It’s that time of the week again, as we gather around the table to share our thoughts on everything we’ve been playing lately!
Every Friday, the Dicebreaker team gathers to chat about the board games, RPGs and other tabletop games we’ve been playing this week. You might recognise some games from the website and YouTube channel, while others might be brand new things we haven’t found space or time to cover elsewhere just yet.
But it’s not all about us! This is also your chance to share what you’ve been playing recently! Whether it’s a compact card game, sprawling Kickstarter or an ongoing hobby project to paint, sculpt or build, we want to know what’s occupying your time lately.
This week, we’ve been battling over Middle-earth, bending elements in the world of Avatar and falling back down the hole of Magic: The Gathering…
Let us know in the comments what you’ve been playing recently!
What We’ve Been Playing - March 17th 2023
War of the Ring: The Card Game
War of the Ring is one of those board games I am always desperate to play, but struggle to find the time and people to enjoy more than once every few years. One of - if not the - best Lord of the Rings board games ever made, it's an incredibly faithful recreation of the entire trilogy in a Risk-like strategy game, with its main strength also being its biggest flaw: it also recreates the books’ density and length.
That’s why War of the Ring: The Card Game is so exciting to me. Like its namesake, it’s a highly faithful translation of Tolkien’s epic to the tabletop, but here trimmed down to a tighter card-driven experience that typically takes under two hours to wrap up in its entirety. Having played a four-player game at last year’s Gen Con, I recently jumped into a three-player game with Meehan and Chase to revisit one of my favourite releases of last year.
War of the Ring: TCG continues to be a brilliantly smart and thoughtful spin-off from its table-eating forebear. It’s a condensed experience, but no lesser for it. With a brand new card-driven system at its heart from Quartermaster General designer Ian Brody, it feels like the perfect meeting point of War of the Ring’s narrative sprawl and the sharp competitive cardplay of card games like Android: Netrunner and Magic: The Gathering.
Turns move quickly, with players - representing the Free Peoples, Fellowship, Saruman and Sauron - only taking a single action at a time. Normally this is playing a card - either to their reserve for use in a later round, or to one of Middle-earth’s locations in the middle of the table. These locations cleverly divvy up the journey of the Fellowship towards Mount Doom - as path cards, where Sauron’s corruption and the resistance of Frodo’s companions counts most - and battles from across the rest of the world, where armies and leaders wrestle in more direct combat.
It all boils down to victory points, but the way that cards might be limited by their ties to specific locations or moments from the trilogy - you can’t summon the Balrog into the Shire, or bring along the elven army to Mordor - presents both spicy gameplay dilemmas and a satisfying dedication to the source material for diehard fans. Playing cards requires ‘cycling’ cards into your discard pile, while attacking can lead to characters being permanently eliminated - leaving you missing vital strength in later rounds if you don’t plan ahead.
War of the Ring: The Card Game is a triumph of gameplay and adaptation, presenting a tightly constructed card game that still does right by its beloved inspiration - both Lord of the Rings, and the original War of the Ring. With a more approachable experience than its predecessor, it may well become the new go-to for Lord of the Rings fans - and rightly so.
Avatar Legends: The RPG
With the full version of the Avatar Legends RPG released, my friends and I took the opportunity to delve once more into the world of Aang and Korra. Having already played a fair chunk of the tabletop RPG using its quickstart rules, I mostly knew what to expect coming into the full version. Nevertheless, I was able to experience something new from the game thanks to the inclusion of additional playbooks found in an adventure book released alongside the finished edition.
Avatar Legends is set in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, a set of animated series that tell the stories of two different avatars - essentially superheroes who can manipulate air, water, fire and earth - in a world heavily inspired by various Asian cultures. The RPG enables players to create characters who can exist in a number of time-periods either featured in or referenced by either series, with each one focusing on different key themes and conflicts.
Our group chose the Hundred Year War era as the backdrop for our playthrough. The Hundred Year War is the era preceding the start of Avatar: The Last Airbender and sees the other nations gradually falling to the Fire Nation’s invasion. My character was an earthbender and member of the Dai Li secret organisation, a policing body operating under the controlling eye of the Earth Nation’s puppet-master council. This background fit in well with the playbook - or character type - I had chosen, the assassin, as its primary force of conflict comes from the character’s desire to form connections in the wake of a morally dubious career.
The other characters in our group were another earthbender - whose icon status left her carrying a heavy burden for her tribe - and a firebender who was attempting to separate themselves from the actions of their fellow soldiers by sabotaging their missions. Both these characters were created by players who were extremely new to tabletop roleplaying games. Nevertheless, their clear identities and goals said a lot about how Avatar Legends is a great tabletop RPG to introduce to less experienced players, thanks to its focus on storytelling over gameplay mechanics.
There were certainly moments of confusion surrounding both character creation and gameplay, particularly around Avatar Legends’ combat system - which is possibly the most complicated aspect of the game. Overall, it was impressive how quickly these two beginner players were able to get stuck into things. The story we created was very low-stakes and entirely focused on a single village in the north of the Earth Kingdom. Nevertheless, we were able to spin a yarn that was funny, tense, sad and exciting, with several instances of great character interactions.
Avatar Legends is a tabletop roleplaying game that takes the Powered by the Apocalypse gameplay system and moulds it into a game that’s laser-focused on enabling storytelling. Even the combat is more concerned with how player actions can make for an entertaining fight scene, rather than being a competitive wargame. Avatar Legends is the perfect set of tools to allow fans of the franchise - and fans of storytelling - to create their own narratives within its world.
Magic: The Gathering - Arena
I’ve fallen back down the rabbit hole of online trading card games folks, send help. The new Magic: The Gathering set Phyrexia: All Will Be One is a lot of fun, I must say. I’ve got a couple of decks built around its new mechanics and legendaries, including a deck all about Proliferating and a deck built around Mondrak, Glory Dominus that does some absolutely horrible things with tokens. If you’re sitting in the Diamond rank matchmaking queue then you’ve been warned.