Elder Sign

Having just played my first solo game of Elder Sign (after my first couple plays through Elder Sign: Omens on my iPad) I can say I thoroughly enjoy the game.

The gist of the game is similar to other Cthulhu mythos games: an ancient evil is rising in Miskatonic University Museum, aided by minions and sinister monsters. You take on the roles of “investigators” (I’m still not quite sure why an investigator would brandish a Tommy gun) who have taken on the duty of sealing the bastard away for good. This particular game is played out with an array of oversize (“tarot-sized”) cards representing the locations and situations within the museum and in strange lands beyond. Smaller (irritatingly small, standard tiny FFG cards, one of their few faults) cards represent items, spells, allies, and random events that happen during these adventures. Monsters are represented with little tiles which are overlaid onto adventure cards.

As you take adventures, you must complete various tasks. (including monsters!) These tasks are handled mechanically in the game via special six-sided dice with icons on them. These icons must match those on the adventure tasks, and all tasks must be completed in one go. I’ve seen it described derogatorily in iOS reviews as “playing a slot machine” – but this player either didn’t take the time to read all the rules, or undervalues his skills!

I was skeptical of the fun in “a random dice game”, but that’s before I learned of the various mechanics that even the odds a bit: yellow and red dice (gotta love wildcards), and more importantly focus, help, and spells which let you trap particular rolled icons for later use. With these and the diminishing dice pool, there’s a great sense of pacing.

How did my first few games go? Well, I lost both my first Omens game and my first Elder Sign game proper. I had fun nonetheless, learned a thing or two about strategies and where I was playing wrong (for one thing, I kept forgetting to focus, which might have seriously impacted the game).

After playing both the real cardboard version and the iOS adaptation, I can say they’re not quite the same game, either. First, the iOS game gives you a score in points at the end. It also doesn’t allow you to do battle with the Ancient One after it awakens, it’s just game over. There are also no allies in the iOS implementation, though none came up in my cardboard game either. Playing solo (don’t think there is multiplayer!) you play with four investigators on iOS, instead of the conventional one.

The only other major difference I spotted was that the cards are broken out quite a bit for IAP. Come on, FFG, how can you not include Cthulhu in the base set?

As far as the gameplay goes, I’d say the iOS app is great for quick games, but the cardboard is a must for multiplayer, and it’s really quite quick anyway! I was expecting my solo game to run a couple hours accounting – for learning curve – but it must have only been one.

Can FFG ever make a mistake? The only games of theirs I own that I haven’t played at all are Twilight Imperium and Ugg-tect but I’m sure they’re great too. Track record so far is amazing by me!

So again: excellent, fast-paced game with some decent theme (artwork amazing as always from this publisher) with a heavy dose of luck but with mitigating strategies lurking beneath the surface. Can’t wait to play a multiplayer game! Also, for $20 on Amazon this one’s a steal.

I’m kind of more psyched now about Dungeon Roll, another dice game I backed on Kickstarter recently, after playing and enjoying this one so much. Also interesting: Reiner Knizia was involved in this game, if only to come up with the core dice mechanics.

Of special note to folks like me who love to game but don’t have a current group: this game is great solitaire. I’ll be focusing a lot on solo games in the coming months’ posts, as I’ve got a few of them now.

4 out of 5

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Just got this one for my birthday! It combines elements of several fun games/game types/game elements:

  • mancala
  • trick-taking games
  • simple area control
  • worker placement
  • bonus stacking/combos
  • populace fulfillment

While there are a lot of actions, commodities, and lots of special tokens in Trajan, each turn you only take one normally, so it feels less overwhelming than many other strategy games.

The irregular rounds, the heavy combo possibilities and the beautiful iconography help make this game quick to pick up and easy to follow.

Some of the highlights:

  • interesting action choice mechanism: hop colored action markers from a starting “tray”, dropping off one in each subsequent clockwise tray until you use up all that were in the starting location. The end tray is the action you will be taking, and any Trajan tile in that spot will also give you bonus score/functionality of later turns
  • the seaport action lets you draw commodity cards in several ways, or trade in those from your hand for points. Larger collections of cards are worth more points, but it’s first come first serve during each quarter of the game, as ships fill up with cargo and are unable to take on more
  • area control pops up in two places, the same ones where worker placement does: military actions and construction actions. Placing tokens from a limited supply converts them into legionnaires or workers for the rest of the game, and they can then be used to obtain points/votes/other goodies, and construction can even lead to free additional actions

There are a number of “bonus stacking” mechanisms in the game. When I say this I mean any sort of free stuff/cool combos, not just literally points: free actions from construction or extra action tokens, which can even be doubled up with a +2 token; free placement of tokens from certain Trajan tiles; free direct points from others; wildcard tokens for commodities/demands/construction/extra actions. Whoever controls the senate gets first pick of bonus tiles, which confer extra points in the endgame.

At the end of every quarter – the game is divided into four quarters of four rounds each, which themselves have a variable number of turns – all players must meet the demands of the people. Each preceding round of the quarter, a new demand gets revealed. There are three kinds of demands: bread, games (represented by gladiatorial gear) and religion (represented by a massive Olympic-style torch). There may be more than one of a type, and for each demand not met, a player gets further penalized, losing victory points.

I’ve only played a demo game so far but this is fast-paced and easy to learn, with lots of random bits while still involving a good deal of meaningful choice. I can see it getting a fair share of play in my gaming circles.

4 out of 5



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Latest and Greatest (and one flop)

Now that I’m working again and in better spirits, I’ve also been picking up a few new games. Mostly, they’ve been awesome. Here’s a review of all of them in brief.

The Duke – http://www.catalystgamelabs.com/casual-games/the-duke/

This was a real winner. One of my favorite Kickstarter projects so far, this game is like chess with a large number of pieces and a randomization element. In some ways it’s simpler than chess: each player starts with only three pieces, which have some of the simpler movement patterns of the game; pieces have their movement patterns printed on them; suicide moves are illegal, which is great for less strategic players and beginners. In other ways it’s more interesting than chess: pieces usually have two different movement patterns, between which they alternate any time they move. This is facilitated by the pieces being flat tiles, which also accounts for the movement patterns being printed on them – this means it’s not even necessary to memorize the pieces’ different moves before a game, which lowers the barrier of entry for new gamers. The game is quick, very tactical and abstract, which I quite like. The pieces are very readable in general and the components and rules are all well-designed. I have yet to play the more advanced rules for terrain or used the noon-standard pieces, but it’s a great purchase.

5 out of 5

The Duke

Red November

Another hit. This one is a co-op, of which I’ve only played a few before. (Forbidden Island, The Legend of Drizzt, Death Angel) It’s a medium-weight game, so it’s not for the party games-and-Monopoly set, but the basics are teachable within ten or fifteen minutes. The theme is cute: the players are gnomes on a submarine in crisis – naturally, right? The board has 10 spaces representing rooms on the sub, most of which serve specialized purposes such as housing stores of grog, housing the ship’s engines, oxygen pumps, reactor or missile control. Rooms are separated by hatches, and will frequently become inaccessible due to hatches jamming, flooding or fires. The entire goal of the game is to survive long enough for help to arrive. In addition to the aforementioned room accessibility issues, players contend with asphyxiation (exacerbated by fires and failing oxygen pumps), overheating due to reactor meltdown, being crushed by atmospheric pressure… Oh, and there’s a kraken. Turn order is not explicitly cyclical, instead the person who’s used up the least amount of time out of the full hour goes next, choosing to spend those minutes opening hatches, putting out fires, pumping out water and fixing the various systems on the ship. Attempts to fix things are more likely to succeed when more time is spent on them, so a player can gamble on a quick fix or take the slow and steady route for a sure fix. As time passes during a player’s turn, all manner of calamity is visited upon the ship via a deck of mostly-horrible events. Cool game, keeps you on your toes and is a very funny theme. I enjoy the strategy and the level of effort, it’s great for groups of non-gamers who are still willing to invest some time in a fun cooperative romp. Another win for Fantasy Flight!

4 out of 5


Through the Ages

This one has got to be my favorite recent purchase. My second Vlaada Chvatil game, (Dungeon Lords was the first, though I’ve played Galaxy Trucker once and had fun with it) this feels like it’s going to have more replay value than most games I own. I’ve only played the Simple game so far, but am super psyched to play Advanced and Full. A worker placement game (like Dungeon Lords) the goal is to develop your civilization into the most cultured one around. This is accomplished by assigning workers to mine, farm, build and maintain various urban buildings such as libraries and labs, and in the more advanced games building up military presence and conducting warfare.

Each player has his own board on which he manages his various resources and technologies, and the shared board tracks Culture, Science and Military Strength scores, as well as providing a convenient quick reference for the “computed” deltas for Culture and Science production for every turn so you don’t have to compute it anew every time. All of these scores, resources, and populations are tracked with little wooden cubes and cylinders, which are more convenient than they may sound, if a little unwieldy.

Increasing population, upgrading to more efficient methods of production, developing new technologies, constructing wonders such as the pyramids or colossus, choosing leaders, changing governments and performing actions are all options a player can take to further his campaign for civil supremacy. Developing new technologies requires Science, a second score track that will fluctuate throughout the game as you purchase new techs and produce Science through existing buildings/wonders/actions. You’re limited in the number of actions you can take by your government, and various options cost varying numbers of civil or military actions. All the while you’ll need to maintain food and resource supplies, feeding your people and staving off consumption and corruption.

As the game progresses, history progresses through various Ages, marked by ever more impressive technologies. During each Age a player may only ever take one Leader card, and these cards are unique. They confer benefits such as increased production capabilities, more civil or military actions, cheaper technologies or similar.

It’s very hard to do this one justice in words. While reading the beginning of the rules (which are somewhat long and much dryer than those for Dungeon Lords, for instance) I worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it, but I have to say it’s one of the most elegant and interesting games I own. Chvatil is fast becoming my favorite boardgame designer.

The only downsides to this game are the price (as much as $80 new), and I do worry about losing the hundreds of tiny wooden cubes and even more so the cylinders. If I had my way the cylinders would get a redesign, perhaps as octagons or something else that wouldn’t roll so dammed easily! The complexity is also a bit much for non-gamers. But if you’ve read this far that’s probably a non-issue, isn’t it?

5 out of 5


The Let-Down: Pixel Lincoln

Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t regret backing this Kickstarter at all. I don’t think I’ll be playing it much, but it’s very attractive, has well-made components and the theme is quite funny in its ridiculousness. There are a few mechanics which, in theory, evoke the feel of an 8-bit side-scroller a la Super Mario Bros: jumping over enemies is an option if you haven’t got the firepower to defeat them, numerous attacks add flavor (though disappointingly lacking in mechanical diversity) and levels have mini bosses and bosses like any self-respecting platformer. A “scrolling” mechanism completes the evocative crunch by scooting all players and dealing new level cards.

It’s fairly bland deck building fare, which may be why I’m not blown away by it. I’ve been spoiled by the likes of Thunder Stone, Puzzle Strike, and Quarriors, which all have more depth and variety, and just seem to play faster. To be fair, I also am not blown away by a number of other games in the genre, such as Ascension and Nightfall..

There are some bits which differentiate Lincoln: the scrolling and level cards build a constantly unique, though sequential, set of cards from which to build your deck. This sounds cool, but the lack of a regular card-drafting pool – combined with the frequent cost/resources mismatches and subsequent lack of forward momentum – makes this game feel very slow. Some cards go directly to a score pile, which means they don’t get added to your deck at all. Most of the way through a level in my solo demo tonight, my deck had only grown by 10 cards or so, and felt barely any more versatile than when I started the game. I really didn’t feel any motivation to complete the game – designers take note, players need to feel rewarded for time spent. Level us up, give us shiny things!

I can’t possibly hate on cards like Sausage Link Whip or Beardarang, but this thing just isn’t doing it for me. Props for including a solitaire mode, even if it felt like a bit of an afterthought. I’m sure the next game by these cats will be great.

2.5 out of 5


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Star Wars: the LCG

So now that my personal life is ever-so-slightly calming down and I’m working again (at Gannett Digital) I finally picked up a copy of Star Wars: the Card Game, an LCG by Fantasy Flight. Quick takeaway: it’s a lot of fun, good bang:buck ratio, and a fast playing, well-balanced, nicely thematic game.

For those who aren’t familiar, “LCG” is a trademark of FFG which stands for Living Card Game. An LCG is distinguished from a more traditional CCG or TCG (whichever you prefer – I call em CCGs myself) in a couple key ways: first, the starter set for an LCG is designed as a complete package, there’s no need to go out and buy boosters to build playable decks; in fact there are no booster packs available! Second, and most important as far as balanced, fair play is concerned, each box contains the exact same mix of cards, there’s no randomization so everyone is on a level playing field. Back in the early days of Magic, rich kids had all the hot cards and those of us with less resources had to resort to either thievery or getting ridiculously creative, spending days on deck building strategies just to survive a handful of turns. No longer a requirement in LCGs. At first I thought it was more a marketing term than something truly game-changing, but I’m totally sold on the LCG scheme, and SW:TCG is my second after FFG’s reboot of NetRunner. (A review of NetRunner will be forthcoming once I’ve got my cards back out of storage)

Star Wars further simplifies deckbuilding strategy – and hence barrier of entry – by requiring predefined sets of 6 cards, called Objective Sets, to be bundled together when constructing a deck. Generally a player will pick a primary faction (there are 6 as of the Core set), snag all the sets for that faction, and select another set or two either from another faction or unaligned sets. The cards in these sets tend to be thematically linked, and frequently play well as combos.

The factions in Core are as follows: for Light Side (LS)Rebel Alliance, Jedi, and Smugglers and Spies, for Dark Side (DS)Imperial Navy, Sith, and Scum and Villainy. I’ve not yet gotten to dig into the varying playstyles of the factions, but it’s pretty clear there are both thematic and mechanical slants to each group.

Cards are divided into Units (characters, creatures, vehicles), Enhancements (this game’s equivalent to MTG enchantments, which can enhance a single unit or your entire game environment), Events (which can be played after or before certain conditions), and Fate (which is useful only during Edge Battles to see who gets the edge in combat, though they also give special bonuses above and beyond this). There are also Objectives (which give you resources to deploy Units/Enhancements and sometimes additional benefits) and Force cards, but neither of these gets shuffled into the Command deck, a player’s principle deck.

To win, the LS must destroy 3 of the DS’s objectives. The DS wins by getting the Death Star dial all the way to 12. Either side may also win by running the other player out of cards in his draw pile, as in many other card games.

The Dark Side player, naturally, goes first. The force, however, is with the Light Side player. This is a central theme of the game, the constant struggle of wills between light and dark. It first shows its head as the Balance, a two-sided token that confers special benefits depending on who “has the balance”: if the LS player has the balance at the beginning of his turn, he gets to automatically deal damage to one of the DS player’s objectives. If the DS has the balance at the beginning of his turn, he gets to crank the Death Star counter an extra tick.

Turns proceed through 6 phases: Balance (where the above-mentioned benefits occur), Refresh (where focus tokens are cleared away and new objectives played), Draw (where 1 or more cards are drawn to bring the player up to his reserve), Deploy (where Units and Enhancements are played), Conflict (where an opponents Objectives are attacked), Force. (where the Balance is contested by investing Force cards on specific Units, granting sway over the Balance but costing the Unit a great deal of Focus)

The DS does not get to attack on his first turn, and the LS does not get a Refresh on his first turn.

Conflict is the meat of the turn, and proceeds over a series of attacks on the opponent’s Objectives in hopes of destroying them – which leads to direct victory for the LS, and can run the opponent out of cards for the DS. Multiple attacks can occur, so long as the same Objective is not attacked twice. Any number of “ready” Units (those with no Force Focus tokens on them) may join in the attack. Any number of ready enemy Units may participate in the defense.

Before blows are exchanged, an Edge Battle occurs: players alternate playing cards face down, investing (or bluffing investment) in their side’s maneuvering, conspiring, flanking, what-have-you. Once both players pass, these Fate Stacks are revealed and any Fate cards in them are resolved from lowest to highest, incurring any benefits for the player who played them. After all Fate cards have resolved, the Force value (a series of dots along the upper left side of cards that have it) is totaled for each side, and the winner (ties go to the defender) is said to “have the edge” in the ensuing combat. Having the edge usually means your Units are more affective, as many of them have stats that only come into play when you have the edge.

Most Units that I’ve seen have at least one combat stat of the three available, and many characters have all three. Those stats are Unit Damage (which inflicts damage to specific enemy Units), Influence (which focuses an enemy Unit, rendering him exhausted and effectively taking him out of the conflict), and Blast Damage. (which does damage directly to the Objective under attack if you are the attacker and does nothing if you are defending) each player (starting with the player with the edge) takes turns focusing a still-ready Unit from his side of the conflict to strike. Units who are “invested in the Force” (those with Force cards under them) cost an additional Focus token to strike. Striking allows the Unit to inflict all his valid damage (based on whether he’s attacking or defending, has the edge or not) in any order he pleases. Units dealt damage equal to or greater than their damage capacity (a figure in the bottom left of Units and Objectives) are immediately taken out of play and are unable to strike back. Units who become exhausted by Influence or other means are ineligible to strike. If the Objective under attack is destroyed, it goes to the attacker’s victory pile.

That’s the gist of the game, and it plays very quickly with little confusion over what is meant by various cards. There are only a handful of keyword abilities and they’re easy to pick up. The flavor of the game is very powerful, as you actively invest yourself in trying not to lose the Balance or trying to prevent Vader from striking you down by influence. The small number of card types, the Objective Set deckbuilding rules, the conciseness of the rules and the various asymmetric aspects really make this a game I can see myself playing a good bit. The art is typical FFG, with paintings that really capture the spirit of the original movies even when depicting things not explicitly shown in the films.

4.5 out of 5.

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Creative Content: Story Seeds

Some of the coolest gaming aids I have are what I think of as story generators. These include random tables like Mythic (I’ll review this shortly), visual inspiration a la Everway’s Vision Cards (easily one of the more driving forces in world/character building in that game) or something both more tactile and still visual, like Rory’s Story Cubes. The cubes (let’s call them what they are, they’re pictographic dice. 9d6 of symbolic goodness.) are great for quick inspiration, for actual long-term, dynamic story elements like opposing factions and resources to vie for… And they’re still great for goofy, one-off tales to tell little kids or make yourself laugh, or something of the kind.

I’m going to start using the Cubes, both my physical and digital copies, as well as Mythic, Everway Fortune deck, and other “divination tools” to scry us up some plot ideas. It’ll be a creative exercise for me, and I’ll be sure to document the rolls of the dice, the tables, and so on to give examples of how to interpret random story generators. I’ll try to keep these posts short and to the point: a summary of my initial read of the generator, possible break-downs of story for either extended tale-telling game play or short-form background. I’ll toss in photos/screen grabs/etc at the end and be sure to caption as much as possible.

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Review: Mystic Empyrean

The setting is sketchy, but that’s ok. Not a universal RPG – far from it! – but a flavorful multiverse along the lines of Everway or [and my knowledge of this is quite minimal, so forgive me if I’m wrong] Planescape. Once a whole grand realm called Grand Cornerstone, the world has been torn asunder by some mysterious catastrophe – the Great Calamity. Since then, the Aether – a mist that behaves something like antimatter to the “matter” that is Anima – has been closing in on the shattered remains of a once-great world. Anima is the “mana” of Empyrean, the 7 elemental forces that shape the world, guided by Great Spirits, totem animals of immense power on par with gods.

Throw in colossi, any level of technology or variety of magic, kinds of people (known as the Nascent) and varying levels of Balance of Anima and there’s a great deal of variety to be had. The book provides numerous tools for generating Realms, characters and so on.

Player characters are Eidelons: basically immortal demigods with strange and diverse powers and corresponding personality traits. Anima is what makes up their unique aspects. This is a core concept of characters in Mystic Empyrean – they “wear their souls as a skin”. In other words, their insides are reflected on their outsides. As characters change behavior, their appearances and even their powers change accordingly, whether they like it or not. The rotating GM-ship and voting on experience dole-out ensure this change happens regularly.

Rotating GM-ship? Yes. Troupe-style play, as I’ve heard it called before, is central to the system. What’s more, the “toy box” metaphor means individual players have ownership of specific elements in play. This is about as broad as you could imagine: owning NPCs, monster types, realms, even peculiarities of your game like divergences from standard physics and their impacts. Players take turns ruling on resolution and describing the surroundings, while their PC takes a back seat and basically acts as an NPC.

The central resolution system involves a custom deck of cards representing the levels of the 7 types of “flavored” Anima, as well as Pure Anima (from which the other types are derived, presumably) and Aether, the aforementioned “nothing” that eats away at the fabric of the universe, i.e. Anima. Players have balances of Personal Anima as well, each governing how generally well the character does at tasks ruled by the specific types of Anima. A player gets as many redraws from the deck as the rating of the element in question. I won’t get into more detail now, I probably wouldn’t remember it anyhow.

I would love to play this game at some point. It’s offbeat, I love collaborative play and shared world building.

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Nova Praxis: Core

After reading a bit more of the NP PDF than I had before my previous post, I’m certain I’ll be playing Nova Praxis using the newer Fate Core rules. This is partially due to my preference for simplicity vs explicitness, and partially because I’m lazy and don’t feel like memorizing two sets of [mostly] overlapping rules. I’m actually quite the rules lawyer outside of RPGs, but when it comes to storytellin’, I ain’t about to rassle no player over the finer points of some obscure codex I’ve yet to lay my eyes upon.

This is one of the selling points of Fate Core: understand the gist of how aspects, stress tracks and consequences work, the Four Actions and Four Outcomes, and Zones. Toss in Skills and Stunts as you’re creating a character and you basically know it all. Any additional rules are more or less gravy. Aspects are such a powerful mechanic – one I failed to grasp, or at least remember from my early forays with Over The Edge, only to appreciate them a decade later via HeroScape and Marvel Heroic, before Fate Core – that they can cover nearly any situation on-the-fly with little or no page-flipping, bickering or break-taking necessary. I’ll likely go on future tangents about “aspect-oriented” role play (a term I’m borrowing/corrupting from my hacker brethren) at some point. First a list of touch points, in no particular order. Future posts may touch on the specifics of how some of these differ and why you might choose one over the other.

  • Actions and Outcomes – removing spin/stall, terms like effort
  • Character aspects – concept is aspect, include historical “phases” from Core alongside “scoped” Aspect Alphabet aspects (or swap for Aspect Alphabet entirely? Not sure yet. NP’s Scope rule refers to something else, to be clear)
  • Skill/Stunt lists for NP are great and custom-built for flavor and D&D feat-like tactical options. They have hooks for some of the unique “classes” of characters like SIMs and Savants that need no retooling. Just need to think through using the Four Actions instead of the old Maneuver/etc. Special consideration should also be given to House Networking, as it contributes to starting Rep-Rating. Likewise Licensed is important if you want legitimate Augmentations
  • Skill pyramid needs slight retuning just to de-clutter the character sheet and bring inline with Core (1 +4 at the apex)
  • Weapon and armor ratings in NP are nice and simple, effectively identical to the basic examples given in Fate Core’s Extras chapter. They add flavor and danger, and a gear-lusting gamist will enjoy picking up the occasional super-powered rifle that has an aspect or stunt associated with it as well
  • System stress track needs to be added for Savant characters, and the Actions/Outcomes interpolated into it
  • Character advancement – I haven’t given this much thought yet, as I tend to think in more realistic “people don’t change that much!” terms, but it’s bound to come up. The NP rule box for this seems a bit simplistic for me, and I think the Core rules were more flexible but I haven’t internalized them yet
  • Gear – if there was one reason to buy the book (beyond the killer setting!) this would be it. No comments just yet, beyond the fact that Drones, Augmentations and Vehicles are all great content.
  • System attacks – throughout the book there are numerous sections on attacking or compromising remote computer systems, even though much of the fluff mentions that Mimir-tech is nigh impregnable. I think we need some clarification from the author here
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Nova Praxis: First Take

If you haven’t heard of Nova Praxis, you’ve got lots of company. It’s an indie RPG from the maker of Strands of Fate, itself a Fate 2 add-ons bonanza for those who prefer their aspect-oriented roleplay a little crunchier. The at-a-glance take on the game I had before picking up a copy was “transhumanism, post-scarcity, post-singularity, FATE!”

Fate occupies a special place in my mind these days, as Fate Core, the third and to my naive eyes massively improved version of the game system of narrative driven gameplay (the core mechanic of “aspects” explicitly involves story elements, whether internal character details or external setting detail, more on this in another post) I backed on Kickstarter, along with over 10 thousand others. My only previous exposure to Fate is through Diaspora, which has some great ideas going for its loose setting as well.

The Nova Praxis PDF as it stands now uses the older terminology predating Core. (I assume work began on NP a while before the Core KS began, and the author must oblige the NDAs or whatever we all implicitly signed by taking part in the draft versions of Core) My understanding is this will be updated to reflect newer rules, or at least supplemental material explaining how to port your game over. For my part, I intend to play the setting with its customized skill list and perhaps a few of its extras, like the Rep-Rating economy and weapons/armor, which seem pretty compatible with the extras in Core.

While I’m less than a quarter of the way through the book, it’s been packed to the brim with setting detail. This includes a great 100-year history which touches on the “Consolidation Wars”; the technophage that devastated Earth; the formation of the Dune-like Houses (former corporations that, along with the Coalition, govern most of humanity) and the various/sundry technologies humanity now has at their disposal. Most of the technology is thanks to a hyper-intelligent AI called Mimir which, upon awakening fully sentient, made hundreds of scientific discoveries and invented countless technologies humanity has yet to fully sift through. The post-scarcity bit comes into play via the Rep-Rating, which allows characters to sacrifice some of their reputation to purchase goods and services, and which includes a social networking component that increases the reputation, and hence the wealth, of other characters. This system is unavailable to certain characters known as Apostates, who have chosen to live “off the grid”, away from the omnipresent monitoring and absolute lack of privacy.

The wording and presentation of the Fate rules is good, though I mostly skimmed this section. It seemed both more straightforward and more clearly-worded than Diaspora, for instance. (My take on this may also be due to the fact I read Diaspora in Kindle format, which means all boxes/color choices/fonts and more are lost)

Nothing more to say yet, but will continue to post regarding further awesomeness uncovered and likes/dislikes among the extras presented.

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Review of PORTAL

The following review was originally written up on Lulu.com for the universal RPG PORTAL, which can be found at the following address: http://www.lulu.com/shop/jared-presler/portal-player-oriented-roleplaying-timing-action-lucidity/ebook/product-17516076.html

‘Not having played this, I can only speak to the philosophies, writing style and mechanics based on a quick read through. The ideas that apparently drove the author (and friends?) to create the system are very in line with my own: put the focus on story, let the system fade into the background, keep it simple but realistic. So that’s great by me. Unfortunately, to me at least, the mechanics of character creation are more involved than most systems, even if they do begin with a “write the ideas first, then stat out” mentality I appreciate. 9 core stats, confusing nested sub-stats, I got dizzy reading it all. I must point out, however, that the lists of example questions to ask yourself/your players when creating characters are spot on, covering almost all bases when it comes to developing well thought-out, believable characters. The resolution system is simple d100 roll-under with some finer granularity in terms of success (again complicating what could have been simpler) which is fine by me. Guidelines are given for modifiers, etc. The cool innovative bits here come from spending and regaining vitality, which determines action order and effectiveness in combat. Hadn’t seen anything like this before myself, and it’s something I’d consider house ruling into an otherwise initiative-based system if I felt it necessary to enforce order. The writing style is fairly clean, leaving little to question. It is easy to follow and does not pander, which I appreciate. The only annoying bits for me are a few recurring typos, most notably “loose” in place of “lose” several times.’

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Dungeon Lords

Dungeon Lords, a game by Vlaada Chvatil. Published in the US by Z-Man games. This is the second game I’ve purchased that Z-Man has released, (the other was Earth Reborn, review coming soon!) and I have a feeling it won’t be the last. It’s also the second game by Chvatil I’ve played, the first being Galaxy Trucker. I like this game better for the art and the gameplay both, but there are a few things that feel similar to Galaxy Trucker, namely the individual player boards and arrangement of tiles in an empty grid.

Here’s the box:


The game has two main things going for it: beautiful artwork and a well thought-out, well written (and wittily funny!) rule book. I must say, having not read a great deal about it beforehand, I thought I was in for a standard dungeon crawler, which is something of a fixation for me at the moment. It couldn’t be further from a dungeon crawler and still include the word “dungeon” in the title! This is a strategic resource-gathering game with combat.

Gameplay is divided into two main sections: building and combat. During building you try to gather resources to amp up your dungeon’s defense capabilities, and at the end of the year (confusingly in Fall, as the year starts in Winter) a group of adventurers attempts a raid on each dungeon lord’s lair. Along the way you also have to pay taxes on your dungeon to the Ministry of Dungeons, as well as re-pay the cost of your monsters (and ghosts) on a randomly-determined payday once a year. There are two years in the game.

Box Contents:

  • Boards: there are 4 color-matched player boards where each player manages his dungeon, keeps monsters (and ghosts) on the payroll, stores traps, and commands his army of minions and imps to build, buy, burgle and burrow for various resources. In games with fewer than 4 players, some of these boards are used as non-player colors, whose soul purpose is to make life difficult for the actual players.
    • Distant Lands board: this is an organizational tool for keeping your shuffled tile and card decks, as well as discards, ready at hand
    • Phase board: this tool has great visual cues to remind you what tasks need to be done in what order every phase, and divides play up by seasons. Slots for upcoming adventurers and events (tax time and payday) hold the respective tiles, letting you plan ahead to deal with all of these. The reverse side of this board tracks combat phases, with slots for each combat round’s spell cards. At the end of the game the combat side has a score track for figuring out which player wins based on remaining resources, captured adventurers, and how well you protected your dungeon!
    • Main board: this is where most of the action occurs in the Build sections of the game, and it has slots for minions to engage in resource gathering of various kinds. Food, gold, traps, monsters, rooms, tunnels and reputation can all be had, for a price. The board also holds the Evilometer, which tracks the public opinion of your dungeon lord, evil or nice. If you’re evil enough, the paladin will come after you, so you’d better keep an eye on this, and be prepared!
  • Monster (and ghost) tiles. The instructions make a repeated, humorous point of differentiating ghosts from monsters. Each tile shows the monster’s (or ghost’s) cost, attack and special effect info.
  • Adventurer tiles. These are the enemies in the game, and each has a glyph, an HP rating and a set of icons representing any special abilities. Thieves can disable traps, priests heal and wizards cast spells in combat. More powerful tiles are indicated with both a more complex glyph and a lighter background. There are also two ultra-powerful paladin tiles, which basically act as amalgams of the other 4 kinds of adventurers, having all their abilities in spades. Paladins come after you if you’re getting too evil.
  • Damage chits: the game has great looking little translucent red plastic cubes, each of which has a bubble trapped in it. These represent damage done to adventurers, as well as score-reducing unpaid taxes on your dungeon.








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