Dec 062016

Phoenix: Dawn Command cover

Phoenix: Dawn Command is the result of Twogether Studios successful Kickstarter and a roleplaying game in which what kills you, actually make you stronger.

By Paco Garcia Jaen

The world of Dalea is very much in peril again. Generations after the Dread was brought to a halt by the Phoenix, darkness is coming back to the kingdoms and the flame of Pyre has lit again.

You are a Phoenix, a human reborn after learning secrets and training in The Crucible, a mystical place of learning and growth, with abilities beyond that of any mortal and with the sole purpose of protecting Dalea from the Dread. You have learned that death is not the end and that every time you die you come back to Dalea stronger, better than before.

But your death must be meaningful and you must choose carefully when to die, for you can only be reborn seven times before you can’t return.

Can you make it count?

Phoenix: Dawn Command has been authored by Keith Baker and Dan Garrison. Keith’s resume includes more games I can remember, but, just in case his name is not one you are familiar with, he created Eberron. Keith knew Dan Garrison and Dan had a great idea for a game: Death is what makes you stronger. And they started to work together.

The result was a Kickstarter that funded very successfully and broke a few stretch goals that saw people like Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Will Hindmarch, Nika Harper, Mary Robinette Kowal and others.

And at a price that I found pretty amazing. For 50$ you got the game with the stretch goals, and considering the game mechanics are card based, I thought it was pretty good value for money.

When I got my copy of the game I thought they had included a brick or something similar in the box. It was very heavy for my little muscles. Much to my delighted surprise, inside the box was a 460 pages small size book, more than 250 tarot size cards and a whole bunch of tokens.

The box is very sturdy, thicker than most boardgame boxes, and it has the right space for everything it comes with, though no insert and if you sleeve the cards, it might be a tad tight. with a size of 25 x 17 x 7 cms, it will probably get into any rucksack and fit in any shelf, keeping all your gamey bits tidy. You can tell I love games that come in boxes!

The book comes in a pretty decent quality paper and the binding is most excellent. It is a softcover, so nothing too fancy, but it has resisted my handling while I read it and it has come with me in several bags and rucksacks resisting easily enough and without any pages coming loose or anything like that. Even the top of the book barely has any crises.

So far so good.Phoenix

The card material is pretty standard. It is coated, so it will resist touching by non-grubby fingers fairly easily. However, if you are going to play this game a lot, I would suggest sleeves.

There are different decks of cards. School (the type of Phoenix you are), Action cards (Grace, Strength or Intellect), Lesson (character abilities) and Challenge cards (basically, enemies) and each player starts with a hand of cards they can use to make a spread. Each appropriate card has a number and if the spread is equal or higher than the challenge, then the action succeeds.

There is also a card called The Torch. That card allows you to write a list of words, like the list of environmental items you find at a location. Why this is important I will explain later because it is a cool little feature of the game.

The artwork on the cards, which is repeated in the book too, is lovely. Line art illustration work with very simple style and limited palette. Think about the sort of glass windows you see in medieval churches (and maybe in not so medieval ones) and that is kind of the style we have here.

The number of illustrations is enough. Not every card has an unique illustration, but then not every card needs it either. They are meant to represent the characters abilities, enemies, afflictions, conditions… so I would say the only reason to see more illustrations would be to enjoy them, not because they are necessary.

The tokens are sturdy enough. They are used to keep track of your health, sparks, conditions (burning, bleeding, immobilised, enraged, stunned, vulnerable, exposed and hidden) and the icon design is very good. Simple, effective and unmistakeable, which is what this sort of tokens should be.

I should also say that the graphic design is generally very good. The icons are consistent, simple to identify, plentiful  and in the right places. The book layout left me a bit cold, though. I know you are limited when you have so many words to put inside such a small book, so I wasn’t expecting multiple columns layout or anything like that. However I did miss more illustrations and a bit more interesting side panels or inserts than we have. I am all up for simplicity, but sometimes it can be taken too far. Even so, the book is easy enough to read and only found a couple of layout mistakes with titles being at the end of a page and content starting on the next page. Not enough of them to be a problem, though.

Character creation is fairly simple, though it does require some thought and I would say even discussion with the other players and GM, or Marshal, which is how the director is referred to. There are various Flames a Phoenix can belong to and they each have different abilities and specialisms. They are also linked to the way the character died prior to transformation in The Crucible.

Basically, a Phoenix at level 1 is the reincarnation of someone who died in dramatic circumstances. It could be failing to protect someone, giving their life for someone, caught by surprise, horribly tortured to death… Anything. Once that character has died, they go to The Crucible where they choose what Flame they will adhere to and undertake the training needed to become a Phoenix. The Crucible is a space between life and death and each player has their own Crucible. Time there is immaterial. It serves as the perfect opportunity to justify a player taking some time off, changing characters or simply returning as soon as possible.

As mentioned, each Flame has its own quirks:

  • Devoted: They believe in unity and team play, thus with abilities that empower the whole team.
  • Durant: They are the tank of the team, able to take on injuries and enemies that could cripple anyone else.
  • Elemental: Closely linked to The Flame that brought them back, they can control fire and use it as a devastating weapon.
  • Forceful: This is the athlete of the team. Fast, precise and lethal.
  • Shrouded: The ninja type of character. Scholar of ancient lore and able to find any secret while hiding in shadows.
  • Bitter: Furious, reckless in battle, temperamental and willing to jump into battle before it even begun. You flirt with death more often than any other.

Each character type has specific action suits composed of two out of the three types of action cards. For example, the Durant action suits are Grace and Strength with the latter one being its primary.

That means that having a diversity of characters is important because otherwise the party could miss on having some actions, which could easily prove lethal later on.

Each character also has a Talon, a unique item with  properties that only the player character can use. It can be a sword, a necklace, a garment, an animal… anything the player wants and wants to discuss with the Marshal.

The book makes a lot of emphasis on asking questions about the characters as you create it, so the personality is as important as the traits and attributes, which is good because it tries to distance the game from any other dungeon crawl, though it has a lot of elements of dungeon crawlers.

Why does it matter the personality? Because depending on the Phoenix flame, their actions should be linked to it. For example, no point in having a Bitter who is more interested in healing others and shooting from a distance. You might as well create a Devout. By asking all the questions early on, both the Marshal and the player can decide if they are going in the right direction.

Also, this is truly a team playing game, so getting to know the characters and finding some common ground is important, or you could find yourself facing a foe you can’t defeat alone (which is likely because the enemies are pretty bad ass).

The mechPhoenix: Dawn Command - The Innocentsanics sound simpler than they actually are. The player specifies what they want to do, the Marshal decides on a difficulty and what attributes the Phoenix needs to use to create the spread. That means there is a lot of interpretation to be done throughout the game. Also there are a lot of breaks you might need to use on some power-players who will want to do impossible things.

Also you have to interpret the spread into action. For example if there is a lot of Grace used, you need to come up with a graceful way to achieve the goal, rather than, say, hitting a foe with a hammer.

It does give a lot more scope for creativity, but it also places a lot more work on the more experienced players, and makes it a bit harder for those newer to roleplaying games.

Also, the fact that players have a limited number of cards in their hands mean they must be careful what cards they use or they could find themselves going from foe to foe, or challenge to challenge, and not having enough score to resolve them all.

Fortunately, the mechanics are geared towards team play, so joining forces with other Phoenixes to solve whatever is ahead of the players is not just desirable, but oftentimes necessary.

Earlier I mentioned The Torch, a special card where you can write certain items you find in whatever location you find yourself in. This is important because if the players use those items in a meaningful way, they get advantages. Also they might be clues to defeat the enemy at hand, so very well worth keeping in mind. Of course, the Marshal can also use that card to give a hint if the players get stuck at some point, like solving a puzzle.

Death is also an important part of the game. In fact the only way characters have to get stronger and “level up” is by dying. However that death must be meaningful in some way. If you just jump off the window to kill yourself and level up without any ulterior motive… well… that is boring.

Once the character has died, they go to The Crucible, where they learn new skills or improve on the ones they have. Basically, they level up. This can happen only seven times, which is a good move from the design team to make sure people don’t just jump into the fray to die and choose carefully when they are meant to spent their precious lives.

The manual also offers extensive knowledge on the world of Dalea, as well as the four kingdoms and the island of Pyre, where the Phoenixes have their base of operations. It is full of mega spoilers, so do not read it if you are not going to be a Marshal.

Which in some ways is a shame because the history of Dalea is fascinating and the way the Dread is spreading and why utterly terrifying. Don’t let the light hearted artwork misguide you, this is a seriously dark game with horror all over the place.

The bestiary is what truly gives you the extent of the horror and darkness of this world. They are seriously creepy, very tough and as original as they are varied (except the Shoggoth… we have seen that before in sooo many games), and most of them represent a serious challenge for any team of phoenixes. Of course they can also be made tougher for higher level Phoenixes.

There is plenty of advice on how to run the games, creating missions, expanding the world and, essentially, getting to grips with the vast amount of information this game comes with.

Much to my delight, almost half the book is comprised of four adventures that get tougher as the players play them. And they start pretty tough, so at no point players can get complacent or they will suffer greatly. I will not say in this review what the adventures are all about so not to spoil anything, but I will say they are fairly simple adventures and, although they do a great job of introducing you to the game and the world, they certainly just scratch the surface of how rich and interesting this game can be.


Phoenix: Dawn Command is a very solid game for experienced players and groups who know each other well.

The fact that the box comes with enough cards and tokens for a group of three people is both good and bad. Good because having a small group is generally easier, and bad because if one player skips a session, then the whole thing can be messy.

There is no reason why you can’t just get another box with more cards and add players, though. It might mean you need to find more storage space, but hey, worth doing so if you can get another happy player.

I did miss an insert, now that I talk about it. Why? Because every player has a spread of cards they use. If you have to stop mid game for whatever reason, or simply the game ends and you have go to home, there is no way to separate in the box what cards each character had, so you either have to make notes or remember for next time. Having an insert that allow you to place the cards in the right place would solve that problem. Not the end of the world, though.

Once you get used to the mechanics, it is a very creative endeavour to play the game and, if there is good group synergy, creating collaborative spreads and working together comes pretty naturally. The initial efforts to get to grips with all the cards and tokens soon pay off, so don’t let that put you off. Beware, though, if you have to play with beginners. This game is not beginner friendly, even if character creation is very easy.

Also keep in mind this is a dark game. My only grudge with the art direction is that it doesn’t truly reflect this. It is only when you start to hear about possessed children who can kill whole villages or monsters that can obliterate entire communities and eviscerate them that you realise you can get real dark real soon with this game and it would make perfect sense.

Don’t get me wrong, the illustrations are lovely and I really like them, but I do wonder if this is the right style for such a dark themed game.

Now I only hope there will be more adventures and more supplement written for this game. It would be a shame if this is the last physical product we see for Phoenix: Dawn Command, because it certainly deserves the attention and dedication.

I would say if you want something that is not afraid of death and is not your typical world full of elves, this is a good investment for the price tag, so I would recommend it.

Phoenix: Dawn Command is available from:


Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Thank you for your support.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Dec 052016


Mansions of Madness 1st edition was received with mixed feelings by a lot of people. This new and evolved version of the game tries to solve some of the problems of the first version. Does it?

By Paco Garcia Jaen

Fantasy Flight Games has become the most prolific producer of Lovecraft based board games. And they have started to do very well, I have to say.

Actually, they have been doing very well for quite some time now. I have enjoyed Arkham Horror, Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror quite a lot. And so I have enjoyed Mansions of Madness first edition, so this was going to be one that I would likely enjoy too.

Upon opening the box you could be forgiven for thinking you are opening the mother of all expansions for Mansions of Madness. Huge amount of miniatures (some of the squeezed because of the lack of space and more than a few that needed unbending with hot water), an even bigger amount of tokens, cards with spells, unique items, conditions, equipment… Also more characters, more mansion and garden tiles and new adventures.

So, at first glance, more of the same.

However, there is something very different, and is that this time you need an app to play the game.

In the original game, one of the players had to play the part of the mythos. It was the person who run the game, prepared the tiles, puzzles, monsters, scenarios… everything. Now, an app does it all for you, so the game is fully cooperative.

The look and feel of the game components is the same FFG has been using for pretty much all their Lovecraft games. The characters are the same you will find in Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror and Mansions of Madness. In fact the first edition characters and he rest is compatible with this version, so if you have that game, you can still enjoy it with this.

Each character has a special ability they can perform, sanity and physical power hit points and then a series of abilities like observation, strength, agility, knowledge, etc with a number beside them that will determine how many dice you roll when using them.

So what does the app do? Firstly it let you decide what scenario you want to play. It will ask you what character and how many of them will play and then tthe mansions of madness appell you what rooms to start with, where to place the clues, doors, obstacles you can move, non player characters… Everything in lovely 3D in your tablet or smart phone (ideally tablet for size) and with a soundtrack to go with you in your adventures. I can tell you that makes getting ready to play this game much quicker and very, every easy.

The app also decides what roll you have to make to get over a challenge. For example, some times it will ask you for a strength roll to open a jammed drawer, but sometimes it will ask for a knowledge roll instead, giving you a description of how you pull in the right way because you know the lock, rather than because you are just applying brute force. Thus having a strong but not very wise character might be handy in some circumstances, but not always.

The game mechanics haven’t really changed that much. Your characters have two actions per turn and a limited number of action types – move a few spaces, explore, search, push, trade items… – and little else. That’s it.

Once all characters have performed their actions, and they can do it in any order they wish, the mythos turn comes up and then thing start to happen. Things that the app will tell you. If monsters appear, or if nothing happens… all handled to you effortlessly without reading a single page.

Do you happen to find a puzzle? Don’t worry… the app will display it for you and you can solve it there and then. It will keep track of the progress and the number of times it’s been attempted. The cool thing about this is that you actually have to solve the puzzle without having to set-up tokens or use any more space on the table. The challenges include things like driving a brick through a mobile labyrinth, or a game of finding he right combination of shapes and colours with a limited number of attempts. And they can be as hard as they get!

How about talking to non player characters? For example the butler who holds certain key you have to convince to give you. Just like you would do in a videogame, you can talk to that character with a limited number of sentences. It can be a bit basic at times, but they give more depth to the game and makes it richer as those characters can be part of the winning conditions for the scenario at hand.

Something else that is handy about the app? You can save the progress and make it easier if you have to set-up again and continue playing another time. In our case that is very handy because we usually stop for food breaks in the game, so this way we don’t forget anything.

Also, there are several configurations for each scenario, so even if you play them more than once, they will likely be different, so the replayability value of the game is greater of its older sister.

Combat is also handled by the app. You decide what to attack and the app will give you the choice of what sort of attack, unarmed, with a slicing weapon, heavy weapon, a spell… then it gives you what roll you have to make – sometimes it will be strength, sometimes it will be speed, sometimes, something else – and then enter the number of hit points you inflict. Once you reach the number given to the creature, it disappears. No more hit point tokens on top of platforms that move around.

When the playing characters receive damage or horror (insanity), they get cards upsiedown. Once they fill their quota as given in their character sheet, they will be asked to turn one of the cards upside down. Each card has some effect that will apply to the player. For example if you fill your horror quota, you might turn against the other players, or simply be given a different set of winning conditions (like burning half the rooms in the mansions or similar), so your character is not right away lost. Of course if you fill your insanity or physical quota again… not even you can survive that!

The length of the adventures depends greatly on many factors, but I would be surprised if you needed less than two to three hours to finish them. There are lots of things to do all the time and solving some of the puzzles can be time consuming.


I think this version of the game is better than the previous one. Hands down.

Not because it does anything that is too different, it doesn’t, but because of the app helping you run the game and managing the already large space needed for the game.

Yes, it is true that depending on the app can be a pain in the ass if you don’t happen to have yours nearby or simply the battery run out, but if you know you are going to play, make sure you have it filled up with power because you will need it. I think it is just a matter of getting used to the idea that you need your tablet or phone to play this game and once you are in that frame set, you should be OK.

The adventures are as close to an RPG as you can get without the need to play an RPG, which I guess is what make them so appealing to me.

Set up and pick up time have been reduced too, which is good because previously you could take as long setting up as playing, specially if your characters died quickly.

Talking about that, adventures in here are also quicker to get you in the swing of things with monsters likely to appear one or two turns into the game. Fighting them is hard, but not impossible, so there is less fear of getting into a room with a Hound of Tindalos or a cultist this time, which is good. Also the new mechanic of being able to move some pieces of furniture to block doors and trap monsters in rooms where they can’t get to you is truly great.

Lastly, I loved the way the adventures go “in crescendo” as the game progresses. They start slow and then the pace of everything moves up a notch, making everything more frantic and difficult.

mansions of madness minisProduction wise the game is sound, though it is only a matter of time before FFG has to update their production values for minis. They are starting to look a bit too old-school for me. The app works without any glitches we saw, though we could do with some more advanced features, like placing characters in the correct rooms before saving so we know where we were when we come back to the game, or even letting us use our own music rather than the same soundtrack again and again. Also, storing the game saves up in the cloud so we can jump from device to device would be very neat.

The rules are just as gorgeously laid out on paper as always and the artwork is as good as ever because it is the same as ever. Some might think it is lazy of FFG to keep using the same illustrations, and even the same sounds in the app you can hear in Elder Signs, but to me it makes sense, not just from the economic point of view, but from the line development point of view. Why use totally different illustration in games that are, essentially about the same thing? You re playing the same thing in different ways, so having the same characters gives a familiarity that is nice to bring from one game to the next.

The price tag is a bit ouchy, though. Even though you might feel you come out with less because it has less tokens than the previous version, we can’t forget that with this game comes the development of a very complex app that needs updating every time a new expansion comes out, and that has to be paid for. Retailing at around 100$, £90 or 100€, this game is a lot of money, so try it before you buy it if you can and your budget is tight.

If you liked the first edition of Mansions of Madness, I would certainly ask Santa to get you this for whatever you celebrate. If you didn’t like it, please have a go a this one because you will probably be very pleasantly surprised.

If you like the CoC RPG, please have a go at this because it offers a somewhat watered down RPG experience that you can prepare in next to no time. Also, I doubt you will be able to find that many tiles and miniatures for this price anyway, so it is a sound investment.

Fantasy Flight has really done it very well and the integration with the app is so good that gives me hope for using more apps in the future, so FFG has managed to somehow lower my levels of scepticism, something not easily done!

Now get off that chair and get this game. There are mythos to combat!

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Dec 042016

my story - isolated text in vintage letterpress wood type printing blocksI just thought of something. There are two types of role playing games: Games that enable you to tell a story and games that enable you to create a story.

By Paco Garcia Jaen

My friend Jim and I often talk about games that enable good story telling vs. games that are just a killing spree with less focus on the story telling. We often disagree, as he finds games like Pathfinder or D&D generic, repetitive and, basically, not great, whereas I love a dungeon treasure hunting spree like a pig loves a mud bath and think they can be great.

Therefore I will start by stating that I believe there are very few shitty games out there. There are games I like more than others and certainly there are games I don’t like at all, but very few shitty games. Those shitty games are usually games full of sexism, racist tropes or nonsense like that (and believe me there are a number of those games out there).

After a few conversations with Jim about the topic I just ended wondering why he didn’t like some games and liked another ones. And I think the only difference I can think of is that some games allow you to tell the story and be part of it, whereas another games allow you to create the story as you are a part of it.

Let’s take Pathfinder or D&D as examples. When you are playing any of their adventures, the story has been written for you. The locations are there and you can do whatever you like, but unless you do certain things, advancing the story is hard to impossible.

Yes, you can reach a town and visit all its locations and interact with all its citizens in whatever way you want. You can even decide if you want to visit the locations in the adventure in one order or another. But sometimes if you don’t visit a particular location, or defeat a particular monster, advancing is not easy, and if you don’t advance, the story stalls because it has been written for you already.

There is a beginning and chapters that, usually, are defined by some conflict that has to be resolved, thus creating the illusion that the story is unfolding in front of you because you drive the pace and the tone of the adventure, but you don’t create it. You can add to it, make it longer or shorter, but you can’t really create it.

Then we have games that allow you to create your own adventure. You are given just a few pointers and then you take it from there and the players decide what happens, how, the consequences…. everything.

To avoid using any of Jim’s games, let’s use In Spectres. If you don’t know that game, please take a look, it is fantastic. Think of Ghost Busters and you pretty much know what sort of game it is. In that game the players actually create the story. They are told at the start that something is going on –  it can be a strange sound, something disappearing, a sighting… anything – and the players take it from there. They can decide if it is a ghost, or  demon, or a vampire, or a wizard, or just a human playing tricks.

The GM has to make a few decisions, like when to roll the dice or how some of the creatures or pnjs behave, but little else.

Saying “little else” is a bit of a disservice, because that game and their ilk are the hardest to  run. The GM has to constantly deal with the improvisation from the players, offering help when the players are stuck and generally wondering what will happen next.

So I wonder what games people generally prefer.

I don’t mind either, as long as it is fun, though I must admit I have a slight preference for games that allow you to create your own stories.

But how about you?

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)
Nov 272016

bad_gamesWhat RPGs are bad for the industry? Are there any games you wish hadn’t come out?

Both in Europe and in the USA, we have had some games that have hurt the industry, and some others that are hurting the industry and the hobby as a whole.

Some games have helped contribute to the stigma of weirdness or danger that some people attached to RPGs in the 80s and 90s. For different reasons and in different countries, some RPGs have acquired a very bad reputation, let it be as enablers of Satan or as weapons of murder or simply as something losers and nerds do.

Of course some have helped create an amazing and creative hobby and subculture and those we celebrate every day.

Have we missed any games?

Let us know!

ITunes-logo15222222222222222222222 Click here to download this episode of the G*M*S Magazine Podcast.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+

Thank you for your support.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 3.7/5 (3 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)
Nov 082016

why_playWhy play RPGs? Why spend hours reading books and preparing for games? Why belong to a community that is both so hostile and welcoming at the same time?

Believe it or not it is a question I ask myself very often.

Why bother with a hobby in which a dissenting voice is shut down instead of welcome with healthy debate? Why am I in a hobby that still has strides to walk in terms of inclusivity and diversity? A hobby in which some attempts at said inclusivity and diversity are met with brutal opposition by people who refuse to widen their perspectives?

And, you know… sometimes I wish to quit.

But I don’t.

And i am sure I am not the only human being in this position. We keep going.

Jim and I explore the reasons why we are still here. And why we are likely to continue for a long, long time.

stitcher-logo-300x145342222222222222 ITunes-logo15222222222222222222222
Click here to download this episode of the G*M*S Magazine Podcast.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Thank you for your support.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Nov 012016

culture appropriationThe topic of cultural appropriation is a hot one in Social Justice circles. But is it a justified outcry when someone uses another’s culture to create games, costumes or anything else?

It is a matter of fact that cultures evolve both by themselves – traditions that become canon in time or ones that die, fashion that evolves… – and by assimilation when we see something from another culture and we adopt it. In a world that is a lot more globalised today than it was 30 or 40 years ago mostly thanks to the Internet, the rate at which cultures are being shared, adopted, evolved and bastardized has also increased exponentially.

Are we ready for this?

Is there a justified concern for the phenomenon we are witnessing in which people use other people’s cultures?

And is it justified to do it in RPGs?

Since there is not a single RPG that hasn’t borrowed from one culture or another, to say we are free from culture appropriation would be pretty naive thing, so it is safe to say it’s unavoidable.

So what?

Jim and I explore all those questions and give our take on this controversial topic.

Warning… we don’t hold back and we are likely to offend some people.

stitcher-logo-300x145342222222222222[1] ITunes-logo15222222222222222222222
Click here to download this episode of the G*M*S Magazine Podcast.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Thank you for your support.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Incoming search terms:

  • pod casts about cultural appropriation