“Never tell me the odds!” – #FirstImpression of Star Wars: Outer Rim (@FFGames, 2019)

I FREELY ADMIT THAT I HAVE A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP with the Star Wars franchise. I love the first two movies and the Thrawn Trilogy, and I hate the newest trilogy and the dumbing-down of Star Wars over the years to a ‘tweener comedic farce. Oh yeah, and Han Shot first! So when Fantasy Flight Games published their newest Star Wars licensed game, Star Wars: Outer Rim – A Game of Bounty Hunters, Mercenaries, and Smugglers I was hesitant to buy. Unfortunately, I did not account for the RockyMountainNavy Boys who are both Star Wars fans, especially RMN Jr. I was also tempted by several commentators/reviewers/fans who claim Outer Rim is good for three players – our usual gaming gang composition. So Outer Rim made its way across the galaxy and landed on the RMN gaming table this weekend for our first introductory game. This Pick-up and Deliver* game is faithfully thematic to the Star Wars Universe and mechanically streamlined but the language-dependency of the many cards can dramatically slow down the game.

“Why, you stuck up, half -witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder!” – characters in Outer Rim

In Star Wars: Outer Rim each player is a character from the “official” Star Wars universe that is trying to be the first to earn 10 “fame.” Possible jobs are legitimate – or illegal – cargo, hunting bounties, or other jobs on behalf of four factions. One’s reputation with a faction goes a long way towards determining how they react to you.

I was surprised by the selection of a few of the characters in the base set of Outer Rim. I didn’t recognize at least one of them. The RMN Boys did, which goes to show you how out of touch I am with the Star Wars franchise after Disney took control. The character design decision that really surprised me is in the Contacts. Here, the designers really took to heart the sidekick concept, relegating even major Star Wars characters like Chewbacca to a minor role in the game with no real expectation of ever becoming a major character in an expansion.

“…a wretched hive of scum and VILLAINY.” – Components in Outer Rim

Like many Fantasy Flight Games products, the components in Outer Rim help make the game the deep thematic experience it is. It starts with the crescent-shaped board (literally the Outer Rim) and is carried through by the art on the cards and the text. Being an officially licensed product has its advantages and it shows. From Characters to Contacts to Ships to Jobs or Cargo this is Star Wars…at least Star Wars according to the Disney movie canon.

A major component complaint I have is the text used on the cards. I freely admit I am an old grognard who has to wear bifocal glasses but even with my strong prescription I was unable to easily read many of the cards. Being able to read the cards on the table is important for the speed of play (more on that later). One also needs to be really strong in the Force if they are seated on the “opposite” side of the game table and trying to read the small text upside-down!

“Don’t worry, she’ll hold together…You hear me, baby? Hold together!” – Game Mechanics in Outer Rim

Mechanically, Outer Rim is a very easy game. The rules can basically be taught from the Reference Card. I don’t mind the two rule books, the Learn to Play and the Rules Reference. The Plan-Action-Encounter sequence is easy to catch onto and where in a turn you can do things is pretty straight-forward…at first.

That said, the mechanics of the game, when combined with the components, can slow the game down. Outer Rim is heavily language dependent – the text on the cards really matter and there is alot of text! During your turn there is much reading required, be it a delivering a Cargo or completing a Bounty or Job or executing an Encounter or Databank Card. More importantly, there is much reading required when it is not your turn. If the game is to keep moving, a player needs to be constantly scanning the board state and choosing best routes as well as understanding all the impacts that Characters, Gear, or Mods have on play. They need to be looking at the Market Cards available before their turn starts. Here is where all those highly thematic components actually don’t help.

Understanding the text on the cards in Outer Rim can also be problematic. The iconography is small, and to really understand the cards one must really understand key concepts like Reputation and how the card fits into – or breaks – the Plan-Action-Encounter sequence. Although the rules recommend not reading ahead on a card too much, to make a decision about a card one needs to read it fully and carefully. All this takes time and slows the game down. Our 3-player intro game to the recommended 8-fame (instead of the standard 10) took almost three hours, or nearly 60 minutes per player. Maybe this is a trademark of designer Corey Konieczka and FFG. Another Konieczka design in my collection, Battle Galactica: The Board Game (FFG, 2008), is for 3-6 players and plays in 120-300 minutes, or 40-50 minutes per player once they are familiar with the game. I shudder at the thought of playing an “epic” game to 12 points of fame like mentioned in the rules. Outer Rim is an OK game…but I cannot see playing an epic 4-player game to 12-fame for over four hours!

All the text likely contributes to the fact that Outer Rim is recommended for ages 14+. This makes Outer Rim nearly an “adult” game. In the RMN house, Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and understanding all the text and the implications is right about what he can handle. We all understand that text slows him down; in Outer Rim that effect is multiplied by the sheer amount of text and sometimes subtle interactions the cards are describing.

“Rebellions are built on hope.” – Final Thoughts on Outer Rim

This has all been a very first impression reaction of Outer Rim, based on one solo play using the AI and one introductory learning game. It’s obvious that the game will play faster with more familiarity but the density of text employed means even that speed-up will have limits. Strategy-wise, I can also see that certain combinations are better and it plants seeds of doubt as to just how open-ended the game is. For instance, RMN Jr. started out with Han Solo and made it his goal to get the Millennium Falcon for his ship and Chewbacca as crew. This personal decision happened to meld well with in-game effects; that combination of Character, Ship, and Contact/Crew together that made for a powerful game engine. For myself, focusing more on teaching the game, I had Lando and and the Shadow Hawk, a ship more suitable to a bounty hunter whereas Lando is more a smuggler. Lando needs a ship with speed and cargo; he’s very weak in Ground Combat and really shouldn’t be fighting Contacts for Bounty. In retrospect, Lando’s strategy is “obvious;” that is, if one is really familiar with either the theme or the small text on the components.

Looking beyond the small RMN household universe, I sense that the need for thematic and mechanical familiarity will make Outer Rim less friendly for a pick-up game by newbies. Sitting down at the table cold with either little theme background or lack of rules knowledge can make Outer Rim challenging – dare I say less enjoyable – to play and potentially relegating it to a niche game within an already niche hobby.

Which brings me back to the beginning. Star Wars: Outer Rim truly is a mechanically streamlined game that is very rich thematically. However, the language-dependency and abundance of text on cards is also its own unshielded exhaust port-weakness. This game will get played by the RMN Boys and myself, I just hope that we get to the point it plays faster.


*According to BGG, in a Pick-up and Deliver game, “Players must pick up an item at one location on the playing board and bring it to another location on the playing board. Initial placement of the item can be either predetermined or random. The delivery of the item usually gives the player resources to do more actions with. In most cases, there is a game rule or another mechanic that determines where the item needs to go.

#RPG #Gamenight with Cepheus Engine: Faster than Light (Stellagama Publishing) #CepheusEngine #TravellerRPG

THE ROCKYMOUNTAINNAVY BOYS know that I am a long-time Traveller RPG player. Even so, we had never played a real game of Traveller or its newer incarnation, Cepheus Engine. Instead we tried Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. We had a few good games but over the past two years we kinda dropped RPGs in favor of boardgames and wargames. That changed this weekend.

Like I said, the RMN Boys (Youngest RMN in particular) had been hounding me for a Traveller RPG session so this week I printed out the latest free version of Cepheus Engine: Faster than Light. This is a free, uber-lightweight set of rules that has the bare essentials to play.

Quick to learn – quick to play. And oh-boy was it fun!

While dinner was on the BBQ we started rolling up characters. I stepped the Boys through the tables and each quickly had three characters (of course, each one had one that died – welcome to Traveller). After dinner we rolled up three planets and we started adventuring.

Middle RMN Boy had an ex-Marine with Heavy Weapons and Demolitions skills. During chargen I joked that the guy was probably near-deaf. Middle RMN adopted this thought and ran with it. Youngest RMN Boy was an ex-Navy type that was socially inept, low Strength, but with high Dexterity and skilled with Tactics-3. We started the session in media res with the adventurers on a mission to covertly plant explosives in a mining colony ripe for revolution.

Unlike other RPGs I played with the RMN Boys, we did this game almost entirely in The Theater of the Mind; no maps or minis or tokens or the like. The Boys had their character sheets, I had some notes on the planets, the rule book, and some scratch paper. Oh yeah, and some dice.

I randomly determined it would take two beats to get to the area to plant the charges. The Boys had to get past a Goon Squad, which they did, but also drew a bit of suspicion to themselves. As they were planting the explosives the Goon Squad showed up and interrupted them.

I ruled that the demolitions were not set so they would have to hold off the goons and finish the task. As the goons tried to pile through the door Youngest RMN held them off. Although there were four goons, three had Stun Batons and one a shotgun (and he was last in line – again randomly determined). First round saw one goon go down and the others hesitate…but Middle RMN fumbled his roll for the final setting of the explosives and needed more time! Youngest RMN was able to roll well and take down another goon who just happened to fall backwards into the shotgun goon messing up his entry. By now the demo charges were set and Middle RMN was able to assist in dispatching the last of the goons. Getting out past alerted security was a bit of a challenge but the Boys were innovative. When running into a crowd that they were not sure was friendly, Youngest RMN used his Leadership skill to shout at them in his best parade ground manner to “make way!” It worked and the crowd parted to let the adventurers march through untouched.

The entire adventure took about 90 minutes to play and I have to admit it has been a long time since we laughed so hard together. Even RockyMountainNavy Mom showed up to see what all the commotion was about. Youngest RMN declared it his best RPG session-ever and Middle RMN heartily agreed.

After we finished, I found one of my favorite scenes from the original Italian Job movie that I thought captured the characters of the two Boys.

I gave the Boys the Faster than Light rule book and they are going to work up a wider selection of characters. For myself, I think I am going to step up to Cepheus Light for the ruleset. It certainly looks like an RPG session will have to enter into the weekly Game Night rotation for the summer.

It’s going to be so-worth it!

How wrong is @sowronggames about Talon (GMT Games, 2016)?

ziyx3sp8_400x400If you have not listened to the boys from So Very Wrong About Games you certainly need to. Like the title of their podcasts says, they relish in pointing out what they like, and especially what they don’t about boardgames. They are not shy about offering their opinion, which is what makes SVWAG a worthy listen. Be warned though; if you have your own opinions and cannot listen to your games taking criticism then you will not be happy. Further, if you are a wargamer, you could become agitated as one of the hosts, Mike Walker, is not a wargamer and openly (at least on the show) despises wargames. On the other hand, co-host Mark Bigney is a wargamer, and apparently an old-school wargamer at that.

Given this split in the interests of the hosts, I was mildly surprised to hear their review of Talon (GMT Games, 2016) on their podcast recently. Like the hosts themselves, what I basically heard it come down to was an old Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games/Amarillo Design Bureau, 1979+) player versus a new Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2012+) player. One wanted fast “pew pew” starfighter play with ships dashing across the board while the other relished (anguished) over the decision points brought out by the “ponderous” movement of behemoths in space. My first reaction was like that of the old school Bigney – Talon is a spiritual successor to Star Fleet Battles only Talon does the resource management in a much more playable manner. To Walker on the other hand, the game was just too slow with not enough action.

Neither of them are right, and neither of them are wrong.

If you are looking for a manual videogame version of the Star Wars universe and enjoy competition play through buying ships, adding “power-ups,” and then throwing miniatures down on a mat then X-Wing is definitely your game. This is game Walker wants; Talon is not going to give it to him.

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Courtesy GMT Games

But…if you want another view of starship combat, one where managing resources (power) is interesting to you, then you may want to look at Talon. This is the game Bigney relishes; a game of tight resources and decision points.

For myself, I think I have made it clear before that Talon is more my preference. Sure, there is an element of “chits on the table” in Talon like Walker complains about but in this game it all fits thematically. In my more recent plays, I have also come to more deeply appreciate the ingenuity of the dry-erase ship markings and how they portray information that before was consigned to ship data sheets and the like. To me, Talon delivers an experience of starship combat through a game whereas X-Wing delivers, well, just a game.

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Courtesy BGG.com

One problem with Talon may be it’s age. Designer Jim Krohn has offered up a very modern interpretation of “I need more power, Scotty” science fiction battles. To us grognards, Talon is a refreshing look at an issue that was first tackled nearly 40 years ago in a little pocket folio game from Task Force Games. But what started out as as just over 100 counters and about a dozen ships blossomed into Master Rulebook of over 460 pages.  Even with that you still need pages and pages (and binders and binders) more of ships and scenarios to play. Although the core game mechanic of energy allocation was reimplemented and much streamlined in Federation Commander, the fact remains that to play these games requires a major investment of money for materials and time to learn, and play, the games. Talon on the other hand returns to a much simpler implementation of the core mechanic using a different streamlined approach and mixes it with graphics right on the counters to help convey the information quickly and enable speedy play on the table. But how do you explain all this design beauty to a generation of gamers that grew up on Star Wars and barrel rolls in space and never had to fill out an Energy Allocation Form, or as some call it, Accountants in Space?

I doff my cap to the Boys at So Very Wrong About Games for talking about Talon even though it was clearly “not in the wheelhouse” of one of the hosts. In the end though, Mike and Mark actually do science fiction boardgamers/wargamers a great service. The real take-away message from the podcast is that games come in many different forms. The only wrong message one could take away from their them is that there is not a game for you out there. On the contrary, So Very Wrong About Games shows us why the industry is so right; we are very lucky that we can have both X-Wing and Talon.

…But I can’t help but wonder how they would handle Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, 2018) with its AVID displays and 3D vector movement in space. For sure I think Walker would have a meltdown….

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Squadron Strike: Traveller AVID (courtesy Ad Astra Games)


Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek

#RPGThursday – Generic Genesys (@FFGames,2017)

LET IT BE SAID that I absolutely love the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook (Fantasy Flight Games, 2013). It is by far the best implementation of the Narrative Dice System, although I may be biased because I also love Star Wars (not “A New Hope”) in the original trilogy. I own all three FFG Star Wars core rulebooks but want to explore the system sans the Star Wars setting. In 2017, FFG released Genesys: The Roleplaying Game for All Settings. I didn’t pick it up until sometime in 2018. I immediately read through it from cover to cover.

It has sat on my shelf – untouched – since.

You see, I really wanted to use the Narrative Dice System and make my own setting. I like the whole idea of using the dice to tell a story where there is triumph or despair and shades of success, or failure, in between. Or maybe use it to create a conversion of a setting. Genesys seems perfect for those needs; and that’s the problem.

Genesys is a wonderful toolbox. Everything one needs is in the book to make a setting of your own. At least a generic version. Want to create a character? The rules for creating a character are here; the bare bones so to speak, but none of the flesh. That you have to provide yourself. The same goes for Skills and Talents. Using generic skills is perfectly acceptable but to really make a setting your own one needs to invest a great deal of effort into creating evocative Talents. Again, the generic is here, but more is needed.

Part II of the Genesys core rulebook is Settings. Note the plural, for in the book you get ideas for fantasy, steampunk, modern day, science fiction, and space opera. These ideas are more like advertisements for settings that FFG might eventually release. It’s all fluff with little to actually use.

Part III: Game Master’s Toolkit tries to be more helpful. There is design advice in here for creating a skill or archtype or species or an item or an adversary. Design advice that digs deeper into the Narrative Dice System and how to “pull the levers” of the game engine. That is, if you’re a system engineer.

In the end, I believe Genesys succeeds even as it fails. It definitely is a generic toolkit for making an RPG setting. Problem is, it’s too generic. In the end, I find myself going back to Edge of the Empire and using that because it ends up being what I want in my science fiction RPG. Genesys has shown me just how good that setting is, and how it’s going to be too difficult to make my own that will probably end up being 90% what Edge of the Empire already is. If I want to be an RPG system engineer then Genesys is the basic toolbox. Be warned though, to make it your own will be a much deeper investment.

It’s a Co-op with a Traitor Mechanic – A RockyMountainNavy play of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008)

pic354500Something awesome happened this gaming weekend. The RockyMountainNavy house got Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) to the gaming table in a 3-player event. I played Tom Zarek (Political Leader, President) while MiddleRockyMountainNavy Boy played Helo (Military Leader, Admiral) and LittleRockyMountainNavy was Apollo (Pilot).

There were many Cylon ships on the board before the first jump and both Helo & Apollo ended up in lots of space combat. Galactica herself was in a poor way with four hits (six needed to destroy – and lose) as well as a Boarding Party aboard. We were eventually able to jump, clearing the board of threats and made repairs. The time up to the second jump proceeded without any real trouble and it looked like we were going to do fine.

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Courtesy Dynamite.com

As it turned out, none of us was a Cylon though the Sleeper Phase because I drew the “You Are a Cylon” card at that time! Before the Sleeper Phase, I had made the statement that I thought Middle RMN/Helo was a Cylon so I kept pushing that thought even as he protested his innocence. Little RMN/Apollo was not sure. Using the power of the President, I stripped the Admiral title from Helo. Eventually, the Boys grew suspicious at my actions and I had to reveal myself as the Cylon before they could Brig me.

The game then switched from a 3-player co-op to a competitive race to human victory or death. As the Cylon player I almost made it but the Boys were able to face down several Super Crisis Cards and (barely) survived a final jump. They won the game with Fuel 3 / Food 1 / Morale 6 / Population 1.

Overall, the RMN Boys found the game fun. If we have one complaint it is that the game takes time to play. Including rules explanation our game took nearly three hours – putting it at the long end of our usual gaming nights. Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is not a heavy game as the rules are actually quite easy to learn and execute. In our game the slow play was a combination of first time and the paranoid-induced analysis paralysis that is part of the experience.

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game will land on the table again, I am just not sure when. As the winter months approach, there are several new game due to arrive and other longer games (like Scythe) need to get back out too. At least we all know that this”shelf queen” is worth the space.

Featured Image: Ralph McQuarrie concept art for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978) via @HumanoidHistory on Twitter

The Gygax Rule for GMs – All you need is good rules and good books

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Courtesy http://rpglabyrinth.blogspot.com

In my gaming pantheon, I clearly play wargames first, other boardgames second, and role playing games (RPGs) a distant third. Spending-wise, I have bought very few RPG products since April. In the past month I came close to buying two new RPGs but didn’t. Along the way I learned a valuable lesson taught to me by no other than the Godfather of RPGs, Gary Gygax. Gary reminded me that RPGs are inherently a personal creation; if a product is “not quite right” there are tools available to “do it my way.”

The big RPG splash of the month was the Kickstarter launch of The Expanse Roleplaying Game from Green Ronin Publishing. The project currently (as I write) has over 3,330 backers pledging upwards of $239,000 against goal of $30,000 – and 24 days to go.

I initially pledged to support at the Ship’s Boat-level which is $20 for the pdf version. I then downloaded the free Quickstart pdf and took a look. I am no hard-core The Expanse fan but I generally like the universe. I initially missed the books and became acquainted with the setting through the TV series. After looking at the Quickstart I mulled it over for a few days and then cancelled my pledge.

First, the Quickstarter did not appeal to me; indeed, it actually turned me off. My initial negative reaction was to the artwork. I think my expectations are biased from the TV series and the artwork in the Quickstarter just feels too different. More importantly, it is not what I see as evocative of the setting. It almost seems too cartoonish to me whereas I imagine The Expanse though a more hard sci-fi lens.

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Courtesy The Expanse RPG Kickstarter

Secondly, the RPG core mechanic (based on Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine – AGE) just didn’t capture what I think feels like The Expanse to me. I admit I was a bit confused at first because I was expecting to see the Chronicle System used in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game which is my only other exposure to Green Ronin. I really like the Intrigue Mechanic in Chronicle and it perfectly captures (is evocative of) the Game of Thrones setting.

Looking at the Quickstarter pdf, I weighed my pledge and thought about what I was getting. I decided that I actually already have a version of The Expanse RPG. I actually have two of them, both from Zozer Games, and both using a system I am comfortable with (Cepheus Engine):

  • Orbital: 2100 – “Realistic spacecraft, using reaction drives and rotating hab modules for gravity. Orbital is set in our own Solar System and has a real hard-science feel to it.”
  • HOSTILE – “A gritty near future setting inspired by those late-70s and early 80’s movies like Alien, Bladerunner and Outland.”

I seriously weighed getting The Expanse RPG if not for the system then for the setting material. Then I (fortuitously?) came across this article by Gary Gygax himself and published in 2001 where he talks about author Jack Vance and the Dying Earth books. In particular, Mr. Gygax writes:

There is a truly great advantage offered to the Game Master when devising a campaign set on the Dying Earth. It is not highly detailed. There is no strict timeline laid down. All that has happened before is not “recorded”, nor is there an accurate gazetteer of for the world. What magic operates? Nobody can say or guess, because in the long eons of the Dying Earth’s history, likely every form possible was discovered, used, and then forgotten…almost. That means that all that’s necessary is to have the game in hand, the books that Jack Vance wrote about the world, to create a really compelling campaign environment. Using the creative base of the author, the GM’s own imagination cannot fail but to rise to the occasion. (Emphasis mine)

 

In my mind, I already own The Expanse RPG. My version uses a core mechanic that I feel is evocative of the setting (Cepheus Engine). I have the sourcebooks in the form of several TV seasons and multiple books and short stories. I don’t need somebody else’s vision that doesn’t strike me as evocative of the stories or setting.

The second RPG I nearly bought was another Kickstarter campaign. Tachyon Squadron from Evil Hat Productions is basically Battlestar Galactica with the serial numbers filed off rendered using the Fate Core system:

Tachyon Squadron is a Fate Core supplement that blends space opera and military sci-fi. It’s Evil Hat’s take on popular stories about interstellar battles, like the ones that have ships with wings named after letters and the one where robots chase the human race through space. If you’re interested in deep space dogfights, friendly—well, usually—rivalries with fellow pilots, and playing scrappy underdogs with the deck stacked against you, this game is for you.

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Courtesy Evil Hat

The project funded with 1,401 backers pledging $25,295 against a $7,500 goal. Like The Expanse RPG Kickstarter, Evil Hat was very generous and offers a free download Quickstarter version. It is pretty much as I expected as Evil Hat has previously sold a smaller, similar setting found in Fate Worlds Volume One: Worlds on Fire. In Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie the PCs are pilots aboard a giant War Zeppelin taking on “a horde of WWI mechanical monstrosities.” For Tachyon Squadron I actually was more interested in Stretch Goal 7:

STRETCH GOAL 7 (UNLOCKS AT $26,000): The Battle of Britain: At $26,000, we’ll start work on The Battle of Britain, a 5,000 word electronic supplement that applies Tachyon Squadron’s dogfighting rules to a WWII squadron of Spitfire pilots defending Britain. This supplement will include plane stats and mechanics to help you take to the skies with the Allied forces.

Alas, this stretch goal didn’t unlock. My potential Pilot-in-Training pledge of $12 would not have made a big difference.

What really turned me off about Tachyon Squadron was the over-the-top SJW proselytizing. It is so in-your-face I think it overwhelms the game setting. Even if I am able to put the SJW part aside I see the the game offering me little new. The major rule of difference, dogfighting, is likely not far from that found in Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie which I already own. Much like The Expanse, I have a Battlestar Galactica RPG in the form of the officially licensed Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2007). This game uses the CORTEX Classic system which I generally like (indeed, I am still awaiting my CORTEX Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game Kickstarter to deliver – only 3 months overdue…so far). If I want to do Battlestar Galactica using Fate Core I already own all the setting and rules material; why should I invest more money into a near-version that alleges to be ruleset but comes across more like a SJW propaganda tract?

Passing on The Expanse RPG (Green Ronin’s AGE System) and Tachyon Squadron (Evil Hat’s Fate Core System) got me thinking about the games and systems I do have. Last June I listed Star Wars The Edge of the Empire RPG (Fantasy Flight Games) as one of my Top 3 RPGs. I like the Narrative Dice System and want to play more with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Thinking about expanding beyond Star Wars I picked up GENESYS: The Roleplaying Game for All Settings.

Genesys is a role playing system designed for flexibility and adaptability, specifically tooled to work with any setting imaginable. The Genesys Core Rulebook not only contains an overview of the rules and how the innovative narrative dice system works, but everything a GM and players need to run adventures in five completely different settings. Everything from equipment to adversaries, character abilities to an overview of narrative tropes, all is provided in the core rulebook for Genesys. With a system so adaptable and expansive you can explore every popular roleplaying genre, from classic fantasy style campaigns, to modern day detective thrillers, and even to a far off sci-fi future, Genesys doesn’t fit into any one genre of roleplaying, and instead invites players to craft their own stories with unparalleled freedom.

Taking GENESYS and combining it with Gary Gygax’s Dying Earth GM approach, I can likely make a version of The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica – or any other setting I chose to explore – for myself.

The most important RPG lesson I learned this month is that I don’t need Kickstarter to make an RPG for me that “isn’t quite right”; I just need good books and a good ruleset.

Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

Old Lore – #BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006)

The RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night game this week was BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006). This is the first edition of the game and not the more recent Fantasy Flight Games second edition. Our game this week was generally good although I made a few errors during the evening. Playing BattleLore has rekindled my interest in the game and it deserves more table time.

In the RMN family, we usually end up playing a 3-player event. This makes it harder than it should to find a good game because many games are either 2-player or a multiple thereof (i.e. 4-players, etc.).  The Birth of America-series from Academy Games (1754 -Conquest: The French & Indian War, 1775 – Rebellion: The American Revolution, 1812: The Invasion of America) work well because they are 4-player games that also work at 2-players or – best for us – 3-players.

I own BattleLore: Epic BattleLore (DoW, 2007) that I thought would give me a scenario using the multiple boards that is suitable for 3-players. Using the extra board, it is possible to make a layout that is six-sectors wide that allows multiple commanders to play one side. But when I looked for an adventure (scenario) that used this map configuration there was none in the booklet. As the RMN Boys were already at the table and itching to play, I went ahead and laid out an adventure from the booklet that used a single army and an epic-scale 3-sector map. I asked the Boys to share command and they (reluctantly) agreed.

Wrong choice on my part.

Asking the Boys to “share” command of a single army spread over three sectors did not work. I thought about using a variation of the 4-player Reluctant Allies in Epic BattleLore but decided it would be unfair in a 3-player set-up. The Boys ended up bickering a fair bit (more than their usual friendly banter) and I could see the frustration growing in Middle RMN as his younger brother outright refused at times to work together. The Boys ended up winning, 7 banners to 5, but it was not a really fun game.

I apologized to Middle RMN about my choices going into the game and he was a good sport. I think he and I are OK but I don’t want to be his brother on the other side of a future battle because I sense there will be no mercy given!

All that said, the game night was not a total disaster. Having not played BattleLore in a long time (my last previously recorded play was in 2010!) and putting aside the command issues we enjoyed it. The addition of Lore and Creatures and the Goblin or Dwarf units – each with advantages and disadvantages – makes for an interesting game. The game is not without its challenges; soft sculpts and lack of good player aids detract a bit, but should not be showstoppers to enjoyment. I also think that the Boys are much more able to handle all that BattleLore brings to the table now that they are more experienced gamers. The last time we played Youngest RMN was a wee 6-years old and Middle RMN, my Austism Spectrum hero, was 12.

In addition to the core set and the previously mentioned Epic BattleLore expansion, I also own Call to Arms, the Dwarven Battalion Specialist Pack, and the Goblin Skirmishers Specialist Pack. Between all these expansions I “should” be able to come up with good adventures for 3-players, especially using the Call to Arms system. Although fantasy is not my go-to genre for gaming, I sense that BattleLore may actually fit many of our Family Game Night needs. BattleLore will find itself on the gaming table again, but not before I thoroughly reread the rules and make considered decisions on adventure design and balance.

Dull Claws in Game of the Week – Talon 2nd Printing (@GMTGames, 2017).

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Courtesy GMT Games

The current Game of the Week is Talon 2nd Printing (GMT Games, 2017). This game is highly rated on BoardGameGeek scoring a solid 7.7 with nearly 400 ratings. It is also ranked as the 167th War game on the site. For myself, I find Talon mechanically strong but the lack of deep theme makes it less interesting for me to play. In other words, the lack of a strong theme in Talon fails to draw me deeper into the game.

All things considered, I can see that I have become pickier over the years when it comes to space battle games. I first started out with Star Fleet Battles. Beyond the fact it is closely related to the Star Trek IP, the real “theme” in SFB is taken from the ever-famous quote from the series, “Scotty, I need more power!” In SFB everything is about Energy Allocation. This theme carries over to the new generation game, Federation Commander.

Over the years, I tried other tactical starship combat games. I like Full Thrust (Jon Tuffley at Ground Zero Games) which is a generic set of rules. To be honest, I actually like two implementations of Full Thrust, those being the the version in The Earthforce Sourcebook for The Babylon Project RPG, and Power Projection: Fleet, a set of rules set in the Traveller RPG universe. Both of these I like because the game rules implement a version of the given setting that seems thematically appropriate. I also have played around with Starmada: The Admiralty Edition, another generic set of rules that one can use to make their own setting. I find the included setting boring, and have never found a another setting that grabbed my attention. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I play the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game but I see it as an (expensive) manual video game.

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Courtesy BGG.com

From a game mechanics standpoint, Talon corrects many issues I have with older games. It does not implement vector movement (though I happen to love vector-movement games) and instead goes for a more cinematic approach. It still has power considerations, but the use of the Power Curve makes it much easier to manage and avoids “accountants in space.” But as much as I love the game, I just cannot get into the setting. Ships move no more than a speed of 6 each turn, and combat is at ranges of 4 hexes or less. I just don’t get that grandiose feeling of giant starship battles in space. In part this may also be driven by the limited counter mix out of the box. The scenarios themselves also seem wrong, with major battles defending the Earth having only six units per side – a factor driven by the few counters included. When putting it all together I get a sense of cognitive dissonance; a game that works so well mechanically just seems wrong thematically.

GMT Games is offering Talon 1000on their P500 program. The draw for me is that it will include over 130 new ships. Given a greater fleet size, or at least a wider variety of ships, maybe the game will be more “thematically correct.” The danger, I fear, is that adding too many more ships will take the great mechanics of the game and overload it. This forces me to turn to the scenarios, and with 1000 new scenarios I would hope to find some interesting ones in there.

Talon, my Game of the Week, once again shows me how much I have changed as a gamer. I find it hard to enjoy a mechanically complex game like Star Fleet Battles, but need a good theme to keep my interest. Talon shows promise, but it has yet to meet its full potential.

Game of the Week for 12 March 2018 – Talon Reprint Edition (@GMTGames, 2017)

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Courtesy GMT Games

I have my own shelf of shame and one of the games that is sitting on it is Talon Reprint Edition (GMT Games, 2015/17). I wrote a First Impressions post last September but the game has languished, unloved, since. My past few Game of the Week have been older games; this week change that and try a newer game.

The Talon Play Book has a Tutorial scenario so that seems like a good place to start. If I can get a chance with the RockyMountainNavy boys, we might try Scenario 1 – War is Upon Us during the week. The scenario looks to be a good learning game with few ships on two evenly-matched sides duking it out. If all goes well, Scenario 3 – The First Fleet Engagement looks like a good Game Night event.

Like I wrote in my First Impressions, I see Talon as a sci-fi fleet combat game to replace Star Fleet Battles (Amarillo Design Bureau) in my collection. I tried Federation Commander (Amarillo Design Bureau) but found it wanting. I think this is because the RMN Boys are simply not Trekkies. [I know, I have failed as a Geek Father – sue me] More directly to my point, they are not well acquainted with the thematic elements behind SFB and FC, and therefore the complexity of the games push them away. I also see Talon as an inexpensive alternative to Star Wars: Armada (Fantasy Flight Games). In the case  of Armada I dislike the theme (I am very anti-Di$ney Star Wars these days) and cringe at the cost of all those miniatures in a game that is another unappealing manual video game.

To be fair, I actually have another fleet combat game in my collection. Full Thrust (Ground Zero Games) and the very similar Power Projection: Fleet (BITS UK) are probably my favorite sci-fi fleet combat games. FT is a generic set of rules whereas PP:F is tailored for the Traveller RPG universe. The problem is that both are miniatures games and I never made that investment (although with modern desktop publishing software and home printers it is possible to make custom counters and tokens).

I am also very happy to get Talon to the table in part because another sci-fi combat game I bought in 2016 has yet to arrive. I made the mistake of backing Squadron Strike: Traveller by Ken Burnside and Ad Astra Games on Kickstarter. Allegedly, the miniatures for the game started shipping late February, but for backers like me who didn’t buy minis and am waiting for my boxed set it appears that all I am going to get is a beta-version of the pdf. All of which makes me look forward to Talon that much more because its a lot easier to have fun with a game when its actually on your table and not vaporware!