Sunday, 28 December 2014

Dead of Winter

By Charles Etheridge-Nunn

It’s the middle of winter and you’re alone in an abandoned school, scavenging for supplies. It’s bitterly cold but you made it out this far. Your eyes catch on something metallic, barely visible in the heavy snow. It’s a truck. You draw closer and realise it’s still intact. Sod the school, you could take drive it back to camp and harvest the fuel… at least you could if not for the zombies. They’re everywhere, the looming reminder of your own mortality. You’re faced with a simple choice; do you drive the truck home and draw all the local zombies to your camp… or do you sigh that such dreams are beyond you and safely rummage through the school without drawing any more attention to you or the camp?
Or how about this.
In all the desolation you see a horse. A real horse! It’s like something out of a dream after so long with your faithful dog Sparky as the only animal in the community. You’re faced with a choice. Do you ride the horse… or do you come back from your hunt with a lot of meat to feed your camp?

Dead of Winter is a zombie game. I know, I know, “Yawn, zombie games are so 2010, Zombies!!! is a rubbish game and Last Night on Earth is wildly and sporadically unbalanced” but this isn’t that kind of zombie game.

I’ve always felt that the best zombie films are ones where the zombies are an elemental force rather than a gore-splattered killing machines. The zombies are what drive people to desperate decisions, what brings a community together and turns them against each other, all because if you let your guard down for a single second then you’re dead. They heighten the drama and they show people what kind of human beings they really are, for better or worse.

Dead of Winter is that kind of zombie game.

Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative game about a community of people trying to survive the winter in a little community filled with helpful (and helpless) souls. Together everyone has one main goal which might be looking for a cure to the zombie virus or simply living through eight weeks of winter. The main goals all have different play lengths and ‘hardcore’ modes just in case the board wasn’t kicking your arse enough.

To shake up the players’ goals however is a secret objective each of them is given at the start of the game. So while the community needs to clear the streets of zombies and board everything up, you might be busily trying to hoard medicine or fuel, you might be building a zombie-killing robot or trying to keep your people free from germs by having them not take any wounds. Each player only wins if they complete the main objective AND the secret objective, so no matter how selfless you want to be there’s always that nagging voice in your head which says you need to hoard and do terrible things for the sake of your own slice of the community. I’ve had points in multiple games where I’ve had to decide whether I should give up on my own success to help everyone else have a chance at winning. The first time I did and it was the right move; I lost but the others had a chance at victory. The second time, victory landed in my lap seconds before I would have given up on my slim chances of success. I played a game where three people had objectives which involved medicine, meaning if any of them went too selfishly they would cost the others their win… in the end they all helped the community and all lost their own goals. Other players may not be so generous as my players. Boardgamegeek have had threads about people’s purposeful sabotage of the other players once they realise they can’t succeed at their own goal, something I’m pleased to say most of my group couldn’t understand the thinking behind.

So that’s the fun of the co-operative side, I’m drooling and already wanting to dive into the game and I’ve not even told you how it works, so let’s get to that.

Each player controls a couple of characters, a number which might grow or dwindle depending on your actions. Each turn you get an amount of action dice equal to the number of characters you control plus one. These dice are used for searching, attacking, putting up barricades and removing the filth which threatens to drown your home if you play too many cards. There are other actions like trading resources, playing cards or moving which don’t take dice so even with one active character you’ve got a lot you can do.

Aside from sending your people out of the community to help your goal and the community’s goal, you also need to prevent a crisis which will pop up every turn. EVERY TURN. One time, the zombies are knocking the walls of your home down and you all need to put junk into the crisis. Another turn, maybe food has spoilt so you need to have even more than the amount of food you have to spend every turn to keep your people from starving. Oh yeah, your people will starve. They will also bring zombies to the gates every turn. People are jerks like that and bring mess to your camp every damn turn.

If you’re moving people out of your camp or fight zombies who are knocking at your door you’ll have to roll the exposure die. This is King Bastard of all the dice:

It’s a d12 and I’ve already made my opinion on those clear. If you move then you complete the movement and roll the exposure die. If you attack a zombie you spend an action die with a result of your character’s attack skill, trash the zombie and roll for exposure.

On a blank side, you’re safe. On a pointy skull you’ve taken a wound, three of those bad boys and you’re dead. A snowflake skull is a frostbite wound which will only get worse every turn without treatment. Again, three of any type of wound will murder you. Then there’s the tooth symbol which only appears on one side and yet keeps turning up way more often than it damn well should.
It means your survivor has been bitten and here’s an example of that.

It’s turn one and the camp is crowded, ten players’ survivors and five helpless survivors. There are zombies on every space of our gates so if one zombie gets added (and seven will appear at the end of the turn) then we lose a person per zombie which couldn’t be placed. That would be the seven lowest influence people out of ten, starting with one of my characters, Sparky the stunt dog, who had the lowest influence in the game. 10. Worse even than Forest Plum, the creepy mall Santa.

We need to kill a lot of zombies to lessen the casualties by seven, ideally. Another player has Olivia, the Doctor. He decides to use her to attack one of the zombies at the gates, removes an action die, takes the zombie off the board and rolls for exposure. It’s a tooth. Olivia is instantly dead. Gone. Then we pick the lowest influence person, Sparky, who then has to either die instantly or risk dying and passing the infection on. If he does that then the next one dies or rolls and so on. 
(As a little addendum, Sparky can’t get bit as he’s a dog, something we know now but at the time we lost a fifth of our forces and sent as many of our people outside of the colony so fewer zombies would be added at the end of the turn, we would have lost the mall Santa instead of the dog.)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Dead of Night

A horror movie role-playing game.

The sun’s setting and you’re on your way to the camp site. You had tents, booze and a flimsy excuse about school work up on that old Indian burial site. No one cared about the work, or the warnings from the old man at the gas station, instead you pitched the tents, started playing loud music and drinking.
Now it’s the dead of night and a noise broke you out of slumber. Was it a scream? It’s not worth waking your girlfriend or getting a weapon. It’s probably just a coyote. That’s your thought until you undo the zip and see the slathering jaws of the creature, larger than any wolf you’ve ever seen. You scream…

Dead of Night is a game which touts itself as a ‘campfire roleplaying game’. It is played with minimal rules and only two dice, passed around like a talking stick. The first edition was small enough to fit in a pocket and charmingly ugly. The second has more finesse, a little less about the portability, but far better than the original.

Dead of Night is meant for single role-playing sessions. There’s nothing saying it can’t be a series, but Dead of Night is the kind of game which highlights the the moment a player’s character is at risk of death or bring turned into a monster. The system replicates the drama of a horror movie, and that’s its intent.

The priest asks, “Does anyone here object to the union of…”
He is cut off as shadow beasts charge through the groom’s side of the church, ripping them to pieces. The bride faints. The groom runs away, only to be torn apart by one of the beasts who are now entering from behind the altar.
What do you do?

The book contains several plot hooks in the style of any horror movie you’ve seen in the past or present. It could be a Friday the 13th style slasher flick, a strange body horror movie, a zombie invasion or a modern Saw-type movie. The book lists examples and gives example stories for each genre, sometimes with convincing movie posters for them. In the core book are four full adventures but Steampower Publishing site has made a few more including hooks on the back of fake movie poster postcards and the tools for building your own game are immense.
Once the storyteller has picked or created their own game, the players make characters. This is a quick process, so that you can make characters on the night and replace any dead characters pretty easily.
Each character has eight stats, each paired off (Identify/Obscure, Persuade/Dissuade, Escape/Pursue, Assault/Protect) and each pair totalling ten points. That means if you’re good at attacking you’re bad at defending. There are ways to mitigate this, including sacrificing points from both to gain an even higher-rated speciality. For instance you could have Identify 6 & Obscure 4, but if you wanted some flavour to your character an an identifiable skill you could change that to: Identify 5, Obscure 3, Expert Tracker 7.
Whatever stats you have, you roll 2d10 and aim high. Normally a 15 will get you the result, but the storyteller might make things easier or harder for you depending on the roll. And don’t roll a 13. Whatever you do, don’t roll a 13.
There’s only one pair of dice to use, and once you’ve rolled them, you’re not allowed to roll again until someone else has. This way people can’t dominate the scenes and everyone gets a turn. This helps keep the pace and makes scenes really frantic when players are alone and can’t act again until someone else has narrated something and rolled a dice. The ‘campfire game’ mentality really speaks to this, creating a kind of ‘talking stick’ of the dice.

Since the zombies had eaten everyone else in Parliament, James had kept calling himself Prime Minister. His driver, Doug, bore the brunt of most of his bad behaviour. James wanted to keep the journalists on his side, after all.
Once the bunker doors opened, they had seen the wreckage London had been left in.
“We need to get out of here,” James said. “Go somewhere safe. With food. Bring the car round, Dougie, old boy.”
Doug sighed and started the walk down to the car park. The limo was still there, in the distance. The only car untouched, probably because it was such a bad choice of escape vehicle. He still didn’t believe this whole ‘zombie’ thing. It was probably just immigrants, like the tabloids always said. Or loony left-wingers. Or hoodies.
The car park’s lights flickered. Broken, like everything else in this country, he thought. As he got closer, he saw a shadow, then another. There were people down here. Other survivors, possibly?
“Hello?” he called out. Then louder, “Hello? Can you hear me?”
The shadows stopped, and he heard the noises of footsteps shuffling towards him.

I’ve mentioned previously about my love of elegant mechanics in games, how I like it when they reflect the behaviours of the medium they’re representing. In Dead of Night the main currency is Survival Points. You start with five, and they go down the more you’re attacked. If you see something man was not meant to see, if you’re slashed by a werewolf claw, then you lose a survival point. If you’re out of them, then you’re out of the game.
You can earn Survival Points back, though. If you act out a horror trope, you earn a Survival Point. Call out to the zombies, alerting them. Drop the weapon and run after you successfully hit a monster. Say the words, “It’s just the cat” or “I’ll be right back.” Each of these could earn you some Survival Points. The game is essentially a balancing act between acting like all those awful horror movie character tropes and surviving being in an awful horror movie.
Survival Points aren’t just health either. They can add dice to your roll, they can even allow you to switch your paired stats for a moment. That way the nerd who’s good at defending himself but not attacking might rage out and start laying into the axe murderer long enough for the cheerleaders to escape. You can also use Survival Points to find an essential item in the nick of time. It’s costly, as that’s potentially your character’s life you’re gambling, but it might be worth it. In a game against werewolves, one player was a former dance superstar who had become a drama teacher. He was on one Survival Point as the werewolf closed in on him and decided to use his final piece of health to have his treasured pair of silver tap shoes in his bag. He plunged one into the face of the werewolf, sacrificing himself for the greater good.

They had secured the press room. The snow was thicker than they had ever seen before, and somewhere out there were the creatures. They were scientists once, but no more. Each one killed by the cold and raised into those things.
“We need to get out there, get the fuel for the coach. Then we can escape.”
The survivors nodded, all but the last of the scientists. He kept to the back of the group, clutching his hand. He felt cold, too cold. His fingers were breaking apart at the tips, with nothing but ice and bone underneath. The illness had to be hidden from the others, or if any of them found out, he would have to kill them…

Dead of Night is a really simple system, and the Survival Point currency is elegant in its portrayal of the behaviour of horror movie characters. Choices are difficult and players are often forced into strange and genius decisions. The book has several modifications to the system according to the kind of game you’re playing.
One modification which I really like is conversion. In Ice Station Zero, players can be infected by the ice zombies. I used red poker chips for Survival Points, but when an ice zombie hit a player, there was a chance they would be infected. An infected player would replace a red poker chip with a blue one. The blue chips were Survival Points the players couldn’t use. Once a player had more of the blue chips than the red ones, they were zombies. As the chips grew, my players started acting oddly, slower, more used to the cold. Oddly entranced by it. When the characters went full zombie, I let the players remain in control of them. The same with the werewolf game. The cheerleader and the nerd survived the werewolves, while one player failed to fight off his infection and gave in to his wolfy impulses. No one survived Ice Station Zero. It’s one of the few times a total party kill (TPK) is acceptable. As the final human player blew up the coach which had been surrounded by ice zombies, it felt like an acceptable ending to the ‘horror movie’ we’d been playing. The camera pulled away from the shot of the burning coach and the ruined ice station. They’d saved the world but it had cost them their lives.

Dead of Night is a great convention game as it doesn’t last long and encourages hasty, awful decision-making. In a really deadly game like this one, there’s a risk of killing people in an unsatisfactory manner. The Survival Point currency can often get around this problem and there aren’t often instant kills without people knowing them. If you want a fun horror game which replicates the most serious and silly tropes of the genre, this is definitely one of the best light games to reflect all of that.

Dead of Night can be found at Drive Thru RPG or ordered through your friendly local game store.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Dead of Winter

By Charles Etheridge-Nunn

Dead of Winter is a zombie game, kind of. There's thankfully a lot more to it, enough to distinguish it from Zombies!!!, Last Night on Earth, Zombie Fluxx, Zombie Dice, Zombie Munchkin, Zombicide and so on. 

The biggest problem with Dead of Winter is that it was open to preorder months and months ago, it was due to be released shortly after. After hearing Shut Up & Sit Down talk about the game I felt it captured exactly what I wanted to see in a piece of zombie fiction and in the horrors of a semi-cooperative game.

That's the great thing about Dead of Winter, it's cooperative until it isn't. You're all good people working for the good of the community, but you all have your own motivations which you have to pursue for your own survival. In the game you'll be having to weigh up whether you should survive at the cost of everyone else, or if you can help others to live just to get anyone through to the end of winter.

So the good news is that after considerable delays, it's finally here!

So let's have a look inside the box and see what this game is all about.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Quick Game Look - Cardfight Vanguard

As the people of Hooting into the Abyss know, I like robot based games as much as some people like Skaven, the richness of Malifaux or sleeving cards. It was thus probably inevitable I would try this one at some point. What caught my eye was the card in the picture above - it's illustrated by the fairly renowned animator and designer Masami Obari, who I'm quite a fan of. Buying a game based on one illustrator being involved seems a really bad idea, but buoyed by terrible influence from some other friends I nevertheless did so.

Thursday, 24 April 2014



We are now only a couple of weeks away from the Hooting event of the year, CabinCon, the origins of the name are shrouded in mystery but it is a name that evokes joy in the heart of all the hooters.

The concept is simple, one cabin, 17 hooters and a plethora of games, any games, all of the games! We will be spanning board games, tabletop games, card games and RPG’s all in the space of 6 glorious days.

So whats going on I hear you ask? Come on, surely someone asked that? Well, here are the main games and some of the participants anyway.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Avengers Vs X-Men Battle Report, Month Three

After a little delay, it's time for the third Avengers vs X-Men event. The X-Men have travelled the world looking for Hope Summers and the Phoenix Force has finally arrived on Earth.
Iron Man's "Phoenix-Buster" armour didn't stop the Phoenix, instead it just broke the creature into smaller forces which imbued five X-Men with world-changing powers. This month we re-enact that battle with a selection of X-Men and Avengers.
The tournament changed up for this month, as we all get to use the Phoenix Force resource dial which was given to us in month one and the Phoenix shards which we've acquired in each tournament so far. We have six hundred points of Avengers or X-Men to pick teams from; the Avengers gain some bonuses but the X-Men imbue their team with new powers from the shards. It's... confusing. The dial was strange to get used to at first but between the YouTube tutorial and talking it over with the other competitors it seemed like something which just might work. The Phoenix Force has a dial with powers and modifiers on, which everyone assigned a Phoenix shard gets. They all also have a power based on a character who was originally one of the "Phoenix Five". If you knock someone out then the powers on the dial change up. If one of your Phoenixes is KO'd then the rest get more powerful to make up for it. So yeah, not too bad, just a little weird at first.

I was torn with a couple of ideas for teams, having recently acquired a few new X-Men pieces and wanting to try them out. As the one fan of Cyclops (yes, I know) I still wanted to have a Summers family day out. Instead though, I decided to go with the X-Men Time Team:

Bishop, time cop and lunatic who can soak up power and spit it back out, with the Colossus shard to toughen him up when he's out in the field.
Cable, Cyclops' alternate future son, he ran around time trying to hide his daughter from Bishop. I put the Namor shard on Cable so he had the X-Men team ability which he was originally missing.
Hope Summers, Cable's adopted daughter who he hid with in the future. I put the Emma Frost shard on her so that she would get telekinetic powers.
Jean Grey, an original X-Man brought to the present by Beast. She didn't have a Phoenix shard. I've seen what happens when Jean gets all Phoenixy and it's probably best not to repeat that.
Phoenix, the alternate future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey, because my god there's a lot of weird family drama with those guys. I put the Cyclops shard on her which would give Phoenix better ranged powers.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Avengers Vs X-Men Battle Report: Month Two

Previously the Avengers and the X-Men squared off on the beach of Utopia, the mutant homeland. The X-Men won the day, but Hope Summers ran away from both teams rather than have either one choose her destiny. Both teams were able to track her signal to five different locations, so this time the tournament has the Avengers and X-Men split themselves into five small teams each, fighting in each location as they search for Hope.

Five teams have to be built for slightly shorter battles. There are some limitations; Beast and Wolverine aren’t allowed on the X-Men’s side as they are filthy splitters. Hope isn’t allowed on either side as she’s on the run. The five teams have to share a team keyword, such as X-Factor or New Mutants. Each team was to belong to a different group and each character couldn’t be duplicated as everyone’s around the world searching at the same time.
The X-Men team would be the easiest to make as most mutants have been an X-Man at some point. Then there’s the recently-released Wolverine & The X-Men set which brought a lot of X-Force and New Mutants characters. A few people share the X-Factor keyword, so the remaining team was a difficult choice. Sadly there aren’t many Generation X characters, so I picked Excalibur, as I could just about make the team.
My teams were as follows:

Excalibur: Longshot to provide probability control and thrown knives. Shadowcat to ferry people around and support them. Warlock to turn into a dune buggy, ram people and be an all-round weird Swiss Army Knife of a character.

New Mutants: Magik from the Phoenix Five who appear later in the series, as a flying death beast. Magma who is like a borderline-psychotic lava Firestar. Shatterstar who is basically a man with crazy massive swords and that’s a good substitute for character.

X-Factor: This was possibly the hardest team to build. 300 points was a ton back in the day, but two massive overhauls later and 300 points is barely anything. I had Layla Miller to resurrect people and use the near-essential Outwit & Probability Control powers. I wanted to use Polaris as her Telekinesis power allowed fast placement of people around the map. Originally I wanted to use Strong Guy as a tank to move into place, but that was heavily veto’d by the X-Men’s captain so I picked three Multiple Men as their replacement. One is the original, the others his ‘dupes’.

X-Force: I wanted to use my limited edition Cable from the last game as he hunts Avengers and damn it, he was my prize. He could phase through things and do two attacks in one go. Spiral is a whirling dervish of blades who can teleport. Then I needed enough points to fill the rest and I decided Wolfsbane would make for something sharp to throw at the enemy, especially if I could make her carry a Phoenix Shard.

X-Men: Cyclops was a must, as the Avengers Vs X-Men version is one of the best I’ve seen. Emma Frost is a great support piece, and with 75 points left after that, I took Professor X. This makes a team filled with Mind Control, Probability Control, Leadership and not a great deal of mobility.

Next, on to the tournament!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Photographing miniatures.

So one of my hobbies outside of miniatures is photography, with that in mind I've put together a few comments and thoughts on how to get the best photos you can of your miniatures. If you've spent hours/days painting them and what to show them off then clearly a quick shaky snap on your phone just isn't going to cut it.

With all photography, there are a lot of factors that go into a great shot. I’m going to go over a few of the basics and so feel free to experiment and play around until you achieve the image you want.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Avengers Vs X-Men Battle Report: Month One

The first couple of issues of the AvX comic event dealt with Wolverine bringing the Avengers to the X-Men’s island home of Utopia; a nation off the coast of San Francisco which housed over half of the X-Men. Captain America came with a demand for Hope Summers, the potential host of the Phoenix Force. When Cyclops refused to give the girl over, a SHIELD helicarrier became visible overhead, with a TON of Avengers. With the majority of both teams facing off against each other, everyone knew that things were going to start big.
And that’s where this event will begin. The Brighton Heroclix Community are split into two factions, Avengers and X-Men. Both sides will play off against each other using teams of 600 points, taken from a selection of 2,000 points each player will bring to the table. If a character is knocked out in a round, they can’t be used again. When people fall, they fall HARD. Everyone will see it all four rounds though, so if you can’t make a team of 600 points you can buy back dead units costing points equal to how many points of enemies you’ve knocked out so far.
Each fight is timed, and whoever can knock the most amount of points out of the other team wins. The amount of points you knock out add up at the end to settle any ties, so a total wipe is obviously the best.
Both teams have a selection they have to stick with, the characters (not necessarily the miniatures) from the Avengers Vs X-Men Starter Sets. The Avengers have to have a version of; Captain America, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Man, Thor & Wolverine. The X-Men have to have a version of; Colossus, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magik, Magneto & Namor.

Here is where I begin to suck. I picked X-Men because I’ve been a fan of them since I was five and, ahem, liberated a UK reprint of X-Men #23 from a doctor’s waiting room.
I borrowed a 10th Anniversary Emma Frost and Storm from one player and Bishop, Psylocke & Professor X from another.
My total forces were:
Bishop, Colossus, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Gambit, Husk, Kid Omega, Longshot, Magik, Magneto, Namor, Professor X, Psylocke, Shadowcat, Storm and Sunspot.
My plans were minimal at best. Telekinetics like Kid Omega, Magik and Magneto could move people into battle, as could Shadowcat (who is also able to hide and outwit folk). Colossus, Husk, Namor and Sunspot are bricks who deal okay damage and absorb a lot. Emma, Psylocke and Professor X do mind control, while Bishop, Cyclops, Longshot and Storm are brilliant ranged attackers.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Avengers Vs X-Men: An Introduction to Heroclix

In my introduction to Hooting Into The Abyss I announced that I was The Unpainter, a person who didn’t play miniature games, didn’t play wargames, and didn’t paint miniatures. There is an exception which has happened in the last year, a miniature game which sounds at first like it would be anathema to any other Abyss-Hooter on this site.
I’m talking about Heroclix, a game I have drifted in and out of a couple of times and recently returned to as my local community has been expanding its presence and the scope of its plans. I thought I would write about the four events which will take place monthly in gaming groups worldwide, but in particular the Brighton Heroclix community.

So what is Heroclix?
Heroclix is the name of a miniature gaming system for skirmish-size battles between two or more teams of generally, but not necessarily superheroes. The main two licenses the game carries are Marvel and DC, however the list of past Heroclix includes; Assassins Creed, Judge Dredd, Halo, Gears of War, Iron Maiden and Pacific Rim.
The system is really quite simple. Each player makes a team, places them on a map made of little inch squares, often replicating things like the Batcave or Columbia from Bioshock Infinite and you knock the snot out of each other. To see The Hulk chasing Batman and Ezio Auditore da Firenzi across a rooftop would normally be the matter for a fanboy’s dreams. Here, it’s a little plastic reality.
Each turn is short, players have an action for every hundred points of characters (so 500 points gives 5 actions) and each character can only be given one. If you move, that’s an action. If you punch or shoot someone, that’s an action. If you have Magneto fling a dumpster across a mall into the face of Captain America, it’s a really satisfying action. Really satisfying. Once your turn is over you’ve got little tokens on some or all of your people. The next turn they keep the actions and have to rest to remove them. Or, if you’re feeling risky, they can damage themselves to do another attack. There’s a whole risk/reward system to taking actions which makes prioritising what you can do and effectively budgeting cool superhero moves more tactical than you’d think. Can you afford to have Hulk headbutt the Juggernaut? What if he misses and is so weakened that the Toad can knock him out in one punch?