Monday, August 25, 2014

Playtest: Shadows Of Brimstone - Swamps of Death!

At GenCon this year I picked up Shadows of Brimstone. A Kickstarter'd game by Flying Frog productions which just barely got its Core boxes out the door before the convention.


Premise: Its 1869. Prospectors found a magic crystal called 'Darkstone' in some mines that everyone wants.  Naturally they 'dug too deep' and opened up evil portals to alien dimensions. Now monsters stalk the mines and countryside, eating livestock and kidnapping folks. Is your posse of cowboys bad enough dudes to rescue the president? 



First thing of note: these "boardgame" boxes contain a lot of minis, and a lot of work.  Normally Flying Frog's games just require you to open a Ziploc bag of minis and punch out a bunch of round cardboard chits and you're ready to play. In Brimstone each mini consists of about 3-4 individual pieces on sprues that require a large amount of chopping, cleaning, gluing and construction before you can play (not to mention punching out all the chits and painting the minis if you're into that).  Honestly the effort required to build these minis is akin to constructing a Warhammer 40K starter army.  Fortunately I love cutting things and sniffing glue so I was in absolute heaven. However I could see busier gamers who "got shit to do" not being as psyched about the initial modeling/pre-game prep work involved.
I got the entire Swamps of Death box of minis constructed, and while I intended on painting them before playing, I was too jazzed about the game to wait.  This meant that I had to strong-arm (re: beg) Mary into playing a game last Saturday.  Fortunately my main man Steve also came over to join us for some Wild West monster-hunting, and the three of us played a nine-and-a-half hour mega-marathon of Brimstone.  Six of those hours were of us figuring out the rules and re-gluing miniatures together after I dropped them on the floor.

Brimstone is a fully cooperative quasi-rpg, and you're even expected to keep track of your character's XP and loot on a separate piece of paper.  Character creation is actually pretty cool in this game.  You pick your character class, then you can choose between three skills that are unique to that class, and finally you get a random personal item from a deck that gives your character a bit of extra flair.  Really it makes just getting your character started exciting.

I made an Indian Scout named Mingo.  His starting ability is "Heightened Senses" (re-roll one 'To Hit' or "Defense" roll per turn) and I drew (randomly, I should note) the concealed flask as a personal item, which gives +1 Spirit and can recover all sanity damage once per game.  The Indian Scout gets +1 Movement and has an Initiative of 5, which is higher than most other characters and monsters in the game. It turned out that the extra speed and movement he has is a real boon for him in combat.

Mary made an Outlaw and named her 'Clementine Sureshot.'  She took the "Hitman" ability (trade your outlaw pistol for a sawed-off shotgun) and got a Bear Claw as a personal item (re-roll a failed Willpower check).  The Outlaw can rob the bank in town between games for extra cash.  The Sawed-Off Shotgun saved our bacon multiple times throughout the game.

Steve made a Law Man named "Brock Masters." He took an ability (I forget the name) that let him spend 1 Grit to get +3 damage on an attack roll, and his personal item is a Boot Knife, which gives him a free attack once per fight. I didn't get a picture of his character, but just picture Wyatt Earp from Tombstone and you'll get the idea.

We first played the tutorial mission, called "For a Few Darkstone More."  Darkstone is the 'Wyrdstone' of Brimstone, if you're a Mordheim sort.  Basically you want to find it, its worth money, but its radioactive and can mutate you if you get too much of it.  In any case you go into the mine and try to hold back the denizens of evil from escaping and ransacking the countryside.  What that means is that the team leader who has the Lantern has a to make a roll every round to prevent the 'Darkness Tracker' from moving forward.  As you move deeper into the Mine the roll gets more difficult to make.  If the Darkness Tracker ever reaches the entrance to the mine the players lose.  Also the other players need to stay within sight (1 map piece) of the lantern-bearer or they are susceptible to madness attacks from the darkness (Grue?).

The tutorial/beginner game went okay.  We didn't fight any monsters until the very end, at which point we fought a whole boatload of 'em.  For most of these scenarios you have to find Clue tokens, which are randomly scattered in the Encounter tokens you pull when exploring a new room.  For this scenario we didn't get any monster ambushes or anything until we got all the Clue tokens, which automatically sparks a fight.

I drew a particularly bad card for the number of monsters for that fight and we ended up facing off against a lot of baddies.  Fortunately Mary's Outlaw starts with a stick of dynamite. We looked up the rules for it and she used it to great effect against the baddies, saving our bacon.  Dynamite ignores creatures' defense when it explodes, which makes it incredibly powerful when you're fighting undead and crab-beasts with high defense.  You can also bypass defense by rolling critical hits (6s on a d6), which kind of becomes the name of the game. A lot of the monsters have high defense, so you need to find ways to bypass it.  The Outlaw's sawed-off shotgun rolls a d8 for hit and damage, and counts as a crit on 6-8, so it was the star weapon of the game for us, right behind sticks of dynamite.  After all that firepower coming from the Outlaw, it took one extra turn for my Scout's carbine and Brock's pistol to clean up the rest of the beasties.

But the session doesn't end there!  You have to go to town after finishing an adventure in the mines, and adventuring in town is almost as deadly.  There are like twelve event tables that can happen while you're in town, and each location has different things to buy or hazards to face.  You can only pick one town location per day to visit so you have to choose wisely, because at the end of each day you roll for a 'town hazard,' which gets more likely with each passing day.  These are things like magic tornados or corrupt lawmen in town that will wreck your day.

We were able to sell our darkstone for a tidy profit in town on the first day, and after seeing the effectiveness of dynamite all three of us spent a major portion of our hard-earned cash on multipel sticks of dynamite, regardless of how expensive it was.  Soon after that, however, some evil/magic meteors or something came down demolished the town and we barely made it out alive. And that was the 'in-between' game! The town was destroyed and we weren't able to do any more shopping/selling before our next adventure.


For the next game we were feeling pretty cocky (dynamite) and decided we wanted to use the 'other world' portal rules.  The first session that allows the players to go into another world through portals in the mines is Session 10. So we jumped from adventure 1 to 10, which seemed totally reasonable at the time.


We entered the mines a second time.  In very short order we found a portal to another world.  Since the only box I had constructed was the Swamps of Death box, that was where we went.  In no time tentacles were popping out of the swamp around us trying to pull us down into the murky depths.  Shotguns and carbine rifles to the rescue.

The jungle went on and on, and the map got bigger and bigger.  That's something else to note about this game.  It is not possible to own a big enough gaming table to play an entire game without breaking away map pieces behind you.  That's okay though because with few exceptions you really don't need to backtrack on the map. Unless you're running away, but what kind of cowboy does that?

We fought a bunch of poisonous bogbats, hungry undead, spider-things, and crab monsters in the swamps, and found healing fruits and magic spring-water, but I'll just jump to the final fight here.  We finally made it to the ruined temple we were there to ransack magic artifacts from, when a Harbinger of Death attacked, along with his deadly minions.  The Harbinger is that big guy in the picture, and while his normal attack doesn't hit all that hard each turn he does activate a random effect that can mess with the fight.  He can do things like summon more bogbats, heal his wounds, do a sweeping tail attack on everyone, etc.  Worst of all he's immune to critical hits and he has a ton of health.  We threw a lot of dynamite at him and his buddies.

Unfortunately even though we were winning the fight we were unable to clear the ancient temple grounds in time, as just as we were fighting off the last of the undead the darkness tracker hit the opening of the mine, and all the evil-ness spilled out into the countryside.  We would've won if it weren't for one type of monster in the game.  The goddamn Corpse Piles.  They aren't even proper minis!  They're stupid cardboard cutouts, and yet they are so, so nasty.


They're basically Gauntlet-style monster-generators.  They always appear at the back of the room, they have a high defense, and they spawn an undead every turn on a 4+.  This wouldn't be a big deal if the undead weren't so tough to take down by themselves.  We killed the Harbinger, six Bogbats, three crab-beasts, and numerous undead.  But because we couldn't take out that last corpse pile before the darkness escaped we lost the game.  With just one more turn we would've done it, but that corpse pile just wouldn't go down. 

Corpse piles aside, this game is mega-fun.  While we lost the scenario we all made our rolls to survive.  So Clementine Sureshot, Brock Masters, and Mingo will all be back in a future episode.  We actually went back for one more town visit to sell the monster scalps we collected and buy up more dynamite so we're ready for next time. Brock had to get surgery to heal a broken leg or something even. Seriously, this is the most fun dungeon crawl boardgame I've ever played. If you're willing to put in some model-building work up front, I highly recommend Shadows of Brimstone!
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