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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Meanwhile…

Well, like I said, I spent the afternoon in Dundee having a pleasant time just hanging around.

Various minor chores notwithstanding, as ever my first port of call was the local GW. This has become something of a ritual of mine in recent years- visiting the GW store wherever go, just to see what the locals are up to, and maybe to have an excuse to shell out some mullah on yet more product from the good old money-suckers.

Today’s visit started off pleasantly enough, espying as I did on my entry a familiar face from the Glasgow store. We said hello and, as I was informed of the various staff reshuffles of late, I found myself thinking that I was listening to the ‘last week’ prologue of an over-the-top soap. I even got a laugh as I aired this notion, which was gratifying.

I lashed out on the new White Dwarf, and a copy of Darkness Rising: A complete history of the Storm of Chaos. This last product is truly amazing, the sort of thing that serves to confirm the wisdom of my long-standing faith in the essential merits of GW as a games company. I will say no more just now because I intend to prepare a proper review just as soon as I can.

My next port of call thereafter was the pub next door (coffee and orange juice I can assure you!), where I began to digest my purchases, and where I began to form the already intimated high opinion of DR. This place is called The Old Horseshoe Inn, and what a place it is! What I mean to say is that it could be a set from the Old World, from Dumas’ France, or from anywhere similar. Not only does it have a balcony level around the walls, but it even has a chandelier from which you could swing during the brawl that any GM would inevitably want to stage in such a place should he introduce a group of PC’s to it as regulars. Maybe I’ll go back sometime with a camera and take pictures.

From the Old Horseshoe I headed up to Highlander Games (98 Annfield Place). I’d been there once before, and was looking forward to another visit.

Highlander Games is what you might call a FLGS from the ‘old school’: small enough to be cramped, especially when you consider the 2 gaming tables set out in the middle of the narrow floor space. At the same time though, it carries a stock of games of all kinds which, while small in keeping with the size of the shop itself, is sufficiently wide to ensure that there will be something there to satisfy all but the most esoteric of gaming tastes.

I reintroduced myself to Gary, the proprietor, and we had a nice chat. Still buzzing from his recent trip to GenCon, Gary proved to be a fund of interesting information. I would think that, if he proves to be as good a businessman as he is obviously a passionate gamer, then the future of the gaming community in this particular neck of the Scottish woods is bright indeed.

Of course, I spent some money, getting hold of a copy of the HERO supplement Galactic Champions, by Darren Watts. Exactly as I said about HERO:UM, this is a systematic and detailed treatment of its subject- in this case, hi-powered cosmic superheroes. Although a much shorter book (a ‘mere’ 150 pages), this book strikes me as being immediately more useful to a HERO superhero GM. Why? Simply because it at least has some pre-generated heroes and villains. OK, so these are all in the range that makes them hi-powered or invincible in the face of the average HERO superhero, but then that’s the power-level that this book is about.

In the same curate’s egg are the illustrations. As ever with HERO, an unkind reviewer could call these ‘workmanlike’. Me, I think that a lot of them suffer from the same overly generic nature that made me feel unhappy with HERO:UM. At the same time, there are many images in this book that any GM could find inspirational for individual characters, or as prototypes for xeno-species. Good material in other words.

All of which brings me to my major gripe about this product, one which is true of pretty much any HERO product I have ever seen, namely the presentation of characters, and other systems material. What you get with HERO:GC is a set of characters presented as a bastard fusion of design and playing information; points values and playing information in the same specs sheets in other words. I don’t like this.

HERO being the kind of system that it is, I have long believed that material of this kind should be presented in 2 distinct formats:
1. Points-crunching design specs to reveal the inner workings of the objects presented
2. GM-friendly playsheets presenting the ‘delivery end’ of the same objects in a format appropriate to easy reference in the heat of play.
It is my opinion that, by presenting a hybrid of these 2 formats, HERO books, as they are currently designed, give us the worst of both worlds. That is to say: the design specs are less than fully detailed, while the numbers needed for play are less than adequately accessible.

Still, as ever with HERO product, HERO:GC is a superior treatise on its subject the perusal of which should be of value to players of any game embracing this topic.

More than just giving me this product at a small discount, Gary also gave me a freebie: Anachronism: The Greatest Game in History, a sample of a new game he’d picked up at GenCon. Published by TriKing, and sponsored by the History Channel(!), this is a game of man-to-man combat between heroic characters from real history- Myamoto Musashi and Beowulf in the sample Gary gave me.

At first glance, this game combines the best elements of cardplay mechanics introduced by CCG’s, without the burden of the marketing device (I must here note that, any merits of the particular games aside, I regard the collectible marketing device as the single biggest scourge on the gaming industry today; but that‘s just my opinion). Basically you buy ‘warrior packs’, each containing a warrior card and 4 support cards. Buy more packs, and you have more support cards with which to customise your warriors. The big ‘but’ is that these packs are not random.

Anyhoo, without trying it out a few times, there is really nothing more that I can say about this game other than that the cards are very nice (“best elements of card play”), and that this game really ought to be a nice little tactical nugget to fill in the odd gap in between other games, if not becoming a serious challenge in its own right.

So, my second visit to Highlander Games proved to be very enjoyable. I hope to be able to report on an actual game played there sometime soon. In the meantime, if you are in the area, pop in and say hello. You should find yourself made welcome.
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