Friday, June 20, 2014

Tommy's Take on EPOCH: War Stories

Earlier this week, I tackled the Frontier of Fear scenario book for today, let's take a look at War Stories, which aims to make war even more horrific.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Like Frontier of Fear, War Stories adds additional cards to the EPOCH deck in order to accentuate the particular nature of these scenarios. War Stories also has five scenarios instead of four, though it is still the same price as Frontier of Fear ($8 each for cards and book in print, or $6 in PDF). You do need EPOCH to play.

As with Frontier of Fear, 8 genre-specific Complications are added to the game: Enemy Spy, War Profiteer, War Criminal, Secret Plans, Secret Pacifist, Escaped Inmate, Informant and the really odd one: From Another Dimension.

Scenario #1 is From Above and Below, set in France in 1918. The PCs are soldiers who are rushing to the front lines to act as guides for their fellow soldiers the Germans. Each gets a Circumstance (Lonely, Crazed, Reluctant, etc) and a Role (like Bully, Thinker or Survivor). As the group gets acclimated to the country side, they get shelled - from both sides - leading to the group finding some bizarre trenches...and some crazy horrors under the earth.

The Coldest Winter jumps ahead to World War II and places the PCs in the midst of the Soviet invasion of Finland. Again, each gets a Role, like Grizzled Veteran, Survivor or Idealist. In the bitter cold, they are given a simple task: Find fresh, unfrozen water. What they find is a brutal massacre, and lots of dead Russians. The scenario sets up a nice balance between the dangers of winter and a horrific enemy, and the Russian army makes for cannon fodder to let the GM show the PCs what they are facing before PCs start getting killed off.

Home Front stays in WWII, this time with British Home Guard PCs facing German Bombers. The gimmick here is that they are all conscripted civilians, with Occupations (like Banker, Shopkeeper and Undertaker). A German Bomber has crashed at a nearby farm, so the PCs are dispatched to check it out...and find it to be a bit less German than thought. It has a bit more flexibility written in than most scenarios, which is a nice touch.

Mass Destruction is set in 2003 and involves members of the media trying to find evidence of Iraq's weapons programs. Bloggers, News Anchors, Newspaper Columnists and so on. After the PCs are snatched up in the middle of the night to cover the search, it doesn't take very long for the group to find itself in danger and facing an ancient evil who plans to impose its own mass destruction on the world, and the group is probably not well equipped to stop it.

The last scenario is set in 2010 and the Congo, and is called Behind the Mask of Evil. The group consists of military and civilian members of a UN mission in the Congo. It has a bit of a slow burn before it gets to the crazy horror aspects, as the group finds itself deep in the jungle with a familiar, but unexpected, evil.

WHAT WORKS: Five scenarios that shake up EPOCH even further from the standard, and even manages to avoid retreading the same ground, with Mass Destruction especially breaking from the military motif while still invoking war. While most of the conflicts selected were not surprising, placing a scenario in the Congo was a nice touch. The flexibility written into Home Front is also nice.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: World War II obviously couldn't be ignored, but a Vietnam or Korea scenario would have been welcome over a second WWII scenario (though the two are sufficiently different, at least). The editing, once more, could have used some help.

CONCLUSION: I like Frontier of Fear more, as I'm not big on the military in my games, but I would be willing to run the last two scenarios without twisting my arm. Some fine work in showing the versatility of the game, and hopefully Imaginary Empire has more tricks up their sleeve with this game.