship with.  Svetlana had a job that she thought the Pleiades Group would fit.  The Johnson wanted a virtual meeting at a VR bar, but checked out as legitimate by Svetlana.  The Fin agreed to take the meeting.

Mr. Johnson turned out to be an orc, or at least appeared to be an orc in VR.  [The Fin took it as read that the Johnson’s appearance was a mask and in no way matched his (or her) actual appearance.]  The job was an Acquisition in Transit.  A package was going from Point A, in Everett, to Point B, in Renton, and Mr. Johnson wanted the package diverted to Point C, in Belleview, with the original owners none-the-wiser as to where it went.  Pay for the job was 30,000¥ with an additional 10,000¥ in expenses that would be reimbursed after the job completed successfully.  The Fin attempted to negotiate a better rate, but Mr. Johnson was very good at that dance and gave up no extra money.  The Fin accepted the job and received the full details of the job.  She kept a neutral face and left the VR meeting graciously.

After the meeting, The Fin triggered a group message to the Pleiades Group that a job was on the table and to meet at the office.  Once everyone arrived at the office, The Fin laid out the job: the group was being hired to steal a prototype weapon from Ares Macrocorp while it was in transit from a R&D facility in Everett to a testing facility on the far southeastern edge of Renton.  There will be two chase cars full of security, plus some security in the delivery van (a Bulldog).  The job is in 8 days, when the package moves.  The group doesn’t know the exact route or time the package will be moved, but it has to be done because The Fin accepted the job.

After some grousing about the low pay for making an enemy of Ares, the group settled down to do some serious planning.  Clearly Bookie needed to scout out the local Ares host so he can sleaze his way in and get the route and time the prototype will take from Everett to Renton.  Bookie set to researching the host on the decker boards.  [The GM never got back to him with the details, so this part happened during Session 2.]

After working out several different strategies to grab the package, the Group settled down on two different plans: a Sneak and Swap and a Smash and Grab.  It was decided that the primary plan would be the Sneak and Swap, performed by Void with assistance from Sin and Murdoc.  The backup plan would be the Smash and Grab, performed by Prometheus and Killroy.  The rough outlines of the two plans were:

Plan 1: Sneak and Swap:

  • Void jumps onto the transport while invisible (thanks to Murdoc) and deploys NeuroStun X inside to KO the security personnel.
  • Sin takes over the driving remotely (possibly with Bookie’s assistance) while Void breaks in and swaps the target case with a dummy case (to delay discovery).
  • Void sets GridGuide autopilot to have the vehicle drive itself the rest of the way and she discretely leaves the vehicle.

Plan 2: Smash and Grab

  • Sin uses an anti-vehicular missile from a gun platform to take out the lead escort vehicle.
  • Prometheus uses a harpoon gun to harpoon the transport with a line of milspec arrestor wire [the stuff that stops aircraft landing on aircraft carriers].  This will either jerk the truck to a sudden stop or slam it into a building, both scramble the security personnel inside well and good.
  • Sin uses the gun platform to take out the trailing escort while Killroy cuts his way into the transport.  Prometheus deals with any security threats from potential survivors from the escort vehicles using his Remington 950 sniper rifle loaded with APDS ammunition.
  • Once inside, Killroy grabs the package, Prometheus grabs the gun platform, and everyone gets out of the area as fast as possible.

With these two plans sketched out, the group starts assembling a shopping list of gear they were going to need to get the job done.

End of Session

[So a lot of talking and planning this session.  One of the plans we discarded involved a Chinook helicopter with a giant electromagnet dangling underneath to fly over and skyhook the transport.  Very cinematic, but also very obvious and we’d still have to deal with the security inside, who would be broadcasting our location as long as they were able.  We opted for simpler plans with fewer moving parts to reduce the number of things that could go wrong.]

[If we can pull off the job with the Sneak and Swap, I’ll be just as pleased as if I got to do the Smash and Grab, possibly happier.  The quieter job fits in better with the Pleiades Group reputation, but if push comes to shove, we WILL get the job done.]

Session 2 [Not Yet Written]

Monday, January 18, 2016

SABRE, Issue #1 – Pistolero Ambush!

[This session happened January 16, 2016, and is the first session with the newly revitalized superhero group SABRE.  This is a different group of players than the Shadowrun game, which has continued happening – I’ve just been swamped for the last month.  Shadowrun Session reports will resume next week.]

Aces – the team’s “Sorcerer Superb”
Mnemesys – teleporting martial artist with no official name, yet
Black Light – light manipulator with withering attacks
Mars – super-powered ex-professional wrestler
Sentinel – battlesuit-wearing inventor
The Terrapin Avenger –model and spokesman for TURTLE Armor™ line of battlesuit products from DanCo
The White Shade – mentalist with a Pulp style

Max Powers – President and CEO of Futuretech Systems and sponsor of SABRE
Chance Morway – PR representative for SABRE

January 10th, 2012, Capitol City, Downtown
At the end of a six months selection, testing, and training program, the newly revitalized SABRE was meeting for a briefing for the press conference on Thursday the 12th of January.  [A convenient fiction for me to have the PCs all in the same place and to provide a short description of the characters to the players.]  Mars, Sentinel, and The White Shade are long-standing members (although only Mars has continuous service since the founding in 2006), but Aces, Mnemesys, Black Light, and the Terrapin Avenger are new to the organization.

Max Powers was discussing the agenda for the press conference when Chance Morway stuck his head into the room and said, “You need to see this.”  Chance activated the wall monitor and set it to show the Channel 8 News Team working a breaking story.  Video from a traffic copter was showing a group wearing black tactical armor hauling deposit bags out of an overturned armored truck and placing them in large duffel bags.  Several people recognized the location listed in the bottom scroll as very close to SABRE Tower, where they were right then.  In fact, after opening the blinds, the scene could be clearly seen from the conference room floor-to-ceiling windows.

Sentinel immediately recognized the group as The Pistoleers, a temporary group periodically formed by the Pistolero Brothers, criminals he has run into multiple times.  The Pistolero Brothers are known to be smart, disciplined, and working to improve the technology at their disposal.  He shared this information with the group.  Openly attacking an armored car barely a kilometer from SABRE Tower seemed suspiciously arrogant even for them and the team suspected a trap of some sort.

The heroes split into three groups: Aces, Black Light, Mars, and the Terrapin Avenger for the first group, which would be teleported to the site by Aces; Sentinel and White Shade who flew there (Sentinel carrying White Shade); and Mnemesys, who teleported himself on site.  Aces put the lead team directly adjacent to the criminals, which surprised both groups as he failed to mention he was doing so to the other heroes.  Sentinel and White Shade flew left via a balcony and arrived directly over the scene, albeit roughly 10 stories above the scene.  Mnemesys arrived safely on the roof of a nearby business.

After the initial surprise of the suddenly appearing heroes, things got frantic.  Ray Pistolero backed up to some minor cover and plugged The Terrapin Avenger with a Lightning attack from his high-tech pistol.  The huge discharged knocked The Avenger out [although he would wake up quickly after a couple recoveries].  Jay Pistolero shot Aces, stunning the mage but failing to knock him out.  Black Light faded to invisibility and then unleashed a weathering attack at the fire arms all of the gunmen were carrying.  This destroyed the guns of the mooks, but only damaged the superior weapons of the Pistolero Brothers.

The mooks were divided into two groups.  The first group threw SlickFoam Grenades ™ at Mars, covering everything up to 10 m around him in low friction foam [6d6 Suppress vs Running and Leaping].  The other group fired spotlight bombs from launchers at The White Shade, blinding her for 10 seconds [10d6 Flash, Area of Effect: 1 hex].  Then Cybermind [criminal hacker with machine telepathy and control] stepped out of the armored car and commanded Sentinel’s suit to fly down to the ground.  It responded to Cybermind’s control, shutting Sentinel out of control of his own battlesuit.

This was the high point of the villain’s fortunes.

Mnemesys teleported amongst them, knocking Cybermind down and nearly unconscious.  Mars successfully grabbed two of the mooks and slammed them together, breaking bones and knocking them unconscious.  Aces recovered from being stunned and cast a healing spell on The Terrapin Avenger, bringing him back into the fight.  Sentinel, once again in control of his armor, used quick-drying foam to bind Ray Pistolero.

It was too much for the mooks who activated their jet boots and started jet-assisted hopping for the hills.  All but one was stopped or captured by the heroes before they could successfully escape.  The Terrapin Avenger stopped Jay Pistolero from escaping with a large area of effect goop ball.  Black Light used her weathering attack to destroy the jet boots on two of the mooks (she actually arrested one and the other was picked up barefoot by a nearby CCPD patrol car) and Mnemesys “ran” a third down.  Only the one Mars was chasing managed to escape, and then only due to a ready escape plan.

After gathering the criminals back together, they turned everything over to the Capitol City Police Department, providing statements and the captured evidence.

Later, The White Shade and Chance had a “discussion” about the text of the press conference on the 12th.  Having observed the advantage of criminals being unfamiliar with the powers of the new team members, Shade wanting to eliminate all description of the powers of the new team members.  This discussion went around several times, but eventually Shade was able to win her point.

Local and state news were all about the incident and speculation about the heroes fighting alongside SABRE for the rest of the day.  Are they new members of SABRE or did they just happen to be in the area?  Are they the new SABRE and the old team is retiring?  Who are they and what are their actual powers?

January 11th, 2012, Capitol City, Downtown
Sentinel (SABRE’s designated law enforcement liaison and contact point) received a preliminary report on the materials taken from the attempted armored car robbers.  All the weapons were extremely weathered [Black Light’s doing] and the police doubt they would have been a threat.  Attempts at test firing the weapons failed.  The weapons from the Pistolero Brothers were still partially functioning, but also showed signs of extreme weathering.  The foam weapons and the flare weapons are of different manufacture that the rest of the gear.  No serial numbers or locations for serial numbers and only one identifying mark: a stylized set of teeth/fangs in white framed by a white square.  No matches have been found in any database tried so far.

January 12th, 2012, Capitol City, Downtown
The press conference went off without a hitch, introducing the newest members of SABRE.  Chance and White Shade shared speaking duties, deflecting or redirecting questions about the new SABRE members’ powers and abilities other than to say they are “trusted and contributing members to the team.”

End of Session

[This was the first session with these characters and was all about getting a shake down of their powers and an introduction to the campaign.  It also helped me get a better feel for the characters so I can judge threat levels better as the GM.]

[After the game, we discussed how things went.  I requested that Black Light’s weathering power be modified as a 20” cone on the map was overwhelmingly huge and well beyond her power descriptions in her backstory.  The power was vital, so I wanted her to keep the power.  We agreed that either Area of Effect: One Hex would fit the bill much better, so she’ll be changing that.  This will let her do her thing while not warping the game on a meta level.]

Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 Board Game Review

I was not able to make it to Lone Star Gaming Fest (again!), but I have played several new boardgames recently, so I’m reviewing them as my semi-regular boardgaming review.

Aye, Dark Overlord (4-6 players)
I played this at Jon Con 1, a memorial convention/wake for a friend of mine who died very unexpectedly this year.

Aye, Dark Overlord is a game where the players take turns being the Dark Overlord while the rest of the table are the Dark Overlord’s goblin minions.  The Dark Overlord’s latest Evil Plan has failed and the minions have to explain why it wasn’t their fault, deflecting blame to the other minions until one of them is finally executed.

This game is all about spontaneous storytelling and blame deflection.  The Dark Overlord gives a sentence about what the Evil Plan was and then starts accusing the minions of making it fail.  The Minions have to come up with plausible (and entertaining) explanations of how it wasn’t their fault, it was the fault of one of the other minions.  There are cards that assist in shifting the blame, but the real fun is in the spontaneous stories of why you can’t be the reason the Evil Plan failed.

Also, it is NEVER the Dark Overlord’s fault, even when it is his fault.  Pointing out it was the boss’s fault to the boss is a fast ticket to being executed.

I enjoyed playing this a lot.  The first game was a bit stiff as the players learned the game.  In the follow-up games things loosened up and we all had great fun playing.  We played about 4-5 games in a row before I moved on to get snacks and a soda.

The Stars Are Right (2-4 players)
I played this for the first time at Jon Con 1 this year.  The Stars Are Right is a board manipulation game to make patterns of stars on the board to summon Cthulhu Mythos servitors.  First to 10 points of servitor creatures wins the game as the stars are now right to summon a Great Old One!

Each player has a hand of cards, each being a servitor of three levels of power.  The “board” is a grid of cards, each showing a number of stars, a phase of the moon, an eclipse, or a comet.  The servitors allow you to manipulate the board tiles in several ways.  If you get the stars on the board to match the configuration shown on a card, you “summon” that servitor into play, which grants you more abilities to manipulate the board each turn.  Servitors are also worth points each, which are necessary to win the game.

I liked the puzzle solving aspect of this game – how do I manipulate the board so I can summon one of the servitors in my hand, preferably one worth many points or providing a needed board manipulation capability.  As every player is manipulating the board on their turn, planning ahead is limited as the board can be completely different than when it was your turn last.  This means you need to think on your toes and be good at pattern recognition to spot possibilities on the board.

Splendor (2-4 players)
My wife hosts a tea on the second Sunday of each month, which tends towards board gaming with up to 7 different kinds of tea available to drink.  This game was brought by a couple who irregularly attends.

Splendor is a game of first to 15 points being the winner.  Points come from gem cards purchased by chips representing different gem colors or having enough gems to garner a patron(s).  On your turn you pick up additional chips, buy a gem card, or reserve a card and get a gold chip (which is wild, color-wise).  Gem cards also supply chip equivalents each turn, allowing you to buy more expensive cards with fewer chips.  There is a fixed number of chips in the game and the colors can run out if multiple players want a particular color.

This one is a lot of fun and, while it may sound complicated, can be taught to non-gamers quickly.  It is on my list to acquire myself now that Christmas has passed.

Cyclades (2-5 players)
I played Cyclades during my Christmas holiday and everyone at the table enjoyed it.  Control of islands on the board gives you gold pieces (I wished they had called them obols, but that’s my Classics degree speaking up), gold pieces are used to give offerings to the gods, the gods let you do things on the map.

There are 5 deities, four of which get shuffled each turn into a different turn order (Ares, Poseidon, Zeus, and Athena) and one that is always last and helps keep you in the game (Apollo).  Bidding is like bidding for genes in Evo – each player in turn order places a bid on the deity of their choice.  If a later player overbids them, the earlier player either bids on a different deity or ups their bid on this one until each player has an uncontested bid.

The deities let you do multiple things: Ares allows the builder to build armies, move armies across an previously existing bridge of ships to another island, and/or build a fortress to defend an island.  The overall goal is to control two metropolises by either building them or conquering them.  They are built by either having a set of buildings that the different deities grant access to or have 4 philosopher cards (from Athena).  There are also classic Greek monsters available as cards that can be purchased and that grant different one-shot abilities.

I very much look forward to playing this again

Mission: Red Planet (2nd Ed.) (2-4 players)
I bought Mission: Red Planet after looking at it several times over several visits to my FLGS.  Sending Victorian astronauts to Mars and fighting for control over the resources?  Sounds good to me, but will it be fun?  Then some Christmas money found its way into my pocket and quietly burned a hole large enough for this game.

Each turn each player chooses one of nine roles in their starting hand.  Each role adds 1-2 astronauts to waiting rockets and does something else.  Once the role is used, it goes to a discard pile, but one of the roles recycles the discard pile back into your hand.  When to do this is a critical choice that has to be made – the game is 10 turns long and you have to play a role each turn.

The roles are also numbered from 1 to 9 and each turn after roles are secretly picked, a count-down starts and when it reaches the number of the picked role, that player takes their turn.  In case of tie, the player who is closest in line to the first player goes and then the next and so on.  First player moves each turn to the person who went last the previous turn.

Mixed into the turn clock are three production rounds.  In the first round, each mine pays out 1 token to the player with the most astronauts in that region.  The second and third production rounds generate 2 and 3 tokens per mine, respectively.  These tokens are the victory points of the game.  There are also secret missions that score points, but I’m not going into much more detail to keep this review short (-ish).

A good game with multiple levels of strategy and a beautiful set of components - well worth the price.

Tokaido (2-5 players)
Tokaido looks beautiful game and follows its theme very well.  Players are traveling the Tokaido Road following different goals.  There are multiple ways to gain points and each traveler had a different power, so there is no one perfect way to play.

Movement is based on who is furthest behind going next.  Each stop on the road allows the player to do a specific thing, from getting money to giving offerings at a temple, to stopping to paint (gaining a piece in one of three painting sets to be collected).  Villages allow you to collect sets of tchotchke souvenirs.

I’m not certain how I feel about this game.  I’ve played it twice and there are two things that seem to grant too much favor to lucky players.  The first is which two travelers you get to choose between and the second is starting position.  Initial turn order is random and some of the most desirable stops in the first stretch of the road are the first ones.  Those fill up by player 3, so players 4 and 5 have to go further down the road to less desirable locations and wait for the other players to pass them before going again.  Some of the travelers have abilities that will always happen during the game, others have to land on specific locations to use theirs and go the entire game without being able to land on one of those spots.

This is a game I’m willing to play again, but I’m not certain I’ll ever buy my own copy.

Zombicide: Black Plague (2-6 players)
Zombicide: Black Plague is Zombicide with a fantasy re-skin, so I won’t go over how it’s played – you either know already or you just need to know it emulates zombie movies very well and is worth the price tag.  I recommend Zombicide: Rue Morgue for your modern day zombie apocalypse needs.  What I’m going to cover are the differences between the modern and the fantasy versions.

Players play one of six peasant survivors after the zombie plague swept over the kingdom.  The player cards are smaller and fit onto a tray that makes it easier to display what is in your hand(s) and what is in your backpack.  Pegs show what powers are active and the experience track is integral to the tray with a built in slider.  This is all good stuff.  Players also can take three hits before going down under a pile of zombies and can carry up to 5 items in their backpack, both of which are improvements from the 2 hits and 3 items in the modern game.

There are no cars, so this version inserts vault rooms with two entrance/exits on the board and vault rooms each hold an advanced weapon: either the Orc’s Crossbow or the Inferno spell (I might be wrong on the spell name).  In most quests (read: scenarios) you will need to find the blue objective to get the key to the vault(s), but not in the Tutorial.

The addition of necromancers to the zombie mix adds an additional sense of urgency.  They appear at one spawn point (bringing an additional spawn point with them) and try to leave the board by the next nearest one.  If they escape, that new spawn point becomes permanent - kill him and you get to remove any spawn point on the board.  Get six permanent spawn points on the board and you lose.

I like that they kept the starting equipment rules from Zombicide: Rue Morgue.  Being able to select who gets what from the starting items avoids early frustration in the game.

I’m interested in seeing what expansion material comes out for this version of Zombicide.  The 6 starting characters are good, but I’m used to playing with a wide range of characters to choose from.  I’m also used to playing with sets of Zombicide that have multiple add-on packs of zombies.  The second game of Black Plague I played we died due to walkers getting extra actions three times in a row because we weren’t killing them fast enough and ran out.

Worth the cost (once the retail copies make it into the shops - only Kickstarter versions available right now).