Cardboard Diaries: Dark Minions


Today I had to get out and buy stuff for Valentine’s Day. Took my daughter with me (she’s 5) and made a day of it. When we got back, the gang assembled and…

…we played DARK MINIONS

Dark Minions is a new dice game from Z-Man Games, and it lets you be an evil necromancer type of guy with lots of horrible undead minions. We got it on the table and had the rules worked out within about ten minutes. Basically, you roll some dice and then use them to do one of four things:

1. Attack a tower.
2. Attack a village.
3. Summon minions
4. Purchase Overlord Cards

It’s a dice allocation game, and a good one. You’re chasing victory points, and you gain these by taking out villages for straight VPs and capturing towers to level up your character. Your dice rolls essentially tell you how many of your minions you can order. It takes a lot of minions to topple a village, and the rewards for doing so are given to the players who contributed the most minions. Oh, and there’s a reward for contributing the minions who actually put the minion total over the goal number. There are a lot of decisions to be made in the game as you try to keep your nose in front. The VP totals of your opponents are secret, so unless you’re keeping track of it all it gets quite exciting at the end game as you wonder who is closest to the finish line.

The Overlord cards let you break the rules. The Werewolf, for example, lets you re-roll your dice. That’s a big deal. Also a big deal is the fact you need to feed your minions to the Werewolf every turn. Quite a few of the Overlord cards have these kind of costs, but they can be powerful cards in the last few turns.

We all enjoyed it. It’s not very theme-heavy, in truth. It feels quite abstract, as you push those little wooden blocks representing your minions around the table. But it’s a fun, thinky game that lets you roll dice, and the artwork is very old-school and attractive. Recommended.


Back to filming. I’m having so much fun on this shoot. I always enjoy it, but this time it’s even better. It’s pretty much just six weeks of having a laugh with your mates. Our director, Noddy, makes everything go so smoothly and keeps everybody laughing. It’s great to be working with your friends.

More gaming! Tonight…


This game really did the trick for us. It’s all cards. Loads of cards inside a tiny box. Before each game, every player chooses a superhero. There are ten in the box, each with their own deck. I was the mighty RA! Here he is and I chose him because I’m a Todd Rundgren fan, and Rundgren’s Utopia did an album called Ra. And I love that album, and here’s a song from it – “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Climbing the horizon! Rising up the mountain, lighting up the valley below!”


Yeah, so everyone chooses a hero, and then you choose a villain. There are five villains, and they all have their own deck too. And then you choose a location where you’ll fight that villain. There are five of those too. Variety, baby!

Oh, by the way… Last week I said that I hated the art style of Sentinels of the Multiverse. That was a mistake. I hated the cover art and the few cards I saw, but there is a lot of good art inside. The art style is a great fit, and I’m an idiot for slagging it off last week. I apologise. Here’s the good thing about doing these columns in this way from now on – I can correct my stupid kneejerk reactions to things. I can change my mind, like a human being.

Anyway, the game plays out very simply. The baddie has a turn, the heroes all take a turn, then the environment takes a turn. The baddie’s cards put out minions, and deal damage and stuff. One might say “DEALS 4 DAMAGE TO PLAYER WITH THE LEAST HP”. That kind of thing. The heroes react by taking shots at the bad guy and playing out cards onto the table. Equipment and stuff. The environment then does its worst – red Martian dust can clog up technological equipment or self-destruct mechanisms can activate. All these little problems need dealt with, as the players co-operate to foil the bad guy’s plans and chip away at his health.

The beauty of SOTM is working out how the heroes work best together. The first few turns are all about looking at your own hand and asking the other players about theirs. “Okay, so you can take fire damage and convert that into ice damage? Cool. And your attacks get stronger the more cards you’ve discarded? Okay. Okay.” Richard had an amazing character called Absolute Zero, who was essentially like a big walking battery. Our game was pretty much all about protecting him and powering him up for some late game attacks on the big bad guy. We lost one of our heroes too, Joanne’s psychic hero character The Visionary. She sacrificed herself to take out a giant mothership that was about to drop about nine bad guy minions into the game.

The game’s fantastic. We all LOVED it. That special “talking about it the next day” kind of love. It tells a great superhero story through some very easy to understand mechanics. The only issue with the game is that you really need a notepad and pen beside you throughout, so that you can keep track of everything. The game provides no way of tracking health or effects or anything, and there is so much going on that one person pretty much needs to take the job of looking after all that shit. It’s not a major negative, really. It’s just a bit old school.

If you like games, and you like comic books, this is one worth checking out. Probably the best superhero themed game I’ve played.


It’s Valentine’s Day.

Joanne bought me a sweet cuddly Cthulhu toy and the Pied Piper expansion for the brilliant Rattus. I can’t remember if I’ve told you about Rattus before. It’s a board game for four players with a Black Plague theme. It’s fucking GREAT. I must talk about it sometime if I haven’t already. Just take it from me – it’s a great game, and the expansion just increases replayability with new selectable roles.

I hope you all found love on this beautiful day of romance and shagging.


After filming today I had to do some writing. I’m writing a column for Custom PC magazine here in the UK, and as a guy who really knows nothing about the inner workings of the PC, it’s a pretty intimidating gig. Afterwards I put a little bit of time into a card game I’m working up. Right now I’m calling it “Kung-Fu Dice”, but that name will change.

I’ve now got a few board game ideas on the go at once, ad I’m inching them all forward. There’s Kung-Fu Dice, which is a very simple and fun thing. There’s Supply & Die, which is a big post-apocalyptic trading and exploration game. And then there’s Codename PW, which is my favourite of the three. It’s a book, pretty much. A rule set for a tabletop battle game. The problem is that while the concept is really strong and funny, I still can’t settle on the simple and elegant tabletop battle mechanic that I need. I might have to get some help in on this one.

The big dream is to find the time to sit down with Kenny Swanston (ex-Consolevania and one of the guys I game with) and try to come up with the big Romance of the Three Kingdoms board game that we want to play.

So many ideas, so little time. Hopefully some day down the line you’ll be able to play one of these, and slag them off in the comments section below.


Exhausted today, so let’s see what James Purefoy is up to.

“Hi! James Purefoy here, of Solomon Kane and Ironclad. Robert asked me to fill in for him this Thursday, because he’s tired out from filming a TV sketch show. Do you know that I spent months in Eastern Europe filming Solomon Kane? In the pouring rain? Swinging a sword while knee-deep in mud? Did you know this? And yet I still had the energy to be able to have sex with every runner, production assistant and supporting artiste on the shoot. That’s because I go to the gym and eat well instead of playing board games and freebasing Monster Munch.

Anyway, today I took a walk around London, punching any guy who looked like he was on his way to an audition. You will never get an acting role if you have a black eye, so I like to do my bit to eradicate the competition. I had lunch in a Soho sandwich shop, and ordered a salmon sandwich, because the word “salmon” looks a bit like “Solomon”. Solomon was a character I played in a film called Solomon Kane, which is available on Blu-Ray now.

I then visited my agent, who showed me a script for a film called “The Handsome Sword Man”. I was horrified to hear that the production company didn’t want me for the lead. Relief followed when I found out that my character, the villain, was called “The Even Handsomer Sword And Gun Man”.

In the evening I did a couple of things (tested a jetpack, fucked an African princess) before watching Coronation Street and then slipping into a nice sleep with some of that lovely milk Dr Conrad Murray recommended. See you all soon, dickheads!”


My one day off this week is tomorrow, Saturday, so that’s when we’ll be gaming. Tonight I sit and finish writing this column, and give you some additional things to look at.

1. Fantasy Flight’s Rex has a video trailer. It’s their take on the game mechanics that gave us the classic Dune. It SHOULD be wonderful. Take a look.
2. How amazing does this look?
3. I played both of these games with my five year old daughter. She enjoyed them. As did I. This and this.
4. People will have told you that boardgamegeek is the best board game website on the internet. They are wrong. It is the FORTRESS.

See you next time!


  1. PleasingFungus says:

    On the front page of “The Fortress”, I found this essay, which is arguing that board gamers should start appreciating THE CLASSICS (Monopoly, Sorry, Risk) and give up their STUBBORN ELITISM for the sake of PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE.

    Because there’s nothing to attract people to board gaming like knowing that everyone is playing Hungry Hungry Hippos! (Another game cited.)

    Anyway, it’s good to hear from James Purefoy, who played Solomon Kane once in a film now available on Blu-Ray. Hope to hear more from him soon!

    • lasdyfdsa says:

      After this realization, I made a BGG account just to defend “vanilla” TI as perfectly fun and playable. To work from the inside, as it were. So yeah, BGG is a good place to get a lot of opinions, but there are serious issues of groupthink and normal forum hyperbole. link to

  2. wodin says:

    I love this column. This and the Flare one.

    Oh James thanks for the black eye, I got the role, a new Hollywood AAA film called Black Eye the Pirate of the Boating Lake in the Park. It’s gonna be a blockbuster!

  3. Jorum says:

    Used to have Key to the Kingdom when a kid. Keep thinking of picking up a copy up on ebay. I almost bought dead end drive recently but i’d already blown my budget.
    May have to get them up as my five year old girl keeps asking to play my boardgames (brilliant) but she’s not quite ready for space hulk etc.(not that i haven’t tried)

  4. RogB says:

    I wish I was as cool and as manly as James Purefoy.

    (ps, that battle wizards looks insane)

  5. hoobajoo says:

    BGG almost got me to not buy Twilight Imperium by the majority of the users insisting the first expansion is necessary to fix game-breaking imbalances and colossal turtle-fests. It took a Mr. Quintintin Smithe to convince me otherwise, and now I see that there was a minor problem with one card, one that may be remedied with optional rules included in the base game.

    After this realization, I made a BGG account just to defend “vanilla” TI as perfectly fun and playable. To work from the inside, as it were. So yeah, BGG is a good place to get a lot of opinions, but there are serious issues of groupthink and normal forum hyperbole.

    • sigma83 says:

      Are we talking about Imperial? Everyone I play TI with agrees. We house ruled Imperial II into the base game, which requires the Age of Empire optional rule to play anyway (I’m assuming that’s the optional rule you mentioned in your post)

      Here is the text of Imperial II: (paraphrased from memory)

      Pick A or B:

      A: If during the status phase you control Mecatol Rex, gain one victory point. You may then claim any number of public objectives you qualify for.

      B: Execute the secondary effect of Imperial. Only you can use the secondary effect of Imperial this turn.

      The same as Imperial I.

    • hoobajoo says:

      I’m not saying ISC II isn’t better (it is), but the point is TI is still fun without it. It’s still big, and spacey, and operatic, and all that good stuff. I also think the vanilla Imperial is better for a learning game, since it levels the playing field out a bit, and prevents ‘bubble victories’, which some players really dislike.

      ISC II was actually released on FFG’s site as free to use in response to the general dislike of the ISC, so arguably it’s not even part of the first expansion anyway. Don’t get me wrong, expansion is great, tons of great stuff, and anyone who plays TI regularly will want it sooner rather than later. I just think it isn’t necessary to enjoy the game or to “fix” something about it. It just makes a great game better, like any good expansion.

    • sigma83 says:

      It tends to be a turtlefest because there’s no incentive to attack. Just mass fleets and hold borders and pick Imperial.

  6. TedBelmont says:

    You had me at “Z-Man Games”.

    • tossrStu says:

      I do so hope they’re named after the Beyond the Valley of the Dolls character.

  7. Terics says:

    My family and friends used to play 1313 Dead End Drive a lot. If I remember correctly, there’s a fair amount of guesswork involved of in who has who, and thus who has the potential for the most money. Then that character is killed off and the money is transferred and the cycle continues. Was great fun, don’t know if I’d ever play it again.

  8. Billzor says:

    “The big dream is to find the time to sit down with Kenny Swanston (ex-Consolevania and one of the guys I game with) and try to come up with the big Romance of the Three Kingdoms board game that we want to play.”

    ^^ This.

  9. Jackablade says:

    Question for you boardgamey folkses.
    I’ve been messing about with a video game design document – a multiplayer resource management typed deal. It’s structured if such a way that I think I could potentially knock out a board game version that covers the basics of the video game in order to test mechanics and see what’s fun.

    What I’m wondering is, if I wind up with something awesome (which, given I have no experience in boardgame design, might be a tad unlikely) is there any kind of outlet to sell indi boardgames to the public for a few bucks or some such? It’s obviously a bit trickier to get a physical game from my bedroom out to the punters than it would be to toss a videogame up on Steam.

    I’m well ahead of myself here, having not even begun to put pen to paper on the design yet, but it’d help with planning, working out how much time and money I can afford to spend etc if I had a better idea of what the options are.

    • Chris D says:

      Downloadable boardgames are a thing that exists although I don’t know too many details, but I do know that the Shut Up and Sit Down Christmas special had a section about them.

    • RogB says:

      theres quite a lot of ‘Print and play’ games knocking about. Loads are free, some you pay for.
      I kinda like handcrafting my own stuff more than actually playing it (my half scale remake of Warhammer Quest was quite a task..)
      Some folk dont like it though, or dont have the resources. Nobody wants to play a game thats been printed on photocopier paper, in black&white.

      Sirlin games have the option of buying a premade set, or just the rules so you can print/make it yourself.

      I’ve also seen kickstarter projects to get production in progress, but I suppose you’d have to have some sort of proven concept in place first before people will start throwing money at you.

  10. Shadowcat says:

    Here’s the good thing about doing these columns in this way from now on – I can correct my stupid kneejerk reactions to things. I can change my mind, like a human being.

    You’re quite right; in the old format, it quite simply wasn’t possible to update the old story with a correction, and include a quick note in the next column to point it out. Not possible! Thank goodness for this new arrangement of words on a web page, which imbues you with the power to do this.

  11. McDan says:

    Oh man I love this, so many laughs adn great boardgame new too! One of the best things I read every week.