Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tommy's Top Six of 2013 and Birthday Blog Giveaway

As you will recall, my blog very nearly didn't make it through the year after a horrible computer crash last January. Luckily, I was able to acquire a new computer and return to work. Unfortunately, I hit a record low on blog output, though I did have six reviews that particularly stood out to me, and - as is tradition - the first day of the year (and the fourth anniversary of my blog's founding) will be used to recognize those six games.

First, the rules: The Top Six can only feature one product per publisher. Second, my primary exposure, as well as the resulting review, had to have happened over the last year (from December 1st to December 1st). So if I had a product sitting on a my bookshelf that I thumbed through once, put down, and finally realized how great it was later? It qualifies. Actual publication date is irrelevant to me. Finally, I had to have had no involvement in the production of the book.

For those new to the party:
Tommy's Top Six 2010
Tommy's Top Six 2011
Tommy's Top Six 2012

And now, the Top Six, in alphabetical order.

Dragon Age Set 1 (Green Ronin)

Why You should Buy It: A great introductory RPG, I used it for exactly that purpose earlier this year, shortly after watching the now infamous Dragon Age Tabletop video. The boxed set is affordable, with sweet production values and a fast character creation system that provides a good amount of variety in character creation, as well as a cool stunt system that people mention trying to adapt to Savage Worlds about every couple of months. It gets even better when you add in Set 2 (the player aids are a thing of beauty when combined with the stunt system), and set 3 is presumably out later this year (it's been in open playtest for a while, and I kind of imagine that it is being set up now to be released at or near Dragon Age III, for synergy's sake). A fun fantasy RPG with the cinematic swings you get from later versions of D&D, combined with the simplicity on par with Advanced D&D. And if you find that it's been simplified a tad too much, the wonderful blog Dragon Age Oracle has you covered with the Esoterica of Thedas.

Dresden Files: Your Story (Evil Hat Games)

Why You Should Buy It: It is the first Fate RPG that ever SCREAMED "Run me!". This was helped out, noOur World in order to use Your Story, especially if you are going to decouple your game from Dresden's Chicago, though it certainly helps.
doubt, by the fact that I discovered the Dresden Files books last summer and completely and totally fell in love. The magic system covers all of the cool and fun intricacies of Dresden Files magic, and having knowledge of Dresden Files to compare the Fate writeups with did a wonderful job of helping me wrap my head around the intricacies of Fate, which has led to me taking a second look at other Fate books I had dismissed in the past, as well as looking closer at new Fate books. The setting is a great Kitchen Sink urban fantasy setting and, since it's all told from Harry Dresden's perspective, there's a lot of room for flexibility (due to unreliable narrator and lack of knowledge and so forth). The book itself is a thing of beauty, with great production values and the best "informal" writing I've read in an RPG since the Buffy and Angel RPGs. Despite being a two book series, you don't NEED

Heaven's Shadow (Bedroom Wall Press)

Why You Should Buy It: Easily the most unique product in my Top Six, Heaven's Shadow is lean, mean, self-published RPG using a streamlined version of the D6 system to power a game about assassins for Heaven who are waging a war against the demonic Nephilim who are walking amongst humanity. The price has gone up since the game's release, but I still recommend this without reservation...how many RPGs let you play assassins working for God, planning out assassinations against demonic entities wearing human faces...oh, and you can use Faith to enact Miracles (as simple as vanishing from sight, to plunging a building into darkness, to raising the dead). It's cool. Yeah, it's 84 pages, but it's no frills at all, meaning it is all gameable content. As a guy who ISN'T a huge fan of the D6 system (I generally find it to be overrated), this book makes great use of Mini Six. The first two releases on this list are fairly big name items, but products like Heaven's Shadow are a big part of the reason why I keep doing this blog: To make sure you know about the games you are missing out on.

Monster of the Week (Generic Games)

Why You Should Buy It: I have never played or read Apocalypse World, but it brought us tremulus, which
has been a huge hit for me and my group. Monster of the Week is another fruit off of the Apocalypse World tree, emulating things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellboy, Blade, Supernatural and even X-Files, all in the Apocalypse World "fiction first" style. The Playbooks cover a LOT of ground in the genre, especially with the additional Playbooks that have been released. We've had fun with the World Engine thus far, and Monster of the Week is a pretty kick-ass rendition of that Engine, geared towards...um...kicking monster butt. It can be set up for one shots, but where it is really going to shine is in a campaign, as your Monster Hunter's Luck runs out and his story comes to an end (maybe he hangs up his Hellfire Shotgun once and for all...or maybe he dives through a portal to another dimension in order to seal it from the other side). Can't you just feel the drama now?

Sentinels of the Multiverse (Greater Than Games)

Why You Should Buy It: I wrestled long and hard with this one, because it would be the first non-RPG to make this list, but at the end of the day, I would be lying if I didn't put it on here. Why? Because I have logged a ton of hours with this game, I have snapped up the expansions for it, and I will continue to log tons of hours with this game. It is the most fun I have ever had with a card game. It is not uncommon for a rough day at work to be followed up by Netflix and Sentinels of the Multiverse for a little combo I like to call "Geek Solitaire". I only bought it because of the hoopla surrounding the DC Deck Building Game and Marvel Legendary, both of which are fine games in their own right, but both of which pale next to Sentinels of the Multiverse. Just a great, great game, and the expansions (Rook City, Infernal Relics and Shattered Timelines) just make it better. I'm not saying it's not possible to make a better superhero board or card game, but I am saying I haven't seen it yet, and Greater Than Games set a pretty big bar to clear.

Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone (Flying Mice Games)

Why You Should Buy It: Like fantasy, but you're tired of the same old, same old? Volant has a solution for
you: It places the entire setting on flying stone kingdoms, with characters riding airships and giant birds as their primary methods of transportation. It gets even better as dogfighting rules are included (not surprising, given some of the author's previous games), and no less than four resolution methods are provided, from gritty to cinematic to turning the game into one of player negotiation. It's not really an "out of the box" game, but Volant includes tools for you to customize your own Volant setting for your adventures. It's the best StarCluster game yet, both in concept and implementation, in my opinion, and it's well worth checking out, especially for "Do It Yourself" gamers and folks who like to play around with fun subsystems (like Volant's Alchemy system).


As is customary, I like to give all of you present for my blog's birthday...as we start the fifth year of this blog's existence, let's get on with the Birthday Blog Giveaway!

Five of the selected publishers were kind enough and generous enough to allow me to offer PDFs of their books as prizes this year, as a way to let me once again say THANK YOU to everyone reading this blog!

From now until 12:01 AM, January 15th, if you email me (tommybrownell(a)gmail(dot)com) with the subject "2013 Top Six" and your choice, in order, of the products you would like to win, you will be entered in the random drawing I'll hold. The first person selected will win their first choice, the second person selected will then win THEIR first choice, unless that choice has already been taken, and so on until all four prizes have been awarded. The winners will be notified via email, and the publishers will be contacted to deliver the electronic prizes to the winners! Here are the prizes:

- One (1) PDF of Dragon Age Set 1
- One (1) PDF of Dresden Files: Our Story.
- One (1) PDF of Heaven's Shadow
- One (1) PDF of Monster of the Week
- One (1) PDF of Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone

Good luck to anyone that enters, thank you to the wonderful publishers for providing prize support, and thanks again to everyone that is still reading this blog. Hopefully 2014 is a much bigger and better year for The Most Unread Blog on the Internet. Ever.!

Tommy