It’s a jam packed entry for this week’s entry into our What We’ve Been Playing series! Almost the entire Dicebreaker crew have contributed to this particular edition, each with their own unique stories about their recent tabletop gaming experiences.
Whilst Maddie has once again been diving into the mysteries of tabletop roleplaying game Delta Green, I’ve been playing last year’s Challengers, Matt’s solved some puzzles in Exit: The Game - The Lord of the Rings: Shadows over Middle-earth, Wheels has been getting his teeth into the enormous Frosthaven and Liv recounts her adventures in Till the Last Gasp.
If you’ve been playing anything recently that you want to share your thoughts on - or you have exciting plans for this weekend - then please feel free to comment below or hit us up on Twitter @joindicebreaker!.
What We’ve Been Playing - June 30th 2023
I’m back to playing some one shots of my favourite RPG Delta Green. Originally based on the Call of Cthulhu system, it’s a modern investigative game where you play as government officials secretly solving supernatural crimes.
I’ve created a new character for the few mysteries we’re playing who is an IRS agent who got sucked into this world, after solving a case of money laundering from a cult who had supernatural ties to Cthulhu. Now he’s joined forces with an EPA agent and a postal worker to take on various cases for the shady organisation Delta Green.
So far we’ve dealt with a missing child case in a Yosemite national park, where they turned up thirty years later but still only six years old. Us solving it didn’t exactly go to plan, and my character Rory very nearly died, but the alien threat is gone for now.
One of the really interesting things about Delta Green, is that you need to keep supernatural things secret from the general public, but at the end of our investigation we had two witnesses - and so were faced with some really tricky decisions on what to do with them. In the end we decided to tell them the truth about the risk they were in and encouraged them to go into hiding, but for the rest of our agent’s lives we’ll forever be worried about whether they’re truly safe or not.
It’s these kinds of things that really set Delta Green apart as a horror game. The isolation of facing terrifying things but never being able to reach out for help to those around you, means every mission leads your agent to fall further and further away from their previously normal lives. I’m excited to jump into a new session tonight and see what horrors Rory will face, and hope I have a better aim with my handgun this time.
Exit: The Game - The Lord of the Rings: Shadows over Middle-earth
As its frankly ridiculous brand name-colon-brand name-colon-subtitle moniker suggests, Shadows over Middle-earth is the Lord of the Rings entry in the Exit: The Game series of escape room-in-a-box puzzles.
I’m a huge fan of Exit, having played a number of the boxes over the years. If you’re unfamiliar, the premise is to cram an hour’s (or so) worth of puzzles, riddles and clues into a box not much bigger than a deck of cards. While I’ve enjoyed rival escape-room games like Unlock (which uses an app to crack clues), in my opinion Exit still remains the best escape room experience you can have without being literally locked into a room. (Maybe neck a couple pints of water and lock yourself out of the bathroom before you play if you want to really capture the same time pressure.)
Like the rest of the Exit games, it’s hard to discuss specifics of Shadows over Middle-earth without giving away the reason you come to the series: clever puzzles, surprising a-ha moments and, especially here, fun references to the theme. All I can say is, if you’ve played the Exit games before, this one continues their quality and the delightful way they play around with their physical components, including the included code wheel, decks of cards, book of clues and box itself. For newcomers, go in knowing this is a true one-and-done experience, and not just because you’ll know the answers; you’ll end up cutting things up, folding things over and even destroying items in the box to discover the answers.
As a Lord of the Rings fan, Shadows over Middle-earth is a fun romp through Tolkien’s trilogy, with your group cast as hobbits who just so happen to be following the Fellowship along their journey to Mount Doom. The premise is pretty silly, but it works as a lighthearted way to reimagine familiar moments - from escaping the Ring-wraiths on the road to Bree to the Balrog encounter on the bridge of Khazad-dûm - as entertaining puzzles.
If you are coming in afresh to the Exit games, there’s no need to feel intimidated by what can be surprisingly out-of-the-box solutions; there’s a useful deck of hint cards for every puzzle that will avoid you getting stuck for too long, so there’s never a reason to feel too frustrated.
Shadows over Middle-earth isn’t quite my favourite of the Exit games - Dead Man on the Orient Express cleverly mixes its puzzles with an ongoing murder-mystery, elevating it above the simple escape-the-room premise - but it’s another extremely solid and worthwhile entry in one of board gaming’s best modern franchises. If you’re here for the Lord of the Rings theme, you’ll have a blast - and even if you’re just after some brainteasing puzzles to fill a couple of hours, you’ll come away satisfied.
Challengers! is a deckbuilding game published by Z-Man Games, the studio responsible for releasing Pandemic. The concept by the title is an interesting one: a deckbuilding game wherein the actual deckbuilding is done between rounds of gameplay, rather than during.
The actual gameplay of Challengers! is incredibly simple, with players drawing the top card from their deck and comparing the strength against the top card from their opponent/s’ deck. Whilst the stronger card will remain in play, the weaker card will be ‘benched’ onto the player’s backline: essentially discarded for the rest of the round, unless brought back by another card.
The winning player’s card remains in play, with the opponent then drawing from the top of their deck until the combined total of their cards trumps the last winning card/s. Whichever card won the challenge then remains in play, with the losing card/s being benched - and so on. A key thing to note is that the additional cards drawn to trump an opponent’s are only active when challenging, with the card on top of a pile having to defend against any new challengers.
Any benched cards are placed in one of six available slots on a player’s bench, with matching cards able to be stacked on top of one another. This is important because a player will lose if they need to bench a card in its own slot, but all of their available slots have already been filled. Otherwise, a player wins a round if their opponent/s run out of cards before they are able to trump their card.
In between challenges, players are invited to augment their decks with new cards, as well as remove any cards they don’t want. At first, players will only have access to cards in the starting A deck. However, as the game progresses, they’ll gain access to the more powerful B and then C decks. Even with access to a more powerful deck, players will still sometimes have the option to pick from a less powerful deck, if they think it’ll benefit them more.
Players will initially be able to choose from a handful of cards randomly drawn from each deck, but can decide to redraw once if they want. Once they’ve chosen their card/s, they’ll have the option to remove any number of cards from their deck. Removing cards can help ensure that you’ll draw the cards you want to draw sooner, but they’ll also help to prevent - or at least, lessen the chances of - you being unable to discard a card due to having a full bench.
Which cards you decide to pick will depend on what you’ve drawn, what cards you currently have in your deck and what kind of strategy you want to aim for. Cards are separated into main categories, with some cards activating combos with cards from the same category. Other cards simply have a high power level, whilst others will screw with your opponent/s’ deck. There are a few good options in Challengers!, with players being encouraged to evolve or change up their strategies as they progress through the game - due to the fact that their opponent/s will have acquired more powerful cards or shifted strategies themselves.
Though I was initially sceptical of Challengers!, especially looking at its less-than-stellar art-style - which Chase described as being akin to a cheap, early 2000s cartoon - I was eventually won over by its approach to deckbuilding. I’m definitely a sucker for the genre and enjoy playing games that provide a different spin on it. I think I’d love a version of this with a different theme and artstyle, as well as more complicated mechanics and maybe a bit more put into the actual gameplay - giving the player more agency when actually using their cards.
We’ve finally been attempting to tackle the absolute behemoth that is Frosthaven, the successor to - previously - the world’s largest board game, Gloomhaven. If you’re not familiar with either of the two, they’re relatively standard dungeon-crawler games which use an admittedly innovative card mechanic that sees your hand of cards serving as both a stamina bar and the actions you can take throughout each adventure.
Combat is the name of the game - playing cards that ask you to combine the top half of one ability with the bottom of the other, all the while managing your initiative by picking abilities with numbers that match where you’d like to go in the turn order. It’s a fun and crunchy puzzle of sliding around hexes and crowd-controlling nasty enemies, to try and survive long enough to loot the room and move on to the next dungeon.
The real sell of the series, though, is the sheer amount of content each box provides. Literal weeks’ worth of gameplay all heaving out of a box the size of a mini-fridge and the weight of… a full mini fridge. Needless to say, filming it has not been easy! But we are bravely persevering in the video team to bring you a full look at what it’s like to play the largest game in existence.
Till the Last Gasp
I played this a little while back with both my partner, and more recently, with Meehan for a let’s play on the Dicebreaker youtube channel. Ever since I got a whiff of this RPG’s concept I was hooked and I couldn’t wait to give it a shot myself.
Till the Last Gasp by Darrington Press is TTRPG in a box that gives you all the tools you need to come up with your character, in a simple way that promotes dice rolling fun or just gives you the scaffolding to create an all new character.
You might guess what the theme of the game is from its title but I’ll tell you anyway, it’s all about duelling either to defeat, exile or till the last gasp.
In Till the Last Gasp you and your opponent will be looking to defeat one another as you traverse the setting, using map specific actions if you wish or using the actions listed on your stance card for the round. The stance you choose will allow you to take different actions based on if your character is feeling bold, defensive, quick, reckless or wary. You can select these based on how your character is feeling or choose based on which card would help you achieve the goals on your objective card.
To take those actions during your turn you need action points which you use your action die to access. You roll them at the start of the round and they will allow you to tot up how many points you get.
My personal favourite part of the game is the use of drama cards. They allow you to add depth to your character and tell a story, rather than just telling your opponent that you hit them and being done with it. The drama cards might ask you to have your character reveal a deep secret, compliment them sincerely or give them the upper hand in the situation: the options are all fantastic.
In this game, a plethora of options are available to you. You can be intergalactic lords in space, pirates boarding each others’ ships or Mad Max style drivers confronting each other off the road and in a bar - anything you can think of.
Not only is all of that a ton of fun but you only need one other person to play it! It’s a fun date night activity and a great way to goof around with friends, you should think about checking it out. - You check out the let’s play we made on 01/07 at 6pm BST too!