The Magic Set Editor and You

The last two posts have used the Magic Set Editor for “visual enhancement.” Now, let’s talk about what that is…

The Magic Set Editor is software aimed originally at creating custom cards for the Magic: The Gathering card game. The site also has templates for Yu-Gi-Oh!, VS, L5R, Innovation, and many other games. Another fellow, “Ander00”, created a nice template for 4e features and powers (check out the thread on enworld.org).

But, even without downloading and installing the Anders set, the MSE can do some great things for you. I had used the Anders template before the Character Builder duplicated its functionality, but until recently, I hadn’t thought of what else the MSE could do for me.

One thing I always feel is lacking in most D&D games (and which leads to players being more easily distracted) is the lack of visual stimulus. While players might have an idea of what their own character looks like, in their mind’s eye, the other characters in the party don’t have faces, and are probably just tied to the player who plays them.

Drow vs. Bruce

But it doesn’t stop with what other PCs look like. You’re swinging around that +6 holy avenger, an artifact in its own right – what does it look like? What style is your armor? What physical qualities does that key NPC have? Certainly, D&D is a game centered on imagination, but grown-ups have to work all day and take care of adult stuff  – by the time we get to the D&D table, we’re a little too tired to play pretend sometimes.

Well, MSE can’t fix all your problems, but it can certainly provide you with some visual stimulus. Let’s start where I started – key NPC cards! For those recurring NPCs – good or evil – it’s not a bad idea at all to give the players a visual reference. And, instead of turning your laptop around to show them the picture every time, why not make a little “Magic” card of the NPC?

Now This Gets Image-Heavy… Continue reading The Magic Set Editor and You

Review: Death Angel

And next in our continuing series of Space Marine games, today I’ll be reviewing Death Angel, a cooperative card game by the wonderful folks over at Fantasy Flight Games.

Firstly, when I was told there was a cooperative Space Marine card game, my eyes rolled back in my head. First, I love cooperative board games. Second, I love Space Marines. Sure, this is a “card game” and not a “board game,” but… shut up. You play the cards down on the table, and they make their own board, so damn it, it’s board game enough for me!

Death Angel lets each player take the role of a team of two Space Marines (Blood Angels Chapter, clad in terminator armor). The game ties directly into the Space Hulk board game that Games Workshop released a few years ago (itself a reprint of a classic board game they released eons ago). The characters of Death Angel are the same characters from Space Hulk, and the tale is the same – Blood Angels veterans in terminator armor board a space hulk to exterminate genestealers and win the day.

In Death Angel, each turn, each player chooses an action for their squad from three different actions (represented by cards) – Support, Move & Activate, or Attack. Each squad performs these actions slightly differently, with different bonuses or extras. They use these actions as they move through the corridors of the space hulk to fight the genestealers that amass around them.

What I Like:

  • Death Angel is a great cooperative game. The actions are chosen secretly, so you have to know what your opponents can do and are likely to do so you can work together with them. Between that and the genestealers who are constantly multiplying right behind you, the game offers a solid challenge
  • The cards have great art, they’re nice quality and they’re easy to read and understand.
  • The game doesn’t take much time to explain and is easy to understand even if your friends don’t know a heavy flamer from an assault cannon.
  • Even if your friends don’t know a heavy flamer from an assault cannon, the game is still very true to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, so fans will geek out over the art, the card names, and the stories on each character card.
  • The game takes only a few minutes to set up, less than a minute to clean up, and less than five minutes to explain. Despite this, the interaction of various cards and situations creates a good level of complexity and a lot of replay value.

What I Don’t Like:

  • The game may be too easy, but only a tiny, tiny bit. I may also just be too good at games. Compared to Space Hulk, where the genestealers almost always eat the Space Marines alive, I can win the day with the Space Marines most of the time in Death Angel. However, I haven’t played a game yet where I didn’t feel like we were going to lose. And maybe that’s a good cooperative game – feeling like you’re going to lose, but winning enough to have fun with the game. At any rate, it’s not super easy, so this really is a tiny complaint.
  • Some of the teams may be more boring than others, or slightly less effective. Certainly, the team with the Librarian and the team with the power sword Sergeant feel very effective while the team with the lightning claws or the team with the heavy flamer can feel overshadowed by their battle brothers. Again, this is a very tiny complaint, and it would be near impossible to make every team feel equally lovable while also making them different enough to have flavor. Any shortcoming here is totally forgivable.

Nerd Moment: Getting the figures out of my Space Hulk game and placing them on the corresponding Death Angel character cards. I was filled with nerdy glee.

I highly recommend Death Angel to anyone who likes cooperative games, or anyone who loves Space Marines and wants to give a card game a whirl. Fantasy Flight produces solid products, and if you don’t own one of Arkham Horror, Lord of the Rings: The Board Game, Descent, Fury of Dracula or Talisman, then what the Hell is wrong with you? Buy Death Angel and make up for your lack of Fantasy Flight games.

The best part about Death Angel is that it sets up quickly, cleans up quickly, and is easy to explain to new players. This is truly lacking in almost every other cooperative game in existence, so Death Angel makes a true mark for itself by this virtue alone.

On Competitiveness

Since this is a gaming blog, I thought I would talk a little bit about competitiveness and how it strikes a weird chord with me.

I don’t feel competitive most of the time, but when I do feel competitive, it annoys me and I become a bad loser. So I mostly don’t play competitive games. I like cooperative games, and never do I feel bad when losing if I’m losing with a team. So Arkham Horror and Castle Ravenloft are my favorite board games, and I love PvE World of Warcraft and I love team PvP World of Warcraft (if the team is my friends).

I don’t like playing Dungeons & Dragons as much if I feel like it’s “Us versus the Adventure” instead of “The players and the DM crafting a story,” although a tough Dungeon Master is often better than a pushover Dungeon Master. I prefer competitive games that evoke the idea of a story or fiction, or games where I can feel like a story is being told. Obviously, chess and poker don’t interest me very much.

Further, I don’t really want to play Magic or Warhammer 40k or Warmachine/Hordes against someone who’s crafted a deck or army to win games rather than a deck or army that is themed. Back when the Mechwarrior Clix game was… still existent… I used to play tournaments on weekends, and my armies were always based around the given theme for that week. I usually played against people whose armies only thinly followed the theme for that week – people who followed the theme just enough to be legal. That annoyed me.

I would rather both my opponent and I have well-crafted miniatures who we’ve named, who have little stories and fun customizations to suit the personalities we’ve made up, or who follow some comical or dramatic theme. Even if the armies aren’t well-crafted or storied, if we tell a story as we play the game, making up personalities and proclivities as we go along, giving little descriptions to go along with our die rolls, I’m much happier. Perhaps, in a way, I am just playing with Barbie dolls when I play miniatures, but my Barbie dolls have plasma cannons and they are blast weapons. Ken’s hair could not survive that.

In all of this, Magic: the Gathering deserves a lot of credit. Magic is actually set up mostly to win by playing themes. Your cards will have complementary abilities if you choose, for instance, a vampire deck or a rat deck or a goblin deck. Thus, I can easily be competitive (in the sense that my decks can win games) by indulging my urge to tell a story or set a scene with my choice of cards.

It’s important for me to talk about this, I realized, because I build my miniatures and play my games with this always at the forefront of my mind. If you read this blog, then you are going to come face to face with the fact that I’d rather have a sweet tank with poor stats than a powerhouse unit with boring models. Now, if I can achieve the best of both worlds through the art of conversion, more power to me.

More to come!