UK Games Expo Diaries: Day 3

The last day of UK Games Expo inevitable came. Slightly shorter than the other two days, it was a time to to make a bee-line for everything we have missed but really wanted to see and the last chance to catch up with the awesome folks making this expo happen. Alex and Tim still managed to play and play-test a couple of games.
You can also find the write up of the games they have seen on the first day of UK Games Expo here; and on the second day here.
Dark Souls – The Board Game (previewed by Alex)
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Dark Souls – The Board Game Kickstarter was fulfilled in a number of minutes. It is possibly no surprise to anyone who has been a fan of the franchise that this game has attracted so much attention. However, there is a trend of board games that started as part of an already existing franchise going badly. Usually, these kind of games are too concerned with promoting its brand and holding on to the ‘feeling’ of the franchise to actually be a good board game. Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, but when a board game is made of a pre-existing movie, TV show, book or a video game, I approach it a little bit skeptically.
At UK Games Expo I had a chance to spend a little bit of time with Dark Souls – The Board Game and fight one of the bosses of the game. First point that immediately springs to minds, is that the board game is very true to the video game. Players start with characters of various classes (based on those in the game) and out fitted as such; some are better at blocking, some are better at dodging; some are heavy hitters, while other deal less damage but are quite agile. Cooperatively, they fight against the minions to gain more powerful equipment and get stronger, and then finally face the boss. We proceeded straight into the fight with the latter due to the limited time for a demo.
The most interesting part, and incidentally the one that has the most ‘Dark Souls’ feel, is how the boss behaves. They have a set of AI cards that determine the type of attacks that they perform. Once all the different attacks have been performed, they are repeated in exactly the same order (unless additional rules or special conditions apply). This means, that the player can remember and learn the boss moves, anticipate them before they happen, and use this to their strategic advantage to defeat the boss.
The game is played on the board with gorgeous minis, while the card are overplayed with plastic that are marked with wipe-able marker pen to denote the damage taken and the depleting stamina. This means that they are quite easy to wipe out for a new game, and also that there aren’t a lot of small additional pieces that are fiddly or easy to loose. However it was unclear (read: we forgot to ask) if this will be a feature of the final build of the game. Also note that if if you health and stamina meet, your character dies.
I was intrigued by Dark Souls – The Board Game, and it has definitely exceeded my expectations. I would need to try out more of it, to know if this is something I would like to pick up. However, so far it looks like an incredibly honest and also fairly interesting interpretation of its video game brother.
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Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space (previewed by Alex)
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Having had little experience with hidden movement games previously, I have played two in close succession at UK Games Expo. The first one being Letters from Whitechapel, a game where five detectives try to catch Jack the Reaper, and the second was Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space. While in Letters from Whitechapel, there is only one player who’s movements are hidden (jack’s), Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space take it up a level. The players play as humans or aliens. In the game with even number of players, the roles divide in half, whereas in the game with odd number of players, there are always more aliens than humans. The only thing both the aliens and the humans know is where each one of them start, afterwards it is all guesswork and bluffing. None of the players know exactly who each one of them are. Aliens could be attacking their own kind by accident, while humans are running way to the escape pods, which is incidentally what they need to do to win. Aliens, on the other hand need to catch humans.
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The game operates via pads that could be written on with wipe-able marker pens, which can be easily wiped clear for the next game. In the pad the players record their movements as well as have the maps for the current level with the location of starting points of both aliens and humans as well as the escape pods. Interestingly, not every escape pod is operational. Upon reaching one, the player (that is also a human…  in the game and in real life) has to turn out the card that shows if the escape has been successful. If the escape pod was non-operational… well, tough! There are also other game mechanics that use cards. For example, depending on the arrangement of the grid, the players may need to pick up cards that will require them to either lie or tell the truth about their location.
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There are several maps included in the pad. Some are bigger with additional features, while other are small, and thus could be played through quite quickly. The game can be played with up to eight players, and I can imagine this causing an extreme level of identity confusion.
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Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is a game I would love to try out with my group of friends. I can imagine it getting very silly in one play through; and really intense and competitive in the other. I like that the designers straight away provided several maps to explore, catering to the game of different levels of difficulty but also different lengths of time. I will be definitely looking forward to play more of this.
Battle of the Bands (previewed by Tim)
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Battle your way to being the best, most talented and well known band member in the world ever! Players take turns to take on the role of a band manager and invite other players to join them on tour. Once a complete line up of; Hype, Chops, Gear and Riffs have been assembled then players start to gain the reward of fans or more cards. However, as the game develops, players can also then choose to complete another line of Hype, Chops, Gears and Riffs while also sacrificing a fan card, to gain even more cards to be divided between those on tour.

There are a few snags that prevent you from being able to build up to the maximum level four on any one turn – firstly the hand limit is seven cards (although this limit only comes into affect when you end your turn, allowing players to build up cards during other players turns) and secondly you can only reserve one card to be returned to your hand. You can also elect to go on a solo tour but you lose the ability to reserve a card if you do.

The game is played on a board printed on a T-shirt which is (as far as I’m aware) entirely unique and feels very much in keeping with the band tour theme. There is a lot of humour in the presentation of the game, that especially comes across in the 8-bit artwork and card names – particularly on the starting wild-card “Passion” cards.

The winner is the first player to gain 27 fans. I would like to play a few more times to see how well the game is balanced but there are systems in place that seem to help keep anyone from running away with a victory. The band manager can always kick someone off a tour, if they are worried it could lead to them winning – which led to some great thematically appropriate conversations: “Well, no! You didn’t let me come on your tour and I don’t think we really need your smoke machine!” or “Guys! Don’t you think it is about time we put the old band back together for a reunion tour?”

Also worth noting that this is not the game listed under this name on BoardgameGeek.com, as this seems a much better game.

High Risk (previewed by Tim)

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Brett Gilbert, a co-author of last year’s hit game, Elysium and the upcoming Costa Rica, kindly took some time to show us one of his potentially forthcoming games when we joined him in the very popular and fascinating Playtest UK section. Worth noting that while the base mechanics seemed pretty robust there are elements of this game likely to change prior to release – but I hope not too much as I think this worked well as is. High Risk is a push your luck style game with a mountaineering theme. Sets of three climbers attempt to ascend to the summit before their rival teams.

Players take it in turns to role six (D6) dice. All die have three negative red results, two positive green results and one yellow indifferent result. After your initial roll you can re-roll all the red results, but the catch is that if, at any time, you roll nothing other than red results then you bust out and your climber in the most advanced position falls all the way to the bottom of the mountain. If you manage to roll nothing other than green and yellow results on all six die, then you get another go to start rolling all six die all over again. This sets up an interesting level of risk and reward, as rolling a single die is tempting if you are one non-negative result away from having another turn but gives you a 50/50 chance of crashing out. Also note that I enjoyed this game despite rolling the highly statistically unlikely six red results on two of my first rolls!

Player progress is measured on a board that has two types of areas – ledges that do not limit the number of climbers that can be on that area and spaces where only one climber can occupy at one time – if a second climber occupies one of these space then they bump the first climber down to the nearest available space. The game-play was simple but effectively enjoyable and resulted in the lead swapping from one team to the other with massive potential reversals of fortune.

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