Black Sonata review – is the Dark Lady a keeper?

I picked up Black Sonata by Side Room Games when they ran their Kickstarter last year. In this Black Sonata review, we’ll go through a brief summary of the game mechanics, components, and our separate points of view on the game.

Black Sonata review

Disclaimer: We offer Side Room Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

In it, you are pursuing the mysterious Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets through London, trying to catch a glimpse of her to gain clues to her identity. Get enough clues, the right clues, and you may be able to piece together who she is and finally confront her. Black Sonata is a hidden movement, press your luck strategy game for one player, or a cooperative group.

It was my first “solitaire” game purchase, though the game can certainly be played as a cooperative one as well. It originally was available as a print and play game, was a 2017 Golden Geek nominee, and revolved around Shakespeare–I was hooked, and I couldn’t resist backing.

I’m very glad I did. It comes in a small box, easy to bring around, has amazing components and a relaxing color theme, and is an interesting puzzle all on its own. Dan and I always marvel at how clever the Dark Lady movement is.

Black Sonata Dark Lady token

Black Sonata play through summary

You start the game by 1) choosing a Dark Lady card, face down, which would be the lady you need to find, and 2) arranging the stealth deck to build the order of the Dark Lady’s movement across London. The front of the stealth deck cards contain eight letters along the top and bottom, seemingly at random, which you arrange in alphabetical order to build out this hidden path the lady takes.

On each round, the Dark Lady moves first, which is represented by moving the top card of the stealth deck to the bottom of the deck and moving the lady to an adjacent location on the map that contains that symbol1.

After that, you are free to do any one of four actions:

  1. Move – you can move to an adjacent location, and “unlock” the location if you have not done so yet (you get a free clue if you unlock all locations)
  2. Search – if the Dark Lady is in the same location as you are, you can search for her2
  3. Use a Fog Card – over time, the stealth deck will also fill with Fog Cards which make the Dark Lady more difficult to find–but using a Fog Card may also assist you in your search (…or drastically make it more difficult)
  4. Pass – you can opt to stay in your current location and do nothing, essentially just letting the Lady move again.
Black Sonata keyhole

Searching for the Dark Lady entails taking one of the limited Fog Cards and slipping it underneath the stealth card that is topmost (so that you hide the card below, and then combining the topmost stealth card with the location card (with the keyhole). You flip this card over, and check through the keyhole if the lady is visible through it. If she appears in the keyhole, you have glimpsed the Dark Lady and you can take a clue from the clue deck. Afterward, she flees–and you move the stealth deck forward by how many clues you have obtained, essentially skipping several hidden movements that she takes to flee.

The clues take the form of symbols–deduce all three symbols in the Dark Lady’s card, and you have successfully figured out the identity of the lady3. In addition, each Dark Lady card contains clues to the other ladies, in the form of her similarity to the lady you are trying to find.

Black Sonata Dark Lady cards

Once you have deduced all three symbols and are ready to unmask her, catch her one last time to confront her and win the game. But make sure that you don’t dally–using up all your available Fog Cards or taking too many revolutions of the deck will lose you the game as well, and she will be shrouded in mystery forever (or until the next game).

Black Sonata components

This is one example where Kickstarter really shines as a channel for publishing a game like this. With this game being available as a Print and Play game, “official” components like these are pretty much what you back the Kickstarter for. And they definitely delivered.

I love the aesthetic and the feel of the final components. It’s light–both visually and in weight, giving the game a relaxing, country-style feel. The wooden components, from the pawn to the tokens and the Dark Lady silhouette tokens feel good to the touch and is definitely a beautiful upgrade over the Print and Play tokens available. The cards feel great, linen-finished and with a good thickness to them.

I especially love the way you peek through a keyhole in the card to see if you’ve spotted the Dark Lady. That is such a cute, cool way of doing the check and gives a bit of suspense especially for us (we usually have one person do the stealth deck and another manage the location deck, and the latter always does the keyhole-checking).

Black Sonata keyhole

I’ve also checked the available free Print and Play file and it is definitely playable, so you should give it a whirl if you’re interested. In addition to this, while I have not made this PnP game, I love the way they’ve laid out the PnP–it’s one of the better laid-out ones and is a true PnP you can print and get done right at home with just a few common household stationery tools.

There also needs to be a special mention that Side Room Games also included a beautiful booklet on the historical background behind Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, which is worth a read and a definite plus.

Her POV

I was definitely impressed when I received my copy of the Kickstarter box. It was sturdy, components are amazing, and it just felt right. I proceeded to play a couple times right then. The rules did confuse me for a bit (we seem to keep forgetting how the fleeing Dark Lady mechanic exactly work whenever we haven’t played the game for a while, and have to reread again) but that was the only hiccup.

But the game is just. so. clever. The puzzle itself (and the rng of which clues you get, etc) is definitely worthwhile, but even how one goes about getting those puzzle pieces is ingenious. The peeping through a keyhole, the Dark Lady’s multiple paths through London, the way you can adjust your game’s difficulty–everything is very well thought out and cleverly put together.

The normal difficulty is pretty balanced–it’s pretty equal how many times we find her versus not, and we always have a good time discussing the game afterward: what worked, what screwed us over. The symbol puzzle is interesting on its own, but getting too many 0/2 clues and it becomes really hairy.

His POV

I am generally a fan of hidden movement games, such as Fury of Dracula, Scotland Yard, Specter Ops, etc.. These games usually require a group of players, trying to figure out where the “culprit”, played by a different player, is. Never in my wildest dreams, have I ever conceived that a game from this genre can be turned into a solitaire/solo game4.

Like a broken clock, I would like to reiterate what Angela kept saying once again…this game is really clever. From the way how the Dark Lady moves, to finding the right combination to figure out the Dark Lady, the game is just so darn clever5 in how everything works. That is why, when we finally figured out who the Dark Lady was after multiple games, it was a really satisfying experience.

We really enjoy playing this game, even though it needed a few play throughs at first to figure out how everything works6. Additionally, the gameplay is quick enough that squeezing in another round after losing or winning, almost always becomes the case for us.

Black Sonata review verdict

Disclaimer: We offer Side Room Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

A hidden gem, this understated game is one that will definitely stay in my collection. It fills that literary and puzzle itch, and has afforded both of us many satisfying endings to a chill night out.

The best part is that it is available as a free Print and Play over at BoardGameGeek. Check out the game and try it yourself, or get the premium copy over at the Hey Meepling online shop! Let us know what you think in the comments below. Have fun!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. some movement variants may have the lady stay in the same location, which makes the game slightly more difficult
2. technically, you can search even if she is not in the same location, but what would be the point?
3. the clues actually do relate to the actual woman in history
4. If there are other solitaire hidden movement games, let me know.
5. one more for the road
6. unlike the game, we are not that clever apparently

Session Zero Haul

We came back from last Sunday’s Session Zero renewed and full of admiration for the diversity of game designers, artists, and crafters we have locally. It was so difficult to stick to a budget and we, er, ultimately blew it out of the water (sob) but it was worth it! We met so many lovely people and we’re so excited to show you our haul.

So many awesome stuff! We opted to split our mission: Dan checked out the game designers’ booths and Angela scoured the artists’ and exhibitors booths. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea, as we ended up buying so. much. stuff. XD

Angela scored some awesome accessories from Briarwood Crafts and Gleam Trove!

Dan scored some fabulous games:1

We’ll be playing them in the next few days/weeks and let you know how we fare! So stay tuned!

But of course, when you have so many amazing TRPGs…you need something to keep your dice sets and sheets and pencils in! And Angela found just the thing:

The best thing here is…look at that perfect pocket inside, just the right size for Hey Meepling character folios!! (hint, hint)

We also found ourselves with a BUNCH of new stickers, stationery, pins, etc from all these amazing artists! Take a look at this haul from waterdiet, Miss Adventures, Pachiary, TheIzzyPeasy, @putotoyart, and DMPaulG. (And yes, that is two Hufflepuff pins…HUFFLEPUFFS REPRESENT!)

We’re so happy to get so many games and so much loot, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s Session Zero! We had a lot of fun–what about you? Share your experience and loot in the comments below.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. but not enough :(… so many amazing gamess arghhhh

Session Zero’s coming up: We’re so excited!

Finally, it’s Session Zero time this Sunday, August 25! Session Zero is an event that shines the spotlight on local game designers and makers, and there is a lot on offer this weekend! There has been so many people on the #RoadToSessionZero and we’re so hyped to check out all the awesome stuff available during the 11am – 8:30pm event. There will be game designers selling and playtesting their games, artists showing their work and open for commissions, merchants selling their awesome geeky wares, and streamers and many more besides!

Hey, Meepling will be there, too! We’ve been busy at work with the stuff we want to bring to Session Zero, and here’s a quick lowdown of what you might expect from our table at Booth 23 (straight on from the entrance doors, our table is on the right side!).

Character notebooks galore!

We’re definitely bringing a selection of our D&D character sheet folios and tomes to Session Zero. Tomes will be in faux leather, bewitching black, bravest blue, and radiant red, plus our last two stock of our gold filigree limited edition tomes.

We’re also bringing along a few mini notebooks if you’re like me and just want that mini notebook itch ;)

We will also have a little extra personal pet project on show, and will also be accepting orders for customized notebooks during the event (though not making during the event–you can order the notebooks during, and we’ll work out the schedule with you).

Notebook accessories, wut?

So we’ve come bearing a few cute accessories for your character sheet notebooks! Behold:

Spell slot clips come in 10/pack, and are available in black, gold, rose gold, silver, purple, and green. They’re perfect for the spell slot trackers, or just to make your notebooks pretty.

Item sheet and animal companion sheet stickers! They’re just the right size for half a page of the character folio and tome. While they aren’t going to be fountain-pen friendly, they most definitely are pencil-ready! And of course there will be some cute dice stickers available as well.

We might have one or two more things in store — it will be a surprise!

Terrain coasters for everyone

These aren’t going anywhere, but it will help your adventures get that extra mile! These double-sided cork coasters protect your tables from guests’ drinks on one side, but also enable the best adventurers on the other! We’re bringing the usual favourites!

Alignment perfume, what’s that?

Are you a neutral, lawful, or chaotic? Perhaps a dash of good and evil? We’re bringing a small batch of our new alignment perfume at Session Zero. We’re starting off with the basics: Neutral, Lawful, Chaotic, Good, and Evil.

  • NeutralFlexible in your own skin: musk and bamboo.
  • LawfulPrim and proper, but with a backbone of steel: tea and metal.
  • ChaoticA heady carousing, free and unpredictable: sweet rum and tobacco.
  • GoodA clear soul: crystalline white musk and holy sandalwood.
  • EvilA sweet black temptation: dark chocolate and sticky caramel.

Unfortunately we can’t mix during the event, but if you don’t mind the multi-week curing time wait, we can also take orders for making your perfect alignment mix during the event.

So we’ll see you, alright?

We hope to see you at Session Zero this Sunday August 25, 2019! Event is at Green Sun Hotel Focus Rooms 6-7, and starts at 11:00 am until 8:30 pm. Registration is currently open, but walk-ins are very welcome!

We will be at Booth #23!

Hope to see you there!

Five for Five: Our Top Gateway Games

We all have different games that brought us “into the fold”, so to speak. I personally still like gateway games for the gems they are: quick setup and play, and honestly, I really need a bit of a light, in-between game when you’re doing some heavier games back to back.

I honestly don’t remember what my first boardgame (modern or otherwise) was, other than it’s probably either Ticket to Ride or Catan (as those are some of the first modern games my parents brought home)1. Dan’s first was Flip City, followed quickly after by crushing defeat at Kemet, which ironically made him fall in love with boardgames.

In no particular order:

Angela’s Five

Pandemic, where you race to save the world from four deadly diseases. This is always the first game that comes to my mind when talking about gateway games. I love cooperative games and think that they are a good way to ease people into modern boardgames. Pandemic is probably not the easiest coop out there, but I find the theme more accessible than something like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert and gives players more choices and agency.

Azul, for the pretty pattern-matching tiles. Azul is such a pretty game. The components are pretty, they feel great when you handle them and put them together, the gameplay fairly simple. But this prettiness is not just tile-deep: there is quite a bit of strategy in which tiles to get and keep from other players, that this seemingly peaceful game can be quite competitive after all.

Coloretto for the beautiful rainbow of colors you try to collect. I know it looks like I’m just moving into colors at this point, but Coloretto is such a hidden, understated gem. It’s a good intro to set collection, and comes in such an amazingly small package that it’s definitely one you can whip out at a moment’s notice because you had it on you all along! It’s easy to explain and plays out quickly, and once they’ve got the hang of it you can very easily do another round of the more complicated side. Win!

Werewords, where you try to find the secret word from the Mayor who suddenly has super limited speech. Another recent addition to our roster of games, I love Werewords ever since the first time I’ve played it with friends. I loved it so much I got my own copy as soon as I could. We could play this game endlessly, over and over. I personally love this over the more ubiquitous Werewolf, because there isn’t any player elimination, and you don’t have the whole awkward silence when playing with a group who don’t know each other2.

Dixit, for pretty cards and knowing what weird things your friends fixate on in pictures. An older game, and one that admittedly doesn’t get played as much as it used to with my groups, but I think it’s one of the best games to introduce to a family or group of established friends who hasn’t really started playing boardgames yet. It’s like in any game of charades where people who know each other so well would have an advantage–most groups I’ve played this with, they usually feel so awesome and get so invested in the game because of this, that it’s so fun to watch.

Dan’s Five

Clank! A Deck Building Adventure scratches that deck-building and dungeon-delving itch. This interestingly high-action deck building game has such a cool premise: steal the best treasure from the dragon and become the Master Thief. Dan’s family loved this game so much when he taught it to them that he almost missed a plane flight trying to finish a game!

Lords of Waterdeep, the classic fantasy worker placement game. Dan swears by this game, having easily taught this to his family and it does remain a classic there and elsewhere. There may be simpler worker placement games out there, but this strikes a good balance, and the theme is fairly accessible with even just a little fantasy exposure.

Potion Explosion, an analog Candy Crush. Don’t lose your marbles! This game feels so good to play with. And the theme? Teach it to anyone, and thanks to the popularity of games like Candy Crush, they get it immediately. So much that Dan has played with kids who have totally destroyed him in this game.

Century: Spice Road has merchant players plying the road to finish the most lucrative spice orders the fastest. The first Century game by Plan B Games is also the simplest and most accessible of the trilogy, and is good as a first peek for the kind of players who may really get into engine-building as a mechanic. It’s simple and satisfying enough as a deck- and engine-builder game that Dan’s mom immediately wanted to have another round as soon as she finished her first game of it!

Hardback, a new and modern twist on Scrabble. It’s a really easy game to get into since games such as Scrabble has been in circulation for a very long time, and in a way, it is a bit more forgiving because you can use any letter as a wildcard as well in lieu of points. The deck-building aspect also makes it more engaging than just drawing tiles in Scrabble.

So there’s our five. It was so difficult picking out just five, and no doubt after this is posted, we’ll end up thinking of other games that we should have put into the list instead. How about you, what’s your favorite gateway game to introduce to new people into the hobby?

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. And to pick which was my first boardgame ever is a bit difficult…probably something like Snakes and Ladders or such.
2. “So who do we think might be the werewolf?” *crickets*

We Play Too Much – Part 2 (Games We Play)

We’re continuing the self-revealing series, where we find out how much games we actually play in a month.1 Last week, I talked about the Games I Play, such as Changeling the Lost and a livestream game of D&D Adventurers League. This week, let’s continue by discussing the games where Angela and I are both players.

Ghosts of Salt Marsh

System: Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition
DM: Paul

Having played and finished multiple campaign adventures under DM Paul G , starting with Storm King’s Thunder, we have recently begun our fourth campaign, called Ghosts of Saltmarsh. Our group has been playing every Saturday since September 2016, with short breaks in between campaigns. Angela joined our Saturday group during the last campaign, where we played Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.

For our Saturday campaigns, we are also using the organized play variant for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, known as Adventurers League (AL), where standard rules are set up to easily enable any Adventurers League player and/or dungeon master to jump from one table to another if they wish to.

So let’s talk about the Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign for a bit. This hardcover book is not your typical campaign adventure.2 Instead, it is a compilation of popular classic adventures from the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons and from Dungeon magazine. These adventures are converted for the fifth edition rules. Additionally, these seafaring adventures which center around the titular port town of Saltmarsh will lead characters from level 1 through level 12.

Our characters were already level three by the time we started this campaign, since we played a few AL modules before this.

First off, Angela is playing Lia, a half-elf grave cleric, and a follower of Kelemvor, the God of the Dead. Lia is following in her mother’s footsteps as a guide for the dying and the dead, and a staunch enemy of the undead and of those who would befoul the natural order of life and death.

My character is Vagra, a half-orc barbarian that follows the Path of the Ancestral Guardian, and the last of the Howling Wolf tribe. She is searching for the one responsible in betraying and sacrificing her entire tribe, and through happenstance was able to meet Lia, who helped her in controlling the vengeful spirits of her ancestors. Because of this, she now follows Lia wherever she goes and tries to protect her from harm.

Recently, they found a clue regarding the one responsible for the massacre of Vagra’s tribe that led them to the up and coming port town of Saltmarsh. Here, they joined up with other adventurers after they were hired by one of the town’s council members to investigate the mysteries of a haunted mansion located a few miles from the port town.

Being a fan of swashbuckling adventures, especially with the prospect of having our own ship, I am quite excited to see where this campaign will lead us and all the shenanigans in between. I am also interested to see how my character will play out, since this is the first time I am playing a barbarian.3

Komainu

System: Legend of the Five Rings, Fifth Edition
DM: Chester

Legend of the Five Rings is set in the fictional empire of Rokugan. The setting is inspired heavily from Feudal Japanese culture, with other East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures sprinkled in for good measure. Here, the empire is divided into seven Great Clans.4 The players usually create individual samurai characters coming from these Great Clans, who embark on adventures filled with drama, suspense, humor, romance, and horror.

I have experience in playing and enjoying the fourth edition for Legend of the Five Rings, having played a courtier of the Ide family from the Unicorn Clan. This time however, in the fifth edition, we are all playing samurai characters from the Lion Clan, which is considered as the Right Hand of the Emperor and the clan unrivalled militarily, as there are no sharper tacticians and no larger armies in all of the empire.

I play Akodo Mamoru, who is assigned as the squad leader for this group. Born from a peasant family, he has since been adopted as a reward for his peasant father’s services to their lord. He was, since then, raised to become a samurai, and with only a few select people knowing his true heritage.

Angela plays Matsu Kagami, a meek shugenja5 who studied in the Kitsu shugenja school, to the dismay of her relatives, especially considering that the Matsu family are renowned as fiery warriors and fill the ranks of the vast Lion armies. But either way, she was also assigned by her lord to join our group, on a mission to the Spice Islands under the control of the Mantis minor clan.

Our first assignment was to head to Dragon’s Guard City to the east, to investigate piracy in the area. After breaking thru the bureaucracy, experiencing treachery, battling with spirits, and eventually figuring out where the pirates were, we also learned that there seems to be a greater conspiracy at play. In light of this, we were elevated as Lion Clan magistrates and were sent next to the city of sin known as Ryoko Owari, which is held by the duplicitous Scorpion Clan. Here we are trying to start a war between the multiple drug cartels in the city, while trying to learn more of the conspiracy in play.

I am really enjoying the campaign we are playing, where every session/episode will most definitely contain some sort of drama for the characters or their mission. Additionally, the new system needed a lot of getting used to at first, but eventually the more narrative focused style is quite appropriate for the more personal stories we are trying to tell in this campaign.

If you want to find out more and follow where our campaign goes, Chester, our DM for this campaign, also has his own blog where he posts summaries of our game sessions.

So tune in next week for the final part of this series, where we talk about the games that I am currently running.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Knowing the problem is half the battle, kids
2. With an overarching main plot and multiple side plots
3. i.e. a meat head type of character
4. Lion, Scorpion, Crane, Dragon, Phoenix, Unicorn, and Crab
5. priest

[Pulp COC] Masks of Nyarlathotep, Session One

Excerpts from the journal of Caridad Benitez, M.D., found in the year 2019 in an old abandoned house in Tangub, Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Philippines.

17 March, 1921. Lima, Peru.

An afternoon cooler at Hotel Maury (Photo by Angela Sabas)

Perry is late as usual, but I don’t mind. I’m a bit tired from the voyage, so this unexpected respite from the hurrying-about is welcome. We’d been booked into Hotel Maury, though we are meeting the explorer Augustus Larkin later tonight at Bar Cordano. I only hope that Perry won’t be too late for that meeting.

I have to say, this is quite an intriguing proposition, even if it’s meant to be a first foray/trial period for Caduceus. A hidden ancient pyramid here in Peru? Sounds innocuous enough. Although that brings me to–should I have left word of what I was going into, back home in Bacolod? Sure, they know it’s medical assistance on this expedition, but perhaps I should have been a bit more forthcoming with the possible dangers… but then again, what is there to say? I don’t even know what we’re heading into, just that this is supposedly more than just your run-of-the-mill expedition.

Perhaps I should write a letter to my sister. Just in case.

Where is Perry?

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, in a prison holding cell.

Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Photo by Angela Sabas / Silliman University)

Well, what a predicament. I don’t suppose Papa will be thrilled to hear about his eldest daughter being thrown into prison! And I’m doubly glad about writing that letter, though I suppose I should have posted it… I suppose tonight’s one good reason to actually be keeping my journal.

We met Mr. Larkin as planned, along with his bodyguard Luis de Mendoza and a Mr. Jessie Hughes, who introduced himself as a folkorist there to document the expedition. Mr. Larkin looked rather sick, as if from opium withdrawal, but otherwise was very passionate about his expedition plans, even if the documentation and research notes appeared to be rather thin. He showed us two items he obtained from an Ernesto Molo, a farmer near Lake Titicaca: a pendant and a golden cup. They seemed rather incongruous, however; not the same time period, I daresay. He talked about how he burned his research due to people who wanted to get at it, but told us we could get information from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and the Museo de Arqueologia y Antropologia, which is inside the university.

Larkin and de Mendoza left early, wherein the table’s mood lightened and, over drinks, Jessie Hughes told us that his name was actually Jackson Elias, and he was there researching Peruvian death cults and the “kharisiri”, and that de Mendoza seemed to be connected to these. He was in contact with a Nemesio Sanchez, a professor at the university who also works at the museum, who might have some information about this expedition. He had seemed very keen to contact Larkin, but had been ignored until now. I voiced a worry about his safety, and Mr. Elias suggested we visit him tonight.

Professor Sanchez at first seemed disgruntled at being woken up after retiring, but he understood our concerns for his safety and told us that he had tasked one of his interns, Trinidad Rizzo, with the translation of a document they possessed, and that she was likely working on it as we spoke. We went to the student dormitories and were directed to her room, where the door was ajar… and we saw de Mendoza in the room, but in a form that Mr. Elias refers to as a kharisiri.

It was definitely de Mendoza, but his mouth and jaw–it was elongated and filled with teeth. It is difficult to describe. He had been behind the girl and turned around and attacked us at the sound of the door opening. It was a blur, Ms. Rizzo was screaming, Mr. Elias was shooting–it was quite a disaster. Perry killed it with a blow, I was able to calm Ms. Rizzo down somewhat, and the police came.

We’ve reached out to Larkin, Professor Sanchez promises to help, Ms. Rizzo is still distraught (I told her it was a masked man come to burgle her; I don’t know what the police told her), and we are still here in the holding cell.

Ugh. We’ll find out more tomorrow, I suppose.

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, grabbing a quick lunch.

So many things happening, so many questions. We were released from prison, but no one is telling us how or why. De Mendoza’s body isn’t in the morgue, police are pretending ignorance, and Larkin… who is Augustus Larkin? We met him after the prison release but…

Anyway. Professor Sanchez gave us a copy of the survivor account Ms. Rizzo was translating last night, and a gold slab with etched symbols that apparently comes from the temple that the survivor desecrated with four other conquistadors. A name–Luis de Mendoza–comes up in the account.

We’re about to meet with Professor Sanchez again in less than an hour to talk about what to do with all of this new information.

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, a run-down motel near the docks.

The dockside (Batam, Indonesia / Photo by Angela Sabas)

What a day.

We left Hotel Maury this afternoon, after calling Larkin and making our excuses. I said Caduceus needed us for an urgent medical mission in San Francisco–I’m not sure he bought it, plus there’s that Spaniard-looking man following us from the university, so I had to buy two tickets to San Francisco to throw him off, and rely on the good graces of the kind man at the ticketing booth who thought Perry and I were runaway lovers.

We did buy tickets to Molendo and we’re leaving tomorrow morning. We plan to head straight out to Puno once we reach–hopefully we won’t be tracked getting on the boat–we need all the lead we can get. From the translated account we received, hopefully returning the gold slab Professor Sanchez entrusted to us is enough to set things right. Jackson has a possible contact in Puno we might be able to get more some more help from, a wise woman of sorts.

That survivor account we read this morning–it was rather chilling. It reads almost as a fantastical story, were it not for the events of last night. A Gaspar Figueroa shares how he and four other fellow conquistadors looted the temple in search of richness, and how the others were overcome with horrifying hunger and he was almost devoured alive “like a human leech”. It is too close to what we saw of de Mendoza last night…and especially that his name comes up in that account? It has to be more than a coincidence.

Anyway. We did also manage to hire a man Professor Sanchez recommended to us as an additional bodyguard of sorts–Mr. Pranit Singh Dillon, who will be heading to the Molendo boat separate from us. We need him, but I fear that we may be leading him to his death, too. We did not tell him to full extent of our expedition, and he did not ask any questions, but I feel horrible about not being forthright…

So many questions that need answering. Where is de Mendoza? Who is that man following us? And Larkin…who is he, truly? He could only say that de Mendoza sometimes does this disappearing act, but couldn’t give an account of where he was, and I daresay he seemed unconcerned his man is being accused of murder. His strong cologne can’t hide the scent of rotting meat wafting around him, he even seems to have a tattoo of sorts on his chest, hidden under this clothing. Is he one of these death cultists Jackson is talking about? Or is de Mendoza using him and controlling him somehow? Are there truly three more like de Mendoza still roaming Peru?

I wish tomorrow brings us some answers…but the chances are very slim. I’ll settle for not getting waylaid or followed further.

About this campaign

Daniel runs a Call of Cthulhu Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign for Angela roughly once a month (when they get the time). She’s a scaredy cat and can only do Call of Cthulhu when it’s Pulp, so, yeah. Catch the next installment of the campaign next month-ish under the tag Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign!

The Ancient World (Second Edition)

The Ancient World, second edition

I’m a huge fan of Red Raven Games and Ryan Laukat. The first game I’ve tried of theirs is Above & Below, and since then I’ve been so enchanted with the art and general gameplay style that I’ve ended up with a number of their games.

The latest is the second edition of The Ancient World, a beautiful game where developing civilizations are beset by Titans–and they must be vanquished if they are to thrive and grow. This worker placement, card drafting, set collection game is beautiful and elegant and plays fairly simply but with a lot of thematic strategies to be made.

Playthrough summary

Beautiful player boards

The player who ends the game with the most influential civilization wins the game. However, the road to prosperity is wrought with danger–titans threaten the land, and in fact, every civilization starts the game with a titan threatening their cities. Players vie to build either the largest civilization or vanquish the most titans…or more likely, a careful balance of both. Buildings and titans award banners when built or defeated, the quantity and color of which form the basis for scoring.

Each player may do any one of four actions, taking turns to do one action until everyone passes:

  1. assign a citizen to a task
  2. attack a titan,
  3. build stored plans,
  4. and pass.

Each player initially has three citizens available to send to work, choosing between the following possible tasks:

  • Build lets you improve your city by paying for the construction of a new building;
  • Rebuild is important if you ended up with a titan rampaging across some of your buildings;
  • if you’ve reached the limits of your city, Expand allows you to add more space for more buildings;
  • and if none of the buildings on offer are to your taste, try to Explore other possibilities;
  • Learn nets your city some extra knowledge for coins;
  • and you can get more workers by Growing more citizens…
  • …which you can push to Labor a bit to gain some extra money;
  • If you’ve got a titan on your tail, you can add to your current military by Recruiting more, or…
  • …get temporary help by Drafting mercenaries.

There are no worker lockouts, exactly, though you cannot place a citizen of lower power on a task when another citizen (yours or another player’s) is already there.

If they decide to attack a titan, they can choose to attach the one threatening their city (this refreshes every round, if the city had vanquished theirs in the previous round) or one of the faraway titans on the board, after which they can take that titan’s remains as a kind of trophy. If the round ends and they have not killed the titan threatening their city, it may wreak havoc on their city’s buildings unless placated by offerings of ambrosia…but the titans grow every hungrier with each passing round and it becomes more and more expensive to placate them.

The game ends after the sixth round.

Components

The Ancient World tokens

One thing I’ve liked about Red Raven Games’s crowdfunding stage is that the upgraded components within the Kickstarter run are not limited to the “Kickstarter edition”–the Kickstarter edition is the retail edition. The same is true for The Ancient World–the components are premium for basically everyone, except that Kickstarter backers get to have metal coins free, which otherwise can be purchased separately.

Cardboard tokens are still provided (even for other tokens, not just coins), but otherwise we have custom ambrosia tokens and wooden tokens for the rest: citizens, scrolls, first player and round counter. As usual, I was stressed with making sure that the art stickers line up on the token while putting it on, but nothing too bad (a few might have been lopsided, sigh).

Titan dice

The dice are etched and feel amazing. It’s beautifully marbled and feels good to roll–almost makes one want to keep attacking titans!

Metal coins

The metal coins are just really lovely and feel beautiful. Prior to this, I’d only been able to try out the Near & Far metal coins from a friend’s copy of the game, but I’d been hankering for my own set of N&F metal coins since then. They come in denominations of 1, 3, 5, and 10, and can very well grace a different game, too.

The rulebook is pretty well written and organized well–it didn’t take long to understand how the game plays and we were off and running fairly quickly (erroneous start notwithstanding–that was totally our fault).

Her POV

Interestingly enough, The Ancient World fills an interesting niche in my gaming shelf that I had only until recently realized…I didn’t have any solid worker placement games. :O So I was extra excited to get my copy, and I’m pretty pleased with the gameplay turnout. The first time we played this, actually, we had a rule oversight and didn’t roll the titan die every time we attacked a titan (only when he’s rampaging the city), so we were pretty keen to try another game with the correct rules ;)

It’s a fairly friendly game since there are no punishing player lockouts, though it still pays to be careful when assigning workers. Money feels quite tight for us in this game, oftentimes we’re ending the game with juuuust enough, and we’re frantically computing if our resources can make our plans work.

I’d definitely keep playing this with the city-state ability variants–the various abilities feel quite balanced, and while it definitely points one’s gameplay toward a particular trend, it allows for a bit more strategy and some initial focus (which I always like having in a game).

His POV

First off to state the obvious, this is such a pretty game, from the game board to the components. All this put together, eases the players into the mysterious and wondrous setting called the “Ancient World”.

Secondly, being a fan of thematic games and having enjoyed the fantastical worlds created by Laukat, from Near & Far, to Megaworld, and other titles, this time we are set in the distant past. We are playing out the struggles of some ancient civilization to progress, in the face of the cyclical onslaught of Titans roaming their world and threatening the rise of these civilizations. Should they fight back or placate these forces of nature with gifts? This really reminds me of the sea monster that besieged the ancient kingdom of Aethiopia from the Greek myths.

The mechanics are quite easy to grasp, such as worker placement and set collecting, and overall, I really enjoyed playing the game, and with its various variant rules, really brings a lot of replayability.

Verdict

We’re pretty pleased with this game, and I’m chuffed to have this as part of my collection. Definite thumbs up! :) Have you played The Ancient World? What did you think of it?

We Play Too Much – Part 1 (Games I Play)

Last week, I’ve talked about how the both of us got into tabletop role-playing games, essentially our origin story into the hobby.

I also mentioned last time that I will talk about the games that we are currently playing. I lied–sort of–and instead of discussing all of our games1 in one giant post, it will instead become a series of posts, which will be divided into three parts: Part 1 – Games I Play, Part 2 – Games We Play, and Part 3 – Games I Run. The next two parts will be posted in the following weeks.

So without much further ado, let me talk about the Games I Play:

Lost But Not Forgotten

System: Changeling the Lost, Second Edition
Storyteller: Chester

Being a fan of the World of Darkness setting, Vertigo’s Fables and Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, it was quite easy for my friends to persuade me into joining a Changeling the Lost campaign.

Changeling the Lost is a personal horror RPG, which is part of the Chronicles of Darkness (CoD) line, published by White Wolf Entertainment. The game’s tagline is “A Storytelling Game of Beautiful Madness”…and what beautiful madness we have experienced indeed.

In this game, we play as Changelings, humans abducted by the enigmatic Gentry (or True Fae) and are taken to Arcadia, the fairy realm, where the Gentry reign. The abductees are changed into faerie creatures with particular roles for the amusement of the True Fae. These roles correspond to certain fairy-tale archetypes, such as Fairest (Ice Queen), Beast (big, bad wolf), and others. These Changelings eventually, through whatever means, were able to escape their captors and leave Arcadia, and get back into the real world. However, once back into the human realm, they are now Lost–and each Changeling, no longer truly human, try to reintegrate themselves into society, either by reclaiming back the lives they have lost, or try to build new ones by forming their own communities.

I have been playing my Fairest character, aptly named The Tyrant Queen, on a monthly basis since August 2018. Other members of our troupe include Lark Neverdance, a Fairest, and Dolus Strokes, a Darkling. Together, we have encountered and experienced many bizarre things: from surviving the assault of shadowy vampires stalking the night, brokering a peace with warring factions of werewolves, busting a changeling trafficking group, to conducting a heist of a celestial vault owned by mythical dragons–and many more weird adventures. To top it all off, we are on our way to becoming the champions of a “capture the flag”-type tournament.

Overall, I am enjoying my time playing the campaign and exploring the game’s various themes, from going off into bizarre adventures and to figuring out the personal journey my character will take, whenever she encounters the people in her past life.

I recommend the game for mature gamers, since the game tackles various sensitive themes and topics. I also recommend it to anyone who would like to try playing a fairy-tale type character, set in the modern world but with a darker and sinister twist.

If you want to follow our troupe’s past and future adventures, do check out the blog maintained by our Storyteller.

“Let’s Play: Adventurer’s League”

System: Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition
Dungeon Master: Paul

Every Sunday night, I am a part of a livestreamed campaign where we play various community created modules for Dungeons and Dragons. Specifically, we play the organized play variant known as Adventurer’s League, where certain rules are set up in such a way that anyone can easily jump from one table/campaign to another.

Here, I play Vladimira Clay, an elderly human and shadow sorcerer. Since she was young, she always wanted to go off and explore the world, but has started a family before she was able. However, since her husband had died and her children now each have their own families, she has decided to finally go and become an adventurer.

Previously, we have played the Heir of Orcus Verse 1 and Verse 2 by Anthony Joyce 2, where we were hired to search for the hidden temple of Orcus, a demon lord. The modules were fun to play through, and at certain points quite stressful–let’s just say, we survived the final encounter due to sheer luck (but I say this in a good way).

Currently, we are still a fledgling party trying to figure out how to best work together, and getting to know one another. I cannot wait to see where our adventures bring us, but from what I hear where we’re going, devils and angels are involved, so that’s gonna be fun.

That wraps up the games that I play. Tune in next week, for Part 2 – Games We Play. In the meantime, tell us about the games/campaigns you are a part of by leaving a comment below!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I think we’re playing too much XD
2. for fans of the old 16-bit video games of the 90’s, you will definitely enjoy this series

August Hero Feature: Astrihd Cruz

For our hero feature for August, we have Lanz’s Aasimar Wizard, Astrihd Cruz. Also, impromptu sneak peek of our coming-soon folio and tome sheets!1

Here is what Lanz has to say about Astrihd:

Known to many as the Angel of Tyr, Astrihd Cruz, a knight of the order of holy judgement, spends her days praying over the sick and destroying evil whenever it crosses her path.

Or, at least, that’s what she wants everyone to think. If you ask her brother, he’ll tell you that Astrihd Cruz is a nosy, curious thief wanted under many names and aliases. A con artist who’ll lie, cheat, and steal her way to getting whatever she wants. Don’t let the pretty blue eyes fool you– she’ll rob you blind.

In truth, the young aasimar searches for answers–why was she and her brother found wandering the wastelands after a bloody war? Why was she, an aasimar by blood, abandoned by the gods? What did she do to be cast out of heaven? The answer must be out there somewhere– and she’ll get what she wants no matter what the cost.

Catch Astrihd’s shenanigans every Sunday as Lanz and the Greasy Snitches stream their adventures through Adventurers League Community-Created Content, led by DM Paul G! Watch their stream every Sunday at 8pm SGT (+8 GMT) with Tabletop Philippines.

Want to get your character featured on Hey Meepling?

We’d love to see and feature your amazing characters immortalized on a Hey Meepling folio or tome! If your entry gets featured, you also get a 5% discount coupon for in-stock items in our online shop. For more information on how to join, check out the contest mechanics on our shop.

Looking forward to seeing your amazing heroes!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. We plan to debut these sometime later in the year. Stay tuned!

[TOR] The Darkening of Mirkwood, Session One

The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island lagoon in Negros, Philippines)
The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)

The year was 2946 of the Third Age, around summer, five years after the Battle of the Five Armies. Rumors circulated among the Free-folk of the North, even reaching folk as far as the Shire, of a great feast which will be hosted in Dale for the first time. They said that King Bard will host envoys from Lake-town, the Woodland Realm, and the Kingdom Under the Mountain on the fifth anniversary of the Battle of the Five Armies, around the last days of November.

This tale opens in Dragonsbone Inn, one of the prominent buildings in Esgaroth, also known as New Lake-town. A unique site, it was rebuilt to thrice the size of the old Lake-town that Smaug destroyed five years prior.

In attendance is our cast:

Our Cast

  • Eothain Son of Eofor, a king’s guard of the Riders of Rohan, he was sent north by his king to investigate the Grey Wizard’s warning to the Riddermark about the necromancer in the woods;
  • Galdor, a Mirkwood elf struck by wanderlust and interested in seeing the world beyond the woods where he had been all his life;
  • Hanar, a dwarven merchant from the Blue Mountains, interested in finding treasure and business opportunities;
  • Miriel, the Mirkwood raft elf who, while dealing with the Men of Lake-town on behalf of her king, developed a love for nature and the outside world;
  • Poppy Ruby Rose Brownlocke-North-Took, a hobbit of the Shire who loves food, similarly struck by wanderlust and a desire to find the honey cakes her distant cousin Bilbo talked about;
  • Rory, a dwarf from the Lonely Mountain who discovered a love for pipeweed and a desire to sell this along with his family’s wares;
  • Targon, a Ranger of the North who specializes in herbs and whose life’s goal is to heal those in need using his knowledge.

The story begins

Having arrived at Esgaroth the previous night, Poppy Rose came down to the dining area for breakfast, which consisted of fish, fish, and more fish. Curious for the cuisine of the area, she requested for fish cooked in different ways. The innkeeper offered her four: steamed, fried, fermented and raw. At this, a nearby elf, Miriel, warned her that the fish may be bad, so she passed on the raw fish, but had the rest.

As she was having her meal, a human seated at the next table expressed his surprise at seeing a little girl eating such a large meal all alone. She went over and sat next to him to correct him, and they introduced themselves: Poppy Rose and Eothain, who was very curious as it was his first time seeing a hobbit.

At a nearby section of the dining hall, two merchant dwarves were also having their breakfast, and some thinly veiled insults started to fly between the elves and dwarves in the hall, while the rest of the non-dwarf and non-elf customers attempted to ignore the growing tension.

In the midst of this, Poppy Rose overheard from the two dwarves, Rory and Hanar, that Gloin, the emissary of the King Under the Mountain, is looking for help in finding two missing dwarves. Intrigued upon hearing the familiar name, and in an attempt to cool down the tension in the room, she tried to come over to their table to ask about the missing persons, but was rebuffed by Hanar. As she turned to go away, Rory was quick to make amends and told her that they were planning to visit the emissary to offer their assistance. She decided to join them and they headed out, while just behind them a good number of the customers of Dragonsbone Inn also started for the Town Hall, having heard rumors from elsewhere about the missing dwarves.

At the Town Hall, the hobbit and the dwarves were shown in to Gloin’s office first. After introductions, Gloin told them about how Balin and Oin left three to four days ago to invite the Lord of the Eagles to the gathering in November, as well as to check on the condition of the Old Forest Road. He also insinuated that he wouldn’t be surprised if the pair found themselves as “guests” of the elven king Thranduil once again.

Realising that there may be a need for a bigger group to assist in the search for the missing dwarves, Rory suggested to Gloin to allow him to recruit the other people in the waiting room, whom he had overheard also planned to ask about lending their assistance. Agreeing they could be useful, Gloin asked Rory to tell the other group about the mission, as he did not want to talk to elves; Rory agreed, and the party was formed.

Travelling down the Running River

The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)
The river journey (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)

Gloin gave Rory a commendation letter to the Lake-town wharfmaster, to procure for the group two dragon-headed skiffs for the travel to the Old Forest Road through the Long Marshes via the Running River, a route that is expected to take about four days. Upon presentation of the letter to the Lake-men, a small commotion ensued: Eothain’s horse would be accompanying the group, which would be a challenge due to its heavier weight.

Eventually, the group settled on a solution, possibly not enjoyed by many: Eothain, his horse, the lightweight Poppy Rose, and Targon on one boat, and the dwarves and elves on another. Nevertheless, the boat travel commenced shortly after, through the swiftly flowing dark river, accompanied by the foul stench from the Long Marshes. The first day passed uneventfully, eventually coming to the Stair of Girion near where the Lake-men kept their huts.

The boats were soon brought down the Stair via rolling logs and they met the rest of the Lake-men, along with old Nerulf who proceeded to give them a warning about gallowsweed. Targon and Poppy Rose started preparing the group’s dinner: they boiled some taters and Poppy Rose was able to fish in the river, and seasoned these using some herbs Targon found and oranges from Dragonsbone Inn that she had brought along.

The second day

The group continued down south the next day, via the river. The currents became more of a challenge and slowed the travelers down, and on mid-day Targon noticed people following them on the banks, and after signalling to the other boat, Rory sent his raven to scout. The raven returned, and Rory revealed that there were four elves running alongside the skiffs on the western banks.

Hearing this, Miriel hailed the elves and their leader stepped forward: Galion, the former cupbearer of the elven king. He was demoted from his position and sent to patrol after a bout of drunkenness, and while he looked sourly upon the dwarves and Poppy Rose, Miriel awed him and he divulged that he had been following two dwarves that had been traveling downriver that simply disappeared from their camp. Pressed by the group, he led them to where Balin and Oin last camped: a patch of dry land a few miles north of where a stream from the mountains join the Running River.

Investigating, they discovered that Balin and Oin did camp in the clearing, but they seemed to have left in a hurry. Rory also found a box in a tree stump, protected by spells: a small ivory jewel case, carved with the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Rory took the box for safekeeping, in the hopes that Balin and Oin’s quest may still be fulfilled.

Eothain, while searching, spotted light similar to will o’ the wisps out in the forest, but Miriel urged against following it, which the group wisely agreed to. However, as they were discussing, Eothain noticed something coming up from a pool in the side of the clearing–a troll! The group quickly subdued it, and decided to camp for the night, keeping careful watch.

The searching continues

The Marsh Bell ruins (San Jose de Ivana Church ruins / Photo by Angela Sabas)

The group pressed on the following day, not finding any trace of the missing dwarves. However, the succeeding day, with some of the party weary from the rigorous travel, Galdor spotted an overturned boat on the banks. Of a similar make to the ones the group were using, but with slash marks against the sides, the group surmised that this must have been used by Balin and Oin on their own travel down the river.

Disembarking to continue the search, the group remembered old Nerulf’s warnings about gallows-weed and were able to avoid the hanging vines about the forest, until they came upon the old ruins of a town. They pressed further in, discovering that this was likely used as a waypoint by men from Dale, based on the pillars, arches, and gargoyles that were staring down at them from the ruined buildings, where crows with a weird sheen on their feathers cawed and croaked as if in warning.

In the center of town was a dark pool that Eothain drew closer to, while Miriel started to hear a very soft bell that seemed distant and remote, as if coming from under ground.

Eothain continued to draw closer and closer to the pool, until to everyone’s surprise, he jumped into the pool and disappeared under the dark waters. Then one after the other, each of the companions jumped into the pool in pursuit of Eothain, except for Poppy Rose who decided to stay and guard the group’s ponies and supplies.

Down below the pool, the soaked adventurers discovered an underwater opening that led to a half-flooded chamber underground. Here, they saw Eothain lying on the cold stone floor, unconscious. Targon brought the Rider of Rohan back to consciousness and helped him up.

The underground chambers

The underground complex (The bat cave at Danjugan / Photo by Angela Sabas)

They looked around the half-flooded chamber and saw a dark doorway that led further into the underground complex. Cautiously, they headed toward the doorway to investigate further, and their senses were bombarded by the reek of death and rot as they continued. The dark doorway led to a vaulted chamber, presenting six arched openings, three on the right side and three more on the left. The farthest doorway on the right side was much larger, its arch decorated with stones of various colors.

They scouted further which revealed that four passages led to several cells, and after investigating they noticed that the cells contained some unknown creatures. They decided to leave those passages behind and head straight towards the farthest doorway on the right.

The decorated archway led to short flight of marble steps that descended toward a reinforced door defaced by claw marks. Hanar and Rory headed toward the door, knocked, and whispered the names of the two missing dwarves. After a short while, they heard a response from Balin and Oin. From inside, the two dwarves opened the door, but there was a loud racket that echoed throughout the underground complex.

Balin and Oin were ragged and clearly in need of food and water. The group assisted them back towards the flooded chamber, only to find six shambling humanoid creatures with clammy pale flesh, like that a corpse left to rot in the water. Clearly, the creatures were roused from the noise and shambled toward the company.

Everyone, except Balin and Oin, drew their weapons and a skirmish ensued, but even in equal numbers the marsh-dwellers were clearly no match to the tenacity of the company, loosing arrows and hacking their swords and axes. They did short work of the enemies, but due to the sound of battle, they heard more shambling noises from the first passage on the left, seemingly drawing more of these creatures to them. Hurriedly, they headed back to the flooded chamber and swam back to the surface, along with Balin and Oin.

Quickly they readied their ponies, and started their trek thru the Long Marshes once again, back to Esgaroth. In a few days, thankfully without any significant delays, they found themselves back in Lake-town and in front of Gloin the Emissary, who thanked the company for their services, and of course were given their promised reward.

With this, the company temporarily disbanded. Galdor, Miriel, and Hanar headed to their respective homes to have their well earned rest. Targon stayed in Lake-town to study medicinal herbs under Oin the Healer. Last, but not the least, Poppy Rose, Eothain, and Hanar decided to head back to Dale in preparation for the upcoming Gathering of Five Armies.

About this campaign

Daniel runs his The One Ring Darkening of Mirkwood campaign once every month. The campaign started with The Marsh-Bell introductory adventure last June 2018. Catch the next installment of the campaign right here next month under the tag The Darkening of Mirkwood Campaign!