Showing posts with label Game Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Game Review. Show all posts

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Review - The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Tradition

Title: The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 65 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is designed for Labyrinth Lord as part of the Back to Basic series. Originally, it started as a joke on everything Pumpkin Spice themed. It roughly follows the other books in the series, with the exception of some level limits for non-human characters. 

This is my favorite of the series. While not entirely tongue in cheek, it's a fun read. In my mind, it comes across like the film A Knight's Tale. Popular culture is mixed up and presented in a timeless way. The idea of harvest, fall and Halloween is in this products DNA, but in a way which would detract from a series Dungeons and Dragons experience. Yes, there are jokey bits, but they are well thought out so they don't break the theme of D&D. If you like Angel or Buffy, these details will be right up your alley. 

This particular set calls out Labyrinth Lord but readers will find that it is a nice addition to any basic era game such as BlueHolme or the Red box set. With a little adaption, this book could be plugged into a great many rule sets like AD&D. The author specifically mentions a desire for this title to be cross-compatible, but noted they didn't make that the focus of this work. I suspect that Mr. Brannan wanted this book to cover a far wider range of game systems than I am familiar with using. Even if it doesn't go there, it's still a rock solid offering. 

Usually when I do a review, I mention the artwork. This product is loaded with artwork. I didn't count, but it seems like every other page or every third has something. In this book, most of the artwork is quarter page and inline with the text, rather that being placed in the centerline like 3.5 books. Again, like the subject matter the book, the artwork has a gothic summer turned autumn feel. 

Somehow, this version of the witch character class feels old, but not too old. It invokes a pleasant feeling of Deja Vu of my college days, when game night also featured a movie or TV before or after. That feeling of people just out to get together and have fun. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Game Review - Home Worlds

Title: Home Worlds
Publisher: Looney Labs
Designer: John Cooper
Artist:  OTHER Studio
Year: 2020
Pages: 32
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first page of the instruction sheet sums it up: "What Chess is to medieval warfare, Homeworlds is to Star Trek and Star Wars." 

Yup. 

This game is fascinating. You're off to fight an interstellar war against an opponent, manage resources, planets and ships with just 4 types of game pieces. Insane, but it works. This is one of many games by Looney Labs which use the Looney Pyramids. The game includes 36 pyramids of differing sizes and colors, a board for the bank, the rule book and a token to indicate which player's turn it is. 

Star Systems are indicated by an upright pyramid. Ships are indicated by a pyramid lying on it's side, your ships a;ways point away from you. Enemy ships point towards you. When a system is explored, a new upright pyramid is placed from the bank. When all ships leave a system, that planet is placed back in the bank. 

Movement is simple. You can only move to stars of different sizes. Stars of the same size are not connected and travel is blocked. A binary star, two stars in one system is connected to stars that do not match either of the two star sizes. 

Each player picks a color and builds their home world with a binary star and one large ship. The colors you choose at the start of the game controls your choices later on, so choose carefully. All of a sudden, your opening choices create puzzles to be solved by you. Color and size of the play pieces represent different options and limitations. 

Players choose from a Basic Action, a Sacrifice action which puts a pyramid back in the bank or a "pass". Passing your turn isn't optimal at the start but I am told that no action might be the best option later in the game. There is a forced action called a Catastrophe when the players place 4 of the same color pieces in the same star system. 

Each color means something: 

Green=Build
Red=Fight
Yellow=Move
Blue=Trade


Pretty simple? No. 

Size also determines what each piece can do. It all gets very complex very fast. 

These simple rules create a very rich system of game play. One of the nicer aspects of the game is it assumes loopholes in the rules will allow a player to create actual logical loops in play which may seem like cheating, but are merely built in options which may or may not be useful based on the pieces in play. This also makes the bank behave as a "third actor" in a two person game. What is in the bank creates or limits options. 

There are 3 win options, destroy all of your enemy's ships, destroy his or her home world or force your opponent into causing a Catastrophe in their home system. There are also a draw  and deadlock conditions which result in a tie. 

I've only played 10 or 20 times and not always to completion, but the rule set is so ingenious, it keeps pulling me back for more. I really want to master this system and Home Worlds. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Filling in the Blanks by

Todd Leback
Filing in the Blanks Filling in the Blanks

Title: Filling in the Blanks
Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback
Cover Artist: Jenna Drummond (jendart.com),
Interior Artists: Chad Dickhaut, Adrian Barber, and Dan Smith
Year: 2020
Pages: 79 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This particular book comes in two forms, the preview edition and the regular edition. I have both. The preview edition is a text only copy of the main concepts of the full book, which is more than enough to let you know if you would want or need this title. 

Starting at the beginning, let me tell you about the author. Todd Leback is the author of a series of books on Hexcrawling. He has also written on topics such as domain building, authored a one page dungeon and had two successful Kickstarters. The most recent, as mentioned before, is the book Into the Wild. This should be out in about a month or so. He started playing with the Red Box D&D set and enjoys the OSR style of play with family. He runs a great Patreon page which provides 5-8 pages of Hex based content to his patrons every 3-4 weeks. As I mentioned in my review of Hexcrawl Basics, the link to both his Patreon and Jenna Drumman's sites are too small so I have reproduced them here. 

Filling in the Blanks is all about generating hexes. He covers geologic features, habitation of a variety of sizes, resources, hazards, lairs, etc. Of course there is a bit about magic and weather. This product is totally table driven with the text providing guidance and examples for usage. Those three together are great for demonstration of how the game is supposed to work. It's also a great way to allow for adaption to specific campaigns and thematic settings. 

My personal favorite part is on graveyards, but I think most people will like the section on Inns. That one seems to be the most useful for any campaign. Maps are in color, while the art is black and white. Somehow, I suffered a printer mishap and all of the black and white art came out blue tinted. I actually like that, but is probably my own problem. 

All in all, this is a great book on the someone who is well versed in hexcrawling. The only slight weakness is the lack of links back to Hexcrawl Basics. That title makes a good primer for what this book covers. While this title is only 79 pages, it is can feel like drinking from a firehose. There is a lot of information packed into this book. 

It would make a great addition and edition for anyone desiring a full featured exploration of the concept of Hex Crawling. While written for Old School Essentials, it can be easily adapted to any rule set. I might even be using this for a continuing Star Wars campaign. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Review - The Seventh Decimate

Title: The Seventh Decimate
Author: Stephen R. Donaldson
Pages: 319
Year: 2017
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Donaldson is known for his use of obscure words and bleak stories where characters confront and cross their self created moral event horizons in support of a wide and wild ranging story. The Seventh Decimate is clearly born of this style of storytelling, but nicely reverses itself so as to place the reader at a distance from the main characters. The use of this "observation mode" narration is effective and engrossing as the reader can understand the main antagonist's point of view without having to buy into it. Additionally, the prose lacks those obscure words and heavy sentence structures Donaldson is so well know for using. This makes for a quick read.  

This book describes the war between the magic using Amikans and the gun toting Bellegerian forces. There is no lead up to this juxtaposition of genres, Donaldson just lays it out there for the reader. The plight of both kingdoms are presented in the Bellegerian Prince's point of view. The Prince, a simple man, lacks many of the horrible traits of Thomas Covenant and he is a transparent character for the reader to study. Oddly, this level of transparency makes the Prince an ideal, if unlikely, hero to carry the story to completion. Being that this is Donaldson, there are many "What the Hell, Hero?" moments in this story, but none of them are surprising or horrifying which is a heavy shift in style for the author. There is nothing terribly inexplicable in the Prince's actions, he is flawed and simple but never works in a way to sabotage the story for the sake of a twist. And there are many twists.  

The final chapter is rather disappointing as a singular book, the cliffhanger ending is great for a series but may put off the casual reader who was expecting some sort of solid end point. However, that end IS exactly as you would expect which is very pleasing. 

I can't wait to read the next book, The War Within. All links will take you Amazon.com to check out the series. 


Thursday, March 4, 2021

Review: Dark Forces

Title: Dark Forces
Publisher: LucasArts
Year: 1995
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, memories. In Dark Forces, you control Kyle Katarn on his mission to recover the Death Star Plans and save the rebellion from the Evil Empire. 

Oh, but there's more... Kyle discovers a secret base on the Arc Hammer, ready to pump out a new weapon system, the Dark Troopers. This is one of the first times Star Wars fans access the universe via a character who does not have the Force and does not pilot a cool ship. Han Solo and Wedge, Kyle is not.

The game plays out like a cross between The Mandalorian and Doom. Considering how the 1990's were, that should be no surprise. It was refreshing not to see Sith and Jedi gumming up a straight shooter game along with the idea that the Cool Ship was merely a vehicle within the story, not the main character like TIE and X-Wing.

Kyle does a cool ship, but it's not an item you use on your missions. It carries you from and to each mission via screen cuts. The Moldy Crow is epic looking and seems to be the look Bungie was going for in Destiny with the Guardian's ships. 

This game is very similar to Doom in it's execution, but has some notable differences. Like Doom, Kyle Katarn  is armed with an array of weapons, each one except fists needing ammunition. These weapons can strafe and have two modes of file. 

They are: 

1 Fist
2 Bryar Blaster Pistol
3 E-11 blaster rifle
4 Thermal Detonator
5 Imperial Repeater Gun
6 Jeron Fusion Cutter
7 I.M. Mine
8 Packered Mortar Gun
9 Stouker Concussion Rifle
10 Assault Cannon

In addition to these weapons, Katarn has a collection of items which are helpful. Headlamps and Infrared googles, a breathing mask, ice cleats, and medi packs are all necessary to complete the game. Kyle will also need batteries, power ups and extra lives to make it to the end. 

Unlike Doom, the player is able to look up and down, move vertically and maps simulate different elevations. There are jumping puzzles, mazes, environmental hazards to stymie the player. It has three levels of difficulty to assist the new player get into the game. 

Mission 1: The Death Star Plans: Operation Skyhook – Secret Base
Mission 2: After the Massacre – Talay (Tak Base)
Mission 3: The Subterranean Hideout – Anoat City
Mission 4: Imperial Weapons Research Facility – Research Facility
Mission 5: The Blood Moon – Gromas Mines
Mission 6: Crix Madin’s Fate – Detention Center
Mission 7: Deadly Cargo – Ramsees Hed
Mission 8: Ice Station Beta – Robotics Facility
Mission 9: The Death Mark – Nar Shaddaa
Mission 10: Jabba’s Revenge – Jabba’s Ship
Mission 11: The Imperial Mask – Imperial City
Mission 12: Smuggler’s Hijack – Fuel Station
Mission 13: The Stowaway – The Executor
Mission 14: The Dark Awakening – The Arc Hammer

Gamer Walkthroughs is an excellent resource I wish I had back in 1995. Each mission has specific win parameters, so you need to hunt for solutions and solve puzzles. If all the Storm Troopers are not enough for you, you'll fight Boba Fett, a Kell Dragon with no weapons and finally, face off against the terrifying Dark Trooper. 


While no longer canonical Star Wars, it's nice to see some of these scenarios come to life via The Mandalorian.  

The audio track was excellent, the music virtually lifted from the movies. The use of stereo sound was terrifying, you hear things coming from the proper direction with headphones. The first time a Dark Trooper attacks, you know it's badassed just by the sound of it's footsteps. 

The AI is sort of lack luster and the missions are designed Doom style meaning you don't sneak or bypass enemies. It's straight up blast and kill session even though you have a story and mission parameters. 

Performance was iffy if I remember correctly. 4 MB was not enough for you to get the full effect. It's even choppy on my Sawtooth, which has more than enough horse power for 1990 games. 

All and all, I give this game 4 stars. Go check out the videos at Gamer Walkrhrough for a feel of the game. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Review: SimEarth

Title: SimEarth: The Living Planet
Publisher: Maxis
Author: Will Wright
Year: 1990
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sim Earth is a fantastic game by Will Wright, creator of the Sims and Spore. SimEarth was released by Maxis in 1990. As a 31 year old game, it's rough but lovable. It is based on the Gaia model and runs amazingly well on G3 Mac under OS 9. 

The purpose of the game or simulation is to use energy and feedback loops to advance your chosen lifeform to the highest level of technology possible. It's easier said than done, but well worth the effort. You are pitted against not only your own created mishaps, but random events such as weather, cooling, warming, etc. It's a great primer on what it takes to make a planet full of life. Events are predictable, but not repetitive. 

Earth isn't the only planet you can work with, the game includes scenarios for Mars and Venus. These are breathtakingly difficult. A simplified model called Daisy World highlights the power of the sun on Earth's environment. While it is meant to be a simulator type game, it dives into science fiction with some of the devices and creatures that appear. 

Each world scenario is broken down into the world map which is initially populated with land forms. As time goes on, the landforms morph under the energy of the sun and tectonic forces. Sooner, rather than later, life will emerge. There are dozens of Taxa of life, all of which are on equal footing to evolve and become intelligent. These taxa and landforms are all right out of your Earth and Biology text books from high school, they feel familiar. You can use the magnifying glass to observe their description and current state. As creatures become intelligent, you can guide them through different levels of Civilization with the goal of getting them to colonize other planets. 

SimEarth is educational in it's whimsy. You can bring back the Trichordates, a species of life with tri-radial symmetry. Or create Carniferns, man eating plants or even robotic life. All of these achievements have to be done between ice ages and hot, dry epochs. The game includes several scenarios which pose questions as to what hardships life can overcome with guidance or the limits of science. Terraform Mars and Venus, anyone? 

Time flies when you're creating life.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games

Title: Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 79 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gotta tell you, this is my second favorite of all of Timothy Brannan's Witch character classes for B/X era games. The Mara Witches are some of the darker characters types available to the player. In fact, I find them so dark they are actually a special type of character that should have one heavy restriction. 

In every edition of D&D, there have been a few character types that are so special that they are limited to NPC classes. The idea of a shaman character class has always been a part of D&D and only available to the DM as an non-player character. I know a thing or two about great NPCs, my children are actually named Nathan, Paul, Catherine on purpose. 

Shamistic casters open up the possibility of playing a monster across tropes. An expert may assist the party because they have a higher calling. A sage may invigorate the party with a quest. Basically these are all people who may pick the party over their clan against some greater evil or some higher cause. Someone who may save the day in a heel-face-turn. 

This one book makes the best case for making witches a PC class only. Never should a DM be granted such power. While there is the distinct possibility of a Mara witch choosing an evil or chaotic alignment the player has to totally embrace The Three-fold Law, no matter how injurious or dangerous it may be to themselves. In the hands of a player, the Mara witch can shine and become a legend. 

In the hands of the DM, the person who dictates the story and arranges the plots and creates the scenarios, the Mara witch is too powerful. If the DM is the only person who can invoke repercussions of violating the Three-fold Law, then the role of the Mara Witch loses it main strength, the role of tradition. This could and would happen because while the DM may desire a moral story where the Mara Witch falls due to their own evilness, vanity or pettiness, this class can march all over the party. 

In the hands of a player, this type of witch is very subtle and powerful. To the player, chaos and evil don't really matter much because they have to abide the fact that their magic could backlash on them. Chaos and evil can take many different forms, but this witch class requires that guiding hand of the player to be an effective character. Someone who feels they have something to win and something to lose. 

Having created a number of character classes, including a book specifically about NPCs called "Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners", I think can say this character is so different it must be left to a player to make them come to life and should never be given into the hands of DM, except for the rarest circumstance. 

This book follows the format of the other two books I have reviewed, The Amazonian Witch and The Classical Witch traditions. Like the other two books, except for outward facing abilities like spells, no mechanic system introduced upsets other character classes, which is very important for consistency. All spells are well written and does not cause a power race with the standard character classes. While specifically written for Labyrinth Lord, it could be added to a great number of rule sets with little problems. 

Like the other two books, it has great cover art, wonderful interior art and nicely formatted tables, with blue tint for easy reading. I think this series of books captures the great cover art of second edition D&D while also maintaining the rougher aspect of the B/X era D&D books. The balancing act was well done. 

A final highlight to all of these witch themed books is the idea of Tradition. Each book paints an image of the many kinds of witches that have existed in mythology. While there may be a few changes in powers and abilities, each one is similar enough to easily grasp in a readthrough. 

Unlike the other two reviews, I spent most of my time looking over the spell lists. This book has 36 pages of spells. And every time I thought to myself, "I would tweak this spell in this way..." I found a second spell that met whatever my imagined need was. Not only are the spells well balanced for this class, they support one another to create a dark mysterious vibe. Which also reinforces the idea that witches need to handled by actual players and not thrown as NPC so the DM can run over the party. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Oh, Dear. What Happened? Review of Farscape Roleplaying Game

Title:  Farscape Roleplaying Game
Design: Ken Carpenter, Rob Vaux, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Gavin Downing, Lee Hammock, Kelly Hill, Christina Kamnikar
Rule Set: d20
Year: 2002
Pages: 320
Number of players: 2 or more
Rating: ★★

The TV show Farscape ran from 1999 to 2003 and was followed up by a 2 episode mini-series called The Peacekeeper War. The Roleplaying Game was released in 2002, which would have been in between Seasons 3 and 4. For this reason, the book only covers the first 2 seasons or so of action.

This is an interesting RPG as it tops out at 320 pages, which is one more than the Star Wars RPG which was produced by WotC. What is interesting about this is, WotC managed to cram 4 movies worth of information into a book 1 page shorter than the Farscape RPg as a stand alone work while The Farscape Roleplaying Game assumes ownership of The Players Handbook. Farscape was published sometime in 2002, which makes this The Player's Handbook the 3.0 edition. Maybe? In June of 2003, the 3.5 edition came out. If you did not play D&D, you wouldn't even know.

The results are rather interesting. As is the rest of the book. If I reviewed the first 144 pages, this would be a 5 star review. This section of the book is a recap of everything in the series to that point, plus a short story called 10 Little Indians. The layout is incredible, the information is dense, and it really captures the essence of Farscape.

However, this isn't that review. One of the stand out features of this book is the artwork, which is entirely from the show. All of it is great and it is laid out exactly like a product in this universe would be laid out. Titles appear in a machine-like flowing script which is readable with the proper skill (DC 30). Second, the margins are thick while the columns are diagonal. It's cute for the first 144 pages, but when you actually need information, it's really hard on the eyes. Like MySpace banner hard.

From page 145 on are the rules. Remember that disclaimer about needing the Player's Handbook? Yeah... I'm not so sure. Which is a good thing because I can't tell if this means 3.0 or the 3.5 edition. I think the 3.0 edition, but it doesn't seem that necessary. If you missed that caveat, you could probably play this game not realizing something was missing. It isn't that it's missing words or that the grammar is odd, it's the layout of the book that jams your comprehension. It's just that distracting.

Like The Player's Handbook, you pick a race, a class, generate stats, select feats, skills and powers, then select equipment. All of that works well, it's a proven method utilized by many products in the d20 line. And that is where it gets weird. I can't point to a single thing that would require another book, which is probably my gamer hack-it ethic running wild. It sure seems odd.

February 16th edit: 

I see it! This book is missing two parts for running a home campaign. First, it doesn't have the Experience chart. Second, it doesn't explain CR. Really? Because those two omissions actual require two books, not one. You kind of need the DMG and the PHB. 

But not really, which sort of BS. The information missing from the experience chart is in the d20 SRD. Like the one on Hypertext d20 SRD, which is an excellent site. I give it 5 of 5 stars for helpfulness. You'll also need a challenge rating calculator if you want your players going against monsters. Or Critters as John would call them. Again, Hypertext d20 SRD to the rescue. 

I am not sure why I didn't see this at first. It could be that edit blindness everyone gets when looking for extraneous words and typos. Or more likely, I couldn't see it because I would want my players to be the cast of the show. Be the heroes, which makes the experience chart unnecessary. 

I feel the missing Challenge Rating is actually in universe. The heroes throw in against anything they can, anyway they can. Crackers and Nuclear Weapons are both combat items in this show. CR was never a factor when it came to putting the heroes in the action grinder. 

After finding these two omissions, I would suggest one other change for the at home game. Use Vitality and Wounds. Farscape has simply relabeled Hit Points as wounds. Zero wound points is out cold, -10 is death. The WofC Star Wars RPG (click for that review) used Vitality and Wounds, which I feel is more cinematic. Vitality is how much punching around you can take, while wounds are limited to taking serious a blaster shot. One will knock you low for a day while the other one ruins your year. Also, considering how Control Points are used to activate powers, this game has more in common with Star Wars' Force Points than D&D spells or spell like powers.   

Back to your review, as it was written back in January of 2020. 

One of the flaws in the book is, being a recap of season 1 and 2, who and what the characters are not presented in a way that plays out in the TV show. Primarily, this shows up in the pregenerated characters. John is not particularly strong or smart according to his stats, which doesn't really fit with being a physicist and astronaut. On the other hand, all of the characters do seem to be balanced when only that group is considered. However, they are all rather high level, which you would think would lead to much higher stats.

Scorpius is listing as having a 9 strength, while D'Argo has an 18 which is not quite right. I would buy the 9 for Scorpius if he had some sort of Rage feat that allowed him to overpower other, stronger characters for a short period of time. He is a man with an actual cooling system, after all.

All and all, the book seems incomplete even when paired with the PHB and some that feeling is definitely problems caused by the layout.

At $9.99 at DriveThruRPG, I'd say it's for fans of the series or a person who wants a great coffee table RPG book. It is stunning to look at. Literally.

Two stars... only because I love Farscape.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Review - X-Wing Miniature Game

Title: X-Wing Miniature Game
Credits: A Game by Jay Little
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 2014? 
Pages: 24, 16 and 4 page booklets
Number of players: 2*
Rating: ★★★★★

I picked this game up for my son a few years back and we played it a lot. My son has his X-Wing and TIE models on a shelf in his room. I started this post at 4:45 am, which is why you won't see images of those parts in this review. I'll see what I can do when my son and our sun gets up. 

As I understand it, this system is full of power creep which really doesn't effect the gameplay of this set. This is also the first edition rules, which is different than what is currently on the market. So on to the game review. 

This version of X-Wing was produced for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had to guess at the date because there isn't one on the box. The box is solid, it will hold up well on the shelf. Inside are 3 booklets, totalling 44 pages of information for game play. The graphics are incredible and a valued addition to the game as they present gameplay information, not random photos from a at the time unreleased movie. It's a good thing the box is as sturdy as it is, it's loaded with parts. 3 painted models, cards, dice, tokens, templates, etc. It's a lot of parts, but nothing extraneous. 

The first play guide has you in the seat of your beloved X-Wing or TIE fighter and blowing the snot out of your enemy in minutes. The instructional method is a familiar one: learn the basics as you play, add more rules, play again, then master the all rules and go crazy with new adventures. 

The first session can be played in 10-30 minutes as you learn the rules. Its really nice. My first impression of the game was that it was a copy of Top Gun**. There are some similarities, both where made for a movie, both had some cool tokens and a move, react, shoot, repeat method of play. But that is where it ends. 

There is one thing missing from the box that sets this game apart from the others: A Game Board. There isn't one. Players are told to find a good sized table, lay down some felt or a black table cloth and have at it. Sure, you can buy one but the rules clearly state it isn't necessary. Movement templates guide the ships, unlocking them from the play space. The lack of a board is actually a strength. Not having a grid or hexes to lock your pieces down gives the game the same fluid dynamic of Star Wars space combat. You feel like you're in the cockpit. 

This game brings back a lot of memories in one tiny box. I have already mentioned that it felt a bit like a better planned out version of a Top Gun** Movie game from the late 80s, which was an apparent skin of the Aerotech game (which is available via the Battletech Compendium at DriveThru. It has the movement guides like the turn keys of Car Wars. Combat is handled with dice where each player rolls dice at the same time like Risk, with the twist that the defender's dice eliminates the attacker's damage. There is a I-go-you-go approach to terrain, which is a hell of an old school call out to games like WRG. And it's Star Wars themed. 

First edition games may seem rough, but this one isn't. Gameplay and rules are tight, with carefully considered options. Gameplay pops and snaps into place naturally, it's like something from the Spice Mines of Kessel. And since it's a vehicle for selling models as add-ons, it very successful at that. 

*While intended as a two player game, there are 3 models which could be divided among 3 players. For complex missions, one could add a game host. My initial playthrough was with 3 young children each having a model and myself acting as a gamehost, so 4 people can be involved. Whatever you do, it just works out. 



** I wish I could point you to the Top Gun game I had back in the 80s/90s, but I have never seen one except the one I bought from the shelf of my local Hobby Shop back when the movie was hot. Since I lost my copy, I don't even have a picture. It was pretty cool at the time, coming with about a dozen tiny plastic airplane tokens. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

#TBT - Star Viking Game Review

Title: Star Viking
Credits:
   Designer: Arnold Hendrick
   Graphics Design: David Helber and Arnold Hendrick
   Cover Painting: Bob Depew
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 1981
Pages: 24
Number of players: 2*
Rating: ★★★★


Star Viking places two players head to head for the survival of civilization. Well, one of you will defend the Federation civilization, the other will try to destroy it. The Star Viking boxed included a rules booklet, two dice, a folded sheet of 154 die-cut cardboard counters (each 1⁄2” square), and a sheet of 12 map tiles, each representing a star system.

Game procedure is easy, but as with all simple things can result in hideously complex results. The players are at cross purposes from the start. The Viking player selects his or her forces while the Federation arrays the map tiles and his or her defenses. Turns are divided into strategic and tactical moves. Tactical moves are only required when both players are in the same place.

The map tiles are divided into sectors, with large cities representing more than one sector while sleepy moons are one sector. These sectors are equivalent to a hex. Some sectors are vacuum, while others are in an atmosphere. They are either contiguous or connected by an orbit line.

There are 20+ units available to the players, each one having a tech level. The sector's tech level determines if a unit can be placed there. For example, a sector with B tech level can support B and C type units. 

Each turn is divided in three, Strategic Segment, Tactical Segment and Politics and Economic Segment. Strategic is for moving vast distances, tactical is for combat and Politics and Economics represents responses such as building new ships or plundering.

One interesting twist on this game is, players purchase victory points to win. There are automatic victory conditions, if the Vikings sack the capital or one player accumulates twice as many victory points as his or her opponent via purchasing on or after the 7th round. If the game lasts all 12 rounds, then the player with the most victory points wins.

*This tiny set of rules has multiple expansions presented right in this set. The first variant is to play as a solitaire game. It suggests automatic movement by die roll, but doesn't include any tables. You are to make them yourself. The second is to use two hostile Viking players for a 3 way game. This requires having 2 boxed sets, which is easy to do since you can print them yourself. The third is to merely extend the number of rounds to 20, 30 or more.

There is exactly one errata, this was a very well produced game from the get-go and still provides hours of entertainment 30+ years later.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review - The White Box Boxed Set

Title: The White Box
Production Team: Jeremy Holcomb, Jeff Tidball, Renee Knipe, Atlas-Games.com
Rule Set: all your own
Year: 2017
Pages: 102
Rating: ★★★★★

This is an interesting title. When I am in the classroom or attending classes, the word pedagogy comes up a lot. I never thought I would be using it on a gaming website. 

Yet, that is where we are. Playing a game requires some level of learning. Mostly, this comes up when there is a high learning curve in the rules. Starfleet Battles comes to mind as a game with a rather high learning curve. D&D on the other hand feels more free flowing, therefore has a smaller learning curve. Uno has a quick, as you go vibe, so it doesn't seem like you're learning at all. But all require some pedagogy to teach the game. 

What is The White Box is answered with the sub-title: "A Game Design Workshop in a Box". Its purpose is to teach one how to make games. Or alternatively, to teach players what design elements have what effect on the user. As a teacher, the idea of deconstructing a game rule by rule is more interesting than designing my own. The White Box is very similar to many educational packs teachers can order for their classroom. It comes with the following: 

  • The White Box Essays, the textbook if you will. 
  • 3 counter sheets. 71 pre-printed counters and 49 blank counters.
  • 150 small wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 36 wooden meeples in six colors.
  • 6 giant wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 12 six-sided dice in six colors.
  • 110 plastic discs in eight colors. 

All you need is to add some creativity. The book is excellently written. It is a compilation of 25 essays on game design. The tactile learning tokens or "feelies", if you are old like me, harkens back to the old Infocom games. But they are clearly well thought out and have high production values. Tokens and counters are black, white and gold to match the box, while the various other items in the box are green, white, blue, red, yellow, and black. Despite the fact that these parts are in different media, plastics and wood the bold colors match well, unlike some of the lesson plan sets teachers have to throw together. The meeples are generic and cute. 

While intended to teach game design, the 102 page book tends to dance the subject a bit when it comes to ideation and leans heavily on design and production. It does answer to some important questions as to where a game designer's energy should go. It also gets into elements like adding random numbers and how a game should flow. It's very clear that the authors have written and designed games, so the essays are very useful, despite not having specifics on brainstorming or what makes a great game. If everyone knew those things, then there would be no need for this product. At least 4 different essays are addressed to non-gameplay situations such as theft, rule laywering, copyrights, game breakers, min-maxing and other situations a designer needs to know about to a have shot at fame and fortune in game design. 

As I understand it, this came out as a Kickstart project a few years ago, this is not a review of KS and since I missed that step, I cannot comment on how easily this boxed set came to fruition. 

What I do know is that this is a good product for getting started on the topic of game design, having seen many games come together in my time at Mattel. All and all I give it 5 stars. 

On a side note, I want to get my hands on another copy of this as it makes an excellent tabletop piece for a variety of games. The tokens, counters and chits are so generic as to be unobtrusive on the table for tracking various things in games that tend to be more "theater of the mind", but could use a little diagram or reminder here or there.  

You can pick up a physical copy at Atlas-Games and an electronic file DriveThruRPG which is missing the tangible pieces. Interestly, there is an audio book and a bundle with both. I didn't know that until this review. The pdf is well worth the $7.99 price tag, but if you want to full experience, I would buy the physical boxed set and the audio book. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Review - World Builder by Silicon Beach Software

Publisher: Silicon Beach Software
Author: W. B. Appleton and Charlie Jackson
Year: 1986
Pages: 87 pages
Overall Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Ok, now I'm reviewing software. It's ok, we'll get through it. 

World Builder is a 35 year old program for creating games. It was issued on a single floppy disk, with a manual for Macintosh computers by Silicon Beach Software. It was useable on System 3 and higher, but a System 7 or 9 needed a free update to 32 bit. Prior to it's release the code had been used to create the game Enchanted Scepters. 

The package promises to get you coding to create you own games. Did it deliver? Hell, yes. It wouldn't build Doom or any other real time first person shoot, but it could certainly handle round based games. It was really meant to create IF games like Zork or other Infocom style games and did so very well.

The manual is a gem without the software as it is applicable to many of the core ideas behind programing. The manual suggests 4 steps to creation, design, populate, design characters and play. It's a little more complicated than that, but that complexity are just details of creation. 

The software has a couple of windows and concepts the user needs to master and that framework of 4 steps makes it easy. 

First, every world must contain scenes. Think of them as a stage for the story. Scenes are hardcoded with some basic concepts like a name,  travel functions, a drawn image, text to display and of course code. You draw static items that appear in the scene like walls, floor, lights, etc. These can provide hints as to what the player should do there. Next, you describe the scene with text. A graphical interface allows the builder to assign valid direction to move and text to appear when an invalid  choice is made. 
It will work on OS 9.2 with the 
32 bit version.

Scenes can be connected like a map, or disconnected like a schematic. You need both most of the time. One great feature is the Scene Code which is specific to each scene. This can be used to create functional interactions, such as sit, stand, or turn on the lights. There is a customizable menu so the Builder can give the players hints or ideas of what needs to be done in a specific room. 

Let jump ahead to designing characters. Every game requires a Player, so this is the one character you need to build. The code refers to the main character as Player@. He or she has attributes that any gamer would relate to, Physical or Spiritual Strength, Hit Points or health, etc. All characters have this abilities. A graphical interface walks the build through the creation process including such things as automatic responses to specific events like combat or other actions. It is fairly robust. Statistics carry through scenes and can be modified by them. 

For example, a character could be give a great fighting skill in the character builder, but have those abilities modified by events or circumstances in the scene such as deep water or darkness. It's a very powerful engine. 

Having mentioned that all characters have the same stats, World Builder does not have the best combat system. The problem is the random number generator. It's a random value between 1 and 256. That is so unlike a percent or a die roll it is hard to predict what the outcome will be without some fine tuning. 

While this may seem odd or difficult, populating the world will clarify this. Being called "Populating", you'd think this part would be about characters. It is and it is not. 

Games come down to a practical point of what is the conflict and what are the barriers. A conflict is something general: a battle of disimular viewpoints. That makes a conflict and the resolution comes when one of those viewpoints is allowed to extend to it's logical conclusion. It could be a defeat or a victory or perhaps even a merger. Conflict is complicated.  

A barrier is something that must be overcome by a set of conditions. It less complicated than the conflict itself. 

Was Smaug there for Bilbo to wrestle to the ground and defeat? Nope.Not that sort of conflict. But Smaug is defeated.  So technically, Smaug is a barrier. The defeat of Smaug requires a certain set of conditions, such as the bird pointing out the chink in his underbelly, Bilbo frustrating the dragon and Bard lying in wait for Smaug with a special arrow. 

So, Bilbo is a character. But Bard, the bird and Smaug and even the arrow are not characters. They are Objects@ (in World Builder terms) or tools to gain a resolution. 

World Builder teaches that difference in the course of programing your own adventure. Populating means creating Objects@ and Characters@ and integrating them with game world you creating. That's a powerful idea that transcends the software itself and is relatable to other outlets like gaming. 

Pulling the tangent back from those high concept, this software is excellent at it's given purpose: World Building. It contains everything you need to get started, the code engine, the drawing software, import tools, sounds and sound creation, plus a means to distribute your product as a stand alone application. 

It really is quiet amazing. 

If you have the hardware, you can download it for free from various abandonware websites. It should be noted that this is not your typical abandonware because at the time that it was remastered for 32 bit and color, it was also released as a free download. It's only a quirk of time that prevents the author from hosting the software themselves as they had in the past. 

If you don't have the hardware, the 87 page manual is an excellent primer into code and game design. Give it a look. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Review - Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition

Title: Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 84 pages
Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Text Only Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Of all the books Mr. Brannan has written on witches, this one is my second favorite. Were I to have it to do over again, I would have made my Coven of Ash witches in The Classical Witch Tradition instead of magic users. The power difference between a witch and a magic user is striking, the witch having the more subtle powers which I was aiming for with the Coven of Ash. 

This book largely follows the same format of The Amazon Witch Tradition, with a few twists. First, Part 1 runs down the basic description of witches of this tradition while Part 2 introduces the possibility of multiclassing. These are pairs of class, witch and one other class. They would gain experience far faster than the dreaded triple class characters. Additionally, the first part addresses what would be considered demi-human and monsters of this class, which is a great benefit to DM's desiring something completely different. In reading this work, I immediately thought to replace the Hermit from B2 Keep on the Borderland to this kind of witch. 

One small addition to this series is the use of color. The book is written for Blueholme and the blue tint on the tables is not only a nice touch, it makes everything easier to read. The artwork is also very nice. 

Part 3 describes the tradition itself and discusses how to add covens to your campaign. It gives 6 examples before giving suggestions for more coven types for your campaign. It's nice to have examples that are ready to go and the 6 provided could be plugging into many campaigns with no modification and all campaigns with a some modification. 

Part 5 explains the witches role in magic and provides 32 pages of spells. These spells are tooled specifically to this tradition of witches and includes ritual magic, a more powerful form of spells cast by several coven members. 

The book also includes 20 pages of new monsters or old friends reworked for Blueholme. Part 6 introduces some magical items and few artifacts. And the final chapter gives three examples of unique and powerful witches. This final part really reads like Deities and Demigods, but the powers are cranked back to almost-mortal levels. These are characters that you could adapt or use right of the book in your campaign for high level NPCs. 

And and not least, this book includes useful appendix of spells by level, useable by witches, clerics, magic users plus a complete alphabetical listing of spells. Those are perfect. 

This is a rock solid resources for any DM who desires a little mysterious magic at the table, something to knock the PC's clerics and magic users back a bit. Nothing is overpowered and is specifically meant to work with those classes without changing their core concepts. 

Spoiler Alert: I have four of these books and I am reviewing them in star order. This one is a solid 4.5 for the text alone and a 5 of 5 when the artwork is considered. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review - Hexcrawl Basics by Todd Leback

Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback (Link to Patreon)
Artists, Interior: Bruno Balixa, Dean Spencer, Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games, Jack Holliday, Matt Forsyth, Matthew Richmond
Cover Art: Jen Drummond
Year: 2019
Pages: 24 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars


My first 3 reviews were on a single series of novels. I most recently reviewed How to Hexcrawl. I like the idea of series reviews or fits, but for awhile ill be limiting myself to pairs of related titles. These are not  comparisons, but singular reviews. 

Here is my usual warning, this book is written for OSE but it is easily adaptable and applicable to other systems with little to no modification. If you had a dungeon and you moved the characters outside, this book would be of use to you. 

This title starts with a definition of a hexcrawl, which is a very economical start. This is one of many books on the subject by the author, every concept is very tight owing to Mr. Leback's great experience on the subject. The first section covers the hex and the player's purpose in these hexes and the process to be followed. Artwork is used not only as mere art, but Worldographer maps exemplify what the author spells out. Todd Leback's use of art is excellent. 

Chapter two and three cover features and lairs found in hexes and subhexes plus random encounters. The next two sections cover procedural events, weather and getting lost, which are big part of the hexcrawl experience. 

The final chapter is an extended example of the hexcrawl process in action. It nicely loops back to the beginning of the book and marches the reader all the way to the end without missing a beat. I suppose that the book could have been written without this extended section, but would be a lesser work. The example perfects this book. 

Three caveats about this book. The artwork is very nice but does not print well on plain paper. The only way to get a nice copy of this book is to print on extreme quality on great paper. It is totally worth it, take the effort and time to do it right.  

Second, there is a small link to Mr. Leback's Patreon. Blink and you'll miss it, so I have placed it here. I normally don't do that, but the link to Populated Hex was almost too unobtrusive. (EDIT - There is also a Kickstarter coming soon. I've never gone in on a Kickstarter, but this might be the one to start with.)

I was tempted to make this a 4.5 of 5 starts but the example and the excellent artwork kicks it up one more level. Especially if you print it nicely. I was drawn to this title and series by the cover art, which I love. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review - How to Hexcrawl by Joe Johnston

Publisher: Unknown
Author: Joe Johnston
Year: Unknown
Pages: 24 pages
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Oh, the pain of being a historian and researcher. Reviews and criticism come at the drop of a hat. My third review, Raphael was an agonizing one star. I'm taking a break from novels. This series is all about the sci-fi and fantasy, so novels reside along side games. 

Let me throw a word out there: Impressum. It's a mark of ownership and pride. PRIDE! If you are offering you book on DriveThru or other publishing sites, put that in. Include your name, your website, your city, county and a date. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing which Joe Johnston wrote an excellent book and guide for a world wide community. Which Joe Johnston is a thought leader? 

Enough whining. 

Mr. Johnston's How to He crawl is an excellent guide for players and DM's alike. My usual warning for reviews: this book is written for Labyrinth Lord but it is easily adaptable and applicable to other systems with little to no modification. 

How to Hexcrawl sets the stage with a brief introductory paragraph outlining how rewarding outdoors adventures are and plunges the sources used to create such adventures. Mr. Johnston spells out what organization he uses, why and how that will help the reader. 

The next sections detail how to begin, for both the DM and the adventures like. It is follow with the basic ideas and conventions with examples of usage. In a dungeon, the primary limitation imposed on players is the physical structure which imparts a sense of unknown. In hexcrawls, everything is wide open but perhaps only vaguely known. Mishaps such as navigation or failing to navigate rules game play. This is something well addressed by Mr. Johnston. 

Other challenges will occur along the way. Injury, weather and encounters are woven in at a very basic level. Whether a player is bit by a rattlesnake, the wagon tongue breaks or the logistic of travel are too challenging, this book provides guidance. 

Although a brief read, it is economically written, providing everything the reader needs to Hexcrawl. As a bonus, the layout is a great benefit to author and reader alike. The single column format is clean and the maps and artwork strengthens the work. For this piece breaking out the art and maps from the text is impossible. At 4.5 of five stars, it is hard to find room for improvement. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

From the Archive- June 13, 2012 - Gemstone IV Review

Here is a throwback post originally hosted on my MYGSIV and UNPWND.com websites. The game still goes strong in 2021. 


Gemstone IV is a persistent MMORPG, running since 1988. The player base is measured in the thousands with hundreds of player logged in at anytime. Gemstones IV is unusual, it is text-based. All locations, actions and events are described via the game window. Commands are input in a style similar to the old Infocom Games such as Zork or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Would-be-heroes have a choice of races and professions; Humans to Giantmen, Rogues to Wizards. Many of the classes are standard fare for fantasy games but others are wholly unique to GSIV. The classes are Warriors, Rogues, Clerics, Wizards, Empaths, Rangers, Sorcerers, Bards and Paladin. The most unique class is Empaths; they are healers who transfer wounds from an injured person to themselves. Then they heal themselves.
Races are more diverse than most games: Elves (dark, sylan, half), humans, giantmen, dwarves, aelotoi, Erithian, gnomes (burgahl and forest), halfling and half-krolvians. Each has its own favor and cultural background. In some cases there are obvious advantages to a race: Giantmen and drawves are sturdy and can carry more items, dark elves are immune to sickness, aelotoi have insect wings, halflings have better stealth and speed than average. All races are playable for all professions which is a nice switch and I will come back to that later.
The world of Gemstone IV has somewhat more depth than the typical hack and slash adventure. Characters can actually interact and change their environment. Wizards can create permanent magic items, weapons and armor and can recharge many of them. Sorcerers can recharge scrolls, make items and summon demons or animate dead creatures to do their bidding. Bards can play music or use musically based spells to generate sonic weapons and armor. They can also read the history of items or discover the purpose and abilities of weapons. Warriors can manufacture sheaths, repair weapons and armor. Clerics can raise the dead. Rogues can pick locks, remove them and install the locks on other pieces of equipment. Rangers can give temporary bonuses to armor and make magic wands and rods. Empaths heal. Paladins can bond with weapons for enhanced combat skills and raise dead like cleric.
In addition to the class skills above, all characters can forage for herbs, run messages, forge weapons, cobble, create arrows and bolts, and fish. Most class skills or secondary skills generate experience points. In fact, the game assumes that a character will complete between first three to five levels without combat at all.
All of these features create an environment of cooperation among characters. This is not you typical backstabbing player-vs.-player game. While you can kill other players, there is a justice system and social norms in place to keep this to a minimum.
There is the usual aspect of hunt together for treasure and better weapons and armor, but within the system it is possible for a player to hunt alone using nothing but the equipment their character was given at generation. No particular “player class vs race build” is needed to gain an advantage. Game balance is very well thought out.
I have spent years playing this game and the community and constant updates keep me coming back for more.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review - Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch Tradition

Title: Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019 (?)
Pages: 26 pages
Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Text Only Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing in the vein of the occult, today's review is of the Cult of Diana. This book is a part of a series on witches by Timothy S. Brannan for the Basic era D&D game. A word of warning, I play a mashup of B/X and AD&D 1e. I may let slip some observations which reference a set of rules that is not the one intended by the author of this book. 

To start, the entire series of books has excellent cover art. These are worth printing in high quality. Personally, I like to print the covers of DriveThruRPG books on photo paper. It is totally worth the effort. 

What makes witches worth of a new class in Basic era? The ideas, mainly, but also the integration within the rule set. Cult of Diana introduces some simple but powerful ideas to the rules. Mr. Brannan made sure these are carefully balanced so as not to be game breakers. Except for outward facing abilities like spells, no mechanic introduced upsets other character classes, which is very important for consistency. 

Like all characters, witches roll for HP, require certain modest ability scores (10 for INT, 11 for WIS and CHR), gain a bonus to experience for superior ability scores, and have limited armor and weapon selections. The author has provided 8 pages of new spells available to witches, none of which are unbalancing. 

What makes these characters different is their calling. Witches are part of a coven, granting them the ability to access new spells based on a particular tradition. This religiosity allows the witch to be of any alignment so long as they follow the tenants of their tradition. In the case of the Amazonian witch, their tradition is based on several gods such as Diana and Artemis. The author provides a brief section on what these beliefs mean. 

Circling back to the idea of covens, witches have access to ritual magic which requires many casters to participate in. Again, these ritual spells are well balanced. For both "normal magic" and "ritual magic" there are 8 levels of each described in the standard format for Basic era games. 

This particular set calls out BlueHolme but readers will find that it is a nice addition to any basic era game such as Labyrinth Lord or the Red box set. With a little adaption, this book could be plugged into a great many rule sets like AD&D. 

All and all this is a rock solid addition to your table. Text only is 4 of 5 stars. 

I tend to be colored by great artwork, usually shifting my rating upwards by one. In this review, I have ignored the excellent artwork and tables so as not to damage my rating scale too much. The art is superior for a supplemental book and completely inline with the Basic Era style. Considering the layout with the artwork, this book merits 5 of 5 stars. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

I, Damiano: The Wizard of Partestrada (1984)

Having finished my three reviews of R. A. MacAvoy's Damiano trilogy, I thought I was done with 12th century Europe. I was wrong. 

It turns out that Bantan Software published an IF game of the series for DOS and Apple II. 

I wish I had a copy and the time to do a review. I was able to find a copy on The Internet Archive which plays in a browser, but I still don't have time. My basement flooded and while I don't mind chilling out reading a book or writing a 300 word review after cleaning up, my time is better spent saving my game books, models and other things so can do more reviews in the future. 

So, this one I will throw over to you. Go play I, Damiano: The Wizard of Partestrada. Let me know how it goes in the comments. 

Credits

Opening gameplay screen.




Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn Review

Title: Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Author: TSR Staff
Year: 1982
Pages: Basic book, 20 pages. Expanded book, 64 pages. SF0, 32 pages.
Number of players: ???
Rating: ★★★

Star Frontiers could be called "TSR's game not based on D&D." Chances are this was one game you played when not playing D&D. If were a glutton for punishment, it could also be the game you played when not playing Traveller. 

The main problem with Star Frontiers is, it isn't D&D or Traveller. The secondary problem is, it isn't a tactical game or a board game either. Shockingly, it has elements of all 4 genres. 

Mind blow? 

Yeah. Me, too. 

This tiny box packs in all of the complexity of a multi-book game engine like Traveller or any edition of D&D squished into 116 pages. However, it isn't like either of those. It's system is 1d100 based. It has levels but only 1-6 and no classes. Plus aliens. Real aliens. 

Where Star Frontiers deviates from D&D the most and hugs Traveller the most is your characters are complex and fully formed from the get go. You are never a knock-kneed dude in robes hoping someone won't blast you into next year because you don't know anything. Like Traveller, you're marketable from day one. That's important later. 

With this first set, you have 4 playable races, Dralasites, Humans, Vrusk, and Yazirians and one NPC race called the Sathar. Each character has pairs of attributes: Strength and Stamina, Dexterity and Reaction Speed, Intuition and Logic, Personality and Leadership. These skills are "rockable" meaning you can steal a bit of Strength for Stamina, Dexterity for Reaction Speed and so on. You cannot swap Leadership for Strength. 

This game has no classes per se, it has 3 PSA skill groups named Military, Biosocial and Technological. Each character selects one skill from one group and a secondary skill from a second group. Due to this combining of two wildly different skill sets, no two characters are really the same. Another twist on the rules is they assume every character will use a weapon, even if unskilled in weapon use. Fire power is a great equalizer. 

"Level" is equally odd, there are 6 levels of skill for every skill and your character doesn't really have a level at all. "Level" is answering "What is the highest level skill you have?" A new character and an old one can basically stand shoulder to shoulder. 

This game game in a boxed set with 3 booklets, a two part map, counters and a cover/map for the module SF0. 

The first booklet is the 20 page basic game. It's a module in it's own right and teaches players how to play on the map with the counters. While it may seem like an underwhelming first game session, it is specifically designed to march the players through ever rule in the Expanded book. At least in short form. You can expect at least one person from the party to be able to shoot, throw a grenade, hack devices, drive an array of vehicles, do medicine, heal, etc. 

The expanded book does just that, expands on game play. The rules #1 oddity is the game is meant to be theater of the mind, which makes the map and counters rather secondary unless you want to make your own maps. Within the expanded rules is a monsters section, where a couple of typical alien creatures are given and rules to modify or create whole new monsters/aliens are nicely integrated with the character skills. This system is very cool and powerful. 

Rules for vehicles and robots are equally nicely spelled out and are designed to go hand and hand with your character's abilities as are tactics and movement. Even though you are limited to handful of skills, the system is really robust because there is usually more than one way to progress. 

For completeness, the module SF0 Crash on Volturnus continues the complexity and expands (then contracts) the world around the players. Once your players have gone through this module, they will clearly understand the concept of "Talk First/Shoot Second", a detail only hinted at in the Basic and Expanded rules. 

For 116 pages, the rules are tight and feel well planned. The presentation is wonderful, on par with anything at the time and perhaps taking a jump forward with the nice maps and counters. Oddly, space combat and ship construction were left out, probably due to space constraints.  

The game system is very inventive, but without continuing support from TSR there the game feels lacking in many regards. The specialty of this set of rules is the home brew campaign which is very doable, which is a good thing because that's all we got after the second boxed set. Back in the day, the two modules based on the films 2001 and 2010 felt odd and out of place in a space opera setting, but that should have been a clue as to how robust the system was when playing out home brew stuff. 

Many systems when view in hindsight have a dated feel where it is a product of it's own age. This set suffers this in spades. It's not like D&D or Traveller, where it was reimagined over and over again to keep up with the times. We are forever holding out for Han, Duke and 3rd Imperium that never came. There are no psionics, no Force, no magic, no sentient killer robots, no cybernetics or internet. Computers tend zig-zag from the mighty talking machines capable of full thought, but can't be removed from the 15 rooms they reside in which makes them ignore-able.   

Many times, I have totally ditched the background and acted out scenarios from the Stainless Steel Rat series, Star Wars and Aliens in this system. It actually gives a good accounting of itself. While I rated it three stars, remember this is three modern stars. As flawed as the support was, the rule still shines. 

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
At DriveThruRPG
Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn at DrivethruRPG

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Review of SM03 Cityguide to the City of Karan

Review of SM03 Cityguide to the City of Karan, available now on DriveThruRPG.



Title:  SM03 The City of Karan
Author: Dunromin University Press (Simon Miles)
Illustrator: Gareth Sleightholme and Simon Miles
Rule Set: OSRIC
Year: 2020
Pages: 70
Number of Players: N/A
Rating: ★★★★★

This book is a gazette style introduction to the City of Karen, the second city of the Land of the Young in the Barnarnia setting. I used the word gazette, but this book is 70 pages long. Each section delivers what the DM needs to walk their players through this excellent and unique setting.

The artwork is a step above Dunromin's normal work, Miles' typical artwork is there but Gareth Sleighthomlme really kicks it up a notch. Core to the product are three maps, one of the Land of the Young and the other two are maps of the City of Karan and the caves below the city. Check out the other books in the series, I just can't get over the art.

Priced a pay what you want, you can't go wrong with this title. I can't wait to check out the rest of the series.

Check out my other reviews from this series:

ORSIC Module Review - SM12 The Trials of a Young Wizard
Dunromin University Press' SM00 A Traveller's Atlas of Dunromin and the Land of the Young Review
OSRIC Module Review - M06 The Warren