Archive for the '50 Games in 50 Weeks' Category

50 Games in 50 Weeks: Horrific, Terror in the Cards

Feb 06 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

Horrific: Terror in the CardsWhile browsing a local game store’s dusty bargain bin, my hands pulled out a couple decks of cards. Each was adorned with a tiny yellow price tag proclaiming, “$1.” The decks were part of a card game, Horrific: Terror in the Cards. According to the back of each deck, each player in the game plays a villain in a small town, trying to corrupt townspeople into minions, while turning the rest of the town’s inhabitants against the other players. It’s a terrific concept for a card game, so I bought the decks immediately.

Each player gets a deck of cards specific to the character being played: The Doktor, the Lord of Bones, etc. Each deck also comes with tokens for townspeople, who each have three stats.

The players begin by spreading out all their townspeople into one big sea of corruptible humans.

Play proceeds as follows: On your turn, draw 5 cards from your deck, place one card in your reserve (face-up, near you), and either play one card or place that card into your reserve as well. You can also play as many cards from your reserve as you want. When done, draw enough cards to have 5 in your hand, and adjust your trust.

Trust is the most important resource to manage, and is represented by a pile of coins, beads, or anything else that comes to hand (for my game of Horrific, we used paper clips). You need trust to perform certain actions (and, in some cases, to win the game), but when you corrupt townspeople or otherwise deal in nefarious dealings, you lose trust.

Each card lets you do something when played: turn a townsperson into a minion, turn a minion into undead, do good works in the town to gain trust, spread lies about another player to lower their trust, etc. Each player has a unique goal, which is visible to all other players.

And that’s about the entire game. Your goal may be to create a certain number of undead minions; another may just need to corrupt a certain number of townspeople.

Interestingly, you can accomplish your goal without screwing the other players. You don’t have to constantly plot against the other players. My game included stretches of straight playing towards our goals, and occasional “fights” where we were trying to bring each other down.

As a result, you can play the game as an intense competition full of backstabbing, or you can push hard towards your goal.

The mechanics are simple enough to grasp within half a game, but the different decks introduce variation; the Lord of Bones may be played by a devious genius in one game, and not appear at all in the next.

The artwork is creepy but not gory, appropriate for tweens and up. Indeed, this strikes me as an excellent game for teenagers, especially boys.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Paranoia

Jan 30 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews,Role-playing

Paranoia RPGRPG players are conditioned to view PC conflict as an absolute bad. So how can I describe the fun of an RPG that assumes players will attempt to kill each other at every session?

Paranoia is set in a 1980’s dystopia where Friend Computer directs humanity with a scented iron fist. It’s 1984 crossed with Discworld.

The player-characters are all troubleshooters (“tasked to find trouble and shoot it”), given a job by Friend Computer to resolve some minor problem. Of course, failure to comply is treason and subject to immediate death. Your job is typically to track down commies, mutants, or traitors.

Unfortunately, you’re also secretly a commie, mutant, or traitor. Or all three.

Fortunately for you and unfortunately for your comrades, they’re all probably commies, mutants, and/or traitors, and you’ll get points with Friend Computer if you expose them and eliminate them before they do the same to you.

Your character gets a large array of interesting and goofy stats, and to use them, you roll a d20 in hopes of rolling at or under your stat’s score. There’s little in the way of damage; the weapons with which Friend Computer provides you rarely leave much residue.

Our group didn’t roll much; we were too busy dealing with an unfamiliar sewer transport, a surprise loyalty test, and of course, accusing each other of treason. The GM handled most of the rolls.

I had great fun playing Paranoia, but it was a very particular kind of fun. I felt “inside the action” more than I do in a typical beer-and-pretzels game, but I wasn’t taking any of it seriously.

It’s an odd game. A memorable, weird, hilarious, crazy, fun, odd game.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Space Hulk: Death Angel

Jan 23 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

Space Hulk: Death AngelYou are a space marine, a heavily armored and incredibly powerful warrior searching an abandoned ship for deadly, xenophobic aliens. Unfortunately, they will find you.

This is represented in a card game.

And that’s the yin and yang of Space Hulk: Death Angel. The basic idea–marines assaulted by aliens as they traverse a space ship–captures the imagination, but it’s complex and awkward to represent with cards.

The players each control a couple of marines, all of which are in the same squad. Other cards represent the ship corridors that the marines are exploring, and the aliens attacking them. Special dice are rolled when marines attack; each marine attacks in his own way.

Explaining the mechanics in detail would be dull and futile. It took me and a friend over an hour to understand the rules, and he’d played the game before. In particular, we scratched our heads over the rules for navigating through the ship and finishing the mission.

That said, Death Angel captures the claustrophobic terror of its premise. Several moments drew apprehensive groans from us both. I felt myself breathe stale air, smell fear, and feel the butt of my rifle jam into my shoulder.

I just wish I could figure out where I was on the damned ship.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Fudged Mouse Guard

Jan 16 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing


Image from 'Mosue Guard,' copyright David Petersen

Image from 'Mosue Guard,' copyright David Petersen

My game group played Fudged Mouse Guard a few weeks ago. It takes the excellent Mouse Guard RPG–a game of intelligent mice with medieval-level technology–and converts the system to Fudge (every stat is a score from -4 to +4, and you roll dice that modify your score up or down for a final result, which is compared to a target difficulty).

The original Mouse Guard system is a simplified and heavily modified version of the odd Burning Wheel system. The conversion to Fudge can’t be exact.

It isn’t, but Fudged Mouse Guard fits the world well, and converts all the important statistics. We were able to play in the Mouse Guard world effectively, using skills and abilities, and combat involved simply trading blows. It works.

I did encounter one problem: The Fudged Mouse Guard document lists no example enemies, and provides no guidelines for enemies’ power level. I guessed at the stats for enemies, which turned out to be low. The PCs defeated all their enemies within three rounds. The original RPG’s unique combat system doesn’t translate directly to a traditional RPG’s mechanic of trading blows, so more direction there would be helpful.

Overall, though, the game went smoothly and we had fun. You can view our character sheets to see the stats used in the system.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Dungeon World

Jan 09 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews,Role-playing

'CatacombsOfTheWizard' by orkboi on Flickr

'CatacombsOfTheWizard' by orkboi on Flickr

Dungeon World is another sword-and-sorcery tabletop RPG system aiming to recapture the purity of classic Dungeons & Dragons. The surface looks the same, including the four classes of Cleric, Fighter, Thief, and Wizard. The mechanics and approach, however, are quite different.

Player-character attributes mirror D&D, except for the addition of Bond, which is used to indicate how well each character knows each other character. Moreover, at the beginning of each session, two attributes are “highlighted” by other players and the GM. If a player uses those attributes during the session, the PC gets extra XP.

The basic die mechanic is 2d6, added together, plus any modifiers. 10 or higher is a full success; 7–9 is a success with a complication; 6 or lower is a failure.

The “move,” which is the core procedure of the system, is a rule that lists a trigger (the thing in the game that activates the move), possibly a roll, and a set of possible results.

Interestingly, moves are not optional. If any character action satisfies the trigger condition for a move, the character must immediately use that move.

Moreover, moves are always responses to character actions. A player can’t say “I use the Defy Danger move;” the player must narrate a character action which triggers the Defy Danger move.

This is central to the system. Players must narrate. The mechanics must flow from that narration.

There are also mechanics that allow for results to be held for the next turn, for the next use of a move, until a condition is met, or using a currency called “hold.” The move specifies the uses of “hold.” For example, if you stand in defense of a person, item, or location under attack and succeed fully, you get 3 hold. You can later spend that hold to redirect an attack from the defended item to yourself, or halve the damage of an attack against the defended item, or deal extra damage to anything attacking the defended item.

In a reversal from traditional D&D, most weapons deal no damage themselves. Damage is dealt by rolling a certain sized die for your class, and in some cases adding +1 for a particularly powerful weapon. The system justifies this by pointing out that your class’s training determines your ability to hurt people. Thieves are not build to deal damage; they have moves that make them useful in many other ways.

Unfortunately, the rules are written with often-tortured grammar, making many sentences hard to parse. Here’s an example, and I’ve even corrected two typos: “When the doom you show signs of is an onslaught of goblin arrows, if the players don’t do something to get out of the way, you can follow through with damage as a hard move.” This is frequent enough that I needed to re-read many passages to fully understand them.

I wouldn’t mind this in a supplement, but these are the core rules.

The term “move” compounds the issue. It’s such a generic word that I often felt confused by a particular turn of phrase. When a rule tells you to “make your move,” is that meant colloquially or mechanically?

When we sat down to play it, the game progressed smoothly. I spent much of the time prompting players with “What do you do?”, as the rules demanded, which non-plussed a few players. Dungeon World expects focus, an admirable quality.

much as I’m complaining about it, I found Dungeon World‘s rules and approach refreshing and effective. We had a classic hack-and-slash adventure. It did exactly what it claimed it would do.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Fiasco

Jan 02 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing

'Brother' by linuz90 on Flickr

'Brother' by linuz90 on Flickr

Man, I loved Fiasco.

Fiasco is a tabletop RPG that approaches die rolls from a radically unorthodox angle. The players roll the dice at the beginning of the game, and those rolls tie into various elements of the setting (the book comes with several starter settings). Once those dice are rolled, they’re never rolled again.

The first half of the game involves describing and explaining the elements rolled, as well as their relations to each other. If the dice connect a child’s chemistry set to a protagonist’s law offices, someone will get a chance to explain that connection at some point before the game’s mid-point.

Halfway into the game comes the Tilt, a major plot point that disrupts the ongoing story and rolls it towards disaster. The rest of the game involves narrating the characters’ reactions and fates.

As a result, Fiasco is a story-driven game, to the point of being story-obsessed. The game hinges on players collaborating to narrate whole scenes without a single die roll, skill, or attribute to fall back on.

Only one in our group of four had played Fiasco before, so he guided us through the dice-rolling and story-telling process. Most of us found the system awkward at first, but we warmed to it, especially in the second half. Our story of a small Southern town and its corrupt cop, his innocent niece, and the drug-dealing lawyer and his daughter quickly spiraled out of the character’s control, into dark places. We felt gripped by the power of our story.

What better praise can I give to a role-playing game?

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: InSpectres

Dec 26 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing

'Ghost Exit' by rbrwr on Flickr

'Ghost Exit' by rbrwr on Flickr

InSpectres is a lot of fun.

It’s a tabletop role-playinggame that’s basically Ghostbusters. The lightweight system includes only four attributes per PC–Academics, Athletics, Technology, and Contact–with a focus on one of them. A total of 9 points are distributed among these attributes.

The core mechanic involves rollingsix-sideddice–as many dice as you have points in the attribute that applies to the attempted action–and looking up the highest die rolled in a results table. Higher numbers provide extra Job Dice (each job requires the players to collect a certain number of job dice), while lower numbers mean that bad things happen.

Similarly, when faced with something scary or otherwise stressful–which happens a lot to paranormal investigators–the player rolls a number of dice equal to the force of the stress, and lower numbers provide bad results, including the loss of dice from attributes. Once all of a character’s attribute dice are gone, the character freaks out and retires from that particular job (and possibly from the ghostbusting franchise).

That’s most of the system. The franchise itself has a couple of attributes that can be called upon in dire circumstances, and there’s also a “confessional” mechanic, that lets players add facts to the world by narrating an aside, noir-style(“But what we didn’t know was that the tool shed contained an old stick of incense that the ghosts hated!”). And that’s about it, mechanically.

In play, we had a great time. We decided to play a small franchise in New Orleans, that was invited to investigate strange nightly noises in an old government building that once served as the governor’s mansion. The PCs faced down various ghosts wandering the cubicled building before discovering that the top office doubled as a seance chamber. Further paranormal hijinks ensued.

The rules describe a 10-die job as “easy” and a 30-die job as “hard.” We started with a 10-die goal, but within an hour upped the goal to 20, as the players quickly gathered job dice with few ill effects. Indeed, we finished the 20-die mission after losing only a couple of attribute points per player. A 10-die job seems trivial, though perhaps the players were rolling well.

The system’s simplicity let us get to the action quickly, which is critical for a light-heartedgame like this. Moreover, the high-levelmechanics prevented us from bogging down in blow-by-blowcombat.

InSpectres fits its genre almost perfectly. The only downside is that it fits this genre only. However, if bustin’ makes you feel good, I’ve found no system better than InSpectres.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Everyone Is John

Dec 16 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing

As part of DC Gameday, I volunteered to run a game of Everyone Is John.

System basics: Each player is a voice in the head of a totally insane man named John from Minneapolis. Each voice has a few skills, an obsession (something they really want to accomplish), and a pool of Willpower tokens. Whenever John is hurt, bored, or falls asleep, the voices all wager Willpower tokens to take control of John. The winner controls John until he’s hurt, bored, of falls asleep again.

The system perfectly simulates the competition among voices. The only potential issue is the absolute control of one voice and the lack of input from the other voices.

On the one hand, this system generates a very intense, one-on-one experience between the controlling voice and the GM. I’m sure it’s odd for a player to have the full attention of the GM for long stretches.

On the other hand, everyone else has nothing to do except observe. The player and DM have to be entertaining. I’d like to see a mechanic that allows non-controlling voices to give Willpower Points to the current voice, in exchange for accomplishing something the giver wants.

In our case, the system resulted in a very wacky story. Each voice had to deal with strange circumstances as they took over John–the players knew what had happened, but the voices didn’t–and had to cope.

That highlighted another difficulty: voices were often presented with situations that completely non-plussed them, because the voice has no context. I’d add a stipulation that voices remember only what’s happened since John’s most recent full night’s sleep. We may have been playing it wrong, though, by assuming that voices “lose consciousness” when they lose control.

Overall, the game itself was a lot of fun. The system provided a weird, strong, memorable experience that we learned quickly.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Catego

Nov 23 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

Catego is an abstract dice game in which several players (about 2 to 5) each roll dice, and slowly fill in a scorecard, jockeying for position.

The scorecard looks like this:

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Player 1
Player 2
Player 3
Player 4

Every turn, each player rolls two six-sided dice, adds them, and places that result in one of the columns in their row.

Here’s where strategy enters: The player with the highest number in a column wins that column, and all the numbers in that column (including the header) are added to that player’s score. So, columns farther to the right are more valuable than the left-hand columns.

As with any game, one’s enjoyment of Catego is proportional to one’s expectations. Catego remains interesting beyond the first few games, but would begin to wear thin after several dozen.

The weighting of each column adds important complexity. After the random die roll, the player must decide whether to lock up a low-scoring column or struggle for a high-scoring one. Each roll presents the player with several interesting options, which diminish alarmingly as the game draws to its close. The rules nicely balance random chance with strategy.

Moreover, players of almost any age can learn Catego in a few minutes, and its strategy reveals itself in play.

However, Catego is not Risk. Play can grow repetitive, and the lack of anything except abstract, black-and-white numbers can feel exhausting. That is not, of course, its fault. But it’s still true.

On the whole, though, Catego hits a lovely balance between extremes, as a game that’s easy to teach, slightly unpredictable, and strategic.

Catego was originally published in Reiner Knizia’s book Dice Games Properly Explained.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Risus

Oct 19 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Role-playing

I had the good fortune to play a game using the free Risus “everything RPG system” as part of DC Gameday this year.

Risus is very generic, which is its key strength. The system can be explained in two short paragraphs, which I will now attempt to do.

Each character is made up of clichés, each of which gets 1 to 4 dice. Each character has a total of 10 dice to distribute amongst clichés. You can add a “hook” (interesting backstory) to your character for an extra die.

To attempt an action, choose a cliché and roll that number of dice. Add the result (rolling 3, 4, and 4 results in 11); if you meet or beat a target difficulty number, you succeed. If you fail during a conflict, remove one die in that cliché for the rest of the conflict; if you lose all your dice in one cliché, you lose the conflict. You can also “team up” to assist a team leader, by rolling one cliché’s dice and adding all the sixes you roll to the team leader’s roll.

'John Carter of Mars' by artmessiah on DeviantArt

'John Carter of Mars' (c) artmessiah on DeviantArt

Our game was a Flash Gordon-style story, set in a garden party on Venus. The cast was as follows:

  • An arrogant spaceship captain (think Zap Branigan)
  • An ace reporter
  • A Robby the Robot-style robot
  • A slightly mad professor
  • A spunky female hover-limo driver
  • A femme fetale

We had an excellent group; people were throwing ideas out and actively playing. Unfortunately, though we raced after the mad Moon Men, we were unable to complete the story in time.

Risus is a flexible and straightforward system that struck me as easy to play and easy to GM. Opposed actions are against other characters’ clichés. At most, you’re rolling a couple of dice and adding the result. Boom.

Download Risus

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