Tag: Lord of the Rings

Top 10 – Books/Series

Top 10 – Books/Series

Jumping around in our Top 10 topics, we’re going to go to books and or series. I was thinking about doing more movies, and I’ll come back to them, but felt like time to do books for some reason. I’m lumping series together, because I 

Top 10 – Campaign Games

Top 10 – Campaign Games

Recently I did an article talking about the different types of games, and one that I mentioned was campaign games. These are games that tell a story throughout as you play them and you are playing scenarios that tie together over time and create one 

Pillars of D&D (Part 4 – Exploration)

Pillars of D&D (Part 4 – Exploration)

About a week ago, I started on a series talking about the three pillars of Dungeons and Dragons, Combat, Social Encounters and Exploration. I’ve talked about the first two, Combat and Social Encounters already and we’re onto the Pillar of Exploration

Exploration might be considered the forgotten pillar of Dungeons and Dragons. While the first, Combat, really uses the character sheet and Social Encounters are all about the role play. Exploration is the one that is supposed to give you a sweeping sense of adventure which can be a harder thing to do. What makes exploration hard is that it relies a lot more on the dungeon master than either of the other two do. There’s give and take in combat as the players narrate their attacks, social encounters are back and forth as player characters interact with the non-player characters. Exploration can just be much more stagnant describing.

Image Source: Wizards of the Coast

So how do you spice up your exploration so it doesn’t just feel like a description of the mountains in New Zealand but actually feels like you’re watching Lord of the Rings?

I’ll get into a list coming up here, but I would say that the first thing is, don’t let it just be a few rolls of the dice for navigation or not getting lost in the wilderness. It’s easy to do a survival or nature check and have them navigate and narrate off of that, but that’s going to end up being a little bit of the dungeon master talking. Unless it matters during those times just let them get where they need to go. So how can you spice it up?

  1. Unique Locations
  2. Unique Challenges
  3. Story Driven Locations
  4. Explore Non-Nature Locations

1 – Unique Locations

When we think of Lord of the Rings, to go back to that example, places like Helms Deep are interesting to describe, same with the Mirkwood. Describing a generic fantasy setting or a forest or a mountain or some caves, those are fairly dull. Be creative with your locations, if it’s worth describing, it should have some interesting elements. Instead of being in a a forest, make it so that the undersides of the leaves give off a faint glow, so even though it might be night time, the forest floor is never dark. The mountains instead of being jagged peaks off in the distance capped with snow, the lower sections of the mountains are all cliffs, no winding paths leading up them so steep that not even mountain goats would be able to climb them. Or the cave, instead of being black with stalactites and stalagmites in it, the walls are smooth and appear to be polished, you can look into it and see your reflection and things that seem to be moving behind the surface. If you’re going to spend time describing it, make it something memorable.

2 – Unique Challenges

This one is one that I’m not great at yet. When I’m talking about unique challenges, I’m not talking about random encounters, now some of those could be part of the exploration piece, but in the examples above for the unique locations, how can you turn the fact the forest floor is never dark into a challenge? Well, how can the player characters fall asleep? Or to get to the tops of the mountains, you clearly have a some rolls for climbing the cliffs, and do the players even have what they need to do that? Or in the cave, what sort of rolls can the players do, arcana, nature, religion, animal handling, history, to figure out what is going on with the shapes moving behind the surface of the wall? Give them rolls and challenges that are related to the uniqueness of the location that they won’t have to worry about or overcome anywhere else, but they matter here. A great example of that is previous editions, not so much fifth, of the Mournland in Eberron. That was an area of land decimated by some cataclysm. There are living spells roaming that area and healing doesn’t work as effectively as it should. Those are two highly unique things to that area that can create all sorts of challenges, especially the healing one.

3 – Make It About The Story
Really, this could have been rule #1 every time, to make anything more interesting in the game, make it about the story. If the location that they are in isn’t important to the story, don’t spend that much time on it, unless it’s meant to be a challenge for them to get to the proper location for the story, and then the survival itself is part of their story and the story of the place they are going. But if they are wandering through the desert because they happened to take a wrong turn at Albuquerque, that won’t be that exciting exploration as they try and get unlost. Again, there are types of games that this works with, if it is very strong survival, counting everything, and that’s the point of the game and the type of game you want to play, then it is part of the story, but everything is about the exploration and survival. In a lot of games, though, that’s not the case, so when you’re going to spend time on exploration, make it about the story.

Image Source: Encounter Roleplay

4 – Explore Non-Natural Locations

The ruins of an ancient city that was thought long lost, that’s exploring. A mad wizards tower that no one has gone into and ever returned from because it’s so dangerous, that’s exploring. The dungeon under the a castle where there is allegedly great treasure, that is also exploring. All of these were made by someone, in Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Rings, they go through the Mines of Moria. There’s exploration in that as Gandalf tries to remember the way, and there are unique things about it, mainly a Balrog, but also just the drums in the deep, something that’s constantly there and very unique to the location. Yes, there was a cave location to it, but it was mainly dug out and turned into the city that it had been previously by dwarves, and that’s an easy one to steal and drop into your game. The advantage of Non-Natural locations is that nature tends to be big and sweeping, these locations are smaller, they can have a lot more challenges that can’t just be avoided by walking a mile to the west, and you can do a lot to make them very unique. The fact that it is more constricted also makes it easier to tell part of the story in it, because the players won’t have to search for the plot point or accidentally miss it.

So, what are some interesting ways that you can use exploration? Or I think better, what are some interesting locations that you can drop into your game to make for some interesting exploration no matter where you use them.

Swamps of Death

The swamps of death are aptly named because it’s easy to become turned around and lost in them. In fact, there seems to be no real path through them and with a strong stench and a constant haze, it can be quite disorienting. The biggest concern, though, is that if you step off of one of many crossing paths and into the muck itself, it has a glue like tendency that seems to grab you and hold you there. Unless you’re lucky, you’ll get sucked down and under and join the dead below.

An interesting thing for the DM to know but not for the players, is that the players will always have a swarm of crows around them during the day, up in the sky. And it should be fairly obvious as the crows will rest upon dead trees near the players. But the crows, at night, will always fly off towards the nearest edge of the swamp as to not sleep in the swamp. So if the players can manage to survive for several days, they’ll be able to use the crows to navigate out whatever side they want to leave from.

Cole Mines

Artmis Cole was the original owner of the mines. It was said that he was a shrewd business man. He would push everyone hard to get the most out of his mines and for his money. Two hundred years ago, however, there was a collapse in the mines and Cole and twenty of his miners were lost down there with the minerals. It was rumored that Cole had a map on him for another mine, possibly, that would be worth a fortune.

The wall of the mine glow faintly and the PC’s can feel a tingling on their skin when they enter the mine. The mine actually was for a raw material that can more easily be enchanted and turned into magical items, such as weapons, armor, lamps, whatever it might be. However, in the raw for it’s unstable and long exposure to it can be dangerous.

For this, I’d have the player have to figure out where the collapse was, probably fight some twisted versions of Kolbolds, something easy to get down to it, and then they’ll need to excavate to get to Cole. Cole should be dead, but I’d have down with him some twisted version of elves, it’s only been 200 years, but they’ve been exposed to their radiation for a long time and living off of lichen and bugs that can thrive, so something has changed about them.

House on the Hill

I’m stealing this straight from the board game Betrayal at House on the Hill. There is some malevolent spirit that has created a house of horrors that the players can go through and explore. As they explore, they don’t know what room will be next because others who have explored it, the layout is different, just like in the game the layout can change every time. That means that there might be rooms that no one has ever seen that the players will see, but there also might be rooms that someone has explored before and written about that the players would know about.

I think what would be interesting about this location is the blend of rooms that the players know what they need to do to get through it, the question is can they and rooms that the players don’t know what they are and can they figure them out. At some point in time, maybe with something like a bedroom, I’d create one that looks similar to one that they know about so they can assume it’s that, but there’ll be something slightly different that they might not notice and they could try and do the wrong thing in it.

This one, I’d say, would be a little bit more challenging to pull off, I’d personally lean towards writing up some brief notes on the rooms the players know about, a little description, what the challenge is and how to overcome it. Let the players be able to look through that and figure out what rooms they think they are in when you describe the room to them, don’t point them in a direction, that would give the players more of a sense of exploration and discovery.

Now, these are just some ways that I think that exploration could be more interestingly done in Dungeons and Dragons or ways to make it feel special like combat or social interactions often can. What are some memorable moments of exploration that you’ve had in your games?

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Top 10 – Games with an IP

Top 10 – Games with an IP

We’ve all seen Simpsons Monopoly and Monopoly for a specific football team or baseball team, national parks, or city. Those are all IP’s put onto Monopoly, intellectual properties. Those aren’t going to make this list, I’m looking at my top 10 favorite games that are 

Top 10 Fantasy Themed Games

Top 10 Fantasy Themed Games

One of the more common themes for board games, and for so many nerdy things is fantasy. This can be from sword and sorcery to epic to urban, I’m not going to be picky with my tastes as generally I really enjoy fantasy in books, 

We Love Trilogies

We Love Trilogies

But the question is, should we love trilogies. It’s really easy to think of a lot of them that at least started out as trilogies. Lord of the Rings is an obvious example, Star Wars x3, Hunger Games, Pirates of the Caribbean, Back to the Future, The Matrix, etc. There are tons of examples trilogies out there, some of them better than others, but it’s a really popular format for telling a story, and when done well it can work really well, but it’s not always done well.

Let’s talk about how fairly often a trilogy happens, and we can delve into some of the issues based off of that. The creator of the story has an idea for one story, maybe more, but one that they know they can get published or produced. So they go to the publisher or producer and sell them on this story and they get it made. Now, it’s a huge success and the publisher or producer comes back to them and asks for more and not just one more, two more of the story or film or whatever it might be. So the creator creates another story picking a spot in the middle for a cliffhanger between both stories and then those are published or produced. However, the second and third don’t do as well. What went wrong?

Image Credit: Down With The Capitol

Now, it could be that there just wasn’t anymore story to tell surrounding certain characters or ideas or even worlds. That can happen, but probably isn’t going to be the biggest issue. Probably as often it happens that the creator didn’t have any more stories to put in that setting and to get something a little bit more out there published or produced, they agree to a multi-thing deal which includes what they are actually interested in creating as well as two things that will be more successful for the company that they signed the deal with. Both of those examples, there really shouldn’t have been a second thing created at all, because there really wasn’t anywhere to go.

But, I think there’s another issue that often befalls trilogies, and that’s their ability to tell a complete story. Pirates of the Caribbean is a great example of this. In the first movie, we get a complete story, we get Jack going from being a pirate down on his luck, getting what he thought he wanted, realizing it wasn’t what he wanted, and overcoming everything in the end. Same with Star Wars: A New Hope, we get a complete story including third act metal ceremony. Then comes along the second film, in particular in Pirates of the Caribbean, less so in the original trilogy (Star Wars). You get the creators knowing that there will be a third film, so they tell part of a story. You get some build, maybe even some change, but in the end, the biggest issue still hasn’t be resolved. Instead, you have to wait for the third film. And that’s fine, if you can watch both films back to back, but most of the time if it’s something you’re really excited about, you’re seeing the film or reading the book when it comes out, not when both are out. So you get the second part which is the start of a story and ends with a small resolution, and the third part which is the continuation of the second part and then the final resolution. So combined you are telling a single story, but both parts are going to leave you feeling a little wanting, unless they are masterfully crafted.

So, how can you get around this in a trilogy? Sometimes you just plan on it being a trilogy. Lord of the Rings is a prime example of this, Fellowship of the Ring doesn’t tell a complete story, Frodo is still going to Mordor, the same with The Two Towers, Frodo is still going to Mordor, and that’s the end of the story (kind of, there are a lot of third acts) when he throws the ring into Mount Doom in Return of the King. However, in each of those, we know there’s the through story line going on with Frodo getting the ring to Mount Doom in Mordor, but we also have other characters getting a story as well and there’s story, especially in Return of the King and The Two Towers that gets told apart from Frodo’s journey that has groundwork laid in earlier books, but finishes up and tells a story there. We have the massive battle between the forces of good and evil in Return of the King which sees Aragorn become King. We have in The Two Towers multiple stories that are told and wrap with Merry, Pippin, and the Ents and the battle of Helms Deep.

Image Credit: Flavorwire

Lord of the Rings does two things that should be pointed out. It has a through line so it doesn’t feel like the parts of the trilogy are disconnected. This is the Frodo and Sam story line that they need to get the ring to Mordor and Mount Doom. It’s the key piece of the story and in fact, if they fail, the whole thing fails and that runs throughout all of the books. At the same time with have Gandalf, Aragorn, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, and Legolas doing there own things, making a difference in another part of the world. And even though they aren’t carrying the end game thing, the ring, they still have an important part to play. So we get complete story arcs, from beginning to end, for them in the books and not across all the books, but in each book there is a beginning and ending point.

This varies from my Pirates of the Caribbean example because it has a through line throughout the whole thing, Pirates has characters who repeat but the first movie stands separate from the last two of the original Pirates trilogy. And Lord of the Rings has a beginning, middle and end to each book, versus Pirates 2 & 3 where you have a beginning and middle and a middle and end split respectively.

What does this mean as a creator?

First, a trilogy isn’t the end all for writing, you don’t need it to be a trilogy. The Dresden Files, a series that I love, is on book 17. So you can clearly go longer if you have more story to tell, so don’t let a trilogy limit you. And don’t let the idea of it needing to be a trilogy or anything like that force over complexity and bloat into your stories.

However, if you are going to write a trilogy, or even if you are writing something that you have a bigger idea for, but you just need to get one written and published first, think about through line and think about a complete story. Now, it’s hard if you think that you are only going to get a single shot at creating your idea, but give yourself room. Don’t bloat your idea to fit everything in to a single thing, instead, tell a nice complete story and leave room in the world for there to be even more story. Star Wars, the original trilogy, does this well. You have them blow up the Death Star, that by itself could end the story in A New Hope, however, Vader isn’t killed, so the villain is still out there. If nothing ever came after A New Hope, it wouldn’t feel like it’s missing anything, but it’s natural that we pick back up again with Darth Vader and the Empire. So create a first story, even if you don’t know that you’ll get more like that. Give the main characters a big win but leave a villain out there defeated but not destroyed. That way, you can come back and pick up with the same characters and continue a story.

Image Source: Disney

Also leave plenty of your world unexplored after your first story, especially if you don’t know if there will be more. Lord of the Rings, we get through some mountains, but we know that Mordor is still out there, but we’re not there yet, and there are other lands to explore as well that we haven’t seen or gone to. Star Wars: A New Hope, they really aren’t that many locations and then they have a ton of other planets that they can create and use in future films because they didn’t have them hop from planet to planet all the time. This gives you room to create more mystery and more adventures in which to tell your complete adventure. Pirates of the Caribbean really feels like it hits up so many locations in the first film, even though it’s somewhat limited, so you don’t feel like there are a lot of players left to join the story in this small world they’ve created, as compare to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars where who knows what new enemies or allies might be out there.

Now, I’m sure there are more things out there that you can do when creating a trilogy. I do want to wrap up with that I’m not trying to bash on trilogies. I think fairly often they can work. The original Star Wars trilogy and Lord of the Rings are great examples of this. Even The Hunger Games, which I didn’t talk about much, does a good job of making the 1st and the 3rd stand separate as their own stories. But don’t limit yourself to that if you want to create an epic, and tell a complete story each time, those are just my rules for writing a series or trilogy.

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Top 10 Adventure Games

Top 10 Adventure Games

So I’m picking this one again because it’s one of my favorite themes and feelings in games. Also, the Dice Tower did a Top 10 list recently as well, so you can see how mine compares to theirs. But I am taking a slightly different 

Dungeons and Dragons: Birthright

Dungeons and Dragons: Birthright

I’ve talked about a lot of games that are about that epic adventure for a small group of characters. Birthright is about epic things, but not on that smaller level. Birthright is about great leaders going to battle against other nations, probably with other world 

Top 10 Deck Building/Construction Games

Top 10 Deck Building/Construction Games

I’ve been toying around for a little while the idea that I might start doing some more top 10 lists. We might still do some video ones in the future, but finding the time with a toddler is tricky. So I wanted to do, from what I’ve played, go through my top games in a given mechanic or style.

This first list is going to be Deck Building Games, now on BGG, they combine pool and bag building games as well, but I’m only going to do deck building. However, it is going to include deck construction games as well. Because you are technically constructing the deck, it is just prior to the game, but it is also a large part of the game. I will call out those games. In deck building, you are constructing the deck to do something in the game, it might be getting victory points, it might be for buying more cards, fighting or many other things. Let’s see what my list looks like.

The List

10 – The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth
It’s a long title and an interesting game, a deck construction game, you start out with an archetype and some character cards. But you can play against type, so maybe Gimli as a leader and Aragorn as a tank, and between scenarios you can spend experience to level up the deck and get better cards. How you use the cards is interesting, most of the time you are looking for successes on cards, but you can also use cards for a more permanent ability, but the better the ability, more likely it’s to have successes on it, which means you want it in the deck for your challenges so that you can pass them. It’s a good mechanic because it makes so many decisions tough. Plus, there’s a campaign for it, and an app driven story, this is weaker than Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition for that, but the app helps so much, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, it’s definitely a game to check out.

9 – Dragonfire
I haven’t played this game as much as I’d like though I have played both Dragonfire and Shadowrun: Crossfire, which are both built off of the same system. I’m going with Dragonfire because that’s the one that I own. The game offers interesting scenarios and challenges for the players to defeat, and you start out with your class which means that you are a little bit better at something than others. You get to purchase cards to improve your deck, but at the same time, you’re trying to deal with monsters and avoid becoming exhausted or taken out. It’s a tough game that I don’t feel like I fully have a grasp on the strategy for it yet, but I like the deck building aspect and I think that it does some interesting things with leveling up your characters. Definitely a fun time to play, and while I like the Shadowrun RPG theme better than the D&D RPG theme, I think that both are fun, so either works, just depends if you want fantasy or cyberpunk.

Image Source: Gatherer

8 – Magic: The Gathering
MtG was a game that I loved and I’d play all the time for a while, but unfortunately I don’t have a group anymore for it. But I still love it for the deck construction aspect of it. You could build all sorts of crazy decks, and I think, almost as much as playing it, I loved finding an odd card that didn’t have an obvious way for it to work, but I would figure out a way to create a deck around it. Sometimes they were cool decks, and sometimes they failed horribly, but it was always fun to experiment. And then we got into commander which adds a challenge of only having a single copy of a card in the deck and a 100 yard deck, so there was always something new to try and build. I miss playing it as often sometimes, but it’s a classic and extremely popular game for a reason. It’s also addictive to open packs once you get into it.

7 – Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
This is just a fun game as you get to play through the books, getting further in your education and improving your deck. You get to sling spells, get friends to help you and try and defeat everyone. The game starts out pretty simple, and I like that, because it can continue to add in mechanics and rules and cards for each book that you go to, which makes it more thematic. It does get longer the further in you go because, while you are theoretically getting better cards the longer it goes, in the later chapters, you’re dealing with the villains from the first books as well as the ones from the later books so that number always increases. But Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is just a good deck building game and a good theme that will draw people in.

Image Source: Board Game Geek

6 – Ascension
This is the most generic deck building game on the list. In it, you have a basic starting deck, you get to buy more cards that allow you to buy more cards or fight monsters that show up. You can combo things together with card draw and constructs, and that’s probably the only unique bit is that you have constructs that you can play out and they stay out while heroes go into the discard at the end of the turn. So you can vary your strategy by either going construct heavy or maybe hero and attack heavy or buy heavy. Each of them gives you a chance to win because you get points for killing monsters, but you can also get points for getting cards and some constructs are worth a lot of points. This is my preferred introduction to deck building.

5 – Clank! In! Space!
Some games take themselves seriously, but Clank! In! Space! is not one of those games. You’re an adventurer/thief, stumbling around Lord Eradikus’s spaceship, trying not to make too much clank so that you don’t get tracked down and knocked out. The cards are all references to other sci-fi things, and it just works really well. It’s a deck builder where you have a few different types of cards that can combo together to create some epic turns, if it shuffles out right, plus it’s push your luck with deck building as well, because you can go further into the spaceship to get a better treasure, but it’ll take you longer to get out and Lord Eradikus might get you before that happens. But if he doesn’t, you’ll be in a much better spot to win. The game is light fun with good replayability.

Image Source: Renegade Games

4 – Aeon’s End: War Eternal
Aeon’s End: War Eternal is such an interesting deck building game that gives you a chance to not have to worry about the randomness of your deck. When you buy cards, they go into the discard, when you spend your cards on a turn, they go to the discard, but cards that you spend on a turn, you can sort those. That’s not a big deal if you’re shuffling the deck, but you’re not, when you run out of cards, you just flip your deck, so it gives you the ability to potentially set-up hands. Add in the game play, which has an interesting spell casting mechanic where you need to prep them, tough monsters to fight, and a town to defend, the game gives you so much replayability just out of the base box and then there is more in expansions and other editions. It’s just a nice twist on deck building that works really well for my style of play, plus it’s cooperative.

3 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Another deck contrusction game on the list, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a great experience creating your character so that they can investigate, attack, or deal with whatever might come up better for a given story. And then you get to take them through a campaign, so it’s not just a one off game, so between games you get to improve your deck so that you’re more prepared for the next part of the story. And characters, depending on their skills will be able to use certain types of cards better or will need help on some skills, so will need more of those cards in their decks, you can really tailor your investigator how you want.

Image Source: Fantasy Flight Games

2 – Marvel Champions
It was hard to know where to slot this one in, it’s deck construction, so you build your deck before the game, but it is so much fun. I’ve been writing about it a bunch recently, and it just works for me, all it’s missing is a campaign, which we’re getting. In it, you play as a superhero who is taking on the likes of Rhino, Ultron, or Green Goblin. What makes this work and be an interesting deck construction game is the different archetypes. So you could play someone like Spider-Man with defensive cards in his deck to keep him standing longer without having to flip back to the Peter Parker side, or you could be aggressive hoping to end the game faster. It gives you so many options when you’re constructing your deck. It just feels like taking your superhero up against a villain who has some grand or small scheme.

1 – Xenoshyft: Onslaught
Why is this my favorite, it’s actually fairly low rank on BGG, but the game is just a ton of fun, and I think it does some interesting things for a deck builder. You are never short money, which is nice, but when you buy cards and you are creating your defenses to stop an alien bug attack on your mining base, you can help other people as well. So you build up your defenses, but you can also help build up others, so even if someone has a bad card draw, you’ll be able to help them, or vice-a-versa. It’s just an interesting thing that makes the game feel even more cooperative in it’s nature and not something that you can do in many other deck building games. Plus, you’re blasting alien bug monsters, and I’m always down for that.

Image Source: CMON

I’ve left a few games off of here that do have deck construction or deck building in them because I think that, while it’s important for those games, t here are other things that are also as big a part. Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon is one of them, but that one is a story driven survival game with deck construction being part of how you level up. The same goes for Gloomhaven, you can improve your hand of cards versus a deck there, but you can improve your modifier deck as you level up. I wanted to go with games where the deck construction is a huge part of the game. I think with the exception of Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth, though you are using the deck for everything, you do need to really focus on the deck building part of the game.

There are a couple of notable deck building games that aren’t on the list. First, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, I just find that game to be okay. I think that there’s so much in the game now that it can be hard to keep track of everything and you can pretty easily end up with a less than ideal combo of heroes that don’t synergize as well as they could. If that happens, you just get stomped, and I feel like that is pretty common for that game. Dominion also didn’t make my list, and while I know that some of these games, if not all, wouldn’t have existed without Dominion, it doesn’t make Dominion a good game. It’s a pure deck building game, I’ll give it that, but it’s not thematic and it’s not nice to look at, and because it has a static market, someone who has played it more or played with a certain combo is going to be at an advantage because they know what to build immediately, and there’s always an optimal strategy. I like games that make me adjust as I go and stretch me that way, and I don’t think Dominion does that.

What are some of your favorite deck building games? Are there any, based off of what I like, that you think I should check out?

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TableTopTakes: The Hobbit

TableTopTakes: The Hobbit

There are times when you stumble across a game on sale and you don’t know anything about it. But because of the theme or a look of the game, and how big the sale is, it is worth checking out. This was the case with