Assault on Doomrock

Assault on Doomrock is a co-op fantasy adventure game greatly inspired by computer roleplaying games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends. We were hoping it would be the spiritual successor to Talisman or Runebound and hopefuly fix the flaws of those older games. It kind of does! There’s some neat improvements and a very cool combat system.

Stinky witch!

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First off, you get your character which is a mix and match of a trait card and a class card. I was a Stinky Witch with a garlic breath ability! Jan was a frustrated ranger. Yes, the game is a bit silly. It has a light-hearted fantasy feel to it that puts you in a mood of sitting around with your friends, eating chips and thinking of funny reasons why your ranger is so frustrated.

Adventure phase

As a party we have to face two waves of monsters and zip through the world deck so we can have the boss fight at Doom Rock. The game is divided into adventure phases and combat phases. The adventure phase gives you time to level up, go shopping, find new gear and try to get an advantage. Here you pay for actions with time tokens and when your chips are gone it’s fighting time!

Adventuring

The adventure phase is a bit weird. Every card gives you few options: There might be an abandoned temple you dig into and search for treasure, a shop you can go haggle at or rob, etc. You want to take advantages of the opportunities here, but you also have to rush through the cards to make sure you get to Doom Rock in time. In our game we ended up skipping many options here because getting to Doom Rock was more important. And we didn’t really feel like we had to make hard decisions. The cards all seemed kind of, well, skippable. That wasn’t very exciting.

It’s supposed to have a bit of a puzzle feel to it where you weigh off the benefits of getting more gear and levels to the risks of exposing yourself and getting a few debuffs that will hurt you in the combat phase with the added pressure of having to move through the deck. But this phase doesn’t feel weighty enough to have much impact. We’ve only played it once so far, so perhaps it far more vital and tense than I realise now… but it didn’t feel like it.

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Combat phase

Now, combat! Combat is really kind of cool! All of the heroes and the baddies are represented by discs and you put all of those discs on the table. It doesn’t really matter where you put who, because there’s only two states these guys can be in: Adjacent or not. Is your disc touching another disc? Then the two of you are adjacent and you can use all the abilities that gives you. If you aren’t touching, you are free and one movement will get you adjacent to any disc you’d like. It’s very neat and elegant. No movement tables, speed modifiers or graph paper!

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Then there’s your moves. Each of them has a number on it. At the start of each round you roll dice and get to reroll them twice. If you don’t have the number you need for your move, you can’t use it! I quite like this too, it keeps you from spamming your best move all the time. Or at least makes you pay a cost for it if that’s how you want to play. The moves themselves are also quite cool and often offer lots of combo options with other people’s moves. Man, I love figuring out combo’s!

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After everyone’s done their thing, it’s the enemies time to act. They are programmed with cards especially for their type. Every monster gets his own card move. This really makes them feel like CPRG (computer roleplaying) enemies. We fought guys that would armor up every round, charge you, disarmor you and hit you – they had a focused tactic that we had to deal with. It makes battles very exciting. You get the idea that if the bad guys are strategising so you had better be too. Well done!

Wot I think

All of this gives combat a very heavy CRPG feel. We were playing with some CRPG junkies so we easily slipped into the lingo. “I will go tank these guys”, “Oh, you procced that debuff”, “Okay, so basically these guys have Divine Shield”. It was very interesting to see the games we all know and love so well in a cardboard version.

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But… one of the nice things about computer games is that they’re fast. This game turns out to be pretty slow! Everyone had to do their moves, and then there’s quite a long phase where you pull monster move after monster move and have to implement them all. It’s not neccessarily boring, because you are continuously moving around markers, adding chits and managing the board. But it does take a lot of time. It took us maybe three hours to play two rounds? I’m sure that’ll go faster when we are more accustomed to the game, but I don’t think it’ll get up to a speed that I will find enjoyable for frequent play.

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag. This is the best fantasy combat RPG I’ve played and it’s filled with exciting innovative ideas, especially in the combat phase. But the adventure phase doesn’t measure up at all, and the end result is still a slow game. I like it, but I’m afraid it might just not be my genre.

I’m sorry, you guys, I have a really short attention span!

 

Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter is a thematic zombie survival horror game about a colony of survivors trying to outlive the cold harsh winter while ravenous zombies are beating up against their barricades. Like in any good zombie genre fiction, the real monsters aren’t the walking dead outside, but your friends. You all have to be a bit of bastard to survive, but one of you might be want to see the colony fail and is actively working against it.

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Mechanically that means you have a common objective (find a cure, survive, etc.) and a private objective that you need to achieve. My private objective was ‘Going home’ and required me to get two jerrycans, a can of food, and a weapon. I had to reach both conditions in order to win the game.

The traitor is working against the common objective, but also has a private objective he or she needs to achieve, which means it’s often better for them to remain dormant for quite some time. Just another hardworking member of the community. The silent type, keeps to himself. Nothing to see here, move along!

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Turn based slog

Play rounds start with a crisis card that will stick around for a full round and needs to be dealt with by the end of it. To do this players offer up scarce item cards from their hands. A round sees everyone rolling dice, the outcome of which will limit your available actions (searching and finding item cards, fighting zombies) for this round. Then everyone does their actions one by one in what can be quite a lengthy process.

Much like in Arkham Horror or others of its ilk, this is where the game turns from an epic story into a miserable sprawl as you wait for your turn to be cool. Technically, the threat of a hidden traitor should make other players’ turns more interesting: why did they choose to go to the hospital? Why did they risk infecting people? But in practice you just find yourself faffing about while other people agonise over fuel and frostbite.

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Narrative awesomeness

A neat flourish is the crossroads card that is drawn during each person’s turn. It’s an encounter card like you would have in Arkham Horror, except each crossroads card has its own condition that may or may not trigger on your turn. One might trigger if a certain character is in play, or if you have a character in the colony, or if you go to the hospital.

If it does, you get treated to a story bit that usually ends with a choice of both moral and mechanic consequences. In our game, we had the choice of taking in a survivor called Fat Earl who would eat all of our food OR we could give him a different reception and *gain* five food. Ah, tasty, tasty Earl. These story nuggets are all very well written pieces of genre fiction and terribly good at hitting the right tone. They add on to the different and very varied characters perfectly. My trucker character actually died during a crossroads card because he was having a heart attack and no one wanted to take the risk of carrying to the hospital.

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Wot I think

The kind of thematic narrative game my roleplay friends go bonkers over, and that Jan and me only like in well-measured doses. It can be fun if you get into ‘cooperative puzzle overmind’ mode where you focus completely on all the ticking gears in the puzzle. But otherwise you are just looking at a long night of eating pretzels and waiting around.

Add to this that hidden traitor is my second least favorite mechanic. Though, in this game it seems to be handled a lot better. It’s fine to cooperate nicely and then suddenly turn on people at the very last moment. And when you do get found out, you don’t have to uselessly hang on in play but you get a different objective. Which might be to kill the other colonists, or to do a 180 and go back to helping them! Leaving everyone guessing as to what you’re doing. That doesn’t sound so bad. Still, to me it doesn’t add much either.

So, all in all, there’s some nice improvements to the thematic coop genre. But the narrative swooshes don’t compensate for the slow pacing, and the  hidden traitor mechanic doesn’t add much to sway the balance. I haven’t played either enough yet to be sure, but I think I prefer City of Horror: fast, genre savvy, and everyone is a traitor.

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