I reviewed a LOT of games since I opened my blog last year, and I wanted to take a special moment to recognize the six that captured my attention the most, provided that they fit under the following criteria: 1) I had to have reviewed the title on my blog from January 1st through December 17th. Unlike some year end awards, I'm not concerned with actual release dates, but when the books actually made it into my hands. 2) Only one book per company was allowed. This rule came in because one draft of the list had four books by two companies. The Top Six itself is a purely arbitrary number...I like the number six, nothing more.
There were a lot of products that I really enjoyed, that didn't get tagged for a certain reason, and I plan on doing a follow-up with a couple of those, explaining why I didn't choose certain titles.
Without further ado, in alphabetical order:
BASH ULTIMATE EDITION (Basic Action Games)
Why You Should Buy It: I love superheroes. It's part of the reason I write comics...(even though I have yet to do a traditional superhero book, unfortunately). Marvel SAGA is my favorite RPG of all time, flawed though it is...I've read a lot of superhero games since then, but none have captured my imagination in the same way as BASH, and I am hard pressed to think of a superhero game that does as much, with as little work. It has an "equalizer" for characters of multiple power levels on the same team, it provides plenty of options for making characters without the same level of bean counting that you get with Mutants and Masterminds or Champions, and it scales up from gritty to cosmic, all in the main rulebook. It currently holds the distinction of being the only game that I have ever purchased twice, once in PDF format and once in softcover. In fact, if the new version being released through Cubicle 7 is full color, I may go so far as to buy it one more time (and donate my black and white copy to someone). Chris Rutkowsky has made what is, to my mind, one of the best RPGs I have ever read, as it hits pretty much all of my sweet spots without a ton of work. For me, certain other major superhero RPGs are either underwritten, or incredibly overdone to the point of being Too Much Work...but BASH never has that problem. With Vigilance Press and Daring Entertainment coming aboard as third party licensees, I hope that BASH gains the following that I feel it truly deserves.
Buy the PDF at RPGnow, and look for the print version in 2011 from Cubicle 7.
HIGH VALOR (Silverlion Studios/Better Mousetrap Games)
Why You Should Buy It: I love fantasy gaming, but I can't make myself do Dungeons & Dragons anymore. I want epic, high fantasy, not dungeon crawls...and, as you may have guessed, I don't want it to be Too Much Work. High Valor is pretty much rules light, but never goes too far away from being a game. Just because you have three stats (kinda like you do in BASH, actually), and monsters only have one, doesn't mean it's not still a game. I love the mechanic of borrowing back and forth between your pools when you REALLY need to accomplish something, and I really like the fairly freeform nature of Magic and Miracles. I think one thing I love the most is that your experience comes from your Triumphs and Dooms...even epic failures help to define you, as you and your legend grows over time. Be Epic. High Valor wants you to. Don't kill a monster and take its stuff, risk life and limb to destroy an elder troll terrorizing the region, and take its head as a warning to all other foul creatures...and if it happens to rip your eye out? Then your legend is even more epic. The setting is dark, but not TOO dark...providing a growing storm of evil, sure, but you're expected to fight it *and win*. To boot, Tim Kirk seems dead set on making books that stand alone, so if you buy this? All you need is this...plus, the system is incredibly easy to convert to, since the monsters are basically one stat plus flavor text. Now, this isn't a highly tactical combat game...but it is a pretty damn awesome fantasy epic.
Buy the PDF at RPGnow, or the print version at Lulu.
INTERFACE ZERO (Gun Metal Games)
Why You Should Buy It: This is precisely what Savage Worlds settings could (and, IMHO, should) be. I'm not saying that every Savage Setting needs to ape Interface Zero, I'm saying that publishers shouldn't be afraid to make their game. Gun Metal Games does not hesitate to provide you with new Hacking rules, Cyberspace, cybernetics and the single coolest equipment chapter I have read since, well, Pinnacle released a whole book for Deadlands (both the Interface Zero equipment chapter and the Deadlands book - Smith & Robards - are written as catalogs). I'm also a sucker for random tables, as anyone that reads my reviews should know, and so not only does Gun Metal Games provide an adventure generator, but they also provide a random Bounty generator! The crazy part is that as comprehensive as this book is (at 300 pages), there is still a TON of room for development! Psychics will be coming this year, and publisher David Jarvis has been hyping it pretty heavily over on the Savage Worlds forums at www.peginc.com, if you wanna check that out. Also, Gun Metal Games and Silver Gryphon Games have announced that we will be getting an "Interface Zero" version of the latter's Wellstone City...and given the people involved, combined with the Savage Worlds system, I can't feature it not being twelve shades of awesome. In the meantime, get IZ and get acquainted with a world where life is cheap, especially if you were born in a vat (or built from the ground up).
Buy the PDF at RPGNow.
Leverage (Margaret Weis Productions)
Why You Should Buy It: Oh, man, what a year these guys had, and all because of two releases: Smallville and Leverage. Smallville was a GREAT game...but I'm not a fan of the show. Leverage was a GREAT game, and I AM a fan of the show. However, making a faithful adaptation of the show wouldn't have been enough to make the list. And luckily, they did more than that: Sure, you can run the Leverage crew, no problem...and you can build your own crew from the ground up. However, the book walks you through basically every step necessary to set up your world and run your game, including (YES!) random generators for making Jobs for your Crew to take! When I read the quickstart, I was excited, but scared to death: I mean, seriously, how in the heck do you run LEVERAGE as an RPG? For me, it seemed awfully daunting...and then came one of the best GMing chapters I have ever read. At that point, I was mostly just sad not to have the opportunity to run it right now. Great concepts get mangled in translation all the time, but Margaret Weis Productions took this opportunity and knocked it out of the park. Just an amazingly well-written rulebook and a phenomenal translation of the TV show.
Buy the PDF at RPGnow, or order the hardcopy from Margaret Weis Productions.
War of the Dead Chapter One (Daring Entertainment)
Why You Should Buy It: One of the most ambitious projects ever released for Savage Worlds, War of the Dead is a four part, epic campaign beginning on a simple cruise ship and changing the world forever. This is the zombie apocalypse come to Savage Worlds in a way that Zombie Run could never have been. Chapter One is the first thirteen weeks of the campaign, taking your hapless, Novice characters from their life-changing cruise, back to land, including a conflict with a ruthless biker gang and relative safety in one of the remaining refuges left. The world is familiar and filled with inside references to famous zombie creators like George Romero and Robert Kirkman, but most importantly, Lee Szczepanik understands the strengths of the system he is writing for, filling adventures with massive battles against zombie hordes that would have GMs pulling their hair out under many systems. Also, I'm a big fan of how many of the episodes feature random encounter charts, using card draws, specialized for the location and situation. Plus, of the books on this list, the support for War of the Dead absolutely blows the other picks away, with freebie adventures that fill the gap between Chapter One and Chapter Two, as well as one of the coolest sets of paper miniatures I have seen in The Paper Dead, including a printable RV with "anti zombie" attachments! If you like The Walking Dead or Night of the Living Dead, and wanna play something like it, this is it, right here. Chapter Two is in the home stretch now, and has even eclipsed Chapter One in some ways, though it has never failed to live up to the promise of Chapter One, even at its low points, in my opinion. I admit, when this project was first announced, I threw up my shoulders with a resounding "eh"...but going on nearly twenty six installments now (not even counting the free adventures), and Daring Entertainment has produced a Savage Worlds campaign with some amazing promise, as well as a scope rarely seen in this genre (again, The Walking Dead is the closest thing that comes to mind).
Buy the PDF at RPGnow, or order the print version from Cubicle 7.
Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade (Third Eye Games)
Why You Should Buy It: I like superheroes, high fantasy, zombies, Leverage...I'm not BIG into cyberpunk, but I'll try anything in Savage Worlds. I kinda hate most anime, and I'm just not into oriental mysticism/mythology/history, etc. So why is Wu Xing here? Because I am not into those things and this book just stood out as one of the coolest books I have read in recent memory, perhaps ever. I had no real experience with Third Eye Games before this year, though I did get Apocalypse Prevention Inc. in the Haiti Bundle, but it kind of got lost in the shuffle when I was trying to download and read EVERYTHING. After Eloy Lasanta approached me about the game, I gave it an honest go, and really loved what I read there...so I checked out Wu Xing on the strength of API (which is right up my comfort zone, genre-wise)...what I found was a very cool, over the top, albeit westernized (to the annoyance of some, not me) martial arts fantasy epic. The production is fairly light in this day and age, but that just means the book is filled with content. Plot hooks are all over the thing, and Third Eye Games doesn't truck in metaplots, meaning that if you want to expand something there and run with it, or answering one of the burning questions, there is no wrong answer and you are not likely to find something completely invalidated by a future book. All of the clans just come alive, and what could easily have been a rigid, "not much else to do" setting is instead loaded with intrigue and plot hooks. Any RPG that can take a genre I pretty much can't stand and make me go "oh, crap, I GOTTA play" is a big winner in my book. Wu Xing is just full of "cool".
Buy the PDF at RPGnow (where Wu Xing is also listed as Print on Demand option for those who have it available) or pick up the print version at Beautiful Brains Books & Games.
And now, the cool part:
These six publishers have pledged to give you, dear readers, a chance to win PDFs of these games, as part of the "Thank you" for reading the blog and the reviews of their fine games. Here are the prizes:
- Three (3) PDF copies of BASH Ultimate Edition (awarded separately) -OR- a Basic Action Games PDF of your choice, if you already own BASH.
- A PDF copy of High Valor.
- A PDF copy of Interface Zero plus a poster-sized PDF of the cover.
- Three (3) PDF copies of the Leverage RPG.
- A complete War of the Dead Chapter One PDF bundle, including the entire War of the Dead Chapter One, The Paper Dead and all of the Freebies released to date, everything you need (except for the Savage Worlds rules) in order to jump into Chapter Two.
- A PDF copy of Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade.
To enter, simply send me an e-mail to tommyb(a)sstelco(dot)com, with the subject (minus the quotes) "Happy Birthday Blog", listing your order of preference for the prize. Once I have closed entries by 11:59 PM Central Time on January 15th, I will use a randomizer to determine the winners...#1 gets their first choice, #2 gets their first available choice (their first choice if it wasn't taken, second if it was, and so on). If you are wanting a BASH PDF that isn't Ultimate Edition, specify it in the e-mail.
Thank you all so much for reading this blog, thanks to Michael Wolf at Stargazer's World, whose shoutout helped spike my blog traffic immensely over the summer, thank you to the Top Six publishers for the prize support for this giveaway, thank you to every publisher who gave me product to review over this last year, and thank you to Sean Patrick Fannon of RPGnow for allowing me in the affiliate program, which literally allowed me to make it to and from work when I started a new job last summer and otherwise had *nothing* to put in my gas tank.
Next up on the slate: A few products that were exceptional, but why I didn't pick them for the Top Six, reviews of the Squawk RPG as well as Dust Devils Revenged, an overall look back on 2010, some WWE thoughts for old times sake, probably a full on review of Smackdown vs Raw, the Legendary installment of Savage Worlds Characters Are All The Same, the new Supers version of it, and a look at RPGnow's new Print on Demand program (as I was apparently one of the last ones in the pilot program to get my book...despite ordering two hours after it launched).
Thank you, have a Happy New Year, and come back soon!