Category Gaming

Numenera: Exploring the Lands

Numenera - Lands - Obelisk of the Water God

When I did my one-hour review of Numenera, I had to skim through some of the densest parts of the books to fit an overview in. This included the Setting and Creatures sections, which were not apparently essential to understanding what the game had to offer, though they looked interesting and imaginative. Now that I’ve had some more time to go back and look through these sections, it’s clear that the game designers managed their goal of merging science-fiction and fantasy well.

It’s maybe handy that I’m finally getting around to A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time  series, as I’m reading through Numenera because there are some handy connections. Like the Ninth World, the lands in Robert Jordan’s series live amidst the ruins of a former time that they don’t really understand and that seems crazy. Through glimpses into the past, we know that people before the Breaking had hovercars and laser guns just as people in earlier eras before Numenera likely did.

The difference here, though, is that the Ninth World is distinctly sci-fi in it’s themes and outlook. There are some heroes to celebrate and monsters to slay, but the hooks and adventures provided focus more on exploring and understanding. The unknown regions of the Ninth World feel more like the “new worlds and new civilizations” of Star Trek than the wild regions of Conan’s Hyperborea, as one example of contrast. It’s a hard thing to explain the feel of this game (a hallmark of Monte Cook) so I’ll just outline it by showing off the book instead of groping more.

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Arena Review: Duel Decks: Heroes vs. Monsters

My love of Duel Decks isn’t a well kept secret. I know, it sounds absurd to say that I love these little pre-constructed decks that draw across the planes of Magic, but I really do love them! With the September releases acting as a preview for the upcoming set, Heroes vs. Monsters is a good, old-fashioned battle of giant creatures. While Sorin vs. Tibalt soured on me as time went on (well, mostly just Tibalt – even I can’t get him to work), Izzet vs. Golgari are both intact in my deck box because they’re so much fun!

Suggested Ages: 13+
Suggested Players: 2 players

  • Two ready-to-play 60-card decks
  • Two deck boxes
  • Two creature tokens
  • A strategy insert
  • A Magic “Learn to Play” guide

Retail price: $19.99 available at

Duel Decks is a series of decks that Wizards releases biannually in the spring and fall. In the spring, they are based around a duel of two planeswalkers from the previous block, while in the fall they act as a preview of the upcoming fall release. In the case of Heroes vs. Monsters, both decks are drawing a great amount of inspiration from the upcoming Theros set.

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire: Players’ Response

The Castles & Cooks team finally sat down to play a proper game of Star Wars Edge of the Empire. We already did a review of the core rulebook, but after spending time with character creation, the world and the game itself we’re back to discuss the experience of playing the game. Previously we looked at what DMs (GMs) can expect. Today we tackle the game from perspective of the players.

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Star Wars Edge of the Empire: Being a GM

The Castles & Cooks team finally sat down to play a proper game of Star Wars Edge of the Empire. We already did a review of the core rulebook, but after spending time with character creation, the world and the game itself we’re back to discuss the experience of playing the game. Today we tackle the game from the role of the GM (or DM), and tomorrow we’ll look at it from the perspective of the players.

As someone who has played several RPGs, but only ever been the GM in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) I must express a bit of trepidation that arose prior to my first session with Edge of the Empire. This game and this system are decidedly different from D&D, not just in how the game adjudicates combat or the addition of vehicles and rules for space combat.

Even using the book adventure as my guide, I still felt the need for an extended prep period. This wasn’t because I hadn’t played the game before (that was a small part of it), but because the way storytelling is woven into the fabric of everything the game does forces the GM to be prepared for unexpected moments. The PCs have more control over twisting the plot and taking the story in a new direction than they do in something like D&D.

How does this work and where did it impact my role as GM? Let’s break it down: 

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One Hour Library Review: Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG

In our One Hour Reviews, we set a clock for sixty minutes and analyze the book. When time is up, we stop. The goal is to try and look over as much of the book as possible, without getting bogged down in any one section. Similar to how you might leaf through a book in the store, with some specific granularity, but mainly to focus on gaining a high level understanding of everything the RPG has to offer. Set the clock and let’s go!

This book has been a long time coming, and I’m excited to crack it open. First things first, this book is absolutely gorgeous. The art team outdid itself with the layout, the way they use art to frame the text, and the quality of the images. My favorite piece is a scoundrel type gritting his teeth and pointing a blaster at a Jawa who is casually holding a thermal detonator. How do you say “come at me bro!” in Jawa? Beyond that, there’s a nice heft to the book, and at over 400 pages it is definitely going to stand out in your gaming bookcase.

Time is ticking away and I’m eager to breakdown the chapters, but one other thing to note is the setting. The game is set during the original trilogy, specifically right after the destruction of the first Death Star. This is important to note because it means there really aren’t any Jedi or Sith, so don’t expect to be stating up a Jedi Consular or Sith Assassin with this game. Instead the focus is on playing players on the fringe or “edge of the empire” if you will – smugglers, bounty hunters, droids, etc. Time to dive in.

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One-Hour Library Review: Numenera

When I first started playing in D&D, I didn’t start out in a “standard” fantasy setting like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. I started off in the weird, nightmarish, wonderful, though-provoking realms of Planescape, traveling from the City of Doors through portals to all corners of the multiverse. Behind this remarkable setting is a man named Monte Cook who started his own company years ago and created a number of fantastic d20 products like the epic-scaled urban setting of Ptolus and the psionic adventure If Thoughts Could Kill. When Monte joined the development team for D&D Next, I was excited and eager to see what his reunion with Wizards of the Coast would yield. When he left the project suddenly and without much explanation, I was disappointed but curious what else he had planned.

That’s when I started to see teasers for Numenera. It looked strange and confusing and intriguing and bizarre. It looked like everything I loved about Planescape, and every subsequent teaser is even more interesting. Now I have the pdf in front of me and I can’t wait to delve in for my first hour with the book. Come on down the rabbit hole…

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SolForge open Beta has launched!

Normally at Castles and Cooks, we avoid talking about electronic games beyond the occasional port of a board or card game (you really should pick up Ticket to Ride and Ascension). It isn’t that we don’t play video games, but it just isn’t our focus.

Then there are exceptions. There are two groups in gaming that I will blindly follow: Richard Garfield and the team over at Stone Blade Entertainment. Then again, the only game I play more than Ascension is Magic: the Gathering. So when the SolForge Kickstarter started, I went all in.

And yesterday launched the open beta of SolForge for both Steam and iPad and has released SolForge: Core Set.

The new beta introduces five big things to the game:

  • Core Set is released – this is 180 card set, which means a lot of new stuff (especially those not on Steam)
  • Booster Packs & Collection Management – three kinds of boosters are now out, along with the ability to manage your collection and deck building
  • Free-to-Play – normally, I tend to dislike F2P games since it means getting nickeled and dimed the whole way, but SolForge allows everyone to play and earn cards just by playing.
  • Cross platform compatibility – yes, you can now play on your iPad against your friend’s Steam account. Oh and Sean, I challenge you.
  • Game Timers – A little thing that goes a long way, now online matches have a timer to keep everyone moving (and to prevent others from stalling)

I haven’t gotten to play much since it got released last night, and the iPad version keeps crashing right now – but guess what. It’s a beta.

See the full press release after the break.

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Of Dice and Men Levels Up from Play to Movie

Of Dice and Men (ODaM), the play about what it’s really like to play D&D, by Cameron McNary, is becoming a film. We’ve been talking about this play since Castles and Cooks began, and have tracked it from a humble stage reading at the first PAX East, to the first staged production at PAX Prime 2010, all the way through its various performances around the country, including at the Brick theatre in New York City in July of 2012.

Based on a screenplay by the man himself, McNary and a team of talented thespians will be bringing the hilarious, heart warming, and occasionally gut wrenching adventures of one middle aged D&D group to the big screen. The story is a “blisteringly funny and deeply affecting comedy feature film about six tabletop roleplaying gamers and what happens when one of them enlists to go to Iraq.”

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Magic: the Gathering: A personal retrospective, part 1 of 3

With Magic: the Gathering celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, I wanted to look back at my own history of this incredible game. So here’s my tale…

When I first started playing Magic, I was introduced to it by my brother in the summer of 1994, only a year after the game had debuted. My brother and his best friend collected basketball cards and were exposed to the game thanks to visiting sports card stores. I don’t know how he ended up with a handful of Revised cards, but he “taught” me the game with great rules like Fireball always returning to his hand and my lands getting destroyed after using them once.

I lost. A lot.

I don’t think my brother was good at Magic either. But like many things, I tried to shadow my brother’s interests. Soon he set the cards aside and never picked them up again and we moved on.

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Custom Gaming: Marvel Legendary Schemes 2.0

Marvel Legendary might be our top deck building game right now thanks to Dark City (and what seems like everyone else’s unwillingness to play Ascension against me). The co-op nature made us willing to work together as a team, but the game had an issue that really bothered us: the schemes.

The schemes themselves were well done. They were creative and flavorful and showed how well the game mechanics could be adapted without having to constantly reinvent the wheel with extra cards, like the Scheme Twist cards acting as bonuses, charge counters or stolen items. But the one big issue with the schemes were the designs – all of them looked identical!

So I took a page out of the Magic: the Gathering oversized card playbook and redesigned the cards with new art and a landscape format. Click on any of them for a full-sized, print ready version. They should be 3.5″x5″ when printed.

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