Belegarth’s Battle for the Ring VI Set to Rule Them All January 17-20

Belegarth foam fighters clash in dusty Battle Game at Battle for the Ring V in Chino CA

Battle for the Ring Brings out the Best of Belegarth

On January 17, a horde of over 400 foam fighters and battle gamers will descend on Prado Regional Park near the San Gabriel Mountains of Chino, California for three days of camping, combat, and camaraderie at Battle for the Ring VI. While Battle for the Ring founder and coordinator Anastasia Nagel says that all signs point to the event surpassing 450 in attendance, for Nagel the magic number to beat is 407, which was the attendance at last year’s Chaos Wars in Idaho. By comparison, the fifth Battle for the Ring in 2013 drew 378. When not dishing it out in massive field battles, Belegarth and Dagorhir fighters will compete in tournaments, attend classes ranging from Great Weapons to Brewing to Embroidery, and party like it’s 1099. In 2013 Nagel took Battle for the Ring VI to Kickstarter and was successful in crowdfunding $3,685 for the event, which may soon be the largest Belegarth event west of the Mississippi. For anyone who missed the boat on the special Kickstarter admittance, $40 will cover the three days and four nights of camping and fighting.

Battle for the Ring VI Activities

What: Battle for the Ring VI
Where: Prado Regional Park, Chino, CA
When: January 17-20, 2014
How Much: $40 Admission

At the heart of Battle for the Ring are the field battles and much like at SCA Wars, the prime fighting is reserved for the weekend. This year’s climactic, final battle is called the Siege of Barad’dur and will be fought on Sunday. It may feature a castle objective constructed out of patio posts and tarps to represent the Dark Tower of Mordor. Nagel, who fights under the game name of Anastasia of Chamonix, was a little hush-hush in describing the scenario, wishing to keep it a surprise for those attending, but elaborated that the final battle is a derivative of a bridge battle. The scenarios are the creations of Field Marshal Salvador Solis, or as he’s known in Belegarth circles, Darth Cheeseheart. To coincide with the fifth Battle of the Ring last year, Cheeseheart created a Battle of Five Armies scenario with forces fighting over Smaug’s treasure. Similarly the second Battle for the Ring featured a battle based on the Two Towers.

Even if they lack a thematic name or purpose, Darth Cheeseheart has been hard at work in planning all of the other unit battles that will unfold at BftR. He plans on staging other “castle-siege type games” as well as Capture the Flag with anywhere from two to eight teams. In another battlefield scenario, teams will work to transport an item across the field. With the short winter daylight hours and the limited time frame of only three days, for Nagel it’s important to get everyone out onto the field fighting at the same time, as opposed to Chaos Wars which is a week-long event that takes advantage of lingering summertime sunlight. Another highlight of Saturday will be the feast in the evening, which is included in the $40 admission. Catered by Porto’s Bakery, the feast will be a festive time to trade war stories over meat pies and chicken pies, not to mention stuffed potato balls, salad, fruit, and bread.

Bel Bowl and Aztec Football

While he’s not the creator of Aztec Football, Cheeseheart is particularly proud of his Bel Bowl Aztec Football tournament, describing it as his “baby”. Aztec Football features teams of 8-10 players taking turns on offense and defense, with the offense using a designated player as the “ball”. If the “ball” manages to make it through the goal markers (set approximately 15-20 feet apart), the team on offense scores a point. If he or she is thwarted, the teams switch sides, playing through three rotations of offense and defense. Fighters do not respawn when killed each turn, so careful tactical play is a necessity in the special battle game which allows armor, but not archery. And the Bel Bowl is popular! Salvador Solis expects 100-120 participants this year and describes Bel Bowl as “the most competitive fighting aspect of the entire event, with top-tier teams and fighters joining.” Part of the thrill of Bel Bowl is the pageantry of the parade that precedes the actual fighting with judges awarding points to teams in the parade based on costuming, intimidation factor, evocation of the Aztec/tribal theme, and originality. In keeping with its Aztec theme, the figurehead captains of the losing teams will be ceremonially “beheaded” at the end of each match. For the winning Bel Bowl team there is eternal glory… and belt favors. The belt favors will feature an Aztec design as well as the words “Bel Bowl 2014” to commemorate what will be a hard-fought victory.

The Dominance of Catalyst at Bel Bowl

The team to beat in 2014 already has Bel Bowl 2012 and Bel Bowl 2013 belt favors. With most members hailing from Oregon, Team Catalyst has won Bel Bowl two years in a row. In explaining their dominance Solis credited the unit’s leader Bhakdar as being “perhaps the best fighter in our entire region.” At 6’5” Bhakdar certainly looks the part of the ogre persona he plays in game. Teammate Jeremy “Remy” Brookshire elaborated on Catalyst’s past successes, “I guess our ‘secret’ is that the vast majority of us have been fighting together since high school or from the heyday of Babylon [in Bend, Oregon] where all of us lived or fought, sometimes two to three times a week. We know each other, our individual strengths and weaknesses and we know how to survive; it’s how we won every field battle at Chaos Wars XV, when we won the banner.” Staying true to their name, Catalyst has also catalyzed Aztec Football at the Bel Bowl through their heavy use of javelins, allowing them to strike at range.

Classes and Tournaments

Combat Class schedule and tournaments from Battle for the Ring VI

BftR VI Has Many Combat Classes and Tournaments to Offer

Nagel is also proud of Battle for the Ring’s expanded class offerings. Now attending fighters from the rest of California, as well as Montana, Washington, Nevada, and Wyoming can take classes in Embroidery, Brewing, Belly Dancing, English Dancing, and Traditional Hand Drumming. Combat classes include Amtgard 101, Imbalanced Skirmish Tactics, Introduction to Reds (which are great weapons capable of “breaking” shields), Offensive Shield-Work, and Fundamentals of Archery, all taught by volunteers. Ever since Battle for the Ring grew out of being a day event at the UC Irvine campus, Nagel has turned to a growing team of volunteers to assist in pulling off the event. Nagel estimates that she has about 25 volunteers in charge of particular areas, whether they be Arts & Sciences classes or Security. These 25 in turn will have over a hundred volunteers toiling under them.

One such department volunteer is Aizen of the San Diego realm of Andor. Aizen will be overseeing all of Battle for the Ring’s daily tournaments which have a very narrow time frame, running from 12:00 to 1:00 on Friday and Saturday and beginning at 11:30 AM on Sunday. Besides the aforementioned Bel Bowl, the tournaments will cover Florentine (two weapons), Polearms, a Newbie Tournament for fighters of no more than a year’s experience, an armored melee-weapon Champions tournament, a 4 Man team tournament, and an Alpha/Omega tournament which forces veteran fighters to pair up with newbies.

Camp Open Houses

Another innovation for 2014 that Anastasia Nagel eagerly anticipates are the Camp Open Houses, which will begin at 6 PM on Friday night. Established camps have been invited to host an activity or to provide food for visitors and will be denoted by lanterns hanging outside their camp entrances. As the Empress of the Anduril Empire of Southern California, Nagel will be hosting an Alice in Wonderland-themed bash within BftR’s castle, taking the roll of the Mad Queen. Visitors will be made to switch chairs, much like musical chairs, except in this case, when the music stops, there will be a symbolic execution for the slow and chairless. Not to worry, the “dead” will also receive a consolation bag of candy.

Char of Blackwater needs no consolation. Instead he’s excited about the Blackwater camp as well as Bel Bowl, which he calls “a great scrap every year!” The Blackwater household will be hosting a Resurrection of Disco party for its Open House and includes members from several different units throughout Belegarth. Members bear a Blackwater house sash adorned with the group’s device, the rook. But there’s a group within the group: the fighting unit of House Blackwater is the Cult of Blackwater. Cultists are further denoted by their voodoo doll sashes. Somehow disco does figure into all of this as the Cult of Blackwater will be performing a sacred reincarnation ritual and drawing a spirit into a host body who will perform something akin to the “Indonesian Sanghyang trance dance. But with disco.” As if that weren’t enough, Blackwater also promises to add Voodoo zombis and loads of Kool-Aid to the mix.

For those who prefer earthier and heartier entertainment, the Germania camp will feature traditional medieval German food at their Open House and drew praise from Nagel for their “entirely period camp” that the nationwide group sets up. Rather than sleeping in mundane nylon tents from REI, Germanians sleep in shelters fashioned out of canvas and cook all of their food in cast iron pots. The group has been rehearsing its version of the popular Viking drinking song “Life Blood” to teach to camp visitors, as well as the board game hnefttafl.

The Dragon’s Inn: Tabletop Gaming

Speaking of board games, from 7:00 PM to 1:00 AM every evening there will be tabletop gaming indoors at the Dragon’s Inn. Gamers can level up in Munchkin or play other board and card games like Settlers of Catan, chess, Bang! or Cards Against Humanity. This year there will be a Magic: The Gathering draft tournament called The Wizard’s Duel which will span the length of Battle for the Ring with players drafting cards for $7 on Friday evening and culminating final battles on Sunday night. The tournament and game room are the domains of Anastasia Nagel’s real life husband, Brian Marion, who fights in Belegarth under the name of Golem. As for Nagel, she’s not a big tabletop gamer and describes herself as “the brutal combat one in the family”, fighting with her preferred sword and shield or “sword and board” as it is known in battle gaming and LARPing. The Prado Regional Park holds a special place in the couple’s hearts because they were married there in 2011 with their wedding even being a Belegarth game event.

Battle for the Ring VI Feasting Fighting Schedule

A Portion of Battle for the Ring VI’s Extensive Schedule

Battle for the Ring VI “Celebrities” and BeyondGeek Documentary

In the real world he’s Dane Johns and a graduate student studying Medieval History, but in Belegarth his name is Sir Par. He’s also the president of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society and has been playing Belegarth since 2003 and he’s very, very excited about attending Battle for the Ring VI. As a knight, Sir Par has five squires under his tutelage including Salvador “Cheeseheart” Solis and is especially looking forward to his Squires’ Trial which he will run on Sunday morning, “testing their teamwork, leadership, and adaptability against some of the best fighters in the sport.” Sir Par will be coming down from his home realm of Rath in Boise, Idaho. Besides overseeing the overall corporate welfare of Belegarth, chairing its legislative War Council, and setting the national standards for qualified marshals, Sir Par also does a good bit of fighting as well and pointed out that he is always a “tournament win possibility” himself. Sir Par confirmed that should Battle for the Ring reach Anastasia Nagel’s estimation of 450 people, that it will be the second largest Belegarth event in the world, trailing behind Octoberfest which draws between 800-1000 Belegrim annually.

Thomas Hegstrom Oakey shares Sir Par’s enthusiasm for Battle for the Ring. More famously known as Elwrath, Hegstrom Oakey hails from Provo, Utah where he is a member of Ered Duath and said of Battle for the Ring, “I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it each year; it’s a infusion of new life after a dreary winter. I will go every year if possible.” In 2013, Elwrath was a critical member of the winning four-man team in the Four Horsemen tournament at the War of Reckoning in Southern Utah. His Elite Blood Falcons unit has won the first unit battle at Battle for the Ring for the last two years running as well, but Bel Bowl victory has eluded Elwrath at Battle for the Ring thus far. The Elite Blood Falcons Bel Bowl team has come in second place behind Catalyst for the last two years, so he will come to this year’s Battle for the Ring with a score to settle. The Elite Blood Falcons tend to live up to the first part of their name and are composed of individuals who pride themselves on being or trying to be, in Elwrath’s words, “top-tier fighters. We have had (and still do to some extent) a policy of only approaching and recruiting ‘elite’ fighters.” Founded 21 years ago in Tennessee by Ivan Darkspear, the Elite Blood Falcons have members throughout the country with pockets in Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Michigan, and Idaho. As for the Elite Blood Falcons’ chances in the Bel Bowl this year – and especially against Catalyst – Elwrath admitted that Team Catalyst’s members “will make for a challenge no matter what kind of team I can muster to fight them. I do think we’ll have a better chance than ever before though.” A part of that better chance will be the right gear for the fight; Elite Blood Falcons’ opponents can expect a lot more armor from the team this year as well as javelins being thrown at them.

Peter the Quick is another visiting fighter who is famous within Belegarth circles and will be traveling all the way from the Numenor realm in the Champaign/Urbana area of Illinois. He will reunite with Catalyst’s Bhakdar, who was his former roommate in college. Jeremy “Remy” Brookshire of Catalyst estimates that Bhakdar and Peter the Quick are “in the top 2%” of fighters in the three most popular battle games of Dagorhir, Belegarth, and Amtgard. Peter the Quick has certainly had time to improve his fighting style; he began fighting in August, 2001 at Tir Asleen in Ames, Iowa. Peter the Quick looks forward to seeing old friends at BftR as well as meeting a whole new host of fighters with whom he has yet to cross blades. As for Peter the Quick’s legendary reputation, his Numenorian ally (and Forged Foam owner) Sir Galin attributes it to both his unparalleled skill in one-on-one combat within Numenor and his social skills. As Sir Galin says, Peter the Quick “takes the time to teach and build relationships with so many younger fighters.” Sir Par also did not take long in vetting Peter the Quick’s skill at arms, pointing out that Peter the Quick, Bhakdar, Elwrath, and a fighter named Shy who will be attending Battle for the Ring “are four of the top ten fighters in Bel.” What makes Peter the Quick so good? It turns out that “the Quick” part of his name isn’t ironic; “Peter the Quick is very fast,” said Sir Par, who then added “But his overall approach really revolutionized two weapon fighting” as well.

BeyondGeek Battle Gaming Episode

Still shot showing foam fighters from Dagorhir's Mallenorod chapter in a fighting line with female in front

From BeyondGeek: The Camera Follows Dagorhir’s Mallenorod

A documentary film crew from BeyondGeek will be following the Mallenorod Dagorhir group from the San Francisco Bay Area over the course of the weekend for an episode dedicated to the emerging sport of battle gaming. The episode’s host, Sage Michael, has been training with the Mallenorod chapter where he learned how to create his own foam boffer, as well as the basics of Dagorhir combat. According to series producer Joe Gillis, BeyondGeek is intended to air on PBS and may eventually be available via DVD. Gillis’ credits include Yard Crashers and Turf War on the DIY Network, as well as a stint on America’s Heartland on PBS. Each of BeyondGeek’s first season’s six episodes will focus on a single geeky topic for 30 minutes from JP Aerospace to World War II reenactors to the battle gamers represented by Mallenorod. Gillis and his seven man crew will be capturing a lot of the action on all three days of Battle for the Ring.

Belegarth and Dagorhir? Battle Gaming? Jump right in!

Though heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings, in both Belegarth and Dagorhir the focus is on martial prowess and skill at wielding foam boffer swords and shields, instead of cries of “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” The closest either battle game comes to magic is the seldom-used Healing Poem of Dagorhir, which Belegarth realms abandoned when they split off from Dagorhir in 2001. That’s not to say that there won’t be fantasy elements at Battle for the Ring. There will undoubtedly be players at Battle for the Ring who identify as goblins, trolls, and dwarves and though not every Dagorhim or Belegrim plays tabletop RPGs like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, almost every battle gamer has acted out an interest in fantasy by playing those games or World of Warcraft, League of Legends, or other fantasy video games.

The rules of Belegarth and Dagorhir have remained similar despite the Belegarth-Dagorhir split; in both rule sets, most battle games are over in 3-15 minutes and typically involve “killing” opponents by strikes to the torso. The head is an invalid target for melee strikes, while arms and legs count as limbs, lose two of them and it counts as a death. The rules of Belegarth are collected together to form the Belegarth Book of War, which is only seven pages long when viewed as a PDF. If seven pages are too much for any prospective fighters, Battle for the Ring will be offering three Intro to Belegarth combat classes throughout the weekend, providing ample opportunity for any new fighters to test their mettle and dive into battle gaming.

Chasing the Ovoid: The Cosmic Goodness that is Chaosmos

Hand of Equipment cards from board game Chaosmos with ovular Ovoid card on topCurrently on Kickstarter, Chaosmos is a cosmic chase played out via board game for the enigmatic Ovoid, a singular item of untold power. Produce the Ovoid card at the end of the game and you’re the winner, but along the way you’ll probably have to search planets, battle your foes with futuristic weaponry, and possibly even reverse time! Each player controls a unique alien race with its own set of powerful special abilities, as well as a hand of Equipment cards. By visiting a planet cards can be exchanged with those on the planet, represented in the game by an envelope. By paying attention to rivals’ interplanetary travels and opponents’ cards (revealed by being the victor in battle), shrewd players will begin to construct an understanding of their opponents’ strategies as well as possible locations of the Ovoid. If the Clue-like sleuthing isn’t enough to whet your appetite, Chaosmos features a 35mm miniature for each of its eight alien races as well as the Chaos Clock dial, which keeps track of game turns and can be reversed or sped up by use of the Temporal Displacer card, which can move the Chaos Clock forward or backward up to 8 turns!

The great news is that Chaosmos has already met its $40,000 goal. I spoke with game designer Joey Vigour of Mirror Box Games the day after the game’s launch, on January 3, when the game had just reached 50% Funded and he revealed a wealth of information about Chaosmos’ development, strategy, and Stretch Goals.

The Development of Chaosmos

Game designer Joey Vigour from Mirror Box Games at Chaosmos Board Game at GAMA Trade Show convention

(L to R) Danny and Joey Vigour at the 2013 GTS with Chaosmos

CG: Can you describe the process of the decision to Kickstart the game yourselves, because as I know, you had several serious nibbles from some game publishers at the GAMA Trade Show?
JV: Yeah, absolutely. We debuted our game at the GAMA Trade Show in March 2013 and our original goal was to meet a bunch of publishers and find out if the game was something that could compete in this current marketplace and it had original mechanics. We were pretty familiar with sort of the classic modern games, but we weren’t really sure if it was a marketable concept because it is pretty different from what’s on the market. We met with seven or eight different publishers at that show. We had lined up several interviews in advance and we met a couple people that let us pitch to them at the show. Three of the meetings went well and we followed up several times and there was some back and forth. One company actually requested that we develop the game with a completely different theme. But ultimately we just decided that this is a personal project so we really wanted to produce the game ourselves and the only aspect of producing the game that we didn’t think we could handle on our own was fundraising and so that’s why we decided to go with Kickstarter.
CG: Ok, now what was the theme that they were interested in?
JV: It was essentially a joke. I had jokingly said “Oh, and if you don’t like space then we could just make it pirates.” And they thought that was great and they wanted pirates, so instead of Hyperspace – which lets you teleport – they wanted Favorable Winds and you know… so it’s interesting.
CG: Yeah, I guess that in many ways it could still work. I don’t know about the countdown clock (Chaos Clock) and would they be chasing Davy’s Jones…?
JV: The Chaos Clock was going to be a Kraken. It was an interesting dalliance, but the honest truth is that I’m actually pretty married to the space theme. It’s a very personal theme for me; I love space. It was always conceived to be space. It was inspired by a bunch of different sci-fi books, especially one, Interstellar Pig, that’s a space book. It just seemed totally wrong to publish it with a pasted-on theme because so many mechanics are specifically designed secondarily to the theme and they work so well with the space theme. And so we were really stretching it. Why would you be able to remotely look at an island that was thousands of miles away in the pirate theme? It just wasn’t working; I didn’t like it. There wasn’t really a lot of money on the table anyways, so this was the right decision, to self-publish.

Early Origins of Chaosmos: Joey Vigour’s Childhood and an Interstellar Pig

CG: Right. So you mentioned conceiving the game, what was the original interstellar galactic event that spawned Chaosmos?
JV: I guess I would have to go back to my childhood. When I was a kid I designed a bunch of games and one of them was a paper-and-cardboard prototype called Interstellar Pig and it was inspired by a kids’ book [of the same name by William Sleator] that I still like to this day. Very rudimentary game. Roll and move, but the book was just great. Very inspirational. I thought a lot about space and a lot about the idea of flying around and looking for cosmic treasure essentially. So several game designs later, I ended up looking back at that prototype and reimagining it as a modern board game with an action point allowance instead of rolling and moving and a lot of, sort of, unique spins on existing mechanics and then some mechanics that I hadn’t seen before at all. So the initial game design started when I was a kid, but about two years ago, 2012 is when I buckled down and decided I was going to start working on this seriously. And it took about a year of development and then the past year since March has been almost exclusively putting my ducks in a row, building up to January 2, 2014 when we launched.
CG: Sure. Now have you read the sequel, Parasite Pig?
JV: Haha, I have read Parasite Pig; I think it’s terrible, haha. I’m not a fan of the sequel. I don’t think that it has the spark that the original has.

An Evolving Chaosmos

Fat multi legged alien species Drusu from board game Chaosmos

Concept Artwork for Drusu the Scryer

CG: You mentioned getting your ducks in the row, but what has changed about the actual game since the 2013 GAMA Trade Show in March? Have you changed anything about the game.
JV: Absolutely. I guess the primary advancement since that trade show is game balance and cutting down on player downtime, because when you playtest a game with friends and everyone knows all the cards there’s not a lot of analysis-paralysis. But when we actually took it to blind playtesting, we found that players really were uncomfortable making snap decisions that they didn’t fully understand the repercussions of taking certain cards versus other cards. There’s a lot of Race for the Galaxy style choices you have to make where you have a bunch of great cards and you have to discard some of them, or in this case, leave some of them behind on a planet. That just wasn’t working, for players to have to wait their turn, so to speak. So I would say the big change in the past nine months – and it’s a wonderful change – is that you’re now allowed to start your turn as soon as the previous player says he’s finished and he can continue adjusting his hand and the cards in his envelope and make changes between which cards are in his hand and his envelope even when it isn’t his turn. So that is a dramatic change. It allowed us to cut half an hour out of the gameplay and reduce the problems of analysis-paralysis to a negligible degree.

purple-fuschia plastic sculpture of multi legged alien Drusu miniature from Chaosmos board gameCG: Did any of the alien races change? Do they all still have the same names and the same unique game-breaking abilities?
JV: We balanced the races more. That was a major change, because some aliens had amazing powers that were really powerful, but new players couldn’t figure out how to have fun with them, because they are basically really difficult powers. So we just tweaked everything until each alien now has basically a simple power and a more interesting or complex power. And so you can use both powers together in some cases or just the simple power. That was great. The alien names changed a lot in that they have really really long names, but we gave them nice, simple, memorable names. Like Vroon is pretty easy to remember. And Guriwan is a pretty easy to remember planet. Melphyuri-Ghorshi got shortened to Mel-Ghor, so a lot of positive changes in that way. It doesn’t hurt the gameplay at all obviously. Mel-Ghor’s the same planet and it’s called Melphyuri-Ghorshi by the aliens that inhabit it, but the galactic record books shortened the word [laughs] to Mel-Ghor.

CG: Now what’s the deal with this Homesick alien?
JV: Oh, the Haghouhen. Yes, so, he’s a very sad alien. He’s the last surviving member of his race. His planet was destroyed by comets and raided by Atturnuk’s race, the Cphovic Empire, so he’s the only one left. And he believes – maybe correctly, maybe incorrectly – that the Ovoid is the secret to reviving his race so he won’t be alone anymore.
CG: Ok. He’s kind of emo.
JV: Yes, he’s the emo alien.
CG: Now did you ever think of leaving some of these blank and then have as pledge levels on Kickstarter that backers actually name some of these things? How important are the names to you?
JV: Most of the names were created by my friend William Tombs. He also did most of the art, not the 3D renderings, but the art that the renderings were based on. And he is, in my opinion, like J.R.R. Tolkien. He has a whole world designed and he wants to make a bunch of games set in this universe: miniatures games and roleplaying games and novels. I think it’s great. I don’t think this particular game requires that amount of alien research in order to enjoy it. You can have Alien A, the Green Alien, or the Blue Alien or it could be like Cosmic Encounter where you have very simple alien names like Mirror, but I like a little bit of flavor. I think it is part of the overall experience and narrative as you play the game. When you remember particular sessions later, it’s more fun if you had an epic battle on the toxic planet of Atturnuk and Atturnuk reveals his Respiration Worm which is a worm that lets him breathe on Guriwan. It’s just more fun. It allows you to enjoy the game thematically as well as mechanically.

Sword-wielding alien Brute Atturnuk the Brutal from board game Chaosmos

Player Card for Atturnuk the Brutal with Space for Hyper Tokens and Special Abilities

CG: Now any changes in the technology cards, the Equipment cards?
JV: There’s been some changes. One example is, there was a card called Cosmic Fear which forced your opponent to lay down all the combat cards that he was going to play all at once. That way you could decide whether you needed to waste that extra Ion Grenade in order to beat him or if you could save it. But that card ended up being too powerful, so it ended up being changed to a single-use card which goes to the Void after you’re done playing it. It was too powerful, because no card in the game should feel like a must-grab. Everything needed to be equivalent or equivalent in that they’re all good situationally. That was the biggest change, I would say, in the last six months, is weakening that card a little bit.

Mirror Box Games and Chaosmos at BoardGameGeek.Con

“BoardGameGeek.Con is a must-go. It was the greatest con I’ve ever been to.”

CG: I want to return to the must-grabs in a second. Changing topics just a little bit, what was BoardGameGeek.Con like for Mirror Box and what’s it like for the rest of us who have never been there? Tell us about it.
JV: BoardGameGeek.Con is a must-go. It was the greatest con I’ve ever been to. It was a convention for gamers; there was all sorts of gaming. I would walk around around and see Tom Vasel playing games with people that he’d just met at the table. I saw Rich Summer from Mad Men playing games. He’d walk by and sit down and he’d start playing a game. And he’s an actor, you know, and they’re not and no one cared. It was just amazing. We had a giant display in the main hall near the Hot Games section so we got a lot of traffic. Over a hundred people signed up to our email list and probably a 120 people played our game so almost everyone who played our game jumped on to our list. That’s a big deal. When you’re going to other conventions, a much smaller percentage of people are interested in backing your game later. We went to the right convention for our game.
CG: So at Gen Con, attendees buy tickets to play in events, does BoardGameGeekCon have a similar mechanic or do people just come and if there’s room they play?
JV: It’s expensive. It’s 80 or 90 dollars for the con, but you just walk into the board game library and they have every game ever and you check out whatever you want and hopefully you return it in a timely fashion and they don’t have to chase you down. And you play and you just play all day. And you can check out the Hot Games table(s) where all the cool games from Essen are being demoed. There’s a lot of prototypes. There’s a special section for prototypes and then there’s a lot of events, special events, that are going on. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get outside of my exhibition hall that much, but it was just an amazing experience.
CG: Ok, so you definitely want to go again?
JV: I will go every year from now on.

CG: Ok. So how many demos and play tests do you think you’ve done now?
JV: Well, let me see. I would say it has definitely been, in the last year, we’ve probably played something like 1,000 sessions, because we had three and sometimes four copies of Chaosmos being demoed simultaneously at BGGCon for the entirety of the con. So, yeah, probably 1,000 games and quite a few blind play tests. We’re now testing a 5th-player expansion and we haven’t done our blind play tests for that at all. So that’s our next big hurdle, is to find the time to do blind playtesting with a fifth player.

CG: How many prototypes are there now?
JV: In this final version – we changed our board, that’s another change, that’s another thing that changed since the GAMA Trade Show is we reduced the number of stars between the planets – this version, there’s seven copies and they’re all checked out by reviewers right now. And there’s probably twenty prototypes. Then there’s three original prototypes where we 3D-printed the aliens and got them hand-painted. So hopefully we’ll get those all back. We used a company called Sculpteo for the 3D ones. And then all the other copies, as soon as I get those back I’ll probably chuck them because you never want to go back to your old version. The worst thing is when you show up to do a demo and you realize you packed the board from six months ago.

Must-Have Aliens, Equipment Cards, and Strategy

CG: You mentioned must-grabs and so on, is there a particular alien race that everyone seems to envy or want to play?
JV: A lot of new players like Atturnuk the Brutal because his miniature features a giant sword. A lot of people choose him. People who like backstory and who actually read the flavor text on the alien character sheets choose the Haghouhen a lot. A lot of people like Clokknid. They like robots for some reason. He’s a series of interlocking robots connected by an artificial intelligence that governs them all. A lot of people like that for reason.
CG: Has anyone started talking in a robotic voice for him?
JV: We have found that certain players do the voices and they do the voice from the moment they see the art for the character to the moment the game is done. That has been a strange experience. One guy is actually a voiceover artist. He was at our playtest we did just prior to the GAMA Trade Show in early March and he invented a voice for all eight aliens plus some other bonus aliens that we’re tweaking. And he recorded a little intro with all the different aliens. So I think we’re going to release alien profile videos using his various voices for the aliens. That’ll be fun.

Equipment card Telethwarter Trap for board game Chaosmos says Booby traps when Face UpCG: The Equipment cards break down into Traps, Bases, Weapons and?
JV: So, yes, there are different types of Equipment cards. There’s Advanced Weapons; there’s Primitive Weapons. There are counters to all of the Advanced Weapons. Most of the cards are unique. There’s a 70 card deck and most of them are unique. There are Tactical cards which actually go face up on a planet. It could be face down just like any other card and you could take it into your hand and move it to another planet and come back for it later. But if you set it face up, then when another player lands on that planet, if he doesn’t have the Signal Jammer, he’s going to get trapped and the Trap would banish him back to his home planet and his turn would end. But there’s only three Traps in the game and they’re valuable, but you have to be careful how you use them, because they fill up your hand if you carry them around and then if you Trap a planet that doesn’t end up being important you’ve sort of wasted your time and your Trap. Vaults are interesting because they don’t protect a planet from prying eyes, in that if you land on a planet that’s Vaulted, you can still look at that envelope, but you can’t take anything. It’s a Magnetic Vault. You can’t take anything unless you reveal a Key. So you can hide the Ovoid on Pendra and if I land on Pendra I’ll announce “Ok, there’s a face-up card.” I’ll get to peak inside and see the Ovoid and I’ll know that you left it there and you’ll know that I know that it’s there, but if you hid the key on a different planet, then I’m gonna go on a mini-quest to find the Key, so I can come back and open the Vault. But by then, maybe you’ve figured out another way to get the Ovoid back. So a lot of second-guessing of what other people are doing. And then there’s also Bases that protect the envelopes with the combat cards that you store inside the Base.

Equipment card of cubic Vault that reads Locks when Face Up from board game ChaosmosCG: So do some players forego playing Bases and Traps and just choose to play with Weapons? Is that viable? Are you able to play the whole game and beat it just choosing Weapons to use or can you be totally defensive and just collect Counters?
JV: This is, I think, the element of the game that I’m most proud of. People often ask, “What mechanic are you most proud of?” I think figuring out a way to the balance the game to a degree where we’ve yet to figure out an automatic game-winning strategy, that’s the thing I’m most proud of. Some players collect Weapons and Weapons are important because when you beat somebody in combat you get to look in their hand and take a card so that’s a way of discovering the Ovoid if somebody’s carrying it. If somebody isn’t carrying the Ovoid – if they’ve hidden it somewhere – you could beat them a hundred times and not get the card you need to win. Some players play with Vaults, they love setting Vaults up and deactivating the Vaults and moving them to other planets and then reactivating them. Some players like sticking all the Weapons they can get inside of their Base and then finding more Weapons and teleporting those Weapons into the Base using Hypertube cards. I personally think that the reason the game is so balanced in regard to strategies is the psychological element is more powerful than the mechanical element of which cards you have, because if I think that you are setting the Ovoid inside a Vault on Guriwan and I spend the game looking for something to break in there and steal it, and you’ve actually outsmarted me and you moved it earlier to a different planet that I hadn’t even thought of, then you’re going to win and I’m going to lose even though I might have all the Weapons in the world, and a Key, and a Signal Jammer that breaks Traps. It’s all about the Ovoid. It builds, and builds, and builds over the course of the game and it comes down to who has the Ovoid. So yeah, it’s a battle of wits.

Chaosmos Stretch Goals: Player Shields, Components, and Miniatures

Player shield with alien Drusu used to shield information from other players in Chaosmos board gameCG: So we’ll be talking about some other stretch goals in a bit, but what will players do if the Player Shields remain locked? What’s the role of the Player Shields?
JV: When you’re opening a planet, first of all, it’s important that no one knows what cards are there. If you’re not sitting far enough away from the person to your left and right, there’s a chance if you’re not accessing your envelope under the table or off to the side that they could accidentally catch a glimpse of some of the cards. Anytime that you’re manipulating cards face up as well as face down, there’s the chance of accidentally revealing information and information is key in this game. Part of the concept of the Shields is it’s more just a matter of do players want them? Is it something that they want to tell their friends to back the project so that we can get to that level? I don’t think that it’s a critical game element; we’ve played the game for two years now without playing with Player Shields. We did make some recently as a test and it seemed like people were responding to it. It adds an element of three-dimensionality to the tabletop. Because you can look across the table and see what race I am and what my special abilities are quicker than just looking at my alien sheet.

CG: Ok. Onto some stretch goal stuff. Your first few stretch goals, can you explain the differences in components, between the 1.5 millimeter tokens and the 2 millimeter tokens?
JV: Sure, so, all of the Hyper Tokens are cardboard chits. So thickening them to two millimeters would be great because it makes them easier to pick up and it has some weight to it. I think it’ll be fun to thicken basically all of the cardboard in the game. In addition, there’s Landing Markers. Every time you land on a planet you’re going to be leaving your flag behind to remind people that you were there last. So all these 56 markers in the game – rather than just putting a thin sliver of a flag on a planet, it’ll be fun to have a nice, meatier meeple to leave behind.
CG: What can you think of that’s a comparable 2mm product?
JV: I don’t know the exact size of other games. Fantasy Flight uses a lot of 2mm cardboard in their expensive titles. Descent, Twilight Imperium. The flags in Twilight Imperium are great. So we want to upgrade components to that. Right now we’re working with Panda GM. In my opinion they make the best components in the industry. They make Merchants and Marauders and they make Eclipse: great component quality.

CG: So also for component quality, which is your second Stretch Goal, for the playing cards you have this upgrade from greycore to bluecore. Can you explain that to us?
JV: When I was a kid I had Magic cards that went through the washing machine and then dryer and you could still read them and play with them and those are bluecore. It’s a level of cardstock where there’s actually a core inside the paper which keeps it sturdy to a degree where you can play with the cards for years and years and years and they’re still playable, they’re still readable, they’re still in good quality. A lot of games, especially Kickstarter games, come out with greycore. It’s just a significantly lower quality paper. So greycore is still playable, it’s still great, but if you’re going to love a game and be proud to own it, you’re going to want to have bluecore because that’s the Magic: The Gathering quality.

The Chaosmos Miniatures

Grey plastic sword-wielding miniature of Atturnuk the Brutal for Chaosmos board game

35mm 3D Plastic Sculpt of Atturnuk the Brutal

CG: Also, I’m always a fan of miniatures in board games, but how important are the minis to Chaosmos?
JV: I think it comes down to the thematic experience. It comes down to when you’re a kid and you play with miniatures it’s something that’s meaningful. I don’t remember any of the hex and counter games that I played when I was a kid. I mean I owned Starship Troopers and Diplomacy and I don’t really remember those games, but I remember the games that had miniatures, even the bad games with miniatures, so it comes down to does the game inspire the thematic in us? So I guess you could play the game with little pawns or cardboard player stands, but to me, it’s a miniatures game. It was always intended to be a miniatures game even when I was a kid. My brother, who is the primary sculptor in the family, would make little Play-Doh creations that we would put in the oven and we would play with those miniatures, so to me it really comes down to theme. The game is a thematic experience and my favorite thematic games all have miniatures.
CG: And why the 35mm scale?
JV: This is not a 4X game and you’re not going to be moving large armies around. You have a detailed, single alien that you are playing the role of. Warhammer 40K would use 28mm for the size of a figurine, but 35mm it gives it enough attention to detail so you can easily see that the blue alien has a bunch of extra arms and his special ability allows him to hold extra cards and Vroon the Adventurer has a jetpack and he can move an extra movement action. Each alien’s miniature relates to their special ability in a way that even kids who play the game, instantly remember what they’re special ability is because of the miniature. So the 35mm, the larger size miniature, I think, adds to the fun.

CG: If we can imagine, right now you’re sitting at 50 percent funded. Let’s say you were at 3 percent. Would you ever ditch the miniatures if you needed to?
JV: Well Kickstarter is an interesting thing because when somebody backs your project, they’re believing in you and you can’t undermine them later and say, “Well, we’re keeping your money, but we’re not going to give you what you backed for.”
CG: Right. So you’re saying that maybe that’s why they backed you in the first place, because they want the miniatures?
JV: I think it depends on the backer. I think the family and friends who backed the project really probably don’t care about what they get in the end. I think the important thing is keeping our word. If our Kickstarter was a disaster but we could maybe figure out a way to make it work, I think you can always relaunch a project, but I had total faith that the project was complete and the miniatures were a critical component of that and as long as we’re honest with people about why we love miniatures and the component quality of the final product… I think everybody who’s backed us, loves the miniatures. We haven’t had anybody really say that they wish they could have the game without miniatures.

CG: Yeah, don’t you have Kemet behind you in your video?
JV: Yeah, probably! I love Kemet. I just played Cyclades recently as well and those have awesome miniatures. To me, I would rather play either of those games over any hex encounter game even if it had superior mechanics. It just excites my mind for whatever reason!
CG: Right, I share that with you. It’s also exciting to see the miniatures in this. Of course, you also have Twilight Imperium back behind you and you must love those figures and those ships too.
JV: I love Twilight Imperium. I play it more than anyone I know on the internet. We played six or seven times last year. My goal is to play at least six times again in 2014 and I think I worked it out that if I play at least six times in 2014, it’s one fifth of one percent of all my free time.

Hyper Tokens, Strategic Advice, and Chaosmos’ Dice

CG: Is the number of Hyper Tokens you have public knowledge or would you shield that as well?
JV: No, that’s public knowledge and you only have three and you don’t get them again. So you wouldn’t be able to hide it even if you wanted to. Hyper Tokens are a very valuable resource. It’s sort of like when you’re out of other options and you’re like, “I got to get to that planet before he discovers my entire cache of weapons or he gets the Ovoid,” or something like that, then you can expend the Hyper Token. But it’s generally really dangerous to do that, because when you use one, it’s such a big deal. It’s an immediate red flag. So this is another way to deduce what’s going on in the game and why it’s not a complete fog of war, because when you Hyper Token over somewhere, you’re probably not bluffing that there’s something good over there. You might be; there might be an amazing, clever reason that you’re bluffing. Generally speaking it’s a red flag that something awesome is going down on that side of the map.

CG: So you can just discover right at the beginning of the game that you have the Ovoid, right?
JV: Absolutely. You might start the game with the Ovoid, but it doesn’t necessarily give you an advantage. In fact, in many ways it gives you a disadvantage. If you carry it with you, it just fills up your hand, it’s a completely useless card until the last turn. Not to mention the fact that if someone suspects that you have it, they are going to come after you in such an aggressive way, it will be hard for you to gather items on planets because there will be people trailing behind you. So having the Ovoid… I don’t think it’s an advantage at all in the early part of the game. In the mid-part of the game, yeah, it’s nice to know where the Ovoid is, but I personally don’t carry it with me because it’s just too dangerous. They’re so many super-powerful weapons that are only good for one battle – so most of the cards are permanent; they go back to your hand after you use them. But some cards, like there’s Nano Fabricators that duplicate weapons and there’s Ion Grenades that are +3 in combat, but then they’re discarded. So if you really want to, you can probably win any single combat just by using these special cards, but you have to be tactical as to which combat is the one that you really need to win, because losing combat in this game, it really doesn’t matter that much. The other person will take one of your cards. He’ll get stronger and you’ll get a little bit weaker, but then you’ll land on a planet and you fill up your hand again and move on. It’s not a big deal. But if he takes the Ovoid from you because he won a battle, that would be a critical battle.

Two dice, one red one blue with numbers on them and a circular mirror for Chaosmos board gameCG: What’s the Ovoid on the dice mean?
JV: So, it’s actually a Mirror. The Mirror mirrors the other die. If you roll a 3 and a Mirror, then that’s a 6. If you roll a 5 and a Mirror, that’s a 10. If you roll two Mirrors, then that’s Infinity and you would instantly win that battle.
CG: Oh wow. But do you get into Infinity +3 versus Infinity?
JV: No. Somebody asked me that. I don’t think that it’s ever happened. Maybe it’s happened once. But if you both roll Infinity then both players are immediately banished back to their home planets and their turn ends. I was thinking about this because I saw the movie The Avengers and at one point Thor’s hammer strikes Captain America’s shield and bad things happen. And I thought that was a pretty funny moment, so that’s what happens when both players roll Infinity.

CG: Ok. Alright. Good luck with Kickstarter!
JV: Thanks!

All game images and artwork copyright Mirror Box Games and used with permission.

Deadfellas – The Zombie Mobster Card Game

Deadfellas Zombie Mobster Card Game box cover with designersEver since picking up Deadfellas at Comic-Con back in 2012, I have brought the game with me to any sort of gaming or geeky event: Gen Con, Vegas Game Days, Wasteland Weekend, and various SCA Wars. It’s that good and is my backup go-to game for passing 10 or 15 minutes enjoyably. On a flight back from Gen Con I taught the guy next to me to play in under two minutes and soon enough horrible Italian-American accents were trading back and forth as we talked about whacking this mook or that one with cries of “Hey, I Know a Guy” and “Fuhgeddaboutit!Exile Game Studio has a real winner with the Kickstarter-funded Dead Fellas and at only $19.99 MSRP, it’s a pretty good value. For its solid game play, fast pace, simple mechanics, and cool style I give it a 9 out of 10 on .

Ease of Play

Cheerleader Uniform card art from Exile Game Studio's Deadfellas Zombie Mobster Card Game

Cheerleader Uniform: +2 to a Mook’s Strength

When game artist Brian Snoddy explained the game to me on video at Comic-Con 2012 in about three minutes, he really covered 95% of the game. You get three random undead mobsters called Mooks. Each has a point value represented by a bullet icon, ranging from one to three. Collect 10 points of Mooks by whacking them and you win. In order to whack your opponent’s Mook, you need to equip one of your own with a blue Vehicle card, a red Weapon card, and a yellow Disguise card. Each of these pieces of equipment has its own strength (from 1-3) at the top. Add those together with your Mook’s strength and if you equal or exceed your target’s strength you win, successfully Whacking him. As a small price, you have to Ditch a piece of evidence, one of the three Equipment cards.

Gameplay comes down to Mook and Equipment management. At the beginning of every turn you draw a card from the Equipment deck, which also contains Special cards. You can play as many of your cards as you are able to and then you need to decide whether you 1.) draw another Equipment card 2.) do a Whack action on an opponent or 3.) recruit a new Mook. Special cards like Fuhgeddaboutit! allow a player to cancel a Whack action or another Special card, like an opponent’s Boost card, which could potentially allow the opponent to steal a piece of your Equipment. Another Special card called Dying Wish allows a player to keep his Mook’s Equipment cards if his Mook gets whacked

With three or four players, the game gets even better with more targets to whack. Just make sure to play up the bravado, add a little antagonism, and a lot of accents, and you’ll be in for a good time. I strongly suggest narrating every Whack and attempted Whack, to create an atmosphere of vendetta after vendetta. Let ’em know that “Big Dump don’t like seeing Joey “Coco Pops” Cotroni in his Boosted Monster Truck, so Big Dump’s gonna Whack ‘im wit’ da Rolling Pin…”

Dead Fella’s Theme: Zombies, Mafia, and… Tutus

Tiny Bug-Eyed Zombie Bug Eyes from Deadfellas Card GameI’m an unlikely advocate for Dead Fellas because apparently unlike the majority of Western males, I’m not a fan of the mafia or Tony Soprano. You could say that I’m Team Elliot Ness even. I’m also not particularly fond of zombies, but Brian Snoddy blends the two themes humorously well in his art for the Mook cards. My favorite Mook has to be the diminutive Bobby “Bug Eyes” Deluca who barely clears three feet on the lineup chart which serves as each Mook’s background. Most of Deluca’s criminal peers have eyes falling out or missing, cuts, gashes, and the occasional squid or mutation. Because Dead Fellas is such a good game, I can say without any reservations that both organized crime fans and zombie fans will get a kick out of this game, though what they’ll make of the other half of the game’s theme is beyond me.

Card art illustration of Sock Monkey for Deadfellas Zombie Mobster Card Game

The Humble Sock Monkey

What I enjoy the most about Deadfellas’ theme though is the absurdity of the Equipment cards. I still get a chuckle when I announce that Pauly “Bed Head” Bonasera disguised in his Tutu and riding his Unicycle is going to whack “Bug Eyes” with the Egg Beater. I have even foregone a more powerful piece of Equipment just for the delight of using the less powerful Biplane, Maid Uniform Disguise, or Sock Monkey. Again, without any narration, the humorous imagery of these cards is lost.

Deadfellas’ Few Choices Are Another Hit

Deadfellas also goes to show just how powerful using only a few gameplay mechanics can be when combined with quality artwork and a fun theme. While Deadfellas can play with anyone young or old, the tactical choices in it are so limited that it’s a good game for gauging how strong a grasp other players’ have of the game itself and board gaming in general with the following in particular standing out:

1. Equipment Dispersal and Disposal
The first choice any player will have in Deadfellas is which of their Mooks to Equip. There is the temptation to possibly bolster weaker Mooks with Equipment to make them less susceptible to weak Whack attempts, but it’s hard to argue with stacking 3-Bullet Weapons, Vehicles, and Disguises on your most powerful Mook to try to get as close to 12 as possible. This doesn’t reveal much about the player, but what they choose to Ditch does.

A player can have a Disguise in his hand already and choose to Ditch the existing Disguise from the Mook who just capped someone. If that Mook survives the round, it’s a simple matter of equipping the new Disguise from hand and repeating the beatdown. This is an effective tactic, but one which I have seen a number of opponents neglect.

The Special card Fugazzi poses its own choices, both in how to pronounce it (Brian Snoddy insists that it’s Foo-gay-zee, while many English speakers go for Foo-gah-zee) and how to best utilize it. The card takes the place of a piece of Equipment, but is a fake, having zero strength. After successfully Whacking an opponent’s Mook do you ditch the zero-strength Fugazzi because it adds no strength to resist opponents’ Mooks or do you ditch something more powerful because the Fugazzi is versatile and allows you to possibly meet the three-Equipment variety condition for a Whack action more readily?

Zombie Mobster Hugo The Hat Nitti playing card missing brain

No Brainer: “The Hat”

2. Target Selection and Elimination – One of the few other choices in the game is which Mooks to target. Most of the time, this is a no brainer (which is fortunate for Mooks like Hugo “The Hat” Nitti): always try to get as many points from each Whack as you can. The exception is targeting a weaker Mook who has Equipment cards on him just to kill him preemptively and waste your opponent’s Equipment cards.

3. End of Turn While there’s nothing tactical about ending a turn, it’s another good clue to just how attuned a player is to the game’s rules. As soon as your opponent’s drawn a second Equipment card or a new Mook or performed a Whack action, he or she’s done. That’s it. Because of this the game’s designers were being quite generous when they list game length at 30 minutes. Cut throat zombie mafiosa can get it down to 10-20 minutes easy.

All card images are copyright Exile Game Studios and used without permission for review purposes.