Castle: The Detective Card Game
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.