Sunday, December 13, 2015

Intro: Shadows of Brimstone

Longtime readers may remember me rambling about Shadows of Brimstone back in August after we attended GenCON.  After several dozen hours assembling and painting the little figures, and then being blindsided by an unforgiving Fall schedule, we have finally set aside enough time to actually play the game.

I first heard of Shadows of Brimstone from some of the folks randomly assigned to my table during a Star Wars Miniatures game at this year's GenCON.  We were all playing Rebels together and began sharing other games we'd bought or tried at the 'con.  They had supported the Kickstarter of Brimstone and told me where to find the Flying Frog Productions table in the vendor hall.  Interested, I dragged Onyx over to the table to check things out.

This is the banner we used to navigate to the booth:

Throughout the remaining days of the convention, I kept steering us back to this booth to try to get a demo session of the game.  But every time I went back, the tables were full and I could barely get close enough to watch over someone's shoulder.  I saw this as a great sign.  On our last day I caved to impulse and bought the City of the Ancients core box (there are two "cores sets") and the first expansion, Caverns of Cinder.

The game consists of cards, character sheets, oodles of tokens, dice, and map sections that lock together.  The miniatures (monsters and heroes) come unassembled and upainted and are the largest complaint about the game (most people, reasonably, just want to open the box and play, and feel that for the $$ involved they should come more complete).

Assembly and painting of the miniatures is going to be its own post (long overdue, but still on my radar).  But I'll summarize by saying that I went into this expecting only to glue the figures together (most require assembly like a model airplane) and give a basic spray-can coat of paint to help them pop on the table.  In the end, I did far more detail (and surprised myself with the results for a 1st timer), but the time involved deferred the actual play of the game from August to December due to "real life."

As I write, we have finished the first 3 beginner missions and things are beginning to gel.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's back up a bit.

What the heck is it?
SoB is a board game.  But that's like saying "EVE is a space game" - it really doesn't give you the context of scale, scope, and depth available.

The Setting:
Shadows of Brimstone is a dungeon crawler set in the late 1800s American West.  Deep inside the local mines, evil is stirring, and your posse of do-gooders is (reluctantly) sent in to smite it.  Wormholes to other worlds await deep in the mines where nasties are pouring out.  (My core box includes the basic Mines environment and Targa Plateau, a frozen land, and I love snow maps).  So, take your favorite Clint Eastwood western, mix in a bit of Cthulhu and noir, and just a pinch of Stargate SG-1 and you have Shadows of Brimstone.

I'll be really honest.  I was skeptical when I first saw the art.  I'm not a particular fan of Westerns, and the Cthulhu wave that's hit a lot of games the past few years is a little lost on me.  But the setting frikkin' works.  The flavor text on the cards is well done, the art in the books is great, and the randomness of the demons and tentacles somehow melds well with it.

The Play:
I won't give any lengthy description of the rules, but as an overview:

a) The game is completely co-op and there are rules to scale it from 1 to 6 players (playing with 5-6 players requires 2 core sets though).  By co-op, I mean that unlike other major games (Descent 2nd Edition, in particular), there isn't a player that has to assume the role of Dungeon Master or Overlord to control the monsters.  The monster AI is fairly simple with rules for how they spawn, choose targets, and an attack rotation.  The co-op aspect of it is something that drew us to it, as we can play together without one of us having to "lose" the game.

b) Almost everything you do is governed by rolling dice and drawing random cards.  At any given point, it's possible probable that you are moments away from certain doom. Every interaction involves chance, and most interactions range between merely "oh, that's bad" to "truly tragic" (very few "good news" encounters).   Many events range the entire spectrum; you draw a card and are told to roll some dice to see what happens (with possibilities of great fortune or a true ass kicking).  Players have some control over the dice via a reroll mechanic, and there are mechanics to regain lost health and of course gain in levels, equipment, and overall power, but the simple fact that at any point almost any action can trigger something that will kick your teeth in keeps you on your toes.

c) The map itself is random.  You draw cards from a deck and reveal the map bit by bit as you play.  Pieces interlock like puzzle pieces, but it's all luck of the draw whether you end up in a long hallway or an open room.  No two games will truly be the same.  It's subltle, but not knowing what's around the next corner (or how far you have to go to the boss room) keeps the creepy factor high.

d) For the first five minutes, it's a super-complicated game.  After the first session, you kind of say "huh, ok, I get it."  After the 2nd session, I didn't spend the entire game with my nose in the rulebook.  The manual is good, but it's pretty thick and it's easy to read something and then forget where you saw it.  Our first game involved only one fight but still took two hours due to all the fumbling through the manual.

e) You not only have Health points, you also have Sanity points.  Some of the encounters scare you so bad, they can literally drive you insane and scare you to death.  So far, managing the health pool seems to be the primary damage mechanic, but I can see that later managing both will add a layer of complexity.

I asked Mrs. Durden (Onyx) what she thought of it, and typed furiously as she talked.  Onyx says, "This is easier to get into than Descent.  For people that maybe have played other games, it has that good balance of being easy in concept but continuing to challenge. [The adventure] is a matter of luck; you're not going to roflstomp through, and that will keep you coming back."

Your Posse of Heroes
(Look out for the Night Terror behind you!)
Void Spiders!

Boss Fight, Session #2

End Fight, Session #3. I am the
Gunslinger with a pair of 6-shooters.  Onyx is the U.S. Marshal
with the street sweeping shotgun.

We are playing through the Basic missions as a mini-campaign.  The Adventure book includes a "real" campaign that we'll likely roll into after that.  I have taken over the dining room table in nerd nirvana for the moment and will need to clean it up before Christmas visitors.  I'm quietly hoping for more than a few snow days this winter so that we can get through the campaign.

I'll stop here. The next Brimstone post I'll tackle will be a how-to on painting the miniatures, as information on SoB online is perhaps a little thin.

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