Friday, January 31, 2014

Tommy's Take on Castle, Baronica & Murder on the Hellstromme Express

Castle: The Detective Card Game

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Published by Cryptozoic Entertainment, Castle: The Detective Card Game is a fast-playing card game designed for more casual gamers looking to dabble in some good, card gaming fun. Retailing for $30, Castle is a whodunit card game, in which everyone selects an investigator from the show (Castle, Beckett, Det. Ryan, Det. Esposito, Capt. Gates or Dr. Parish). Each investigator has a special ability, like Beckett being able to discard two cards of the same name and drawing five more, or Capt. Gates being able to take the top card from the Discard pile into her hand. Once everyone has a character, five suspects are dealt, and poker chips dealt out onto them. One chip says Guilty, the rest are Not Guilty and have a special effect (like forcing you to pass a card to the person on the right, or picking a player and allowing them to draw two cards). If at any point in the game you get the three cards listed on each suspect, you can Confront them, flipping over their poker chip. If they are guilty, you win! If not, follow the text on the chip. The gameplay is fast (each person only has one of five actions each turn) and simple (you are trying to find the three cards listed on the suspect cards to confront them), but has some nice trappings. For instance, the suspects are the murder mystery archetypes, like The Ignored Mistress, The Spiteful Sister and The Vengeful Spouse. In order to confront, say, The Loyal Brother, you need to Search the Victim's Home, have a Poker Game Consult (a Castle tradition) and perform an Autopsy. Other cards have special effects, like Killing By The Book, which has the killer following the MO of a killer from Castle's book (and letting you draw three cards and keep one), while another allows you to add an additional suspect (and maybe even changing up who the guilty party actually is). Some variants include using more suspects, as well as a "Season Mode", which ends when one player has three Solved Tokens.

WHAT WORKS: Good production values, especially the box, oversized character cards and poker chips (which are a thing of beauty indeed). Gameplay is fast and fun for a casual setting, and all of the major Detective Show tropes are in full effect with the suspects. Surprisingly, for a licensed product, the price isn't overly inflated.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not a very deep game, if that's what you're looking for.

CONCLUSION: My wife is a casual gamer who is a fan of Castle, and when I read that this was basically a light, casual card game, I decided to pick it up for her for Christmas. Not a surprise at all, she really likes it. There's nothing deep or in-depth here, and there is a decent sized luck factor, but there's enough gameplay to keep me happy and fast enough play to keep my wife happy. It may not be what some were hoping for from a Castle card game, but it's pretty much exactly what Cryptozoic was actually trying for.

BARONICA: A Dungeon World Campaign Front

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Released by Three Sages Games, Baronica is a campaign front for Dungeon World, which I reviewed recently. Baronica is based on the author's old fantasy campaign, with some details left out. In keeping with the Dungeon World mindset, Baronica is left pretty open for the GMs and players to fill in, maps included. It's a fairly typical fantasy setting, in which the High King has fallen and the people are trying to determine who can take the crown. In the meanwhile, goblins are getting violent, and a dark force is rising to consume everyone (because that's what dark forces DO). A number of important NPCs are provided, as well as questions relevant to the campaign for the players to answer, and Special Moves for certain parts of the setting (my favorite being the move that details what happens when the PCs encounter The Azure Unicorn). Of course, Dangers are present, and a few Fronts are provided to help you guide the escalation of the threat level (such as the Rise of the Dark Lord).

WHAT WORKS: If you read the advice on creating Campaign Fronts and Dangers in the Dungeon World book, and it didn't quite click, then this might well be worth reading. I liked that the maps are left open enough for you to add your own elements and features that appear in gameplay, and I particularly enjoyed the encounter with the Azure Unicorn.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: If you already have a sense of what you are doing with Dungeon World, world-building-wise, then there's not enough new and unique stuff here to make it worthwhile. The author admits that it's going to feel a little familiar to some people, so if you're already on that path, you are probably better served to keep going in that direction.

CONCLUSION: Recommended for people who are pretty sure they have the mechanics of Dungeon World down, but are not sure just how they are actually going to get the game going (the front suggests that the PCs begin in media res), but folks who have already started to work on their own Dungeon World setting aren't going to find a lot here to compel them to scrap their work and introduce Baronica in its stead.

MURDER ON THE HELLSTROMME EXPRESS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Murder on the Hellstromme Express is packed in with the Deadlands Reloaded GM screen, but is also available separately in PDF. It is perfectly suitable for use as an introductory adventure, but can also be dropped into any campaign in which the posse has a need to take jobs for money. The adventure is designed to run from Chicago to Dodge City, with the PCs serving as escorts for a Mad Scientist on a train full of 'em, each trying to impress a Hellstromme Industries auditor and earn points for the big Kansas Scientific Symposium. Wackiness ensues as the agendas of the various scientists bubble to the forefront, intersecting with a raid by a vicious Indian War Party. Assuming everyone makes it to the Symposium itself intact, one of the scientists has a final surprise for the posse...and the amount of help they have in that final battle relates directly to how well they managed the personalities on the train.

WHAT WORKS: All of the scientists on the train are interesting and were a blast to play as GM. Having the posse's interaction with them factor into the end game was a great touch. It makes for a good introductory adventure due to the mundane beginnings that help introduce more arcane elements of the setting.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Might not be enough action for some posse members in the early going. When I ran it, I did have one player get very restless waiting on a fight. It is, literally, a railroady adventure, what with most of it taking place on a train.

CONCLUSION: I wouldn't recommend buying the PDF unless you are completely unable to find the GM screen. Buy that and take this as the extra included with it instead. When I ran the adventure, the mad scientists thoroughly exhausted my players, and - as noted above - one of them got really restless with the lack of action, though that was due in part to the posse averting one issue with intimidation, and another through the well timed use of explosives. Definitely recommended if you need an excuse to get your PCs to Dodge City, or if you just want to show off the mad science in the setting.