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This bumper box holds a smorgasbord of interesting game design, high production values, engaging artwork, a cacophony of components and more...

Merchants Cove by Final Frontier Games Merchants Cove by Final Frontier Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


This bumper box holds a smorgasbord of interesting game design, high production values, engaging artwork, a cacophony of components and more plastic and carboard than any game should rightfully have.

Merchants Cove sees 1-4 players become a Merchant (*gasp*) flogging their wares to visiting adventurers that have bottomless pockets.  As the shops are in a cove (*shock*), the adventurers always arrive by boat, some stay and some leave to return by boat again, for more gear.

The way in which you craft items in each shop is utterly different and arguably each player is actually playing two games.  The first is played out on the central board and the second mini-game is done on your own shops’ action board.  In terms of mechanics, it’s got a bit of everything, but for me this is simply an engine builder with lots of added chrome.


In the game you play as either a blacksmith, an alchemist, a sea captain, or chronomancer (I must admit I have no idea what one of them is – something to do with using time).  The blacksmith and alchemist sell typical goods and potions; the captain sells fish, shells and treasure, the chronomancer sells artefacts from time travelling … as you can probably tell the theme is stretched a bit thin throughout the game but it just about manages to keep it all together.

This is the board the Chronomancer has to play with

The game will end after three market phases, the player with the most money wins.  Each shop crafts coloured (red, blue yellow and green) small and large items that can only be sold to the same-coloured adventurers on the relevant (small or large goods) pier.  The game end feels like it comes relatively quickly and I’ve not been at a table where this has outstayed its welcome yet.  

The meta-game, played out on the central board is where you’ll get the only player interaction.  This comes primarily from loading boats with adventurers that either help you or hinder your opponents.  Hopefully a bit of both!  However, what interaction there is does feel mean (that’s a good thing), sending a boat full of blue adventurers to the small goods pier when your opponent only has large blue goods is a good feeling. 

Large red goods are in high demand (far boat, all red adventurers at the large pier)

 However, in my experience, it is probably better to optimise for your own play, as there is nearly always a way to mitigate the damage you could cause to an opponent.  For example, your opponent doesn’t have to sell any goods during the market phase and can keep them all for a more favourable market phase. 

The smaller games are played out on each shops’ activity board and are completely different from each other.  Despite their uniqueness, each shop does feel balanced and can score as easily (or not) as each other.  These mini games are the unique selling point for this game and each time I’ve played with a new shop I’ve appreciated small nuances that weren’t immediately apparent at first glance.  I’m sure that some clever game designers could make a big-box game just out of the mechanisms on each shops’ board.

The Alchemist's board.  The marble filled decanter is the mini-game here.

Due to each shop’s uniqueness they have their own rule pamphlet.  This can make for quite a lengthy teach to what is quite a simple game.  If you’re comfortable with your shop the main game is on a par with Catan for complexity and approachability.  This asymmetry has drawn comparisons with Root which although more complex overall, has less asymmetry than Merchants Cove. 

Every single action you take on your turn will have a time cost and potentially a penalty corruption card as well.  This moves your time tracker one or two spaces around a clockface which acts as the game’s timer.  Passing certain points on the clock with your tracker will cause the boats to fill up and eventually trigger the market phase.  Player turn order is variable and dictated by whichever time tracker is furthest back on the clock.  This may allow you to plan a double turn which if timed right could allow you to choose which boats dock at two of the three piers in the cove.

There's mice, because there are...(actually useful but just more stuff)

Shuffling round the clock face or racing to the next market phase is deceptively simple. Invariably I am always looking to get another turn in after the market phase has been triggered.  Which shows that this game has been well balanced and I’m always immersed in the act of optimising my goods production and finding selling opportunities during the market phase.

During the market phase the base value of each of your sold goods (small and large is the same for every player) is multiplied by the number of similarly-coloured adventurers om the pier for your score.  For example, if you’re selling 2 large goods to 3 adventurers you’ll be looking at 48 points. (value 8 gold x 2 goods x 3 adventurers).  There will be some small bonuses for the number of adventurers in the guilds and penalties for corruption cards which definitely should not be ignored.  

Clamouring for small goods

Due to the large scores that are possible and each players hidden corruption cards it is not possible to determine who is winning or losing until the final scoring has been completed.  During my first real play with actual people (!!!) I thought I was down and out going into the last round and there was no way to catch up to my opponent who seemed to have a shelfful of goods.   However, come the final scoring I snuck ahead and the supposed winner actually came last (in a 3 player game).

The reason why I call this an engine builder is due to the set of upgrades and powerups each shop can do.  Each shop has a staff of four actions which can be done when villagers are hired onto your staff.  If you’ve only got one hire then your staff action is fairly weak.  If you’ve filled all four positions you’ll be wanting to do it every turn…although you can never take the same action twice in a row.  Similarly, there’s an element of set collection you’ll be doing which could also provide a massive point swing in final scoring.

Fully employed staff

If you’ve got this far you can tell that this game has a lot of things going on and decision points.  I certainly don’t feel like I’ve explored everything the games got to offer and there is a good deal of replayability.  I am keen to keep playing it although it is not without its flaws.


I think it’s fair to say this game is less than the sum of its parts. However, it has got an impressive array of parts that certainly doesn’t mean this is a bad game. It’s not even a ‘meh game it’s an interesting game.  It’s as if the designer(s) had so many ideas and tried to put them all into a game.  The fact that I want to keep playing it means that it’s a success (it works), I’m just not sure if its excellent, good or just interesting… I don’t feel like there’s anything like it in my collection.

Blacksmith forging dice.

The uniqueness of each shop and their mini-game is impressive but could be bewildering for new players.  I shudder at the thought of teaching this to 3 new players because the teach can easily go on for 20 minutes if you have to explain each shop.  Thankfully the individual shop’s rules pamphlets are fairly concise and could be read by each player during setup and after the main rules have been digested…questions will still come.  I’ve not found an optimised way to teach it yet.

Unfortunately, due to the completely asymmetric shops each one has got their own sizable board to play on as well as the large central board.  Not to mention the unique bits each shop has and the components, this game takes a bit of time to set up.  This is helped by some of the best inserts I’ve ever seen in a game, but it will still take some time, unless everybody is familiar and can help out.  Similarly, this game is a table-hog, you will definitely need a large playing area for this monster.

The Captain's board.


Needless to say, this was successfully funded on Kickstarter.  The components are singularly of excellent quality, the designer is making cardboard do things which it was never designed to do.  It really does look impressive on the table thanks to the light-hearted fantasy art that is dripping off every component.  You don’t get any square / boring edges here everything is shaped, moulded, drawn upon to make everything interesting to look at.

The final mini-game...

There are probably too many components provided for each shop as I’ve never come close to using even half of any shop’s goods.  I still find it difficult to pack it all away despite the excellent insert and the essential packing instructions.  Lose those and you’ll be storing it all across two boxes and will have a lot of broken carboard.  It’s almost a game in itself to pack it all way!


If you’ve got this far you can tell that this game has a lot of things going on and decision points all wrapped up in a really unique game of games.  Sometimes the theme feels quite loose but it’s a testament to the designer, and this game, that so many different moving (metaphorical) pieces comes together as neatly as they do.  All the different merchants feel balanced and everyone is in with a chance of winning right until the end.  I can easily recommend it to any gamer to at least try a few times to see what hyper-modern games can deliver.  

Unlike this review, I have never felt that this game has outstayed its welcome it always seems to finish just in time… 

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link to find your Friendly Local Game Store.

Designers: Carl Van Ostrand with Jonny Pac & Drake Villareal
Playtime: 90 minutes
Players: 1 - 4

Legacy of Dragonholt is a choose your own adventure style RPG game where you and up to 5 others spend a week in the FFG-familiar fantasy wor...

Legacy of Dragonholt by Fantasy Flight Games Legacy of Dragonholt by Fantasy Flight Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Legacy of Dragonholt is a choose your own adventure style RPG game where you and up to 5 others spend a week in the FFG-familiar fantasy world of Terrinoth (…think Descent or Batllelore). Full confession, I’ve only played this solo due to Covid-related restrictions (but I have completed it). It describes itself as a cooperative narrative adventure which is spot on. However, winning and losing is a nebulous affair, the rules themselves state “You might fail to find a fabled treasure or to save an innocent victim, but if you enjoy the story, that is a victory”.


The first thing required of you is to create your character – I became a social-outcast, disfigured chubby cat-woman who wanted nothing more than to escape her humdrum life and the unwanted gaze of children and other people so she naturally became a stealthy thief and ventured solo. So far so D&D-lite. You’re then thrust into the tutorial adventure which introduces the rules through different entries in the first of the adventures. The first adventure, although the shortest, does such an excellent job of teaching the game system that you probably don’t even need to read the 3.5 pages of rules glossary.

No spoilers here!

The rest of the campaign is delivered through five adventures and a central location (Dragonholt Village) which you’ll call home for the entire game. These distinct events are each presented in their own booklet with several hundred entries to determine your choices and consequences as you go through the adventure. Each booklet will comprise a complete adventure and be formed of Encounters and you’ll be asked to mark your time or progress in different tracks to determine what further options are open to you.

If you’ve ever played a choose your own adventure type game, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here but there are a few differences to my own experience of the Fighting Fantasy books (and a Ninja series I’ve forgotten the name to, a 2 player dog-fighting series which I would love to find again, and the relatively new Van Ryder gamebooks) which are worth mentioning.

Each entry is given a four-figure number which I found really easy to remember when moving from one location to another. This may sound like an inconsequential thing to say but I remember losing my place numerous times playing a Fighting Fantasy adventure book which are sequentially numbered 1 to 400 or so. The four figures start at around 1000 in each book and go up to 9000 or so. Due to that amount of number space each entry is numerically separated from its neighbours by 30 or more. I think it is this separation that allows you to thumb through the pages quickly without losing your place. In the whole campaign over 4 or 5 sessions I only had to backtrack to find my place once.

The Story Point / Oracle system

The second ‘worth mentioning’ difference is the Story oints. You mark your progress down different story branches by marking off a variety of checkboxes which indicate a significant story event that you’ve just witnessed. In a later encounter, not just within the same booklet, your available choices will depend on which checkboxes have been marked off, i.e. your past actions directly influence your present. I thought this was a clever system that provided an elegant way to feel like your actions made a difference. Although I’ve completed the game, I’ve only marked off 25% of the Story Points boxes. At this point, I presume it is impossible to mark them all off in a single campaign and multiple playthroughs are necessary to see the entire story.

First completed run through

Which brings me onto the most notable aspect of this game, being the story itself. The characters and locations (particularly the village) feel genuine and are immersive. The writing is engaging and is on par with most of the good fantasy novels I’ve read. Typically, I would expect a gamebook to briefly describe a situation in a couple of sentences and give me an either-or choice. In Legacy of Dragonholt, your choice will come after a paragraph (or sometimes many more) of story and character development. Your choices will also depend on what time of day it is, and what Story Points have been marked off. I presume this is the Oracle system at work and I know I’d like to see some more games using this system.

The adventures

I’ve not played this multi-player but the game allows for an activation system in which you flip your activation token when you’ve taken the lead on a decision. You cannot make a group decision again until every other player has done so. I think this sounds like a neat solution but I still maintain reservations about playing this multiplayer.


The game is presented in 7 adventure booklets (including the village book). You also get a small deck of cards, a village map and a couple of other handouts related to the story. As ever with FFG games I have nothing but praise for the components and presentation.

Is this enough to warrant a board game?


Is it a board game or is it a gamebook? The inclusion of the six activation tokens (only one per player) and a deck of cards are really all that separate this from another choose your adventure book. (I’ve been enjoying the Van Ryder gamebooks series lately which are in my opinion at the pinnacle of choose your adventure design). I don’t think those components do enough to claim that this is a board game which leaves me with the conclusion that this is a £50 book … admittedly it’s well written and enjoyable but I don’t think it merits £50 when other gamebooks are less than half the price.

I’m pretty sure this game is best-played solitaire. There’s sometimes a significant amount of reading to do and that can get quite painful in a group situation. Each of the six adventure book states a realistic-sounding time of 50-80 minutes but as a solo player, I could blast through the quicker adventures in 30 minutes or less. I know I hugely enjoyed my time with the characters and the village of Dragonholt but I didn’t have to listen to anyone else reading ‘dramatically’ or discuss why I thought the group should choose a different decision. However, because I effectively ‘speed-runned’ (new verb) the campaign I was left at the end wishing it lasted longer.


If your group has played Battlelore and is well versed in Descent 2d Edition and you’ve played through the base game and own lots of the expansions then I can really see this having a place on your group’s table, for a few sessions. I do recommend this to solo players looking for an immersive fantasy experience, albeit slightly short-lived, again assuming the price doesn’t put you off.

I certainly enjoyed the story and although my ending wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, I am claiming a victory. After all, it's the first time I've ever reviewed a game where I've completed it.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. This is probably in stock online more than local FLGS but you can use this link to find your Friendly Local Game Store who do need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designer:  Nikki Valens

Bgg page:

Playtime:  30-80 minutes per adventure.

Players:  1 - 6 

Mage Knight needs no introduction as it has topped many 'best of' lists since its release in 2011. It has consistently been vo...

Mage Knight Ultimate Edition Mage Knight Ultimate Edition

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Mage Knight needs no introduction as it has topped many 'best of' lists since its release in 2011. It has consistently been voted the best solo game of all time and it is a game that was on my grail list of games to learn and play. This is Mage Knight Ultimate Edition which includes all of the expansions and additionally 5 extra cards on top of what has already been released.

You can view my unboxing video of this monster-sized box below: 

If you're not familiar, players take on the role of a titular 'Mage Knight' as they explore a fantasy realm, fighting monsters, looting artefacts, pillaging monasteries and besieging cities. The 'realm' is an unknown quantity before you start exploring and your knight will encounter a plethora of fantasy tropes during their quest. There are a total of 18 different scenarios in the Ultimate Edition, 11 from the base game and the remainder from the expansions. The goal of each game is to achieve the scenario specific objectives before time runs out. 'Time' is tracked by a day/night cycle of no more than 3 rounds which initially feels very restrictive. Each scenario can be played competitively, cooperatively or solo, some would argue it's best at one player (I think I'm in that camp too).  Your character will level up, gain abilities as they defeat monsters and interact with villagers and mages throughout the land which hopefully has prepared you enough to take on a city.
Arythea starting her journey


Once you're familiar with the rules, the game can be reduced to a brain-burning exploration puzzle with generous helpings of high-fantasy. It has a reputation for being a very heavy and complex game but I think this is unfair. I read the majority of the 'Learn to Play' booklet and then watched Ricky Royals excellent playthrough videos which completely prepared me to tackle the introductory scenario, First Reconnaissance. The core system of the game is not hard to learn, the complexity comes from a lot of specific rules for each type of monster, site, or terrain tiles, which will also change from day to night.  However these specific rules breath thematic life into this optimisation puzzle of a game.
Rules(s) books
Each day or night round will start by rolling a pool of mana dice and drawing an initiative card to determine which player goes first. There will probably be some bonus as well described on the card to make the choice of initiative card a little harder instead of 'I want to go first I'll pick number 1', number 6 (the highest initiative card has the greatest bonus. The role of mana dice locks those dice to one of 6 different colours of mana, which can be used once per turn by any knight to power their Deed Cards. After a mana dice is used like this it gets re-rolled back into the pool. Despite the rolls being random, the mana dice really requires a level of skill to use optimally, the best play will nearly always involve at least one mana dice, but finding the best use of mana can be tricky.

The game, or your knight's actions throughout the land, is primarily driven by the Deed Cards that you play. Each card has two effects and when played, affords your knight a certain number of points in either move, influence or combat attributes. These points are then available for your character to spend by performing the associated movement and/or action once per turn. All cards can be imbued with mana which allows for the more powerful effect of the card to be played. Any cards played are discarded at the end of your turn and you will draw up a new hand so that you can start planning your next go whilst your opponent is taking their turn.  I can understand why people say this game is the best solo; with multiple players, there is often a lot of downtime, or conversely too much pressure to move when you're searching (often in vain) for better actions.
The first City is revealed
As you generate points from the cards you can explore new terrain tiles. Each hexagonal-shaped tile has a variety of terrain types on it from countryside to mountain and forests to deserts, both of which have different movement costs during the day and night time. It's little tweaks like this, littered throughout the game, that makes this game notoriously complex. However, I didn't find one 'tweak' that didn't logically fit or feel thematically correct. For example, moving through a forest is much harder at night and moving through a desert during the night is much easier. I don't have personal experience of the latter but I've read enough books to have been told that many times.

As you reveal a new tile you will place tokens corresponding to any icons in terrains spaces. At the end of your move, you may be able to interact with whatever token is in the terrain space you've stopped at. Again each site has their own specific rules however you'll primarily be attempting to generate enough influence points to hire some units to aid you in your quest. Of course, there are many other options available to you which all depend on what type of token you've stopped at. You can plunder, attack, recruit, buy spells, train etc. etc. The list is fairly comprehensive and because of the number of different options you have, not just in token interaction, but route choices, ability options when you level up and combat actions, the optimal path can be hard to find.
Random components
Often, the tokens you place onto the board will be monsters, or interacting at sites will cause monsters to spawn. The base game has a large array of different monsters from several different monster types. the most common are the orcs on green tokens. However, The three included expansions add an almost bewildering amount of stuff for the new player. If you are a new player coming into the game with this version as your starting point, for the sake of your own sanity, please only play with the base game for your first foray or two. Tokens can cause multiple enemies to spawn or a conjurer who will summon even more monsters to attack in their stead. It's never a nice feeling to face three enemy spawns when you were hoping for an artefact from a dungeon. 
Ultimate Edition cards
The combat system of this game is ingenious. It took me several games to get my head around it, especially as with your first game or two you're not going to see the more advanced enemies with a variety of combat-effecting attributes. Each time your turn ends on a space with a monster you will fight. If you don't defeat them straight away, i.e after one round of combat, you will take wounds into your hand and withdraw. It is a rather binary affair, you've got one chance to generate enough block and attack points to defeat them else you lose the combat. The points are generated in exactly the same way as movement or influence points are, but it is the careful use of mana tokens, crystals and mana dice (yes there are three sources of mana to juggle) which will allow you to be successful. Each fight will start with a Ranged Attack in which you will get a chance to attack the enemy. These attack points aren't that common on your starting cards and without additional units to play this is not likely to succeed. Next, the enemy attacks the knight, which can be blocked using generated block points. If the enemies' attack is not blocked your knight will take wound cards depending on the strength of the attack and their armour. After you've blocked the enemies attack, it is finally your chance to kill the enemy. If you can generate enough attack points to defeat their armour, congratulate yourself. You've just gained some fame and maybe some influence with the local population.

Wolfhawk versus a Minotaur
There are, of course, a multitude of different attributes that can affect the simplistic combat described above but generally they all work on the concept of doubling or halving the required attack or block points. The rules call this 'efficiency' if your block is efficient against the type of enemy attack, e.g. a cold block is efficient against a fire attack, (makes sense right?) your block points are applied fully. If your block is inefficient you will need to generate double the number of block points to have the same effect. Again there are a lot of different combat attributes that use a similar mechanism, e.g. swift attacks need twice the amount of block to be defended against, which to my mind is efficiency re-skinned. If you can get your head around efficiency any combat will be a doddle, to resolve if not to be successful!

As you defeat enemies and level up, more powerful abilities and spells will be available to you. If you're really good/lucky you'll maybe get a powerful artefact. However, during the course of any one game, you'll only see a small, if not tiny, selection of all the possible cards that you could have. There is a tremendous amount of replayability. It is this replayability that reminded me of Magic Realm, in scope if not depth, however, this is still dwarfed by that much older game.  No other game (that I've played) comes as close to the breadth and depth of Magic Realm as does this. Any game that evokes Magic Realm in any aspect is doing alright in my book.

A very special version of Magic Realm
The rules necessarily allow players to take back their moves up until something had been newly discovered. What this means is that your turns will be littered with indecision and doubt as you stumble to make the right choice and you'll redo and redo a turn to find a route that works. If you like min/maxing, or suffer from Analysis Paralysis then this could just be the best cathartic game to gorge on your idecision; however please do it solo. The time between turns can stretch out to be loooong affairs when playing with just one other person, let alone one that enjoys AP. The box states 1-4 players, however, my patience is exhausted at 3 players and I've not even tried it at 4. *shudder* 


Let me get this off my chest, the box is massive, it's far too big and I'm almost considering ditching it. It takes up an inordinate amount of space on your shelves and there is no reason for it to be so big. there is a good 3 cm empty space at the top of the box.
Let's crush it
The insert is perfect if all you want to do is transport the game to a buyer undamaged; for anything else i.e. playing the game, it is terrible. It falls far short of being useful and I have already ditched it in favour of plastic bags and elastic bands.  Wizkids have attempted to provide afunctional insert, there are card slots for individual decks and spaces for the dice etc. but the tokens are all in the same slots which is less than helpful considering the setup time of this game. A third-party insert is almost a must although none are on the market as of Jan 2019 - I am attempting to design my own.
Bottom layer revealed
There is a dizzying amount of content when you throw the base game and all expansions in together. We are spoilt with games offering 50+ scenarios in the box (Gloomhaven et al) and I think the vast majority of scenarios go unplayed in those games; at least by me and my game groups. Mage Knight (the base game) has 11 scenarios but the re-playability is off the scale. The terrain will be different the encountered monsters will be different, as will be the spells, abilities and artifcats that you collect. I would rather have replayablility with a wide variety of content than lots of different scenarios using the same content.
Knights and Citys
The miniatures come painted, and as someone who enjoys painting minis to quite a good standard, the quality is terrible. However, as someone with limited time to paint minis I am very grateful that they come pre-painted at-all and they're certainly good enough to get the job done, i.e. look good on the table. A factory paint-job will never match the quality or time that a hobbyist can put into their own miniatures so they get a thumbs-up from me.
The one standout area of the games' artwork and design is in the cards. Each card has unique artwork that is evocative of the card's effect and beautifully drawn to a similar quality of a Collectible Card Game. The rest of the tokens and terrain are fairly generic but it gets the job done and, more importantly, clearly conveys all necessary information (once you're familiar with all of the icons).


Huge unnecessary box.
Insert doesn't help a long game set up and is actively keeping me from playing more.
Long time between turns when playing multiplayer.


This game wont be for everyone, but I couldn't do anything but recommend it to every gamer I know. It presents players with so many different and difficult decisions every single turn and the pressure to advance is constant; the first turn is as important as the last. It never feels unbalanced and I always have a niggling doubt that I could have played a hand better. There is no right way to play, but there certainly is a variety of good ways to play. I wonder if the best plays will still be elusive after 20 plays. I still dread going up against a city or even delving into a dungeon. But the challenge is always rewarding and this is one game where I come away thinking about the next time or things I could have done better.
Ignore the ruins, the red City beckons, Fire Dragon needs dealing with first...great game.
I prefer this game solo, or at most with 2 experienced players (I now include myself in that bracket...), playing cooperatively. I tried it with three and I've tried it competitively and it was not as much fun for me. I lost heavily when I was playing competitively but I'd like to think that doesn't sway my opinion (much), I just found the down time untenable and the disappointment of being outwitted by another player quite unpleasant. Which is strange, beacuse normally I don't care whether I win or lose a game I just like to play. 

I enjoy playing and regularly losing at chess, but that doesn't bother me at all. Chess is an abstract that doesn't tell me a story like Mage Knight does. I am invested with the story in Mage Knight. I want my knight to succeed and defeat all the things. A game that conveys a story without presenting you with a written narrative is doing something right in my book. Mage Knight has that quality in spades, the mechanics tell a story, a good story story at that, and that is what is going to keep me coming back to Mage Knight as often as I can; just as soon as I can make a different insert.

Warbanners, developed by Crasleen Games, is the latest game in a sub-genre I've covered a few times already this year: the turn-b...

Warbanners Warbanners

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Warbanners, developed by Crasleen Games, is the latest game in a sub-genre I've covered a few times already this year: the turn-based tactical combat game in a medieval/fantasy setting. The game offers fast-paced, yet detailed combat with a very clear and responsive UI. Outside of the combat, there is a light layer of RPG elements and party management to give context to the battles. There is nothing here that you haven't seen before, but it is all handled so competently that I think it is worth your time if you are into this kind of game. Now, let's dive into each section of the game in a bit more depth.

 In the campaign, which consists of 42 linked scenarios (some optional),  you command a small company of mercenaries, setting out to slay monsters and make some coin in the world. Unlike Battle Brothers, which focused on a sandbox world in the style of Mount & Blade, there is a linear story here, featuring your avatar Roderick. The story is the typical stuff of fantasy lore, there are necromancers raising undead, a mysterious cult, a war against orcs, elves feuding with dwarves, and so on, but it makes for good fluff to link the various missions together. You will often be given some kind of choice at a decision point in the story, and what you choose can change the shape of a coming battle, or have you avoid fighting at all. Many of these decisions will increase or decrease your "karma", which goes up as you do nice things, and down if you are a baddie. This doesn't change the game dramatically, but does lock away some options for your party if your alignment is one way or the other. 

The story moves along at brisk pace, and before you know it you will be caught up in the war against the orcs, which of course goes poorly for the humans and throws your party into some bad situations in the aftermath. I've not finished the whole campaign yet, but I think I'm about halfway through and can safely say that there is a good variety of mission types which force you to use different kinds of strategies. There are sieges, ambushes, desperate defensive stands and all out large scale battles where you have many allies and foes.

Managing your company consists of buying potions, equipping gear as it becomes available, and leveling up your experienced troopers. At the start you only have basic swordsmen and archers, along with your leader, but soon you gain access to additional fantasy archetypes. Dancers (basically rogues), mages, healers, knights, and so on. As you add in these more interesting classes, their abilities add much more complexity to the battlefield since they all have multiple special abilities and traits. The dancer, for example, gets bonus to flanking attacks and ignores enemy zones-of-control when moving. She can zip behind the enemy line and stab them in the back, inflicting bleeding damage as she goes and even has a limited ranged attack when needed. However, in return for all those perks, she has less health and can't take many hits.

As units level up, you can choose one stat boost from among three random options, so no two swordsmen will be the same after a few outings. Units can also gain new perks and abilities at higher levels. Another way to make a unit special is to give it one of the unique pieces of gear that are awarded after some missions. There are boots which can make a swordsman move like a dancer, a bow that increases an archer's range, and an item that lets a character attack in a 3-tile arc with each swing. 

Tactics play an important role in winning battles without losing a lot of units. Long term success in the campaign is much more assured if you can avoid losing any of your units in a battle. If they die, they must either be replaced with a fresh, level one newbie, or resurrected at a higher cost. Spending a lot of your limited cash on resurrections means that you won't be able to buy many potions, which are very helpful in certain situations, or hire the "assistants" which are essentially permanent buffs of various types. These assistants are people you hire to augment your mercenary band, but who don't actually fight on the battlefield. They do things like boost morale, unlock additional classes, or even give you a game-changing catapult in every mission. They are expensive but quite useful and you want to accumulate as many as you can afford. There isn't any way to get extra cash outside of completing missions, so for the entire campaign you are working with a very finite budget.

As you might expect, your forces are often outnumbered, so you will need to use the terrain to your advantage, creating choke points and kill zones when possible. Most every mission has the ultimate goal of killing every single enemy on the map, but how you go about that can differ a great deal depending on the circumstance and how you have built your army. I often used a tactic of holding a defensive line in one section of the battle, while punching through somewhere else and getting behind the strongest part of the enemy line. Potions, as I mentioned before, are very useful in this game and can help turn the tide of a fight. There are about a dozen different types, besides just health and mana potions. You can stun enemies, poison them, freeze them, or use other potions to buff your own soldiers. These potions cost cash, so you can't use them willy-nilly, but you will absolutely need them at times. One particular case was when I went up against the "boss" orc in a large battle. He was unstoppable in a straight up fight, able to kill multiple units in one turn, but toss a few potions at him and you can hobble him long enough to get in some attacks and wear him down.  Attack an enemy enough times and you can exhaust their stamina, which means even the nastiest warrior can't do anything on their turn. Every unit also has a morale value which goes up and down depending on how the battle is going, and other factors. Get an enemy to rout and they will be easy pickings.

All of this is tied together with a clean and efficient UI. When a unit is selected, all the hexes it can move to are highlighted, when colored numbers showing whether a unit will still be able to attack after they reach that destination. Unit stats and special abilities appear on the sidebar, along with any consumable items like potions they are carrying. It's all very straightforward, but works well and quickly. 

I really enjoyed the time I spent with Warbanners, and fully plan on going back and finishing the campaign even after I write this review. It's simply a good crunchy tactical strategy game that doesn't demand too much of your time to have a satisfying play session. I fully recommend this game to anyone looking for a solid tactical combat game with a classic fantasy theme. 

Official Website -

Warbanners is available on Steam.

- Joe Beard

Age of Fear 3: The Legend is a turn-based tactical combat game that fully embraces the idea of gameplay over graphics. The developers are up...

Age of Fear 3: The Legend Age of Fear 3: The Legend

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Age of Fear 3: The Legend is a turn-based tactical combat game that fully embraces the idea of gameplay over graphics. The developers are up front in admitting that the visuals in their newest title are nothing to get excited about. Instead, they want you to dive into a detailed tactical combat engine in which your opponents are driven by an impressive AI that manages to effectively control hundreds of different unit types, spells, and abilities.

Watch the official trailer to get an idea of how the game looks in motion, and enjoy the..uh..innovative cinematography.

In this game, you can choose to play one of two fairly lengthy campaigns. I've only played partially through them so far, but they are equally interesting takes on the fantasy setting. The first campaign gives you control of a beautiful, but deadly, dryad and an ugly, but very deadly, drider. The drider fellow is like a centaur but with the body of a spider instead of a horse. Nightmare material for sure. These two are forced into a partnership by circumstance, and then go on a wild tear through the countryside building an army to fight whatever gets in their way. The other campaign focuses on a drunken dwarf lord on a rampage of his own. The game has some charmingly silly writing and I laughed more than once at the characters' frequent banter.

The campaign is made up of a series of scenarios that constantly challenge you with new enemies and hazards, with bits of story and dialogue sprinkled in between. After a few missions you will begin to see optional scenarios as well. These can add to the story and give you various bonuses if you complete them. One thing I found really fascinating was that there were occasional missions where losing would actually open up a hidden branch in the story line. I don't want to give any of these away, of course, but just wanted to let any prospective player know not to immediately reload the game when a scenario is going poorly, there might be a fun twist if you hang around.

The combat itself takes place on grid-less battlefields where you are free to move your troops about however you like. Units cannot pass through one another, and the fighting spaces are often crowded, so this means that it is very much an effective tactic to have a line of melee units backed by ranged units, for example. To avoid hindering the mobility of your own units, you'll always want to plan ahead a bit and arrange your own forces to allow for flexibility. A couple of giant ents can really put a hurting on the baddies, but can also clog up your lines, blocking other units from reaching the enemy. Faster units are best kept out on the flanks where they can rapidly close when an opening presents itself. All of this taken together actually gives the gameplay a sort of wargame feel. Frontage and the logistics of moving your troops around the battlefield is equally important to spells and swords.

AoF3 is a game that may look very simple at first glance, but actually gives you a ton of options in how to shape your fighting force to your own style. Between missions you get a chance to recruit new units, buy equipment, and add new abilities to your experienced forces. Two units of the same type can be specialized by buying different upgrades with their experience points. You can even "evolve" some units into a new type, or spend the XP on strengthening what you already have. Attributes like poison/fire/etc resistance, health regeneration, new abilities, or simple attack and defense buffs are among the many options. Your two hero units have tons of choices available, including lots of new abilities to select from. The heroes can also be decked out with various pieces of gear that specialize them even further. Between all of this, a hero unit might have more than a dozen different bonuses and changes that make them unique after just the first few scenarios.

You will need every bonus you can get, since this a game that requires some real tactical effort from the player. Simply sending all of your units forward to engage with the enemy will more often than not lead to disaster. In just about every scenario there is often some sort of tactical adjustment that will need to be made on the player's part in order to win. For example, in an early mission the enemy has several kamikaze plant creatures which will explode into a cloud of poisonous gas if they can hit more than one of your units. However, if you only send one unit forward, the enemy unit will only engage in melee attacks. In another mission an undead alter will continuously summon new units until it is destroyed, making its destruction a much higher priority than defeating the units it sends at you.  Figuring out an approach that will work, and then executing it successfully, is the central part of what makes this game fun. A successful scenario leads to your forces getting bigger and better, and the cycle continues.

One of the things touted by the developers about Age of Fear 3 is the above average enemy AI. I watched out for this in particular as I played the game, and found that it really did do some interesting things. Enemy units exhibit a multitude of behaviors beyond simply charging at you and attacking. Ranged units will try to keep your melee units at a distance, enemies in a hopeless situation will retreat, leaders will hang out behind their lines providing support and then attack furiously once engaged. The AI certainly pulls no punches, as it will at times focus fire on a single unit, and isn't afraid to use area-of-effect attacks when possible.

While playing the game, I did not run into any serious bugs or glitches. The only annoying thing was occasionally having to click twice on something since the first click did not register. Another issue was that the way stat adjustments worked was not always 100% clear or logical. Particularly, I had to learn the hard way that equipping a weapon with a poison bonus would actually lower my chance to hit the enemy at all to practically nothing if said enemy had poison resistance or immunity.

Overall, Age of Fear 3 offers up exactly what it promises. A detailed tactical combat game with simple graphics and sound, but a lot of substance under the hood. It also has fun story lines to follow along with and all sorts of exotic units to choose from.  The game of course won't be everyone's cup of tea, but at least it is very up front about what you are getting. If you are still on the fence, the first two games in the series are quite cheap and offer a fairly similar experience to let you try out the system.

Official Website:

Age of Fear 3: The Legend can purchased on Steam or directly from the developers on their website.

- Joe Beard

COMPETITION TIME I'll soon be reviewing Tabletop Wargames: A Designers and Writers Handbook by R Priestly and J Lambshead , recently ...

Win Tabletop Wargames Designers and Writers Handbook! Win Tabletop Wargames Designers and Writers Handbook!

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



I'll soon be reviewing Tabletop Wargames: A Designers and Writers Handbook by R Priestly and J Lambshead, recently released by Pen and Sword publishing. In the mean time you can win a copy all for yourself!

So to win yourself a copy all you need to do is comment below this article and make a solemn promise that if you enjoy the blog you'll spread the word when ever possible:)

Last day will be 12th October! Winner announced 13th October.