Saturday, 30 August 2014

Whiskey Recommends: Dithrandir Kickstarter

Kickstarter has become a big thing these days and many indie developers, and even some larger studios turn to it for funding for their projects. It's grown so crowded infact, and had a couple of major missteps lately that it's becoming harder to sort the wheat from the chaff but fear not dear readers for Whiskey Recommends is here to tell you what to take a look at.

Dithrandir (also on Facebook) is a two player card game where players face off against each other in a race across 20 planets (10 each player) to see who can gather the most resources and emerge victorious.

I've had the good fortune of getting to go hands on with an early build of Dithrandir and even got to influence its development slightly via these early playtest sessions. It's slower paced than most card games with rounds lasting about 45 minutes to an hour for players who already know the rules.
Keep reading for a quick walkthrough of the current ruleset and see if it tickles your fancy and if it does, maybe go throw a couple of quid at the developer to help make the game a reality.

Disclaimer; this write-up is based on my latest playtest session with the developer. There may be some rules omitted because we didn't get to them and all information given here is subject to change at the whims of the developer/future playtesting results and may be inaccurate depending on when you read it.

Players have a 40 card deck, with an additional 10 planets, a ship and core crystal. The 40 card portion the deck is comprised of several smaller crystals, some crew, some creatures, some gear and some special action cards. Players pick out their ship and core crystal at the start of play and choose three crew to man it, nominate one of these crewmen as captain (usually a named character with a bonus to the ship or rest of the crew that only activates if they're captain) then roll 2d6 and add 2 points for each crew member to determine their starting action points (AP). Finally they draw a hand of six cards each and move on to the next phase.

Once the set-up phase is complete the barter phase begins, this is a time in which both players play equipment cards simultaneously, paying the AP cost marked on the card to equip them to eligible crew members. The core of these cards are guns, which don't allow the enemy a chance to counter attack when used in combat and can seriously buff a crew member's offensive capabilities but are limited by size and equipment cost (each crew member has a size and cannot equip guns larger than themselves, also an equipment cost number that cannot be exceeded).

Once both players are happy with the barter phase they move on to the combat phase where the player with the most AP goes first, in this phase a lot happens and most of the game takes place in this phase. This player draws a planet card from their planet deck and places it face up on the table. These planets have features such as radiation and a reward for beating the other player. This reward can be claimed by both sides and is often an amount of Karma (a.k.a victory points/currency) but can have other more interesting effects too. 
With the planet card down the attacking player (the one who played the card) gets to choose whether or not to engage the opponent in space-based combat. If so, combat lasts for as many rounds as the planet's distance number or until both players agree to not attack. Attacking is done using the ship card and its equipped weapons and crystals but the attacking player in each combat turn can choose to ram, which deals damage and pits crew against crew in a round of combat that can result in heavy damage on both sides. It's a giant risk but can pay off with a bold player taking a planet uncontested.
Once ship combat is over, one way or another, the ground combat phase begins. At this point the defending player checks their hand for creature cards, if they have none they can defend the planet with crew (if they have a crew with the appropriate trait) or allow their opponent to take it uncontested. Whether it's creatures or crew, the attacking player nominates one of their own crew to go out onto the planet and do battle, with each crew member going out in turn if the player so wishes. Once the creature/crew of the defending player is defeated the attacker claims the planet. At any time the attacker can choose to withdraw and concede defeat, not getting the reward for the planet they were on.
The roles of attacker and defender then flip and ground combat plays out again, giving the other player a chance to also claim the planet reward.
During all this each crew member gets one free attack but then has to pay AP for successive attacks, equipment cards such as guns always cost AP to use and the bulk of each players AP is spent in space and on the ground trying to claim that all important reward.

The aforementioned combat is simple but engaging, with each combatant/item having power and speed stats. Players roll speed to-hit and to-dodge, adding the speed score to a 1d6 roll, and if the attacker succeeds in exceeding the defender's score then they roll power against each other to determine how much HP is lost based on the difference between scores. In the case of a non-ranged attack the defender gets an automatic counter-attack that plays out straight away in the same manner.

Whether or not anyone gained anything from the ground combat, once both sides have attempted to take the planet all creatures are discarded, all crew return to the ships and the planet is then discarded along with any remaining AP each player may have and the whole thing starts over with the exception that the opposite player plays a planet card and assumes the role of primary attacker, with this role flip-flopping back and forth until all planet cards have been played or one player can no longer afford to repair their ship when it's destroyed.
In the case of the planets being exhausted the winner is whoever has the highest amount of Karma at the end of play, making spending it a gamble between possibly claiming more and losing out to a more frugal player.

I've seen the game go through several major changes through recent development and gotten hands on with it, playing against the developer, several times and have thoroughly enjoyed each and every game. Pulling out a victory or ramming a better equipped ship in space combat just because their crew is more injured than yours feels like the best Magic The Gathering coups and even half decent players stand a chance thanks to the dice rolls adding just enough variation in the numbers to make sure cards with higher numbers on them don't always win.

Leave a comment below (or tweet @wskosc if you're so inclined) if you'd like to see a gameplay video between myself and Kevin Rose (the developer) explaining the game in more depth and talking about some of the features and we'll make it happen.