New Game Weekend: Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia

bsboxAfter a week away on vacation I returned to Brooklyn and the Metropolitan Wargamers club in Park Slope this past weekend. The club was packed on the Labor Day weekend with lots of different games hitting the tables. I paired-off with one of my fellow members to try out his new copy of Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia.

Based on the latest game in the long-running Bioshock video game franchise, this 2013 boardgame is at its root an area control game. Players choose to play as one of the two factions – the Vox Populi led by Daisy Fitzroy and the Founders led by Zachary H. Comstock. The game plays in a one-on-one two-player game or in a four-player team version of the game.

Play begins with each faction placing their starting miniatures and Turret and Home Base building markers. Each turn begins with the draw of a victory point mission card followed by a World Event Card which kicks off a secret vote with each player committing influence points from their hand of five Action cards. Winning or defeating the vote varies in importance, as the neutral Booker and Elizabeth characters advance to different spaces on the board and other game-changing events are put into play.


The winner of the vote also receives the first turn marker which is key to controlling the flow of the game. Starting with the first player, units are purchased or Action cards are upgraded with Silver Eagle coins. Action card upgrades give you greater influence in votes, stronger combat values or more purchasing power in subsequent turns. The player then moves up to four units to adjacent squares or takes a chnace gliding to neighboring territories across the Skyline. Most units move one space but the Founders’ Songbird and Voz Populi’s Airship models each move up to two spaces. Skyline moves are achieved through rolls of special dice sliding you to the next node or risking a fall into thin air with each roll.

Combat occurs next. Common, Special and Leader units each carry a different die value, with different colored dice being rolled to resolve combat situations. Loss of a combat results in a figure being removed. Playing Action cards and upgrades add to combat effectiveness as do the special Turret markers. Conquering unoccupied spaces earns additional Silver Eagle coins, and controlling all spaces in a territory earns victory points. Destroyed units are removed from play or returned to Home Base safe havens. A mix of controlling territories and completing missions of combined actions wins victory points, and the first player to ten victory points wins the game.

There’s a lot going on in this game, and well-played plans and strategies are forced to change as world events switch from turn to turn. In my first game, I found controlling the first player spot was key. However, controlling the first player role means spending lots of cards which can come back to haunt you in a heavy combat challenge later in a turn. As the game advances, the heroine Elizabeth moves along a timeline track which also alters how the game plays out. Her protector Booker is also a big spoiler in swaying votes and possibly attacking each faction at different points in the game. Unlike most area control games where occupying and defending a won territory is often enough to ensure victory, the Skyline allows an opposing player to drop right into or behind your defenses and attack.

For a bit more of an intro to the game’s actual gameplay, check out the video below from the alwyas-entertaining Watch It Played video series.

If you aren’t up on your Bioshock Infinite video game lore, I could see some initial challenges in wrapping your head around the interplay of the characters, factions and events in the boardgame. I’ve spent quite a few hours watching my son work his way through the spectacular action and storyline in the video game, making my understanding of the boardgame’s narrative a bit richer from the get-go. Whether you’re a fan of the video game already or just interested in a really rich and challenging area control board game experience, you should hop the next airship back in time for the floating nation of Columbia.

Loving The Evil Dead: Why Do We Like Nazi Zombies?

Gaming, at its core, is a matter of pitting at least two sides against each other in a test of tactics and strategy. Whether you’re playing chess or moving hundreds of miniature soldiers around on a tabletop battlefield, you have to pick a side. In most games, there isn’t necessarily a “good” side or a “bad” side. But then you get to Nazis and from there you go to Nazi zombies.

Nazis are the bad guys of the 20th-century, and Nazi zombies take their evil to another level. Maybe its because there’s no way anyone can feel badly about slaughtering a horde of Nazi zombies that makes them so appealing as a foe. There’s also a horrific visual impact of Nazi zombies, as well as some conjecture the Nazis actually had some relation to the supernatural. For whatever reason, Nazi zombies are swarming everywhere and have been creeping up on us for some time.

Nazis And The Occult

Beginning in the 1950s, a spin-off post-WWII historical narrative began to emerge involving the real or supposed fascination that Adolph Hitler and his Third Reich held for the occult. While the Nazi obsession with ceremony and iconography can’t be denied, most of the Nazi-occult conspiracy theories seem to be more about trying to explain how something as evil as Hitler’s Reich could be allowed to rise to power right in front of a watching world. Books, fictional movies and documentaries have delved extensively into this topic of Nazi fascination with weird science and magic. Numerous movies like The Boys From Brazil, Hellboy, Captain America and my favorite, Raiders of the Lost Ark, have all used Nazism and the occult as main plot points. Throwing the dark arts into the mix with the already-hated Nazi bad guys is just one more way pop culture has amped-up the inherent evil of Nazis and their doomed quest for world domination.

Nazi Zombies On Film

shockwaves     zombielake

About a decade after the first scholarship on Nazism and the occult emerged, George Romero launched the first wave of modern zombie films with his classic Night Of The Living Dead in 1968. Through a series of sequels and other Romero-influenced movies, the zombie genre slowly grew worldwide during the rise of horror and slasher films in the 1970s and 80s. The Nazi zombie movie subgenre probably arrived in 1977 with Shockwaves starring British horror screen veteran Peter Cushing in the role of a SS commander breeding Nazi zombies who attack a yacht’s shipwrecked crew. The movie began a minor trend almost exclusive to European filmmakers in the 1980s with the B-movies Zombie Lake and Oasis Of the Zombies.

outpost      dead snow

The second life of all things zombie came post-9/11 in a surge of movies, comic books, novels and the critically-acclaimed The Walking Dead TV show. Again, European movies led the way on the Nazi zombie theme with Horrors of War, Outpost and War Of The Dead. My personal favorite in the modern wave of Nazi zombie cinema is 2008’s Dead Snow, a Norwegian film that made the rounds on the art film circuit. The dark uniforms and red, white and black swastika armbands against the mountain snow makes for striking visuals, even more-so as the blood begins to splatter. The film is a tight amalgam of themes from the genre — cursed treasure, local legend and, of course, unsuspecting good-looking vacationers winding up smack in the middle of a battle to the death with Nazi zombies.

Next up on the still-growing list of Nazi zombie movies is this year’s Frankenstein’s Army, which offers a riff on the Nazi zombie theme with a heavy dose of classic horror, science fiction and even steampunk thrown in. Again, the makers of this latest entry in the Nazi zombie genre are European. I don’t think its a coincidence that most Nazi zombie movies have risen out of many of the countries once occupied by the Axis forces. Since many Europeans live most directly with the spaces and stories of WWII all around them, clearly the Nazi zombie storylines of these films are tapping into a vein of horror that still resonates today.

Nazi Zombie Video Games

As a kid, one of my earliest video game memories on my Apple II computer was Castle Wolfenstein. While there were no zombies in the game way back in 1981, the modern iterations of the Wolfensetin video game series have included zombies. Not only did the new Wolfenstein games help popularize the now-ubiquitous first person shooter (FPS) game mechanic, but they fired some of the earliest shots in the escalating video game Nazi zombie wars.  Call Of Duty has risen to become one of the most successful franchises in the FPS genre, and a big part of its success can be tied to its Nazi zombie expansions. I would argue that without Nazi zombies as targets, many more wary parents may have kept FPS games out of their children’s hands. Hurling grenades and unloading clips into crowds of Third Reich undead is something to which even the most cautious parents may very well have turned a blind eye.

Nazi Zombies Tabletop Games

suicide squad

With the 21st-century rise of all things zombie, tabletop games have also become infected with the undead. Zombicide, Zombies!!! and Last Night On Earth are among the host of gamer favorites pitting the living versus the unliving. Naturally, Nazi zombies have found their way to the tabletop, too. Two popular games — Dust Tactics and Incursion — take an alternative history approach to incorporating zombies into Axis powers. Among all the futuristic technology available in the miniatures game Dust Tactics are squads of zombie soldiers which prove to be fast and incredibly deadly in the game. Similarly, the game Incursion include zombies in the living arsenal created by evil Nazi scientists.


Beyond packaged boardgames, wargaming has followed the zombie trend. The “weird World War II” genre of miniature and RPG games offers some monstrously fun modelling and play possibilities with such things as bizarre zombie battlescapes, fantasy technology, magic-using stormtroopers and lycanthropic soldiers in a WWII alternate universe. Weird War II: Blood On The Rhine from 2001 was one of the early RPG systems incorporating zombies and occult alternatives to the WWII time period. Nazi zombie miniatures in both 15mm and 28mm scales are now mainstays in online gaming forums and at regional conventions. Rules systems have been written to accommodate the Nazi zombie craze and players regularly create house rules for other regular WWII-themed games such as Flames of War and Bolt Action.

Nazi zombies have their own history now, rising out of theories of Nazi-occultism and then mined as the nightmare bedtime story for European horror filmmakers for nearly four decades. As the ultimate in evil, Nazi zombies now lurk in every corner of popular culture, much of it overlapping with the gaming hobby onscreen and on the table. Debates will continue to rage between the historical gaming purists and those who love their Nazi zombies. Honestly, playing with Nazi zombies has become just too fun to ignore and the horde just keeps coming.

New Game Weekend: Leviathans

Saturday night at the Metropolitan Wargamers allowed me the chance to try my hand at the latest game sensation that’s making it’s way through the club’s membership. Recently produced by Catalyst Games Labs, Leviathans is quickly growing in popularity with its late 19th-century steampunk alternative reality of airship wars battled out in the skies over Europe between France and England.

Steampunk In Popular Culture

Anyone who has been aware of sci-fi and fantasy fandom over the past few years is no doubt aware of the rise of the popularity of steampunk. Broadly, steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction involving a vision of the world from the Victorian era through the early years of the 20th-century where anochronistic modern mechanical technologies, often powered by steam, create an alternative history of science, exploration and warfare.

In popular culture, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are usually viewed as the grandfathers of steampunk. Aside from the Victorian visions of Verne and Wells, my earliest exposure to steampunk was with reruns of the 1960s TV show Wild, Wild, West. The show followed the exploits of James West and Artemis Gordon, two US government secret agents travelling the Old West of the post-Civil War era equipped with retro high tech gadgets. The show made its way to the big screen in 1999 with a much-maligned film adaptation starring Will Smith, Kevin Klein and Kenneth Branaugh. What the movie lacked in character and story, it more than made up for in capturing the steampunk ethos of monstrously destructive weaponry wrapped up in a 19th-century Old West plot.

In the 1980s, underground comics writer Dave Stevens introduced the Rocketeer, a barnstorming stunt pilot and reluctant jet-packed superhero. Set in 1930s NYC and LA, the Rocketeer did battle with Nazis and crime syndicates armed with all manner of fanciful lasers, transported by airships and other might-have-been rocket technologies, and conniving with evil plots of world conquest. The comic eventually found its way to Hollywood and a beloved 1991 live-action film adaptation by Disney. Both the movie and comic capture an aesthetic of sexy and functional design bridging an Art Deco look with an alternative pre-WWII era where secret agents vie for control of fantastical emerging technologies.

Jetpacks and high-flying airship battles also figure prominently in the 2004 Japanese anime film Steamboy. Set against the backdrop of the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London’s Hyde Park in 1851, the story follows a young inventor boy from the mills of England’s Industrial Revolution to a showdown over technology which threatens the balance of worldwide power. The classic Victorian England setting provides the stage for an ultimate steampunk-themed battle with a massive metal castle-like flying fortress, robots, jet-packed paratroopers and British soldiers fighting to preserve the fate of the British Empire and world peace ahead of the Great War in the coming decades of the early 20th-century.

The interest today goes far beyond the pages of comics and TV and movie screens,  and the examples above are just a few of my particular touchpoints in steampunk. There are steampunk cosplayers, conventions and even bars and meet-ups where like-minded fans can live out their steampunk fantasies.

Like so many fantasy interests, steampunk has also made its way to tabletop gaming in a big with a number of gaming systems over the past few years. The thematic historical “what ifs” and opportunities to let the imagination go wild with miniature modelling makes steampunk a particular draw for gamers.


Leviathans is the darling of the moment for steampunk-minded gamers. Produced just this year, Leviathans is a complete board and miniatures game that comes in an incredibly well-designed package containing rules, charts, game boards and detailed plastic airship models which are ready to go straight out of the box for about $100. The core set comes with massive French and British battleships along with smaller destroyers and other ships which levitate above the game board on clear plastic stands. The ships are armed with all manner of guns, turrets and torpedoes manned by crews who furiously fire away at the enemy while working to keep their airships aloft.

Each ship comes with a card detailing the armaments, engine power, stabilisers and other equipment particular to each class of ship. Players take turns manuevering their ships and bringing their weapons to bear on the enemy. Combat results are determined with multiple colored dice which factor in the strength of firing weapons, the durability of an opponent’s armor, the placement of hits and the presence of crew. As ships take fire, their effectiveness in movement, combat and the ability to make repairs is affected. Multiple hits to the same area of a ship may result in a hull breach and the ship crashing to earth in a hulk of flame and twisted steel.

The scenario I played involved my side’s two damaged French battleships attempting to flee off the far side of the board while moving at half speed and being swarmed by my opponenet’s smaller British destroyers. The quick manueverability of the British ships was initially no match for the powerful guns of my French fleet, and two UK aircraft were quickly blown from the sky. Further damage to the already slow French engines eventually made them sitting ducks in the sky, and my team’s French ceded defeat as evacuation to the far side of the table became impossible.

Popularity of Leviathans is spreading quickly with a few new French and British expansion ship fleets already available. A new German fleet is also under development, as is an online version of the game. The game is being produced under a Creative Commons license, allowing for a free distribution of rules and also encouraging fans to collaborate openly on the development of the game. With the quick rise of Leviathan’s popularity and the continued gaming interest in steampunk, I’d expect this game to rule the sky for quite some time.