Having received my upgrade, we played a few games, but I won't go through all of them. General impressions were mixed about changes in the upgrade. BUT overall, Fate gained some appreciation versus earlier doubts and dislikes. We'll have to see what happens with future expansions to be certain of all its dimensions (which most players thought should have been included upfront).
Cards: backs were consider attractive but annoying; most (not all) players preferred labelling to remain with or without iconography. Size was mixed but leaning positive... until the fronts were examimed; all opinions shifted neutral or negative. Size affected text, art, etc., and hence readability when combined with other alterations. Description backgrounds are darker in most decks, forcing many to pause to read (especially those taking reading glasses on and off between reading and playing). Font size seemed larger at first. Careful study suggested only pitch height increased; the font is narrower. Character card sized seemed pointless and took up more playing space. Alignment cards were collectively hated and immediately abandoned in favor the standard ones.
Miniatures: a novelty, but no one wanted to use them. Without skills to paint them, they wasted time spotting who was where on the board in tracking other characters. Standees with matching art were used.
Tokens: (fate or otherwise) no one used them, though all had the option to do so. With more component size increases, table space became premium. Fate tokens brought only chuckles. If/when the two side color is explained and put into play, we will reconsider those only. (NOTE: admittedly our groups have always used note pads or stickies in plain sight for all recorded current attribute levels and other information.)
Three games were played with various characters over several days, but I will focus mostly on the last.
Players: 3 always
Time: 2.5 hours average (moderate pace)
Endgame: First to the Crown of Command
Char.s: Sorceress, Monk, Druid (last game only)
Like others we found Fate not unbalancing but an interesting new dimension when played. It did not speed up the game at all; not compared to the increased potency of certain character abilities, which was a balance problem in some cases. Fate was rarely used except in battles / movement to avoid disasterous outcomes (trapped between two destinations with nasty Adventure cards early in the game, or losing a battle 1 Life left). Fate changes on the board slightly worsened an old problem: Lives for Evil characters. Even with a Fate point for a re-roll, a Life couldn't be gained. Until the Healer and/or Pool of Lives came into play, Evil characters were at a disadvantage slightly greater than before. Fate replenishing at the Graveyard was considered severely skewed in mechanics and for what "Fate" really means.
And Fate was never used with the Mystic because no one chose to see the Mystic at all; when a character had nothing else it could do in that space, and Fate was more than once used to avoid going there (and having some other nasty option waiting in the other direction). I can't fully explain it other than the addtion of being turned Evil (the whole rules justification for that has nothing to do with mysticism). Overall, the Village and City saw few visits compared to the old days, even when something was actually to be sought there. A pity, since some PvP used to occur there, especially on interactions with the Thief character (either stealing or getting his comeupance).
The new wording to distinguish between Strength and Craft combat (attacks, and battles, and psychic, oh my) got a lot of scoffs. That was never unclear and shouldn't have been made more wordy and complicated. Some cards were again over-wordy and not in a truly clarifying way in all cases, as opposed to some other elements (like board spaces) where original clarity was truncated and left old (and some new) players in a pause.
Extra Craft Enemies were a positive except in considering particular characters. It was nice to see Craft grow in a like fashion to Strength, and Craft based characters were now more equal to Strength based. The final game was the clincher for problems in this, and was the shortest game overall (2+ hours). And the winner was... oh, come on, you should have guessed it already: the Monk.
He reached the Inner Region before any others established a stable foothold in the Middle Region. His ability to add Craft to Strength in Attacks (Physical Combat) was even overpowering than in earlier editions. Taking away all weapons (versus just swords and axes) made no difference in balancing. Taking down Craft Enemies, elevating Craft like others but being able to use it in combat put him in a position to take down Strength Enemies quickly. And yes, he took the Crown by Strength in the end. Passing the Werewolf was an utter joke with Craft 9 and Strength 9; that mutt had no chance at all against him.
As to the Druid, his ability to draw maximum spells upon Woods spaces became more than an annoyance to others and even bothered the person playing him. Most utility and STN (Screw Thy Neighbor) spells drawn early on were of little use. Some had to be cast in legally useless ways just to get rid of a spell that didn't help him versus elevated abilities of other characters. There was also confusion as to when new spells were drawn versus Adv. cards to be drawn or landing on one placed on the Woods Space (and thereby becoming the space's actual immediate encounter).
Overall the game was enjoyed almost as much as the old days. More familiarity with play should get all players comfortable with the new changes. But house rules were immediately established after the third game.
House Rules Confirmed
- The Monk may only add Starting / Innate Craft in Attack (Combat). Craft boosting spells may be used as well, but not Current Craft (built up skill rather than innate Intelligence, Wisdom, etc.) nor Applicable Craft (mods from Followers or Magic Objects).
- The Druid may not draw new spells on a Woods space until after facing any waiting upturned Adventure Cards or facing another character already there. (In other words, he hasn't had time - like a true druid - to interact with Nature to gain new powers). He may draw spells before drawing a new Adventure card there.
Alignment change must be declared at a turn's beginning or end and not during. This is a rather illogical ability (by Alignment concept or actual historical druidic practice). In one situation he changed twice in one turn to gain a space advantage (praying in the Graveyard) and then picked up the Holy Lance (dropped there). One other situation raised the possibility of three switches in one turn. it was getting ridiculous by the game's end... and it still wasn't enough to challenge the Monk.
- The Graveyard remains worded as "Pray" instead of "Invoke" but on a roll of 5 a Life is gained rather than a Fate. It's not much for Evil characters, but since they can replenish Fate by choice, the gaining a Life by prayer should not have been messed with.
House Rules Under Consideration
- Fate can additionally be used after a movement roll to modify +1 or -1 (max. 6, min. 1, so only applicable 66% of the time and a minor benefit compared to cost). This is a more real "choice" use of Fate and would actually speed up the game in instances where getting to a specific space is desperately needed / wanted. It also beefs up non-combat competition and forces even more hard choices on Fate use. (We tried it just once, and when the Pool of Live popped up, a rousing free-for-all race and tumble began that brought many laughs... distracting from the imbalance of Lives for Evil characters.)
- City and Village returned to "may" visit on personalities there. Trying to figure out what to do (when nothing was needed or even possible) broke the fantasy adventuring mood, and was considered illogical and silly (even more than annoying)... and it wasted time (slowing the game).