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March 4th! GMs Day! Mace West Preview!

March 4, 2017 1 comment

drownedHappy GM’s day gamers! RPGnow is having a big sale, and many awesome publishers are participating. Get yourself or your favorite GameMaster something cool! I’m celebrating GM’s day by preparing for the games I’m running at an upcoming convention: MACE West 2017! This will be the third year the event will be held in Asheville, NC just outside the Biltmore at the Doubletree hotel, March 24-26th. The first year I attended I had a great time, and each year it keeps getting better and better! This year there are a staggering number of board games, RPGs, and other events listed this year at the OGRe.

The Skyland Games guys alone will be running Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mutant Crawl Classics, Age of Rebellion, Metamorphosis Alpha, Apes Victorious and Imperial Assault. Games are filling up fast, and we are looking forward to another great year at our “home” convention!

Kevin is running the Frost Fang Expedition, a 3rd party published DCC adventure that is almost purpose-built for cons since there is a ticking-clock element to the adventure. The full review is here, but the short version is this: if the heroes don’t succeed, rocks fall and everyone dies. Not everyone in the party, everyone in the town below the crumbling, floating castle. That old chestnut. He is also running one of the Metamorphosis Alpha adventures from the recent Epsilon City kickstarter, and a homebrewed Star Wars adventure called Rogue Two, in which a small rebel commando team is sent to Mytus VII, star’s end, to break out a group of rebel pilots including Wedge Antilles to aid in the assault on the Death Star.

Mike is running a homebrewed Mutant Crawl Classics adventure he will also be running at GenCon, but MACE West gets it first! Where the drowned god dwells looks to be an exciting post-apocalyptic underwater adventure! Apes Victorious from Goblinoid Games is based around Planet of the Apes and looks to be quite the enjoyable romp if you’ve ever wanted to play the role of a 70s astronaut marooned on future earth. This one is also on sale as part of the GM’s day event. If you haven’t played it yet, you can try out Goodman Games Lankhmar with Mike running Masks of Lankhmar, an adventure he was fortunate enough to playtest with the author Michael Curtis at GaryCon VII.

Scott is running three slots of Imperial Assault, and thanks to the hard work and excellent skill of local mini-painter Galen, they will be some great looking sessions! Minis in the front are some of the bones from recent kickstarters, but the back shelves are all Star Wars! There are more games and events than ever before, these are just the few events we are running. Check out the event pages on facebook and at Justus Productions to find out more. See you there!

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The Value of Unplugging

October 10, 2016 Comments off

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So after observing that our kids fight constantly when exposed to a lot of TV and Video games, we decided (okay, my wife decided) there’d be no electronics during the week (with a few very specific exceptions) during the regular school year.

Harsh.

I was waiting for the kids to drive her nuts, and for everyone to then drive me nuts, and for that rule to be abolished and things to go back to normal.  To my surprise, after a day or two there were few complaints. The kids starting fighting less, and started actually “doing” more.  They slept better, got more exercise, and generally seemed less cranky. And best of all, we started spending more time together, with them taking an interest in RPG’s and Board games.

If you’re reading this and you’re a millennial tabletop gamer, I salute you.  The discretion to play role-playing games or board games when you’ve grown up with a plethora of media options was an unlikely one; streaming video, various video game platforms with multiplayer functionality, not to mention cell phone games and apps… it took a lot for you to even care enough to try to play a role-playing or board game where humans had to assemble in person around a table after learning rather complex rules.  If you’re older, you may understand that in the 80’s, when G.I. Joe went off the air for the day at 4:30, there was only the news and later Miami Vice or the A-Team to look forward to.  That downtime needed to be filled with something that wasn’t TV, and there was a limit to how much ATARI you could play before ragequitting.

Hence, in my day, tabletop role-playing games, board games , and war games were what we turned to.  And of course, books, sports, etc.  But on your basic rainy day or evening, we poured over the books and made characters or pulled out Talisman or O.G.R.E and had at it. Unwittingly, my wife has re-created that experience for my kids, and now they’re looking with renewed interest at my hobbies as a way to pass some enjoyable time.

I previously blogged about how my son showed some enjoyment from playing Dungeons & Dragons, but since he’s not quite old enough to be literate, he’s not catapulted into it like I had hoped.  My older daughter is a voracious reader, however, and after finishing Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle books, she’s showing a lot more appreciation for the concepts in fantasy RPG gaming than she ever has previously.

Both, as it turns out, love painting miniatures.

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I’ve had to set some restrictions to make sure they don’t paint things I have plans for, and not everything is a gem, but some are actually quite good, from both the younger one and the older.

Moreover, they’ve both become eager players of board games.  We’ve finally been able to start working through my massive collection of board games, half of which have stayed in the shrink-wrap due to the difficulty finding time with other gamers when we’ve got an RPG schedule that doesn’t allow the time.  Exposure to some of the board games like Wizards of the Coast’s Temple of Elemental Evil has got her interested in a more RPG-like experience.  It’s helpful her friends have read the same books and also enjoy painting miniatures as well (enough to shop for their own figures on reapermini.com).  For better or worse, we may just have a tween girls gaming group in the making.  You can bet I’ll blog about that, should it happen.

The time we’ve spent together has been fun for all of us, and we’re talking and sharing and growing closer as a family when this is going on, which is contrary to the quietude of zoning out in a show or game that doesn’t invite the distraction of conversation.  Of course, you don’t have to unplug to share this time, but you may just find that there’s peace that comes with cutting out those unhealthy distractions and getting back to a simpler time before Netflix.

I got on today to write board game reviews from the new games we have been playing, but realized this was maybe the more important part of the story.  Next week and for hopefully weeks to come, I’ll be sharing more of what we’re playing and how it works with younger players as well.

Formula Kart – Adding Mario Kart items to Formula D

May 30, 2016 Comments off

comboYesterday I watched the Monaco Grand Prix F1 race from start to finish. I had never really paid much attention to F1 racing before, and this was quite the dramatic race. Check out the highlights if you missed it.

Monaco is the track that comes with the board game Formula D. I’m such a big fan of the game I own all the expansions which include F1 tracks from around the world. The game is a lot of fun in its own right, but some games can turn to run away victories with a few fortunate rolls of the gear dice. This got me thinking about other racing games I love, like Super MarioKart.

If you are looking to add another layer of excitement, and to add some randomness and equalizers to the race, just add Mario Kart items! For the uninitiated, in MarioKart when your Kart runs over a question mark box, you get an item that can help you in the race. At this point there have been a lot of MarioKart games, and with them a lot of different items with different effects. Some would be more difficult to simulate in a board game than others. Here are my suggestions.

Use the red debris markers to simulate the the boxes, adding one per player. For a one lap game, I would suggest adding them half-way through the lap, for a two lap game, I would add them just before the finish line, or in both places if you want a lot of items! Once a car runs over the box, that player rolls the standard d20 “danger die” to determine what item is received. I’ve mixed and matched items from several different versions of MarioKart to make the mechanics easier to handle.

I’ve borrowed a few mechanics from 5th Edition D&D for the shells. While the game comes with one standard d20, I would recommend adding a few more to the box if you’ve got a few lying around (and if you’re nerdy enough to be reading this, you probably do!). For green shells its just a simple contested roll: both attacker and defender roll a d20, if the attacker has the higher result, the shell hits and the defender spins out. If the defender has the higher result, the shell misses! Red shells work the same, except the attacker rolls 2d20 (advantage in 5th ed. terms) while the defender still only rolls 1d20. Highest result wins, if its the defender, the red shell misses!

Download the full table here. I hope you guys enjoy this expansion to the rules. Watch out for blue shells!

Categories: 5e, Board, Games, House Rules, Mechanics, Tips

Scarefest Preview

October 20, 2015 Comments off

scarefest3-logo2-horizontal1This weekend in Black Mountain, Scarefest 2015 brings an awesome weekend of gaming to the campus of Montreat! Tons of RPG sessions and board-gaming from the 23rd to the 25th, and a $10 pass gets you a seat at the table for all three days. The outstandingly active Asheville Pathfinder Lodge would hold a Halloween-themed costume game event that started as one day at our Friendly Local Gaming Store the Wyvern’s Tale, in subsequent years grew in to a weekend of gaming, and this year has expanded to it’s own location.

Like previous years there will be lots of Pathfinder Society sessions, including the “specials” that are typically only run at big conventions and include coordination of several concurrent tables of players working together towards a common goal. This year, the scope of Scarefest has expanded to include other RPGs like D&D Adventurer’s League organized play, as well as Dungeon Crawl Classics and Star Wars (both run by yours truly), and World of Darkness (can’t get more on-theme than that!), Shadowrun, several flavors of Savage Worlds, Bolt Action, Dread, Numenera, and a truly impressive collection of board games. Once you’ve purchased your ticket, sign up for games on the event’s warhorn.

Scarefest-MainPromo-webI’ll be representing DCC with two adventures: The 13th Skull and Bride of the Black Manse.

13th Skull synopsis: Thirteen generations ago, the ambitious first Duke of Magnussen made a fell pact with an unknown power, who asked for but one thing in return: the thirteenth daughter born to a Magnussen duke. Now, generations hence, the daughter of Duke Magnussen XIII is stolen away by a hooded executioner riding a leathery beast. As it wings back across the city walls to drop behind the Duke’s mountain-top keep, all who watch know it alights in the Magnussen family crypts, where the devilish secrets of thirteen generations have been buried and forgotten – until now…

Bride of the Black Manse synopsis: Centuries past, Lady Ilse ascended to scion of House Liis by trading the archdevil Mammon what he wanted most: her immortal soul – and a diabolical betrothal. The triumph proved hollow, for every year on the eve of her fell covenant, she was beset by visions of Mammon and her foul promise. Seeking to save herself, she was buried alive, swaddled in the holy symbols of a dozen divergent faiths. This desperate ploy held Mammon at bay for centuries…but a devil can afford to wait a very long time.

After hundreds of years, the last of the holy wards has fallen. The devil has come to collect his due. Tonight a storm crashes against the ancient manor house and forgotten spirits rise from the muck and mire. The fallen belfry tolls once more, announcing the hellish fete. As the adventurers arrive to explore the Black Manse, Mammon calls for his winsome bride. He will leave with a soul at the end of the night. The only question is: Whose?

The Star Wars adventure I’m running caught my ear on the Order 66 podcast from d20 radio. They created a horror-themed Star Wars adventure that features the “fear check” mechanic, and should be really fun to run! Not many people would associate Star Wars with a creepy Halloween gaming event, but Ice Station Zulu does well to bring some darkness and fear to a galaxy far, far away.

It looks like quite the impressive line-up, and is a pretty awesome value. Come out this weekend and roll some dice! Costumes are highly encouraged, but not required. See you there!

Pack O Game Review – Compact fun from Perplext

October 5, 2015 Comments off

packogameI made my regular trip to our outstanding Friendly Local Gaming Store the Wyvern’s Tale on Friday, when a little display caught my eye. There was a small box of games the size of a pack of gum, eight in total, with various themes and play mechanics. The marketing is clever as each game has a 3-letter title, and the dimensions really are about the size of a 5-stick pack of Juicy Fruit, Big Red, or Spearmint gum. I snapped them all up immediately, as they all looked pretty appealing and it was hard to tell exactly what they were about, given the limited amount of space on the box. They make good use of it though as each box tells you how many players can play, the skill level (1 casual, 2 intermediate, or 3 challenging), and how much time is required for an average game (usually 10-30 minutes). Originally a kickstarter, this was one gaming project that flew under my radar. I’m glad they made their goal!

Each game includes a number of cards about the size of a stick of gum, and some compact instructions. The mechanics they use vary widely, and show some serious creative design. Wisely, the instructions point you to instructional videos to show you how to play each game fairly quickly. We haven’t had a chance to play them all yet, but I would encourage you to check out SHH, which challenges players to cooperatively spell out words using all the letters in the alphabet only once! A perfect score is 26! The cards are really quite attractive and illustrate each letter with a picture of something that starts with the word (D for Dog, U for Umbrella etc.).

Game_1_HUE_boxHUE uses multi-colored cards to create fields of color that players try and connect to form continuous areas of that color. The last card in your hand is your score card, and you only count up the fields of color that are on that last card. Play may include covering one third of a card previously played, allowing for a good deal of strategy for this one. Not to mention you have to save a card that has the colors you want in order to score at the end!

FLY is a dexterity game that is pretty unique. the cards are arranged next to each other to form a gingham table cloth like a classic picnic. On the “table” are several flies that have symbols and colors on their back. Players take turns dropping the swatter card from a height determined by putting the sky card in the end of the game box. If you completely cover the fly with your swatter, you keep that card and try to form sets of three of the same color or symbol.

LIE is basically liars dice, but the unique twist is there is a die on either end of the card. When you are dealt your hand, you can choose which end to use at the beginning of the betting phase. This allows you to either stack your hand with a lot of a certain number, or pick various numbers to have a variety.

We haven’t tried the more challenging games of TAJ and GEM, which involve bidding and quite a bit of strategy. TKO is a really cool 2 player boxing game, and BUS uses the unique card dimensions as roads to form a city in which you pick up passengers on your bus. All of these games are fantastically creative and demonstrate a wide variety of skills and mechanics. I would recommend checking out the videos to see which ones appeal to you.

These games pack a whole lot of fun into a small package. If you are looking for compact games you can pack for your con bag and play in line while waiting for a panel or game to open up, these would be excellent candidates. Similarly, you can throw them in a purse or pocket and break them out at a bar or restaurant while waiting for other friends to show up, or as a quick game before everyone arrives for a weekly game night. Each game sells for $6, and the website will sell the whole collection as well as a carrying case for $50. Highly recommended.

Categories: Board, Card, Games, kickstarter, Reviews

Wonderfully Horrible – How to Run Horror RPG

September 14, 2015 1 comment

My first exposure to horror role-playing was a write-up in Dragon Magazine back in the early 90’s.  The review was for Chaosium’s newest edition of Call of Cthulhu.  The  author described characters “having the life-span of gnats” which I found intriguing, so I learned about Lovecraft in a sort of backwards kind of way. Call of Cthulhu first, then the books.

Running my first game was surprisingly successful, but that had almost nothing to do with me.  We were in my friend’s old decrepit house in a bad part of town.  It was midnight, his folks nowhere to be seen, and the place was known to have rats that would occasionally make an appearance in the wee hours.  It was a good place to try our first horror RPG, though we had more to worry about from real life threats than from Nyarlathotep.

Some players were into the historical element of Cthulhu, set in the 1920’s, and some into the general adventure, but all in a way that was no more engaged than any other RPG, meaning there was chatter, snacking, and thumbing through magazines mixed in with our gaming.  As a clawing came from the other side of a boarded up window in our game, I reached down and scratched at the bottom of the table, so that my players couldn’t see what I was doing, but heard the noise.  Suddenly, everyone was alert, and nervous!  Magazines were set aside, snacks back on the table. One player started sweating.  Steve went to check the locks on the door.  I was amazed at how that focused the game and brought suspense to the table.  The game was a success, and largely because of this small thing that made the game more present.

I cannot claim to be a master of horror role-playing, and would love to see the input of our fans on this particular issue, but I have learned to pick up a few things since those first days

  1. Know your rules or be prepared to fake it – Nothing will limit the impact of a creepy situation like stopping the momentum and looking up the rules of the game, or fumbling documents and stats.  It’s just good storytelling to be able to keep the game flowing. Any time the players can separate themselves from the events or what’s going on with their character, you lose the feel that is so important to the success of this specific genre of game. Better to take your best guess and roll with it.
  2. Know your adventure – This goes somewhat to fumbling, but players in a horror game will go in directions you probably won’t see coming because in some ways, many horror stories have been considered by players before, and a pragmatic, unheroic response to those scenarios might be the one the player chooses.  Characters in these games are often everyday kinds of people, and everyday people aren’t heroic all the time.  Knowing your adventure will help you to be able to respond more freely and improvise more quickly when players go in unexpected directions.
  3. Props – Any Call of Cthulhu fan will know that props are key items that are really emphasized in a number of Chaosium materials, like their award winning Horror on the Orient Express box set..  These are part of breaking the wall and bringing the characters and players into the world of the horrific events.  But, moreover, these games are usually not combat games.  These are games that reward thinking, deduction, and observation.  The combat character, if there even is one, is usually the dead weight. Props allow the player to focus on details, and enjoy the gathering of information beyond the rolling of dice to determine success or failure.
  4. Access the senses – Many games can rely on the verbal imagery to convey the message and be enjoyed, but in eliciting a more visceral response to a game, deviating from the expected can place that player on the edge of their seat.  My simple example of the unexplained scratching noises is one, but using lighting effects (like lighting your room with just a candle for parts of your story where the characters travel in darkness), or apps with sound effects such as Syrinscape  might bring a new level of engagement to your game.  By way of a great example, our GM played this for us when we tried out Fantasy Flight’s End of the World system.  I have never been more haunted and focused than after hearing this message.
  5. Music – Good music can really shift the feeling in a game, especially if coordinated well.  It may be necessary to groom your playlists.  I’ve been using a playlist from Spotify, wherein some particularly good Lovecraftian mixes, but a ‘Creepy’ play list might be just what the doctor ordered for your highly creepy campaigns.
  6. Go with what creeps you out – I know what makes my skin crawl.  I try to access that part of my mind when running these games, then leak bits and pieces.  Not everything has to make sense or be explained, but avoid contradictions or red herrings.  Little things can be the most haunting:  Exploring the suspects home to find a personal item from the investigator’s bedroom or a lock of their hair; a glimpse of someone watching the investigator and the discovery of a lengthy surveillance (cigarette butts in the yard, photographs, etc.);  dead animals appearing in their yard inexplicably; phone calls with quiet breathing on the other end.
  7. Less is more:  A great GM once said “Things are always scarier when you keep them behind the curtain, just giving a little peek or a hint as to what lies beyond.  Show them the monster in the light of day, and it’s just a guy in a rubber suit.”  You’re always better to keep things out of the direct line of sight if at all possible.  If at the last moment they have to see the guy in the suit to wrap it up, so be it, but if your players are finally relieved to see Cthulhu’s face, then it’s Mission Accomplished as a GM..

Finally, realize that horror role playing is not for every type of group.  It may not be the kind of game you can play with your dungeon crawling axe-potato group of murder hobos.  But, with the right group, you can access all that is rewarding about the horror genre.  While these tips are helpful, there are probably numerous tips our readers could share, or great stories to be told.  I invite those of you who do to share them with us, and let us know what keeps you up at night from your favorite horror RPG.

Categories: Adventure, Games, Lore

Star Wars Age of Rebellion: Desperate Allies Review

June 30, 2015 Comments off

swa31-book-leftI picked up Desperate Allies on Free RPG day at our Friendly Local Gaming Store (which was a blast!) as well as the Force and Destiny Beginner Box. I’ll wait to review F&D after I run it once or twice, but I’ve now had time to read over the Sourcebook for Diplomats and have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

First off, let’s get to what this book adds to the game. The new races are Caamasi (weird fuzzy bird-like species from a world nearly annihilated by the empire), Neimoidians (Trade Federation! Boo!), and Gossam (silhouette-0 bug looking guys). The Caamasi have an interesting ability, in that they can (once per session) create a Memnis or perfectly recall certain events that can be shared with other Caamasi or a force-sensitive character. That has some cool story implications, and could be really fun for either an investigation or negotiation mission. The text for the Neimoidians pretty much says good luck playing one, since most have bad memories of the Trade Federation during the clone wars. Seems like a strange choice for a rebel, but if you’re looking for a challenge, you could go this route. No great special ability to speak of: start with a rank in deception or negotiation. The Gossam could be cool, since they are silhouette 0. They also start with a rank in deception.

swa31-mission-briefing-artThis book adds the standard 3 specializations to Diplomat. From the core Age book we have Ambassador, Agitator, and Quartermaster. This book details the Advocate, Analyst, and Propagandist. Something that jumped out at me about these options are they seem to play 2nd fiddle to a main “face” character. Several of the talents from the Advocate’s tree in particular modify another character’s roll. All Diplomats start with their choice of Charm, Deception, Knowledge (Core Worlds), Knowledge (Lore), Knowledge (Outer Rim), Knowledge (Xenology), Leadership, and Negotiation.

Advocate adds Coercion, another Deception, another Negotiation, and Vigilance. This is definitely the bad cop, in a good-cop bad-cop style deal. This spec is mostly about seeing through deceptions while crafting your own. I don’t feel like this would be the strongest choice, unless your campaign was mostly diplomatic missions. I think these skills have their place, but this is Star Wars! This spec just doesn’t do much for me.

Analyst has the most initial appeal to me. To the main skills, Analyst adds Computers, Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Warfare) and Perception. The consumate skill-monkey and researcher, this could make a really fun droid character to play. If you wanted to be a bit more well-rounded, you could buy in to the recruit spec from the core book and hold your own in a fight. The analyst is likely the character with their face buried in a terminal during a firefight that your more martial characters are buying time for. Seems like a great addition to any rebel cell.

Propagandist has some interesting possibilities. To the core skills add another Charm, another Deception, Knowledge (Warfare) and Perception. They have a talent called Positive Spin which increases Duty by 1 per rank, allowing the party to “advance” more quickly in the ranks of the rebels. Towards the bottom of the tree there are interesting talents to influence NPCs. Bad Press allows you to make a Deception check once a session to decrease the wound threshold of members of an organization. Seems like if that organization was, I don’t know, THE EMPIRE that could be a bit over-powered. I’m sure its up the to the GM’s discretion, but wow. The illustration has a little floating camera droid I thought sure there would be stats for, but I haven’t been able to find any, if they are in the book.

no-time-to-panicThere are a couple of signature abilities for diplomats that this book provides. One is Diplomatic Solution which allows you to spend 2 destiny points and make a daunting charm check to turn a combat encounter into a social encounter instead. I think this is pretty clever, and definitely fits the flavor of the class. The other is Unmatched Insight which allows you to know background information of people you are negotiating with, that could be used as leverage.

In the equipment section there are a few blaster pistols,  bunch of great new non-lethal grenades (sonic, data-purge, and nightmare), and a whole section on Protocol Droid NPCs, much like Astromechs were in the Ace book. There are a number of interesting melee weapon additions, mostly stealthy in nature like needle gloves, a sword cane and a stealth vibroknife. Also, the armor section has some interesting entries in the Flare Jacket that allows once per encounter to trigger charges that can stagger foes (or really anyone) within short range, as well as a holographic suit that can be used for very quick costume changes, and the hauling harness (think Ripley’s cargo loader) that increases encumbrance capacity by 6, but also upgrades combat checks *twice*. Some other interesting additions include an ascension pistol (dedicated grappling-gun), security sweeper for surveillance devices, and a sound dampener that adds two setback dice to checks made to detect noise from the area in which it is used.

Included in the vehicle section are some luxury land speeders, as well as the J-Type diplomatic barge maybe better known as the Naboo cruiser, as well the the precursor to the more famous Lambda, the Kappa-class shuttle. There are a few interesting starship modifications, but the one that really piqued my interest was the holonet pirate array. This allows you to either communicate or monitor communications through the heavily restricted Imperial Holonet. Lots of cool adventure ideas came to mind once I read over the full description.

table-of-contentsThe last section details diplomatic mission ideas. A lot of these remind me of certain Clone Wars episodes: Maintaining Relations, Insurrection and the Empire, Diplomatic teams. At first I thought that diplomatic missions would be pretty dry, but when you think about it, so many parts of Star Wars have to do with diplomatic negotiations, and making sure they proceed without a hitch. There are lots of great adventure seeds for different Diplomat specs and different motivations or duties. There are a few full multi-scene adventures that could be used as a quick outline for a session or two. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had in an RPG is when the party has a home base. In Edge, you are encourage to make your ship your home and place of refuge. In Age, you are encouraged to build a rebel base. This book talks about not only creating a base, but adding upgrades to it like medical facilities, hangers, an armory, training facilities, command and control. You could make this like base management from X-COM. Finally the book wraps up with a few campaign ideas revolving around diplomatic missions, and mentions awarding diplomat characters with non-material awards like contacts, honors, and favors from NPCs to be called in at a later date.

Overall at first blush I thought this book was not going to be the strongest choice. I have to admit diplomat did not hold a lot of interest for me when I first reviewed the core book. After reading this I have a new appreciate for the nuance that could go into a diplomatic character, and the wide variety of missions that could come out of this material. This is a great addition to the Age of Rebellion game, and I would highly recommend it.