It’s a Space Race Ameritrash #Boardgame – First Impressions of Tranquility Base (@worth2004, 2018)

I’LL ADMIT IT, I LOVE SPACE. As a historian, I also love the history of the US Space Program. So when I saw the ad copy for Tranquility Base (History in Action / Worthington Publishing, 2018) on Kickstarter I had to pledge my support. I am very happy I did because Tranquility Base is pure Ameritrash gaming awesomeness!

Now, I am using the phrase Ameritrash in the most favorable way here. Tranquility Base hits all the best parts of Ameritrash:

  • Theme – It’s the US Space Race
  • Player-to-Player Conflict – A bit of “take that” to prevent multiplayer solitaire
  • Moderate to High Levels of Luck – You need the right cards at the right time; no drawing from a river of cards just cycle the deck! But there’s no dice….
Courtesy Worthington Publishing

Turns out Tranquility Base is an update to the 1997 & 2006 title Moonshot the Game (History in Action). I never saw the earlier version, so Tranquility Base is my first exposure to the game. I’ll admit I got this game in large part because of RockyMountainNavy Jr., my aspiring aerospace engineer. He loves all thing aerospace right now and the game will help him learn the history of the US Space Program.

Courtesy Worthington Publishing

In terms of game mechanics, Tranquility Base is at heart a set collection racing game. Each turn players spend Fuel (the game currency) to Assemble Missions, Launch Missions, Move, rearrange equipment, or even Scrub Missions. History cards provide bonuses while Wild and Instant cards are often used to slow down an opponent. I wasn’t really expecting this “take that” element of the game but upon play immediately see how it is necessary to interfere in your opponents plans. In many ways it is no different than the Fate Decks in Villainous. Most importantly, it prevents the game from devolving into multiplayer solitaire.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I played our first game of Tranquility Base for our Family Game Night this weekend. True to the box, our first play at 3-players took about 90 minutes. We all caught onto the game mechanics quickly, though it did take until about mid-game to internalize some of the more subtle aspects. Future games will be faster; maybe not fast enough to make Tranquility Base a filler game but fast enough to make this a good candidate for a 1-hour-or-less time block. I won the game by completing my six missions and already had relaunched a mission which I used to get to the Moon first. RockyMountainNavy T was next in turn order and he would have completed his last two missions and been able to land on the Moon in his turn. RockMountainNavy Jr. had four missions completed and was probably two turns away from winning. It really was a close race!

Soviet Moon inside the box with the upgraded metal landers

Tranquility Base has an in-box solo mode. The game is also packaged with the new Soviet Moon Expansion which can be used as an extra non-player for the regular game or as a timer in the solo game. I have reviewed the rules for the expansion and look forward to using it in the game as it not only imparts more history but also adds more “Space Race” flavor to the game.

Tranquility Base will definitely relaunch and find its way back to the RMN gaming table, and soon. Excitedly, RMN Jr. said he wants to take the game to school for his aerospace class. I can also see this box rocketing about the block with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. The rich theming, educational appeal, and simple mechanics of Tranquility Base also make it a good “gateway game” for non-gamers to launch into the hobby.

In a year where my two purchases of a non-wargame family strategy game have turned out to be less-than-stellar (Villainous: Wicked to Core and Star Wars: Outer Rim) I am really pleased with how the simple Ameritrash awesomeness of Tranquility Base is a success. It’s a well-themed, mechanically simple game with a high enjoyment factor that also happens to be highly educational – in other words a perfect family game.


Feature image by self.

A final rim shot – or – giving up on Star Wars: Outer Rim (@FFGames, 2019) #boardgame

I TRIED. FOUR TIMES I TRIED.

Four times is the number of sessions of Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) that I played since the game arrived just three weeks ago. It’s enough. I’m giving up.

I wrote in my First Impressions post how I quickly had doubts about the game. From the too small text to the long playtime to the less-than-satisfying game ending. After four plays it’s not getting any better.

This past weekend I tried. Once again we pulled out Outer Rim for the Weekend Family Game Night; a rare repeat performance after playing just last week. This time we mixed up the turn order. This time we arranged the board on the table differently. This time we were more careful picking our characters.

I still can’t read the cards. The game still took nearly 2 hours. The end was still (even more?) unsatisfying.

Junior played Lando. He went whole-hog into the thematics of being a Smuggler by purchasing the Millennium Falcon, Extravagant Wardrobe, and taking Lobot for crew. Putting all that together he built a powerful, near unstoppable game engine. He won easily.

Middle RMN Boy was IG-88. He never found enough droid crew to get that bonus ability for Bounty Hunting. Not getting helpful crew meant he was more dependent on luck than skill; and Lady Luck was a b*tch to him that night. He upgraded to an Aggressor but never got his game engine really going. He ended the game far behind.

I took Kenso Onyo. I don’t know anything about the character. After playing hte character I still don’t. In Outer Rim not having sufficient metagame knowledge is a major disadvantage because you have to figure out if you are going to use a Smuggler or Bounty Hunter or Mercenary/Marauder-first strategy. Lando is a Smuggler; IG-88 a Bounty Hunter. What is Kenso?* I adopted a Bounty Hunter strategy that nearly paid off (I had 8 fame at end game) but the early struggles with figuring out what engine to go with put me just enough behind to lose.

There was certainly much more player-to-player interaction in this game. Several combats were fought against fellow players, or there was gambling on whatever-the-casino-planet-named. There were some great thematic moments, like when Lando cheated at Sabacc (taking IG-88’s money in the process).

In addition to my First Impression thoughts, here are a few others that crossed my mind during our last play:

  • Three players is good for this game. Less makes it multi-player solitaire; more will have too much downtime.
  • Some suggested passing the Market Cards amongst players during their in-between turns to read. Something has to be done because the cards are too hard to read on the table.
  • The only real variety in set up is in the location of Character Encounter tokens. The Encounter Decks are not very deep and after even our few games I feel they are too predictable. The same goes for the Market Deck. Character encounters are invariable. There is actually little variety from game-to-game making replay attraction diminish very quickly.
  • The end game is so unsatisfying. “I got 10 fame, yeah! Now let’s pack up the game…” Some good enterprising fan fiction writers need to write a collection of short, paragraph-long coda, each based on the Character + Ship + Reputation standings (ok, that’s around 1000 paragraphs so we need several of those Star Wars fanatics). Of course, this can never happen because Di$ney certainly won’t allow anything to be published that might be mistaken for canon. Not unless they can monetize it…like charging players several dollars on an app they overpaid for to download the possible ending….

During and after the game I could see that Middle RMN, my Autism Angle, was getting frustrated. That great thematic moment with Lando cheating at Sabacc was not enjoyable; it was simply another roll of the dice that punished rather than rewarded. More than anything else, his body language convinced me that Outer Rim was not fun. Thinking back, I have to say that about half-way through the game I was already looking at the clock and thinking about the after-game. Although there are moments of fun, the overall experience of playing Outer Rim is not very enjoyable for either of us.

As I write this post I see on BoardGameGeek that Outer Rim has a rating of 8.0 (Very Good – Enjoy playing and would suggest it) based on 805 ratings with 208 comments. I see that 12% of the ratings are a 10 (Outstanding – Will always enjoy playing). This is the same percentage of ratings that cover from 6 (OK – Will play if in the mood) down to 1 (Awful – Defies game description). I actually took a little time and looked at the people who rate Outer Rim a 10. I looked at their collections (or lack of collection in more-than-a-few cases) and what they play. Suffice it to say that my already low-faith in the BGG ratings system reached new depths….

RMN Jr. was responsible for set-up this last time so I think he wants to play Outer Rim with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. He seemingly loves the game, as evidenced by the highly thematic game play he brings to the table. Maybe his play style is the key; I am trying to play a game about Star Wars in a sandbox universe rather than know and follow canon and divine the official Di$ney strategy.

No thanks, you rats.


*Sure, I know I can google it. But should I? I mean, do I really need to goggle a character in Outer Rim to effectively play the game. If the answer is “yes” the game is flawed. FULL STOP.

“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.

#Sci-Fi Friday – Finding the Lost Signals of the Terran Republic (edited by @cegannon1)

AS MUCH AS I LOVE SCIENCE FICTION, I find few series of books worthy of my time. As a rule I hate book series in the Star Wars universe (except the Thrawn Trilogy) or Star Trek (except the Vanguard series). I love my Hammer’s Slammers books, although they really are more a collection of stories in the same shared universe.

Then there is the Caine Riordan series, or more officially Charles Gannon’s Terran Republic.

Although the series follows one protagonist, each book in the series a different style of story. From first-contact to intergalactic war to intergalactic conspiracies, it all can be found in the series. For me, the Terran Republic has just enough, but not too much, handwavium to keep me from rolling my eyes. I might also be influenced by the fact series author Charles Gannon also wrote for the Traveller RPG.

The latest installment to reach me is Lost Signals of the Terran Republic. This was not a normally published book but a Kickstarter project from November 2017. Originally to deliver in May 2018 delays meant it would not be until May 2019 that the product actually arrived.

It was worth the wait.

Lost Signals is Charles Gannon’s way of letting others play in his universe:

However, no world is defined by a mere handful of experts and heroes. Rather, just as our own world is full of different people and perspectives, Lost Signals expands the universe of the Terran Republic by bringing together new voices and new stories in a unique format that intentionally blurs the line between fact and fiction.

Lost Signals Kickstarter campaign

I am still reading my way through the book but halfway through I am quite pleased. I am also intrigued. You see, the Traveller RPG universe of Marc Miller is one of my favorite settings. My RPG history is literally that of the Third Imperium. Although later years would see me explore other settings the Gold Standard, so to speak, has always been Traveller and the Third Imperium. Marc Miller wrote his own novel, Agent of the Imperium, that was another Kickstarter project. It opened my eyes to seeing Traveller in a new, refreshing way.

Which makes “A Fragment of Empire” in Lost Signals all that more interesting. Marc Miller wrote the piece, and it’s (spoiler alert) pure Traveller. Or is it? The Terran Republic doesn’t fit into Traveller canon…or does it?

Hmm….

#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!

#Model Monday – Bandai #StarWars Star Destroyer

Both RockyMountainNavy Boys are into building plastic models. Recently, we were in out FLGS and found Bandai’s “mini” Star Destroyer. So small it fits in the palm of your hand.

Perfect build for a snow day, which we had and which Youngest RMN took advantage of to build his model.

IMG_0104
Fully operational….

This Star Destroyer kit was a very easy build and simple to paint. The fit and detail of the model is extraordinary given the price point ($8). Most importantly, building models like this make both the RMN Boys proud of their work.

As part of the snow day, Youngest RMN Boy shoveled a neighbors drive way and earned a few extra dollars. I think I know what that money might be used for….


Feature image modellingnews.com

#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.

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

gary-gygax
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.

ec59b0cffe780c46937009143603bb21_original
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.

tachyon-cover-3d-1000px-tall
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.

#RPGThursday – Top 3 TTRPG?

Was challenged on Twitter to name my Top 3 Tabletop Role Playing Games. Here was my response:

Each of these titles is starkly different from the other. One is old/new, one very old school, and the third a modern narrative system. How did I arrive at this list?

Starting in 2004 and continuing through the mid 20-teens, I focused my hobby hours more heavily into RPGs than wargaming and boardgaming. In part this was because I was in the military and on the move with most of my gaming collection stored away. The electronic revolution in RPGs was just starting so instead of buying physical books I could get a whole library on my computer! I also had younger kids who were not ready to game yet. In those years, I dabbled in a lot of RPG systems, especially newer ones such as CORTEX Classic (Serenity Role Playing Game, Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game) that evolved into CORTEX Plus (Smallville Roleplaying Game, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game, and Firefly Roleplaying Game). I dug deeply into FATE with great games like the encyclopedic Starblazer Adventures or Diaspora. There were many other games too. Looking back, I had become a “mechanics nut” and explored different RPG systems to study their mechanics, or how they modeled the world. I didn’t really play many of these games as much as I studied them.

During this study time, I took another look at the James Bond 007 roleplaying game. I came to realize that this game had a near-perfect marriage of theme and mechanics.

In 2013 my gaming took an unexpected turn. That year, Fantasy Flight Games acquired the Star Wars license and produced their excellent Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook. The RockyMountainNavy Boys were now older and I had done a good job of indoctrinating them into the Cult of Star Wars. So we started playing together. This was a major change for me since I now started playing games instead of mostly studying them.

As I started playing games more, I fell back on a classic of my youth. The three Little Black Books of (now) Classic Traveller had always been a favorite of mine. Now there was something different; a revival of sorts in the form of third-party publishers like Gypsy Knights Games with their incredible The Clement Sector ATU. Since 2013 I have stuck with the newer Traveller as it evolved into Cepheus Engine. It remains my favorite.

So that is how I arrived at my Top 3. The first is a classic of my youth, updated and recreated into the modern day. The second is a design I admire. The third is loved because it connects me to my Boys.

Space Ain’t Big Enough – First Full Play of #FireflyTheGame from @GaleForceNine

Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013) landed on the Saturday RockyMountainNavy Game Night table. Although the game has been in-house a few weeks this was the first chance to get it onto the table for a full multiplayer experience.

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I reckon we gonna need a ruttin’ bigger table!

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself made it a 3-player event. Seeing it was our first time, we used the “First Time in the Captain’s Chair” Story Card. I don’t recall who took which ship or what Captain beyond that the Boys “allowed” me to take Serenity and Malcom Reynolds.

After laying out the game (and it’s a lot to lay out) I spent about 20 minutes explaining the basics of the game to the Boys. They both caught on pretty fast, although there were a few hiccups like trying to start a Job without all the right Needs being satisfied. In the end, Youngest RMN Boy made it to Ezra one turn ahead of me and paid off his ship first, thereby winning the game. I was a close to the win, needing one more turn to make it to Ezra. Middle RMN Boy still needed to finish his second job but in doing so would have had enough cash on hand and be nearby to pay off his debt. Total playing time for this first game was about 2 hours.

All of us were very impressed by how perfectly thematic the game is. The whole mantra of, “Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying” is perfectly captured.

Seeing as the RMN house generally prefers wargames, I was concerned that the low-degree of player interaction would make the game less enjoyable. I need not have worried; the Boys took to their roles with gusto. Youngest RMN Boy especially took on the persona of a ship’s Captain as he fancies himself something of a charming Han Solo-type. I mean the real Han Solo; you know, “Han Shot first.”

He found that attitude last year when he was creating a character for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game. During this game, we came to realize that he has heard about the Firefly TV show but has not actually watched the entire series (I know…tragedy!). Will have to rectify that situation soonest….

Firefly: The Game also has many expansions. I usually hold off on getting too many expansions because it is hard enough getting the base game to the table, much less an expanded version. In a bit of luck, I actually have a copy of FIRE007 Firefly: Customisable Ship Models that I picked up nearly 2-years ago for pennies when a FLGS was closing. Today the RMN Boys brought it out and are each painting their own customized ship. Guess I’m near to acquiring a few other expansions (hey, The Games Tavern, are you ready?).

Both RMN Boys asked to get Firefly: The Game back on the table sooner than later. I was especially pleased to hear this from Middle RMN Boy who, though he lost, wants to jump straight to another Story Card. “We got the basics, Dad. Now let’s really misbehave!”

Featured image courtesy Gale Force Nine Games.