The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Board Game Review – Minotaurus

When I picked the game Minotaurus off the shelf at Walmart as a Christmas present for my son, it didn’t really cross my mind that this could be a great game for my gaming group the next time we have down time, but I sure am thinking that now.

Fantasy game with a latin title - how can you go wrong?

The Basics

The game board is a labyrinth made of LEGO. Each player has three men who you are trying to get from your corner of the labyrinth to the center (the labyrinth is symetrical, for fairness). Complicating matters is that there is a minotaur running around the board, sending you back to your starting position, and that other players will at times rearrange the walls to your disadvantage.

On your turn you roll a six sided die that has the numbers 3 through 6, plus a plain black side and a plain grey side. Rolling a number means you can move one of your men that many spaces. Rolling grey means that you can move one of the grey walls in the labrynth. Rolling black allows you to move the minotaur 8 spaces – sending home every man he touches along the way.

The board set up as per instructions.

Even just played out of the box as is this game is way more fun than I would ever have guessed, but, you don’t have to play it out of the box as is. The entire game is made of lego, making it infinitely customizable. Just off the top of my head you could change:

  • The number of men
  • The number of players
  • Add more minotaurs
  • The position of the walls
  • The size of the board
  • The shape of the board
  • The size of the movable wall pieces
  • The faces of the die

I mean, if this game were any more customizable you would have to call it an rpg.

This Game Rocks

I have already played the game a bunch of time, and despite the simple game play, am nowhere near being board of it. So if you want something for your group to on an off night, especially if you have lego sitting around, I highly recommend this game. Naturally the recommendation goes double if you have kids.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

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December 29, 2010 Posted by | Board Games, Review, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment

All You Need to Know About B2

The Keep on the Borderlands (often refered to as The Caves of Chaos) is a module I played but never ran when Basic Dungeons and Dragons was THE game for me. Although I have had it as part of the collection “In Search of Adventure” for 20 years, I only obtained a stand alone copy in 2009.

The most famous module cover ever.

The Keep on the Borderlands (B2) is a Dungeons & Dragons module by Gary Gygax, first printed in December 1979. In it, players are based at a keep and investigate a nearby series of caves that are filled with a variety of monsters. Designed to be used with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, it was included in the 1979-1982 editions of the Basic Set. It was designed for people new to Dungeons & Dragons.

Keep went out of print in the early 1980s, but has reprinted two times, and a sequel was also made. A novelized version of the adventure was published in 1999. The module received generally positive reviews, and was ranked the 7th greatest Dungeons & Dragons adventure of all time by Dungeon magazine in 2004.

Player characters are expected to arrive at the eponymous Keep and base themselves there before investigating the nearby Caves of Chaos, a series of closely-placed caverns teeming with multiple species of vicious humanoids. Plot twists include a treacherous priest within the Keep, hungry lizardmen in a nearby swamp, and a mad hermit in the wilderness. It typifies the dungeon crawls associated with beginning D&D players, while permitting some limited outdoor adventures.

When The Grand Duchy of Karameikos edition of the Gazetteer series was published, the Keep was given a specific location in the Known World of Mystara, in the Atlan Tepe Mountain region in northern Karameikos.

The keep from the back cover of B2.

So how does the best selling module of all time hold up 30 years after its release? Very well.

What makes B2 great, perhaps the greatest is that it isn’t one huge dungeon, but rather a handful of modest dungeons all at the same location. By breaking it up this way gives the players more choice and makes the task of clearing it out less daunting.

Also the many exits removes the all too common problem with dungeons of a single exit making no sense when there are competing inhabitants you all might need to use that exit.

The competing group are also vital to the fure fun of the caves. By having the different groups at odds leads to moments that leave the players scratching their heads and allow for multiple boss battles over the course of the adventure.

While it may well be the greatest old school game of all time, it is not without its flaws. Here are some things I wish it had done differently.

  1. Better explination of how all these competing groups came to lie so close to each other.
  2. Trade some to the pages spent on the keep for more boxed text in the caves.
  3. More clarity in the map; it took me years to properly understand it.

But these are really minor items, nit picks even. B2 is the module to get if you want to run an old school game.

See my other B-Series reviews.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | B-Series, Dungeons and Dragons, Review, RPGs | , , , | 1 Comment

Review – Obsidian Portal


A decade ago every time I had a new idea for a campaign in my head I would flesh it out by making a website for it. The absolute pinnacle of this process for me was the campaign I ran when I formed my current group. To this day I am very proud of that website; on it I documented every PC, every NPC, every adventure, every location, and every house rule, plus I had immense background information, and a huge library of stories I wrote to set the mood of the game.

In all I spent about 100 hours preparing the site before the game began, and about a dozen every week that the game was running. It was beautiful, but it was exhausting; in fact I ended the game because I was burnt out (between the website and other DMing prep work, I was spending about 4 hours in prep for every 1 hour played).

Since then my online efforts have been minimal. There was one game a couple of years ago I ran a blog for, but mostly I have just ignored the electronic side of gaming.

Not long after I started the aforementioned blog I became aware of Obsidian Portal. I wasn’t up to checking it out at the time, but I bookmarked it both in my browser, and mentally. In the intervening time I have read nothing but good things about it, so when my players and I started discussing a new game including a website, I immediately signed up.

I must say, that I have been very underwhelmed by what is there. When you create a campaign on Obsidian Portal you get sections for Home, Adventure Log, Wiki, Characters, Forums, Maps, and Comments. In each of these sections you can create html files.

This all seems well and good, but the problem is that you only get 2MB of space to work with. (also, for no apparent reason you can only have one picture file listed under maps) This is brutal. Basically with 2MB of space you probably aren’t going to have more than half a dozen images for your whole campaign. I’m can’t imagine having a campaign website without lots of maps, character portraits and other pictures.

Ah, but for a very low price of $5/month they will sell you 2GB of space. That’s not very much money, but as soon as you start charging any money I have to start wondering what can I get elsewhere for free.

Within minutes I could setup a WordPress blog that is organized in the exact same way as Obsidian Portal with none of the limitations. With that in mind, basically the $5/month is for

  • A built in forum
  • The ability to hide parts of documents from players

Neither of these are very important to me, and if the forum was it would be very easy to create a message board and just link to it from the blog. The only person I could imagine making extensive use of the hiding feature would be a DM who keeps all his notes on the website. (and that seems very alien to me)

I’m not sure who the customer base for this site is or why so many people rave about it, but it isn’t for me; I think I will go the blog route for my next game,

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, Review, RPGs | , , | 3 Comments

All You Need To Know About B1


The module B1 has a special place in my heart; I received it along with the Basic Set for my 11th birthday. Because I have so many wonderful memories of it, I feel great pain in telling you that B1 isn’t worth the paper its printed on.

B1 was originally promoted as a special introductory module; early editions of the Basic Set shipped with B1 before B2 (The Keep on the Borderlands) became the standard. But not only is B1 not a good module, it is an atrocious introduction.

B1 had the stock-your-own “feature”, which is another way of saying it isn’t really a module at all. B1 is basically a map and some rough notes – no monsters, no boxed text and definitely no useful hints for a beginning DM (there are a couple of pages with advice for DMs, but the topics covered aren’t even on the radar for most novice DMs).

Worst of all, it doesn’t even succeed at being an annotated map. The map is absolutely chaotic and seems completely impractical and unbelievable as a “home and stronghold” for a pair of adventurers.

The entire main floor is basically one huge attempt to screw over the party’s mapper. Every trick you can imagine to mess up a mapper are in here: one way doors, curvy hallways, identical rooms, teleportation traps, magical disorientation, spiral hallways, door mazes . . . did I mention this complex was built to be someone’s home?

I am sure someone will argue that all the absurdity on the main floor was Rogahn and Zelligar’s (the characters from the background information who originally built the complex) way of keeping unwanted guests out. But how can you seriously believe these two wanted to keep people out of their house when they didn’t put a door on the place? Why have all these traps and tricks buried deep in the complex while the entrance hallway has nothing other than alcoves that laugh at people?

So if your players are insane, the most determined group in the world or (as was the case for my group many years ago) if you don’t have any other adventures to play, then maybe, at some point, they’ll see the lower level. The notes state that the lower level was unfinished; I am not sure if this was an in game statement or the author’s own dilemma. The lower level consists of rough caverns which are so simple, they might have been drawn in a matter of minutes.

So to sum up, the upper level map is a meta game mind f–k, the lower level is simple beyond belief, the module has no monsters, no boxed text, a misplaced backstory, and the DM’s introduction sections are of limited usefulness.

If you are a collector or have a sentimental attachment to this module, then it can be worthwhile to own, but if you are looking for some old school action get any other B series module module before this one. Conversely if you want to learn to DM using the Basic game, get the red box set and run the intro adventure in the Dungeons Masters Guide.

See my other B-Series reviews.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | B-Series, Dungeons and Dragons, Review, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment