As we head into the first of several May bank holiday weekends here in the UK, the Dicebreaker team has another edition of what we’ve been playing to share. This is a weekly series wherein we talk about the various tabletop games we’ve recently been dabbling in, possibly to inspire readers wondering what to put on their ‘to play’ pile.
This week, we’ve been playing a smorgasbord of tabletop titles - from digital board games to tabletop roleplaying games to epic historical strategy games. Whilst I’ve been continuing my foray into spin-off title Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, Chase has been going places in Railroad Ink: Challenge, Wheels has been trekking across the marshes of an Arthurian wild west in Inevitable: The Doomed Arthurian Western RPG and Matt has been commanding armies in historical wargame Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan.
If you’ve been playing anything exciting you’d like to share with us and the Dicebreaker community, please let us know in the comments below or tweet at @joindicebreaker.
What We’ve Been Playing - April 28th 2023
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
I talked about my Gloomhaven Digital campaign last week, but this week we’re discussing my Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion playthrough. Myself and my friends are currently playing the physical version of the game, which continues to be an absolute joy to set up and put away thanks to the fact that it uses a scenario book instead of a board or tiles.
We’ve just completed the last of the tutorial scenarios, which also conveniently brings the current story-arc to a semi-conclusion. So far, the Jaws of the Lion has provided an excellent learning experience for my friends - who are very much beginners to Gloomhaven. Each tutorial has walked us through the game’s various concepts mostly well, though there are still those moments where we’re not quite sure what to do.
Despite being part of the tutorial, we’ve definitely still felt challenged by a couple of the scenarios, which is a testament to the series’ devotion to difficulty. I’ll be interested to see how far this ramps up now that we’ve completed the beginning stages of the game. Knowing what Gloomhaven digital has put me through, I won’t be surprised if we quickly find ourselves in the deep end.
For now, watching our plans play out, mostly, how we’ve wanted them to has never not been satisfying. Our last scenario was especially excellent, with the boss’s dreaded ability to end the scenario if it ever reaches full health never even appearing to be a possibility. I’m sure that our confidence and luck will run out soon though, as is the way with Gloomhaven - losing is about as much a part of the experience as winning is.
Railroad Ink: Challenge
I feel fairly spoiled that Railroad Ink: Challenge was among one of the very first roll & write board games put in front of me because that collection of coloured dice and dry erase markers set a lofty goal for any other title hoping to steal the crown. I managed to play both versions, rolling and writing with the base version of Verdant Green and the full scope of Shining Yellow.
Railroad Ink: Challenge differs from its standard fare sibling by adding optional objective cards and a few special squares on the dry erase grid board. Otherwise, the experience remains largely the same: players roll a shared set of dice and must use the results to gradually construct a network of rails and roads across a 7x7 grid. Scoring takes into account length, number of connected stops and a bevy of other metrics, but you lose points for orphaned paths and dead ends.
The challenges add the perfect little wrinkle of strategy for those who find the vanilla setup doesn’t make their inner civil engineer sweat enough. Even the cards gradually increase in difficulty and can be chosen at random so that seasoned players can vary their setup and approach. When combined with the coloured dice’s already gulp-inducing extra bits, it can transform a somewhat relaxing experience doodling lines into a white-knuckle fever dream of wiggling lines and rotating shapes.
Inevitable: The Doomed Arthurian Western RPG
What if King Arthur was a cowboy, Excalibur was a revolver, and England’s green fields and forests were a dusty wasteland reminiscent of the wild wild west? Oh and also the world was a doomed post apocalypse?
Inevitable is an RPG from Soul Muppet Games that places the players in a doomed mish mash of Arthurian legend and gun slinging cowboys. Maddie and I were lucky enough to get a preview of the currently Kickstarting indie, courtesy of designer Zach GMing it for us on stream. It’s a super interesting system with a really cool setting that apparently invokes a lot of Stephen King’s Dark Tower world which I can’t verify myself as I’ve not read them!
With Forged in the Dark style dice pools that are built by announcing your characters’ reputations and equipment to try and give yourself an edge, players will move between quests in which the kingdom of Myth’s very existence is at stake, making grand, sweeping actions to try and solve their problems. In exchange for their successes they may have to offer up something personal, like a change in their nature or a lingering omen of their death that will spell out the prophesied doom of both the kingdom and the players’ characters themselves.
It’s definitely a game that’s captured my attention in our small amount of time with it and I’ll be keeping my eye on the Kickstarter which is live right now.
Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
Sekigahara is probably my favourite historical wargame of all time, and a board game I don’t get to play nearly as often as I’d like. Happily, I had the chance to return to it for the first time in a while last weekend, breaking it out to introduce to a friend - who ended up as smitten with it as I am.
Matt Calkins’ board game recreates the 1600 conflict that saw the forces of Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu clash for seven weeks along the two highways comprising the titular crossroads. Despite its fairly brief length, the battle - won by Tokugawa in real life - helped lay the groundwork for modern Japan.
Sekigahara is naturally rooted in its historical setting, but don’t let the idea of an intimidating rulebook as thick as a history tome creep in. Sekigahara is a triumph of elegance and atmosphere. While it excels at capturing the differing objectives, starting positions and respective military specialties of its opposing sides, it does so without requiring pages of subclause rules or nit-picky admin. (The actual rules come down to around half-a-dozen pages, but there’s plenty of background reading for history buffs.)
Everything really comes down to the cards in your hand, which are used to bid for initiative - who goes first during each of its seven rounds, representing each week of the battle - move your troops between locations on the map, muster new forces to the board and deploy forces during battles. Loyalty challenge cards can also be used to potentially convert enemy forces to your side during fights, a delightfully devastating - if risky - twist. The two sides have a unique deck that cleanly instils their asymmetric nature, without changing the basic way that both players take their actions.
The cards combine with Sekigahara’s stunning wooden blocks, which represent players’ troops on the map. (Each symbolises roughly 5,000 troops in real life, if you’re curious.) They’re not just gorgeous to look at - the gold and black blocks also serve as the vehicle for the board game’s ingenious bluffing element. Each player can see the type and strength of their troops on each of the identical blocks, but they remain hidden to their rival on the opposite side of the board until deployed in battle. This means that a towering pile could be a bunch of weaker units, while a stockier stack might be a few powerful troops. The leaders that each player must defeat to claim instant victory (points decide a winner after seven rounds) are also hidden among the stacks, making it a tense and risky game of hide-and-seek.
Sekigahara is a masterpiece of gameplay design and presentation, and deserves to be appreciated by players outside of wargaming’s stereotypical circles. If you’ve been curious about wargaming but always felt intimidated by the traditional idea of a dusty, complicated simulation, this is the place to start. It will always have a place in my collection.