Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fate Worlds: Volume One: Worlds on Fire

With contributions from Jason Morningstar and Filamena Young, both of whom contribute system hacks rather than pure settings this book might be described as the indie take on FATE. However in truth the bulk of the book is made of more conventional settings.

Morningstar's contribution Fight Fire is the one I found most interesting personally. It involves a stripping back of the Fate system to focus on firefighting grounded in the modern world. Characters are described in terms of their abilities to combat fire and also a few personality details. Fire and Smoke are described in game terms rather like monsters and the Fate region-based tactical maps are repurposed here to describe critical locations within burning buildings where the fire must be stopped and people rescued.

The description of building a fire crew and the sample incidents are great but the rules for creating your own fires are sketchy and its not clear what principles, if any underpin the sample fires. The closed setting environment makes the game an interesting prospect for an intense focussed game.

White Picket Witches is Filamena Young's entry and is based on supernatural soap opera TV shows of a kind I don't really watch. It encourages players to act like show writers, runners and directors and think not about what is good for the character they are playing but what makes for a good show. Once again smuggling story game ideas inside more traditional games.

In terms of crunch the game modifies FATE to make location Aspects more significant, allowing the squabbling witches to harness the power in certain locations to boost their own abilities. The locations give a reason for characters to meet and interact, a problem that sometimes plagues games like Monsterhearts that have strong PvP but also work best when all the characters are interacting.

The non-indie darling settings are: Tower of Serpents, Kriegszepplin Valkyrie, Wild Blue and Burn Shift.

Kriegszepplin Valkyrie is a closed campaign setting with the crew of the Valkyrie taking on Professor Schottky and his robotic minions. It's interesting to see a presentation of the short campaign/long scenario format and there is an interesting rules tweak where the robots can copy the character's attributes if they are used on them but the robots have the chance to escape. If the PCs dawdle for too long then the robots will be able to use all their abilities and tricks against them. It's a nice little device for forcing the action and also nods back to Battlestar Galatica.

Wild Blue is a superhero Western which leaves me feeling a little meh. Tower of Serpents is good fantasy action but it has pretty stiff competition from On mighty thews and Swords without Master.

Burn Shift is fantasy post-apocalypse in the style of Gamma World or Metamorphosis Alpha but a community setup that is similar to things like Fallout or Wasteland. It has a lot of rules for mutations but I'm not sure where there is anything mechanically interesting here yet.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Era: epic storytetlling

Era is quite an interesting game from the same people who brought you Duty & Honour. A two or three player game about a single hero and their optional sidekick performing some epic quest.

Playsets are being funded via Patreon and I find it weird that James Bond style playset was not an automatic choice for the printed rulebook. Instead there is an Arabian Nights style set, think Sinbad or Aladdin.

There are five game elements that represent aspects of knowledge, force and charm. Characters are made up of layered traits matching these elements with different size dice assigned to them. The characters have a base score but then have items and relationships that also have dice assigned to them.

The gameplay then revolves around the elements as well with each scene creating a challenge around one of the elements. This strict scene structure means each session or adventure is closed and discrete.

There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in Era and it looks less demanding than most two-player games but I wonder how often a situation that matches its parameters will occur.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Midsummer Wood

Vincent Baker's Midsummer Wood (to differentiate it from the many faerie-based, wood-located midsummer games that are around) is a game for a single human protagonist and four to five faerie players who seek to either make the human fall in love with them or humiliate one of their fellow Faeries.

The game is very short (one playsheet for the human and one for the Fae) and has some really interesting mechanics about asking for help and being denied it. The faerie characters have few responsibilities but if the human is denied then they will discover the blade that will make them the King of Faerie.

The rest of the game is about manoeuvring to either uncover the human interloper, play tricks on other fae or win favours from other characters and then use them in interesting ways.

The game is played to a fixed number of turns so the pressure is on the players to achieve their character's goals and the consequences of the system seem subtle but interlocking.

Use the link to download Midsummer Wood and enter into Vincent's experiment on how and why games gain traction.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Comics Code

The Comics Code is an interesting take on the superhero genre. Its designed to be a low-prep, fast playing game. In this goal it looks like a total success with sensible streamlining of conventional superhero mechanics on powers and fighting. With one tiny exception the mechanics seem to drive the action forward and there are some interesting rules about when a hero can use their superpowers.

Where the game seems to have tackled its objectives less well is the promise to deliver the flip side of superhero comics, the relationships and moral dilemmas that drive most superhero plots. Apart from a small but useful collaborative sub-plot generation system for a scenario most of that responsibility is devolved to the GM.

One of the less attractive mechanics is to have the GM judge whether a character's actions are heroic or not and whether that heroism is exception or not. It would have been far better to have the player declare the character's morality and then have the GM test it. I would also have like to have seen some mechanics for relationships between heroes themselves and their supporting cast.

The rules of the game create an interesting world where characters can have amazing powers but are always vulnerable and the risk of death is real. It feels from the initial read to be at a Daredevil-style level with a few characters that will have amazing and terrifying powers. It also explicitly about teams of heroes, even if those characters are informally collaborating rather than doing it in an organised team. Villains will also be working in structures and hierarchies.

I like the streamlined rules The Comics Code presents and I think with a few additions from other games such as a Wish/Fear system and the better parts of Marvel Superheroes such as the scene economy there is probably a tight, quick playing game to be had here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Havok Brigade

Havok Brigade is a game of elite humanoids invading a human city to perform dangerous stealthy missions behind enemy walls. It is massively influenced by Warhammer Fantasy in terms of its gothic, slightly silly, techno-fantasy.

The game uses a shared pool of dice to both represent the alarm and suspicion of the humans but also a resource the orcs can dip into to help win challenges vital to their mission.

The game is very focused and slight, the bulk of the game is the various character sheets of the Orc commandos. It's hard to understand what kind of game it is going to be and I suspect it will play better with people who understand the background material.