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Top Ten D&D Foes (You probably HAVEN’T heard of)

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Firstly, if you haven’t already, go check out my “Top 10 D&D Foes (You Probably Already Heard Of)”… With that in mind I’m about to take a look at the opposite side of the coin. Foes you may not have heard of (or are sorely underused).

You’ve made your way into the depths of an ancient temple that had tapped into a powerful magical leyline. You’ve heard tell that long ago wizards came here seeking the secret hidden away within the swirling maelstrom of knowledge that has erupted here. In the darkness your lantern passes over a single eye staring back at you, and even though it blinks and seems to slink away, you heart sinks as you think: Beholder. You aim to get a better view for a moment, expecting your inevitable death, and are greeted with a slinking humanoid. Its body an amalgamation of chaos and human. It’s eye passes over you and suddenly you realize that you’ve lost something. A secret you’ve kept. “I know!” It says in a strange language. “It was you that killed her while she slept. She didn’t love you, so you killed her…” You rush forward striking the creature violently. Other eyes appear in the room, slinking between ancient pillars. There is no secret safe from these eyes!

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  1. The Nothic. These beasts are the remnants of corrupted knowledge seekers. They sought secrets that were long forgotten and have been punished by Vecna himself. Their gaze is potent. Capable of stealing secrets from their prey as well as rotting them from within. Nothics are a great addition to any long lost magical temple.

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  1. Water Weird. Have you ever wanted to drown your friends… figuratively of course. These are the nasties to do it. They are designed to do it, their primary attack grapples and pulls targets towards their pool of water. They are invisible in water and have a slew of resistances and immunities. Check them out.

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  1. Oni. My favorite Foe of all time is the Ogre Mage and the Oni is just that. They are big and nasty, can deal significant hits with their mighty glaive, and have magic to back that up. They can also shape shift to make themselves into pretty much whatever humanoid they want. They are not only awesome enemies, but they can easily be used as a recurring foe or BBEG.

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  1. Slaad. Imagine the Alien from the Alien movies. Now imagine a frog. Now imagine a vindictive mind bent on furthering their progeny. They plant egs within humanoids that eventually burst out of the chest killing the host… OR they give you a disease that slowly turns you into a Slaad that will likely try to impregnate a humanoid with a chest burster. Awesome, but gross.

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  1. Cranium Rats. A swarm of rats that get smarter them more their are. Their brains are showing. Their brains glow. Oh, and they can control your mind. That’s what they are. Cool.

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  1. The Scarecrow. Yeah sure it’s got vulnerability to fire, but this nasty can haunt your dreams. These scarecrow have a gaze that can send the mightiest character running in fear. Their also constructs which gives them a slew of immunities and resistances.

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  1. Bone Nage. Nagas on their own are pretty cool. However Nagas that have been mummified by Yuan-Ti and enslaved for all eternity to become temple guardians are cooler. These nasty undead have a number of powerful mind altering spells they can use to manipulate any battle. Give them a few Yuan-Ti helpers and your players are in some serious trouble.

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  1. Non-Player Characters. Hidden in the appendices of Volo’s Guide to Monsters there is a section dedicated to Non-Player characters. Many of these are fantastic and that section alone could easily populate a number of spots on this list. Check it out, you won’t be sorry.

Dao-5e

  1. Genies. I love foes that can take on many rolls, and genies do just that. There are a number of options in the Monster Manual and each of them are simultaneously dangerous in the front row and as a powerful magic user. The also come with fantastic lore and amazing sources of inspiration from fiction and folklore alike.

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1. Yuan-Ti Anathema. I really love Yuan-Ti as villains and I could include a number of their entries from the Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide on this list however I have to give a special shout out  to the Anathema. This monstrosity is imposing with it’s huge size and numerous snake heads. It keeps many of the bonuses Yuan-TI usually posses as well as some powerful spells, namely Divine Word. The Anathema sees itself as a God and has the patience of one. Whittle your enemies down and see them driven before you with your Divine Word.

Review: Final Fantasy X

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Final Fantasy X and I have what you might call an “on again, off again” relationship.

It’s the first Final Fantasy game that I ever tried playing, but then I gave up after dying one too many times on the Mi’ihen Highroad. (It took an embarrassing length of time for me to figure out the Sphere Grid system for leveling up.)

Over the years, I became acquainted with some of the characters through the Kingdom Hearts series and the Dissidia games. I’d also watched Noah Antwiler’s lengthy review/rant about the game. And then, at long last, I purchased the PS4 remaster and played it again, for real, while streaming on Twitch.

The verdict? Overall, it was a fun experience, and I love Tidus and Yuna to pieces. But it’s not my favorite Final Fantasy title.

Let’s start with the story and characters. Tidus is living the dream as the star player of the Zanarkand Abes (he introduces himself in this manner a lot), for a sport called blitzball. But on the night of a big game, his city is attacked by a flying, Godzilla-style monster called “Sin,” and when he wakes up, he finds himself in an abandoned temple. The people who find him claim that his home doesn’t exist…because it was destroyed a thousand years ago.

So Tidus struggles to adjust to his new life in the world of Spira and figure out a way to get back to Zanarkand. Along the way, he meets up with Wakka, a fellow blitzball lover who recruits him for his underdog team, Yuna, a summoner who has embarked on a pilgrimage to defeat Sin, and Yuna’s guardians, Lulu and Kimarhi. They are later joined by Tidus’ mentor, a former guardian named Auron, and a girl named Rikku, who has been trying to stop summoners from completing the pilgrimage for her own personal reasons. And thus we have our party.

Eventually, Tidus becomes one of Yuna’s guardians as well, and through his new friends, he learns about Spira’s plight. Every ten years, they are attacked by Sin, and a summoner must journey to the ruins of Zanarkand to defeat it. After a period known as the Calm, Sin is reborn, and the cycle begins all over again. But is that really all there is to it? Could there be a permanent way to defeat Sin? And will Tidus ever get back to his Zanarkand?

So yeah, I adore Tidus. I know lots of gamers hate him. I understand why lots of gamers hate him. His voice sounds whiny sometimes- yes, sometimes– and he has his stupid moments. But I enjoy him so much, partly because of his flaws. When he got up and started yelling through a bullhorn that the Besaid Aurochs would win the Blitzball Cup, just after hearing an announcement that they’d never so much as won a game, I couldn’t stop laughing. Sorry, Tidus Haters. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on his likability.

Plus, his romance with Yuna is heartwarming. As a summoner, Yuna carries a heavy weight on her shoulders. Summoners in Spira dedicate their lives to defeating Sin, prepared to sacrifice anything and everything for their people. As such, it’s rare that Yuna or the people around her consider her own needs and desires. But Tidus is an outsider. He has no expectations for how Yuna should act or how she should serve him. He constantly asks Yuna what she wants to do and checks in with her to make sure that she’s okay. And Yuna is one of the first people to believe him when he says he’s from Zanarkand. They talk things out and listen to each other.

The music is just as beautiful as the love story, although this game is notable in that it’s the first main Final Fantasy title that did not have Nobuo Uematsu composing the whole score. He did some of the tracks; others were composed by Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano. Many of the tracks are some variant of three gorgeous themes: “To Zanarkand,” “Suteki da ne,” and “Hymn of the Fayth.”

The turn-based battle system has a fantastic feature: the ability to switch out party members in the middle of combat. This especially comes in handy because many of the enemies are specifically designed with one character in mind. Auron is the heavy hitter. Lulu uses offensive magic. Yuna is the healer and can take out difficult enemies with the aeons that she summons. Wakka hits airborn enemies with his blitzball. This allows for a more balanced party, offering everyone a chance to level up at some point.

On the other hand, the lack of exploration in this game surprised me. I enjoyed having the chance to fly around the worlds in Final Fantasy VI and VII. In X, you don’t get to control an airship until the very end of the game, and you can only visit a specific set of locations on the map. Up until that point, you follow a linear path on your journey through Spira. While this wasn’t a deal breaker for me, I did miss at least having the option to explore.

Now, there is one aspect of the game that I hated: blitzball. It should have been fun. And I will fully admit that I might not have gotten full enjoyment out of it because I wasn’t playing it right or took the time to understand the ins and outs of the game. But the time that I spent playing in the tournament wasn’t fun.

Blitzball is Tidus’ favorite sport and the tournament is one of the biggest events in Spira. It’s a game played in a giant dome of water. The players swim through the dome and try to score points through each other’s goals.

But when you finally get to play, most of the moves happen automatically. You’re encouraged to set your characters to automatically move around in the dome, and then you watch the players swim around. You get a chance to try scoring or throwing the ball to another teammate, but mostly, it’s just watching the players move around the dome. I never really felt like I was in control as I tried to play. When Tidus and the party got cut off from the mini game due to story reasons, it was the greatest punishment of all time.

Final Fantasy X might not be a perfect game, but I did enjoy most of it. The characters and the battle system are very enjoyable. I cannot compare the PS4 remaster with the PS2 or PS3 versions because I didn’t spend enough time with either of them. However, the game looks beautiful, and the remastered soundtrack sounds great. I’d rate it 7.5 out of 10 blitzballs.

Purse and Pocket Games – Good Things Come in Small Packages

Waiting. The average person spends six months of their lives waiting – in queues, for service, and on hold. Some of us fidget, some doodle, some mess around on their phones. ALL of us wish we had a better way to pass the time.

With the rise in the popularity of filler games (usually designed specifically to ‘fill’ the gaps in gaming rounds or waiting for players) and efficient storage design, several publishers are hoping to help turn wait time into play time. Sometimes called ‘Purse’ or ‘Pocket’ games, these are small enough to be carried anywhere, usually can be confined to small playing spaces (like a pub table) and play in as few as five minutes.

From a recent poll at Analog Game Grrls, some Real Women of Gaming favorites:

P1
Hive Pocket
Use your insects to surround your opponent’s queen before they surround yours. This two player tile placement game takes about 10-15 mins to play and is both lighter and smaller than its full sized counterpart.

P2

Mint Works
Be careful not to mistake this tiny worker placement game for your favorite breath mints. Mint Works accommodates 1-4 players and takes about 20 mins to play. Mint Delivery (its fiendishly cool little brother) is currently available on Kickstater .

P5

Pack-O-Games
Actually a series of various games from publisher Perplext, these games fit in a box the size of a pack of gum! With games ranging from trick taking to area control to set collection, a handful will fit in the the smallest of bags and still provide lots of entertainment!

P7

Coloretto
Part set collection, part press your luck, Coloretto will have passerby’s stopping for a second look. Player count from 2-5 make this another great game for a variable group. Younger players will catch on quick, but more experienced players will still enjoy it.

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Red 7
The first rule of Red 7 is to play the highest card. But the rules of Red 7 are meant to be changed. Be the last one holding cards to win in this think-y little hand management game. Two to four players, with rounds that can last as few as five minutes.

Love letter

Love Letter
With just 16 cards, Love Letter packs a great punch for such a compact game. Risk, deduction, luck, and manipulation will triumph in this classic for 2-4 players.

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Fluxx
No two games of Fluxx are the same. Be the first to collect the items needed for the game winning condition but be aware, that condition can change with the laying of a new card. This popular little hand management game has several iterations, from Pirates to Anatomy. Game time is variable – sometimes five mins, sometimes close to a half hour.

P4

Pass the Pigs
This “dice” rolling game has been around for decades. The object – roll your plastic pigs into any one of several configurations to score points. First player to 100 wins. Its decidedly not strategic, just good hog tossing fun for a whole table full of players!

P3
Game of Trains
Sort your line of trains from descending to ascending order. This 2-4 player pattern building game has a little larger place space and play time than the rest of the list but was a big winner for overall strategy and art.

P8

Pairs
In this fun little press your luck game players are attempting to collect pairs through a hit or pass system. Hands are fast, and there are several art types to choose from. Two to eight players means this one can occupy everyone at the family table.

P10

Gloom
In Gloom you have one mission – make your characters suffer the most tragic fates before their untimely ends. With Edward Gorey-like art this will be a winner with horror fans. Long playing time at almost an hour, however, so maybe save this one for the midnight release line.

P12

Flip Hue
This set collection game for 3-6 seems simple, but with double sided cards, you’re only playing half the game! Games can take as little as five mins or as man as thirty, just watch out for that flip card.

Follow AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

Kickstarter Preview: The Primary by Mountaintop Games

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Do you have what it takes to win the nomination? The Primary is a strategy game for 1-4 players currently on Kickstarter. Travel the country, host rallies and fundraisers, and predict your opponents’ strategies in order to earn the most delegates and win the game! And – no politics involved!

This week I chatted with The Primary’s designer, Matt Quock, to talk game design, diversity, and the election process.

Why politics? Just an intriguing theme or motivated by the current climate?
I was definitely influenced by the last election cycle and the idea of a game based on the primary election process struck me as something potentially unique. I thought it could make for a neat mechanic how the different states vote at different points in time, as opposed to the general election. I understand politics can be a divisive topic and the theme is probably love/hate for a board game, but after developing the game, I couldn’t seem to find another theme that would match the mechanics as well.
How long have you been working on it?
I’ve been working on The Primary for just over a year. Somehow it seems both like a really long time ago and also like it was just yesterday. As my first “real” game design, it has been a tremendous learning experience – and especially on the business / Kickstarter side of things.

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There’s great diversity in the candidate cards – was inclusivity a goal while creating the game?
Yes, it was. I think it is important for everyone to be involved in the democratic process and make sure their voices are heard. That being said, I wanted to make sure a lot of different people were represented in the game. I also think the same idea of diversity is important with the board game industry and hopefully inclusive / accessible games will help get more people interested in the hobby.

Do you think The Primary would be a good way to teach/learn about the election process? 

I think it will be a good jumping-off point for people to learn about the primary election process. While The Primary doesn’t follow the exact real-life process, it shows how the primary election is unique and pretty different from the general election. It will be a good way for kids and adults alike to learn about how political parties elect their final nominees for President and the News cards also provide some glimpses of more complex political concepts that hopefully create some curiosity.
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With the growing number of people that play solo, the ELECT-O-BOT solo variant is an outstanding idea. Why did you develop a single player mode?
Honestly, a big factor was some of the board game design podcasts that I listen to. I heard a few interviews with solo game designers and the concept intrigued me. It was a unique design challenge, but it’s also definitely a trend that people look for in new games, like you mentioned. I’ve also played a few solo board games (whether a variant or a standalone design) and can appreciate their value.
What do you hope the average player takes away from the game? 
First and foremost, I hope players enjoy themselves playing The Primary. If it’s not fun for them, then there’s not much of point in playing a game 🙂 After that, it would be great if The Primary could be a way to get players curious and more interested in the political process.

The Primary has a week left on Kickstarter – back your copy today! The game is published by Mountaintop Games – keep up with their progress on twitter.

Follow AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

Review: Herbaceous – a Visual Feast

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As an avid gardener and foodie, I felt a little like Herbaceous was directly marketed to me. While I’m not usually a fan of push your luck games, its gorgeous, watercolor style art caused me to overlook that in order to get a peak at all the beautiful cards inside. I wasn’t disappointed – Herbaceous is a feast for the eyes.

This little press your luck style set collection game is geared towards 1-4 players, and games take about 15 mins. The best play seems to be with max players as it really intensifies the nail-biting intensity of each round. The rules are simple enough that you could teach everyone at the table in less that five minutes.

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How to Play

On each player’s turn they’ll take one or two steps:
The first step (potting) is optional. Each player has a set of 4 pots in which to plant their herbs. Every pot holds a specific set of cards – different herbs, identical herbs, pairs, or any combination of three. Pots can only be used once per game, so when and how much you plant is an important part of your strategy. To pot, the player collects all the appropriate herbs from their personal garden and/or the community garden and places them under the appropriate pot card.

The second step (planting) is performed each turn. The player draws a card from the stack in the center either places it it face up in their personal garden or the community garden. Another card is drawn and and placed it in the location not selected for the first card.

Play continues until all the herbs have been planted. Each player gets one more turn after that and then points for the pots are tallied.

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Opinion

As I mentioned above, it didn’t take much (any) arm twisting to get me to try Herbaceous. What I was particularly happy to discover was that I genuinely like the game play and mechanics just as well as I like the serene herb and potting pictures. Its never taken me more than three or four minutes to completely explain the game to someone else. While game play can occasionally be tense, most turns are both quick and simple enough that you can carry on a conversation easily while playing.

My only complaint would be that it can get repetitive after a few back-to-back plays. To that end I hope to see an expansion in the future.

Most would consider this a filler game or palette cleanser, but its enjoyable enough that I’ve pulled it out just to play a few rounds with the kids. Because of its simple rules and relatively quick play time, it makes an outstanding family game.

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Wrapup

If you like games on the lighter side or are looking for an addition to the family game shelf, Herbaceous is a must buy. If you like denser material or dislike filler games, give this a miss.

Herbaceous was designed by Eduardo Baraf, Steve Finn, and Keith Matejka, and published by Pencil First Games. Art is by Beth Sobel and Benjamin Shulman.

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Herbaceous Sprouts, a related, stand alone dice game, will be available on Kickstarter this May.

Summer Reading List: Books Based on Games and Games Based on Books

Whether it’s for listening to on Audible while working out or as we’re starting to plan that poolside novel list, most of us are always on the lookout for great book recommendations. Did you know there are more book/game tie-ins than just Lord of the Rings and Rainbow Six? Consider incorporating some of your favorite games into your spring and summer reading with our favorite books that inspired great games, or were inspired by them:

Witcher

The Witcher

The Witcher is based on a collection of short stories by Andrezej Sapkowski. The success of The Saga, the full-length novels following the short stories, prompted its video game adaptation. The games take place about thirty years after the Saga. There are several books in total including a prequel, and the newest, Season of Storms, comes out in May.

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are based on a 1970s novel called Roadside Picnic. In the novel, the Zones are restricted areas visited and then abandoned by aliens. The book follows the  an experienced stalker who ventures into the Zone to find valuable artifacts. The novels pre-dated Chernobyl, but the site made a terrific setting for the dark and moody video game adaptation.

 

WDragon Age

Dragon Age
The first Dragon Age novel served as a prequel to Dragon Age: Origins in 2009. Since then there have been five novels based on the series, set in a among the games. These are consistently ranked well by Dragon Age players on Goodreads, and provide a lot of depth insofar as the history of Thedas before and during the games. The first three novels are written by David Gaider, Dragon Age‘s lead writer.

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Gears of War
Written by award winning author Karen Traviss, this series really fleshes out the Gears of War story. Originally expected to be a trilogy, the five GoW novels weave in and out of the games, offering perspective of the events you’ve played as well as those you’ve only heard mentioned. Additionally, there are many backstories are here as well, fleshing out several familiar characters.

WHalo

Halo
Would it surprise you to learn that there are more Halo books than there are games? There are currently twenty five novels set in the Halo-verse, with a new one, Halo: Bad Blood, set for release this year. Originally this extended universe was not overseen by Bungie publishing, which created a few canonical issues that were changed between the books and games. Since the advent of 343 Industries, the writing process the book and games stories have become much more consistent and intertwined.

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Metro 2033
Metro 2033 is based on a 2005 novel of the same name by Dmitry Glukhovsky. As in the game, the book takes place in the subway system Moscow after it is devastated by nuclear holocaust and the main player-character is the same as the book’s protagonist. Glukhovsky himself worked on the adaptation.

WUncharted

Uncharted
Uncharted: the Fourth Labyrinth is a great addition to a series rich in myth and story. This book follows Nate and Sully on a fortune hunting adventure in between the 2nd and 3rd games.  Written by best selling author Christopher Golden, its a must-read for fans of the Uncharted franchise.

Got another suggestion for a great, game based read? Add it in the comments!

Follow me at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

Diversity Matters: A Look at the Best Black Protagonists in Video Games

While Pew Research Center states that 53% of black adults play video games and on average black gamers play more per week then any other demographic, a University of California study shows that fewer then 11% of games feature black characters, and of those the majority are athletes or gangsters. Additionally, IDGA reports that only 3% of game developers are black. Fortunately these statistics are improving (if slowly) as A-list game developers begin to realize that more diverse storytelling is a vastly untapped market and more black-helmed independent studios (like Dab Studio 7 and Kiro’o Games Studio) come to the forefront.

The past few years have marked an upsurge in black characters in games  —  a number of major releases have prominently featured black characters (Watch Dogs II, Battlefield I and The Walking Dead Seasons 1 & 2, and Michonne) and many new characters came to the table via indie games (VirginiaWe are Chicago, Sunset, and Dandara) and in established franchises (Uncharted 4’s Nadine, Assassin’s Creed‘s Aveline de Granpre, Dishonored 2’s Billie Lurk).

In celebration of Black History Month we’re highlighting some of the best black protagonists in video games.

Lee and Clementine – Walking Dead Seasons 1 – 3

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The Walking Dead games have long featured a rich narrative, and Clementine is their emotional center. From the initial relationship between Lee and Clementine to her growth as a character through the entire series, these may be the most in-depth characters in all of Telltale Games’ critically acclaimed games.

Aaron – We are Chicago

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In Culture Shock Games’ We are Chicago you play as Aaron, a teenager living on Chicago’s south side. Through experiencing Aaron’s day to day existence – harassed by bullies, struggling get a good education, trying to keep his sister and family safe – you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the struggles of growing up in the inner city.

Nadine – Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy

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Nadine debuted in Uncharted 4 where her no nonsense, capable attitude shows her to be smarter and more level headed in several situations than both the main characters. In Lost Legacy, Nadine’s personality is developed deeper and we get to see this tough, talented character shine as a lead.

Marcus Holloway – Watch Dogs II

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On the surface Marcus Holloway is the new Gordon Freeman – a tech-savy geek type that the average gamer player can relate to. But beyond that Holloway is upbeat, enthusiastic, and well-nuanced, a fleshed-out and multifaceted version of one of the earliest nerd heroes.

Aveline de Grapre – Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation

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Aveline is as capable as any other assassin, and directly confronts racial inequality in 18th century New Orleans. The popularity of this character and her story led this original solely handheld release to eventually be re-released later across all platforms.

Vella – Broken Age

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Vella is introduced in Broken Age as one of her village’s sacrifices to a monster, but this character is never a shrinking violet. Beneath this gorgeous, cotton candy art style is a cunning, resourceful, intelligent young woman to be reckoned with.

Honorable Mentions
Alex Vance, Half Life 2 – One of the earliest representations of women and black characters in a major release, and arguably still one of the best
Lincoln Clay, Mafia III – Clay is nuanced with a well written back story and the 1960s backdrop provides an interesting perspective on racial tensions during the period.

Diversity is making great inroads into gaming spaces and we’re looking forward to what to seeing what the future brings!

(*Did I miss your personal favorite? Tell me about them in the comments!)