Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Warlock's (P)Review: D&D Next Playtest Rules (Actual Play!)

It's been buzzing all over the web that the D&D Next playtest rules--the next incarnation of the most storied RPG in history--are now available online.

The playtest begins...
Truth be told, I haven't been following the updates on 5e as diligently as I had 3e, 3.5e, or 4e, despite the numerous ways to keep updated on the rules.  After running several lengthy 4e campaigns, I was a bit burned out on D&D, frustrated at the release of Essentials, and not really willing to continue chipping in money on a product that wasn't satisfying.  Other games--most notably Savage Worlds and its numerous settings--have been providing more entertainment for my table, with less numerical crunch, more interesting and flexible mechanics, and more unique settings.

However, I still remained on the mailing list for Wizards of the Coast's upcoming playtest and, when it went live, I figured that I had nothing to lose:  just this past Friday, my home group had a sesssion off (as two players were AWOL), so the rest of us threw together a quick session of D&D's newest incarnation, using 3rd level versions of the playtest characters in section K:  "The Caves of Evil Chaos" in the provided adventure.

The result of that session?  A resounding 'meh'.  The current mechanics for D&D Next are a Frankenstein's Monster of grafted together mechanics, combining seemingly random mechanics from prior editions while adding few new or innovative mechanics of its own.  Billed with the expressed intent to unify gamers, these current rules will do little to placate any of the fractious factions in gaming. 

Truth be told, D&D Next most reminded me of Heroes Unlimited from Palladium Games.  Kevin Siembieda's system was a loosely cobbled-together amalgamation of rules from early editions of D&D, GURPS, and a host of other homebrew systems.  While it was fully playable as a system, its flaws were numerous and its mechanics were incredibly fiddly.  While using d20s for its combat mechanics--which were culled right from AD&D, minus the THAC0--Heroes Unlimited used a percentile-based mechanics pulled straight out of Call of Cthulhu's first edition.  This schizophrenic feel carries over directly into D&D Next to great detriment.
We'll start with what hasn't changed with D&D.  The standard races, classes, and six ability scores are all there, with little change between them.  In addition to class and race, each character also gets a Background (a combination of mechanical element from 4e and a pre-determined choice of 3e feats) and a Theme (almost identical to a Kit from 2e).  While these are nice touches, they serve as little more than cursory elements--chosen once, with little variation or customization to come.  While WotC has claimed to be shooting for a "modular" rules-set, there is little evidence of such in play currently. 

But, it's still D&D at its core...just a mish-mashed, unenthused version of D&D, pulling its mechanics from prior editions like Herbert West pulling bodies from a grave.  Elves still get bow proficiency and a dexterity bonus, halflings and dwarves still get a speed penalty, and fighters still suck out loud.

While printing the materials for the playtest, I couldn't help but note that where every other character--two clerics, a wizard, and a rogue--each got a two-page character sheet, the fighter's entire information fit on a single sheet with room to spare.  Hands down, the fighter received less interesting mechanics, less diverse options, and few things to do aside from say, round after round, "I hit it with my axe."  ChaoticFrederick--as open-minded and creative a player as I could imagine--had an incredibly hard time staying interested with his character. 

I'm fully aware of the continual argument over the fighter in terms of D&D--some believe that fighter should be the "simple" class, given to newbies and those players who prefer limited or simplistic options, while others (myself included) relished tactical elements, enemy placement, and holding aggro.  However, the fighter present in the D&D Next playtest was dumbed down to the point of disinterest. 

The frustrating portion of the playtest, for me, was the fact that the PlatinumChick's "guardian" cleric served a better job as a fighter than the actual fighter did!  She had 3 higher AC, dealt almost as much damage with a one-handed weapon and a single buff spell, and still was able to buff the party and provide out-of-combat healing!

Unfortunately, while the PlatinumChick's cleric out-fightered the fighter, it absolutely failed at fulfilling its own archetype of sagacious healer!  The playtest packet contained two clerics--one "tanked" cleric and one "laser" cleric--in order to show off the 'versatility' of the cleric class, though it only went to show that the clerics provided could do precisely one thing well--fight in melee, heal/cast as a spellcaster, etc.  The actual class differences between the two clerics, however, came only in spell choices and in their choice "Channel Divinity"--a holdover from 4e, which relied on the use of Turn Undead attempts.  If real difference and variety is the end goal for clerics, why not replace Turn Undead entirely and give a domain-related ability?

The wizard and rogue, thematically, were closest to their archetypal roots, though they weren't without their own issues.  Both clerics and the wizard were given at-will attack spells (coming straight from 4e), though both relied on Vancian-style 2e spellcasting.  However, either the wizard's spells were incredibly underpowered or the rogue's Backstab ability was massively overpowered.  After achieving stealth (possibly every other round, as the rogue could hide behind his own party members!), the rogue could pull off a ranged backstab dealing 1d8+3d6+ability mod!  Every other round!  The poor wizard, on the other hand, could only manage such damage maybe twice a day, using his Arc Lightning spell.  Our wizard and rogue player--FridayNightWill and Chris I, respectively--probably had the best time of the group, but even they were left dissatisfied.

As a GM, I had similar problems with running the adventure.  A revamp of the old 1e adventure, "The Caves of Chaos", the session brought next to no actual opportunity to role-play, eschewing characterization and interesting NPCs in lieu of dungeon-crawling and combat.  Okay, I can understand that on some degree, as the playtest is meant to exercise the combat rules.  But, the adventure's set up and organization was amazingly miserable.  Monster mini-stat blocks were tossed into the adventure at seemingly random points, and did not include basic, vital information like initiative bonuses or special defenses.  I had to keep referring back to the Bestiary packet, which defeats the entire purpose of having mini-stat blocks in the adventure!

That said, the game wasn't entirely a wash.  Here and there, the game managed to shock me with a novel concept or idea which really made for an elegant change.  The "Advantage/Disadvantage" mechanic provided a quick and easy way to adjucate basic benefits and drawbacks, and my group didn't have the seeming "Advantage-fishing" issue that some other playtest groups seemed to have had.  While the mechanic itself is a little "swing-y" in terms of mathematics, it makes for a spectacular way to toss out bonuses and penalties. 

Similarly, the replacement of Fortitude/Reflex/Will saving throws with saves based directly on the core 6 ability scores made for a novel and intuitive change.  However, I worry about how these will hash out at higher levels, particularly if the dreaded "Christmas Tree" effect of prior editions carries over.  Skills actually work almost identically to Saving Throws, as well, which makes for an awkward sense of understanding.  Coupled with that, there are few ways to customize ones' skills, as they're intrinsically linked to Themes and Backgrounds.  As such...yeah.  Skills are almost negligiable in this edition.

All told, we did not have fun with D&D Next.  The enjoyment we had at the table really came only from our own table-banter and from another's company, which we could do with almost anything.  Not saying that's bad, but the D&D Next playtest failed to engage my group on almost every level.  There's a lot of work to be done on this edition before release...and a lot to be done to win us back over from the numerous other games that we're enjoying.

Monday, May 21, 2012

In Which The Warlock Kicks the Tires!

Quick entry for this weekend, as I'm up to my eyeballs in grading here at the end of the school year.

The Savages over at Pinnacle Entertainment have been busy little bees, teasing about their new, ultra-secret setting which has just gone live on Kickstarter.

Their big reveal?  Deadlands Noir!  A hardboiled take on the classic Weird West setting, taking place in the Big Easy. 

I'll definitely be chipping in on this one, as soon as payday rolls around.  While I'm looking forward to Hell on Earth a little more, Deadlands Noir will bring a ton new backstory to the table and a great new setting to play in!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In Which The Warlock Comes Up With a Backup Plan...

For those of you playing along at home, you may have noted that I haven't been talking much about our romps in Deadlands on Friday night.  Truth be told, it's been quite a while since we've actually had a session of "The Flood"!  Real-life issues took their toll, between our trip to C2E2, some illnesses, and a few alternate obligations, resulting in over a month of missed sessions!

Yeesh!  That's a lot of time.  But, many groups face the same situation--what do you do when you need the whole group present, and it just hasn't happened?

For us, the answer is usually board games.  Arkham Horror is a particular favorite, as two sessions of that can fill an entire game night for us.  Lately, we also broke out Innsmouth Escape and had a blast with Munchkin Axe Cop.  These are usually good for single night sessions where we're just looking to unwind after a long week, but occasionally we just get the itch for some actual dice-rolling RPG that a board game just can't scratch.

The PlatinumChick and I, after years of running games for conventions, have quite the library of one shots.  Under normal circumstances, we tend to use these sorts of nights for playtesting.  Most of my WEGS games and several of our other one-offs get tested with our home group when a few players are missing.  Again, that's good for most circumstances, but when we don't exactly have a lot of one-shots to test this year, due to the Origins date change, that leaves that option out in the cold.

So, the question has been:  "What do we do now?"

Straight from the comics, onto my gaming table! 
Iron Man and the Avengers take on Carnage in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
The answer, interestingly enough, arose from one of my recent reviews:  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  After going to see The Avengers a few weeks ago (and again a week later...), we were all really high on some superhero goodness, and I was eager to give the system a run.

So, with no prep at all, we decided to delve into the book-built scenario, based on Brian Michael Bendis' "Breakout" arc from "New Avengers".  Serendipitously taking on Bendis' Avengers--Iron Man, Captain America, Miss Marvel, and Wolverine--we dialed up the action as the SHIELD/Riker's Island prison known as "The Raft" exploded with an EMP pulse.  With Iron Man in the in the sub-basements upgrading security and the rest up top, examining some new holding cells with Maria Hill, we started with the party already split....and Carnage making a beeline for Iron Man!

The nice thing about all this?  I've already managed to lay down enough plot hooks in one session to provide a ton of possible "episodes" in the future.  Where did Carnage escape to, after attacking Iron Man?  Who was at fault for the explosion?  Who were the infiltrators in the northwest guard tower, and what's their relationship to "Mutants Sans Frontiers"? 

While we're hoping to get back to "The Flood" this week--with the Battle of Shan Fan, no less!--we'll be revisiting MHR off and on, when we have missing members.  And, it's already looking to be spectacular!

Monday, May 14, 2012

In Which The Warlock Muses on Rewards...

In amongst all of the other numerous projects that I've been working on--and, y'know, my actual "real" job of teaching--I've been contemplating what exactly I need to do, when I start the Kickstarter for Cold Steel Wardens.  Obviously, I'll need to officially incorporate as well as establish my copyright and trademark registries, all of which I hope to have finished by August of this year. 

But, rather, I mean the actual Kickstarter itself.  I've been reading numerous blogs dealing with the issue, as KS can be a massive boon when done correctly...and an utter disaster when not.

Analysis shows that Kickstarter projects tend to do significantly better when accompanied with some kind of audio-visual element (not necessarily a video, though video does tend to help) as well as preview material and character sheets to show what the game itself will look like and how it will play.

Rewards, though, are really what drive Kickstarter projects.  After all, as a patron system, it's hard to get people to patronize you without good reason!  One of the neatest things about Kickstarter is the fact that rewards aren't necessarily always tangible.  A high-level patronage might provide some experience or opportunity that not necessarily be "worth" anything, but ramps up the level of awesome instead.

So, in thinking about all this, I've begun brainstorming a reward system with tiers based on the three levels of adversaries in CSW:  Mooks, Made Men, and Masterminds.  Take a look!  And, as always, if you have any feedback, it'd be greatly appreciated!

Mooks ($1-$100)
  • $10--A PDF copy of Cold Steel Wardens.
  • $30--Both a PDF copy of Cold Steel Wardens and a softcover copy of the same, upon publication.
  • $50--A signed softcover copy of Cold Steel Wardens, the PDF copy, and an exclusive adventure set in Greensburg (pdf).
  • $75--Two signed softcover copies, the PDF copy, the exclusive adventure, and a pre-order for the next books:  Cold Steel Wardens:  Rogues' Gallery.
  • $100--all at $75 level, plus a lifetime 10% discount on any of my products.
Made Men ($100-$500)  (All "Made Men" rewards levels automatically include all rewards given for the $100 "Mook" level)
  • $150--An 8 1/2" by 11" art print of a piece of your choosing from the Cold Steel Wardens core rulebook, signed by the artist.
  • $200--Either an original 8 1/2" by 11" art print of a character of your choosing from Cold Steel Wardens OR inclusion of a character of your creation in the upcoming book, Cold Steel Wardens: Rogues' Gallery.
  • $300--Both rewards from the $200 level!
  • $500--Both rewards from the $200 level AND I will run an exclusive, off-the-books Cold Steel Wardens session for you and up to 5 of your friends at either GenCon Indy or the Origins Game Fair, at a day and time of your choosing. 
Masterminds ($1000+) (All "Mastermind" rewards levels automatically include all rewards given for the $100 "Mook" level and the $500 "Made Men" level)
  • $1,000--At my expense and on a weekend of our combined choosing, I will travel to your house and prepare a dinner for you and up to 5 of your friends.  I will then run an exclusive, never-before-seen Cold Steel Wardens investigation for you and said friends, using all new characters made specifically for the evening.  All materials, including the adventure and the characters, are exclusively yours following the session.  (Limited to the Continental United States only).
  • $2,000--All rewards listed at the $1,000 level, plus a two free copies of every Cold Steel Wardens product produced...ever!
  • $5,000--True partnership.  You'll be brought on board as a consultant for further products, design ideas, and more.   Obviously, there'll be negotiation at this level, which will be hashed out upon such a pledge.
So...what do you think?  Viable?  Is this a scale that seems reasonable?  Am I missing an opportunity?  Feedback would be great!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

In Which The Warlock Expounds on Scheduling...

With only three weeks till the show itself, GAMA's finally managed to open up event registration for this year's Origins Game Fair.  I've always tried to be supportive of GAMA, as they're propped up significantly by their volunteers, rather than the full time staff that GenCon benefits from.  Even though I've disagreed with them at times--particularly about this year's date change, they've always been really receptive to receptive criticism and feedback.

But, with the open registration, I'm faced with a greater quandary:  what to do?  what to play?! 

Compared to prior years, there are significantly fewer events on the docket, which restricts ones' options significantly.  After doing the math, there's about 300 less events.  Strangely enough, there are actually 30 more RPG events than last year, though!  Go figure, right?  However, it feels like the variety that we'd always been able to enjoy at Origins seems to be in rather short supply.  Less people means less GMs, which means less variety of events. 

Truth be told, scanning through the spreadsheets of events, I wasn't really jazzed on many of the role-playing options in general.  While I'm eager to sit in on an advanced session of El Willy's "Dingbitt's Inferno" scenario, the only game that I actively sought out was an opportunity for the upcoming D&D Next playtest series.  The PlatinumChick was eager to jump into one of the events held by Matinee Adventures, but our scheduling conflicts prevented her from jumping in as one of the "Birds of Prey".  Many of the less-played systems out there are playing only on Wednesday and Thursday, which precludes our enjoying them, as we won't be arriving until Friday evening.

Where I have found a good degree of interest, however, is in the seminars.  Moreso than in any of the other years we've attended, the seminars at Origins have really come up.  Plus, most seminars have no entry fee, which keeps down our attendance cost!  If my schedule runs out as it stands now, I'll be sitting in on at least three seminars on game design, including one with the dice-master himself: Lou Zocchi.  With my editing and drafting cycle of Cold Steel Wardens approaching so rapidly, I think it'll do me some good to hear as much as I can from the "industry insiders" as possible.

I want to make sure that I get a good deal of time in the dealer hall, if for no other reason than to check out the new releases and see what other indie designers are coming out with.  Plus, trolling for deals at the SJGames booth and other places almost always ends out with me walking away satisfied.  Though, this time around, I'm hoping to manage to pick up the first component for my Man-at-Arms cosplay:  his iconic mace! 

Truth be told, I already miss my annual ritual of prepping games for Origins.  While this has afforded me some additional time for other projects--finishing out Tyrian Horror and doing some new freelancing--I love GMing at convention games, and I'm disappointed to be shut out this year.  That said, there's always next year...

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Warlock's Review: "Marvel's The Avengers"

Let me put this out there:  I've been waiting for this movie for almost the entirety of my adult life.  I started reading comics back when I was in 3rd grade, after I'd picked up the late-Silver and early-Bronze Age comics left behind at my grandparents by my Uncle Ron.  I threw myself into them anytime I was there, reading about Spider-Man's adventures in trying to find the true identity of his parents, of T.O. Morrow's victory over the Justice League, and of the Fantastic Four's journey into the Negative Zone to save Sue Storm's life while she was in childbirth.

But out of Uncle Ron's stacks, he only ever had one issue of Marvel's iconic team:  The Avengers.  Reading that book was like reading a tantalizing preview of all the things that could be--the idea of a group of conflicted, bickering heroes coming together for a greater good, to face those foes that no hero could face alone.  It was unfathomable!  It was amazing!  It was...a teaser for all those things that could be out there.  And, truly, there was!  I started watching the "Marvel Action Hour" on CBS, and the spectacular Spider-Man and X-Men series which aired on Fox.

Marvel's greatest gamble:
The Avengers
When Iron Man came out in 2008, the world of geekdom nearly imploded with a few simple words.  An eye-patch clad Samuel L. Jackson ignited our imaginations, telling Tony Stark that he'd "come to talk about the Avengers Initiative."  Since then, Marvel Studios had begun preparing for something totally unprecedented:  a gestalt universe of films which would eventually combine into a crossover that would shake the fundamental concept of what it meant to be a "superhero movie".  It was ambitious, it was foolhardy...and it was unheard of.

Needless to say, I was nervous.  While Jon Favreau's Iron Man films were spectacular and Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk were all quality films, blending their various idiosyncracies would prove a monumental task, despite the scaffolding made throughout each film.  When geek-icon Joss Whedon was brought aboard as writer-director, I grew apprehensive.  While Whedon was well versed in comics, having spent quite a bit of time on "Astonishing X-Men". 

And that's where we emerged this week.  The build-up for Avengers was one for the ages and, of course, one we couldn't resist, as the JourneymanGM, FridayNightWill, Chris2, GeoMike, the PlatinumChick and I headed off to Fairborn for a 3D showing.

In a word?  Brilliant!  (And, at this point, the spoilers begin--turn away, if you fear!)

The storyline of Avengers is simple enough:  Tom Hiddleston's Loki has emerged from Asgard with the help of some mysterious benefactors (who are spoiled brilliantly in the credits!) in search of the Tesseract--the Cosmic Cube used by the Red Skull during Captain America: The First Avenger.  Loki seeks dominion over the Earth and Nick Fury's SHIELD command stands in his way.

The film opens with a literal bang, as Loki's theft leaves the SHIELD facility crumbling and the action split between Nick Fury's escape and Maria Hill's pursuit of Loki through a series of underground tunnels.  Cobie Smulders (of How I Met Your Mother fame) brings the right attitude to the role of the all-business Maria Hill, but outside of this opening action scene, she doesn't have much to do.  Word is that just under an hour of footage was cut for the final version of The Avengers, so hopefully she'll see more screen time in the DVD/BluRay cut.

From there, the titular Avengers begin assembling.  Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) heads to India to collect Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Nick Fury pulls Captain America (Chris Evans) out of proverbial mothballs, and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to Stark Tower to recruit Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).  However, the bonds bringing these heroes together begin cracking in the second act, providing internal conflict that must be conquered before the external threat of invasion.

What really struck me was the level of characterization given to each of the Avengers.  Whedon somehow manages to find time for unique pairings and groupings of the heroes to act together, using their natural charisma to fuel the conflict and charm that makes the film work on so many levels.  While I had no doubts about Robert Downey Jr.'s ability to bring Tony Stark's snark and self-obsession to the table, real surprises emerged from Ruffalo and Johanson.  Black Widow really didn't have much to work with in Iron Man 2, so seeing her really come into her own as a deadly martial artist and manipulative spy was really a treat.  Similarly, Mark Ruffalo's treatment of Bruce Banner brought a lot of humor and humanity to a role that typically reeks of melodrama and inhuman rage.  Plus, the script really calls upon Banner's ability as a scientist, which gives him some great scenes with Stark and with Steve Rogers.

Black Widow flees from
the rampaging Hulk!
Whedon strikes a great balance between scenes of characterization and utter action, and isn't afraid to keep his foot on the gas in either case.  A scene between Loki and Black Widow in the second act brings back echoes of Silence of the Lambs, while the Hulk's rampage through the SHIELD Helicarrier brings with it real echoes of fear from Johanson and even Chris Hemworth's Thor. 

It's because of this that my favorite scene in the movie isn't one of the action scenes, or even a conversation.  The second of two post-credits scenes--the first, setting up a cosmic-level sequel!--has our heroes, exhausted and battered, sitting down at a meal together in a shwarma joint, referenced earlier in the movie.  This scene of camaraderie, of togetherness despite differences, despite toil, despite conflict, really shows all the things that makes The Avengers great.  And what's better?  It's wordless.  No dialogue, no witty repartee necessary.  It's just a matter of cinematographic perfection.

The Avengers, assembled!
A payoff for 60 years of comics
and 5 long years of incredible films!
The third act of The Avengers provides a beyond-suitable climax, with action scenes streaming from character to character in a free-flowing melee.  Iron Man bounces repulsors off of Captain America's shield, while Thor calls down streams of lightning and Hawkeye snipes at Chitauri warriors from the rooftops.  Reminiscent of recent issues of Bendis' Mighty Avengers, the film looks like a comic-book brought to life, more than any other film in history.  Depicting the medium as it is, The Avengers scores on all fronts.

Really, I have but few nitpicks about this movie.  Early on, Hawkeye is mind-controlled by Loki, which stunts his depth of character in the second and third acts, in comparison to the depth provided by his foil, Black Widow.  Thor suffers from the same issue, though not to the same degree, as the development built in his own movie provides relationships for Hemworth's ability.  We never really get a good look at the Chitauri, though they're meant to be faceless, alien troops, led only by the charismatic Hiddleston. 

But, all these are minor quibbles.  The Avengers provides the greatest, most true-to-the-medium comic-book movie experience ever seen in a theater.  After 5 years of build-up and anticipation, Marvel Studios has pulled off the impossible:  a gestalt film linking their films together in a manner never before seen.  See this movie.  See it multiple times, even.  This one changes everything. 

See it, revel in it, and enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

In Which The Warlock Taps, Swipes, and Pinches...

A few months ago, I mentioned that I'd come into possession of a certain tablet device, as part of a program through my school.  Now that I've finally had some time to play with the darn thing, it's round about time to give some opinion on the various toys that I've been playing with!


PDF viewing and editing comes foremost for me, in terms of utility on the iPad.  With so many books nowadays coming out in digital and dead-tree versions simultaneously, it's often a lot easier for me to just carry a tablet to my various games around the Ohio Valley, rather than lug books around.  While I still love books while at my home table (and to read before bed!), the convenience of a PDF really trumps a book when elsewhere.

GoodReader's tools are intuitive, easy to use, and usable with any number of cloud storage utilities out there.  Pllus, the PDF mark-up tools allow you to annotate, copy, and denote texts easily and quickly.  I actually used a character-sheet from Cold Steel Wardens to demonstrate GoodReader's PDF mark-up tools to my fellow teachers!  It's that quick and easy.

Hands down, GoodReader is worth the $4.99.  It's gotten rave reviews from numerous sources, and the praise is well and truly due.

Gamer Dice

This one, however, I was much less a fan.  One of the biggest draws for me, as a gamer, is the social and visceral feel of sitting around a table, rolling dice.  While Gamer Dice provides a stable replacement for the actual art of rolling dice, it can't replace that tactile feel of letting your d20s tumble between your fingers, clatter across the table, and roll to a stop.

Now, obviously, there are situations in which polyhedrals simply aren't realistic, but Gamer Dice doesn't do much to make me want to use it.  The app's base configuration is a flat, matte gray.  While its interface is functional, it has no visual appeal and no ability to simply input a number--rather, you have to tap the plus or minus button numerous times.  While this isn't a problem with small dice pools, rolling 5d12+22 would take a huge amount of time.  Plus, Gamer Dice doesn't allow for rolling of multiple types of dice simultaneously, which means that games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying aren't playable with this app.

I'm sure that there's got to be a better dice roller out there than this one--save your time and effort.

Elder Sign:  Omens

Now, here's a real winner!  Fantasy Flight Games--producers of Arkham Horror and numerous other games--decided to take their card-based Cthulhian race-against-the-clock and build a version for the iOS and Android systems.

ES: O, as a product, is really polished and smooth, using art from its various Cthulhu lines and smooth mechanics.  Visuals and sound effects are evocative and immersive, drawing the player in.  While some have criticized the game for being a "trumped up version of Yahtzee", the more recent patches and the addition of two more Ancient Ones--Yig and Cthulhu himself, to go with the default Azathoth--have really expanded gameplay.

I find myself playing this one anytime I have nothing to do and have my iPad close at hand.  It's addictive, has a good deal of depth, and is outright fun to play.  Pick this one up and splurge on the expansion.  It's worth it!