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.


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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Are You Reading Wine & Savages?

Sean Bircher has sure said some nice things about my blog in the past, especially in regards to me being a Savage Worlds blogger, but the truth is, he's another guy (like Jack Shear) whose output just outright makes me jealous.

I first truly became acquainted with his blog, Wine & Savages, after I posted an article about using Savage Worlds to duplicate "Bioware-style" play, ala Dragon Age or Mass Effect, and we had a nice exchange about how he and his wife play lots of one on one games.

All that is good and well, but why should you take the time to read his blog?

Well, if you like Accursed, like I do, then Sean is making your life easier by expanding the game dramatically with more Witches, Banes and Witchbreeds. Want to add Loki, the Gender Bending Witch, to your game? Sean has you covered. Want to play a heroic Jason Vorhees? Sean has you covered. The guy is killin' it with expanded Accursed material.

Sean also has a wide selection of Savage Worlds Edges and Setting Rules (at least one of which I'm likely stealing for my Deadlands game.

Sean is also working on a couple of settings, a Revolution-that-never-was and an Urban Fantasy setting for Fate Accelerated.

And that's just the front page stuff. Dig around and see what he's got. It'll be worth your time.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tommy's Take on Dungeon World

We're not complete strangers to the family of games spawned by Apocalypse World, with tremulus and Monster of the Week both taking Top Six selections in past years. So with that in mind, we'll now turn our sights towards the baby spawned by Apocalypse World and Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon World!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Tommy's Take on ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying

So I have reviewed a lot of ICONS products over the years (and you may have seen my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles posts)...but I've never reviewed ICONS. So, today, I'm going to change that.
The villains they are rushing at are on the
Villainomicon cover.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tommy's Take on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Board Game

Let me preface this by saying that this review is the first review I had ever written of anything, and appeared at over 12 years ago. Since then, I have encountered a number of board games that trump this one, but I still maintain that this game was head and shoulders above the licensed games and typical Wal-Mart shelf fare available at the time (or, y'know, now).

Enjoy my first ever review. Ever.


Looking around a nearby game shop not long ago, I found the Buffy the Vampire Slayer board game from Hasbro. Looking it over, I wound up putting it back on the shelf due to lack of funds. A couple of months later my girlfriend picked it up for me, since she's a fan of board and card games, if not RPGs.

Man, I love her.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tommy's Take on Deadlands Dime Novels 1, 2 & 3

Having actually ran the first three Deadlands Dime Novels, I thought I would do some Fast Takes on them for this blog post. One of them was ran in its native Classic rules, while the other two were converted to Deadlands Reloaded.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First off, there's two versions of this Dime Novel out there in PDF format, one that includes the adventure and one that doesn't. This review is off the print version that includes the adventure. The novel introduces Ronan Lynch (who, I'm guessing, Shane Hensley has a big fondness for), with the novel part written by Hensley and the adventure written by Hal Mangold. The whole gist of the dime novels is that it's a piece of Deadlands fiction combined with an adventure that roughly walks you through the events of the dime novel. In this case, Lynch and crew take a job rescuing a rich man's son from a cult, and the events of the story result in one of the crew becoming Harrowed - Deadlands' own undead gunslingers.

The adventure is very roleplay heavy, actually, (a lot of Deadlands adventures are, though some folks don't seem to think that's the case), setting the posse against an evil cult at Christmas time. This adventure made a huge mark on my early Deadlands campaign, when one of the PCs - ostensibly a pacifist - killed the cult leader's bodyguard with a deadly weapon in the first round of combat. This led to the gunman inhabiting the weapon and killing people on the PC's trail, framing him for murder. Spoiler warning: The Big Bad is female (look at the title).

WHAT WORKS: The fiction is fun, making for an entertaining afternoon of reading. The Christmas setting is an interesting tidbit as well, especially for launching the line. It's not a bad adventure to use as an opening adventure for a Deadlands campaign, especially if you are wanting to ease the group into weirdness.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: May not be enough action for some groups (until the end of the adventure, anyway). The cover promises a fairly awesome Santa Claus and Rudolph battle versus zombies, but that's not anything we ever get to see, unfortunately.

CONCLUSION: Useful for far more than just Deadlands completists, and official conversions for the adventure are available at the Pinnacle site for folks that want to use this in their Reloaded game. It is worth noting, for canon sticklers, that the setting is Christmas 1875, but there is very little preventing you from using it in whatever year you want (though you are going to want to leave it in winter time due to the endgame, or get very creative). Personally, I'll buy and read gaming fiction all day if it's in short bits with an adventure on the back end of it, like this, so long as there's at least a sense of fun (which this definitely has).


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Another holiday themed Dime Novel, this time set in the summer of 1876 (and the centennial of the Union), in Bloody Kansas, in which Our Heroes are drafted into helping Wyatt Earp keep the peace during the big Independence Day celebration. The novel section again features Ronan Lynch, this time teaming with Texas Ranger Hank "One Eye" Ketchum against a sadistic creature known as the Butcher, all while Yankees and Rebels are threatening war in Dodge City.

The adventure part of the novel again casts the PCs in Ronan's shoes, arriving in Dodge City and being pressed into Wyatt's service (though not without pay, for the more mercenary types). This adventure plays to an unheralded strength of Deadlands - investigation - as the PCs quickly find themselves dealing with a brutal serial killer in the middle of the Yankee-Rebel tensions and enough red herrings to drive a man insane. Earp is, at best, available in the background, as he's handed over part of Dodge City to the posse (coincidentally being the one that needs the most looking after, of course), while he and his men are trying to hold down the rest of it. This Dime Novel has opportunity for more action than Perdition's Daughter, especially in the climax, which can easily turn into a running battle in the streets of Dodge City in the middle of the Fourth of July Celebration...

The fiction was written by Matt Forbeck, and the adventure co-written by Mr. Forbeck and Chris Snyder.

WHAT WORKS: Plenty of roleplaying, investigation and action, as well as pure, visceral horror and spotlight on both western life and the continuing tensions between the North and South. A nice cameo from a western legend, with a believable excuse for keeping him from stealing the spotlight out from under the PCs...and a nice, sweet nod to another legendary figure in the final battle.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Maybe my biggest complaint about Deadlands, as a player and a GM, is that many of the enemies (and this includes The Butcher) have some fairly rough weaknesses, and it can be hard even providing the opportunity for the PCs to find out what those weaknesses are, artificially inflating the difficulty of some encounters. When I ran this adventure, this very nearly meant The Butcher cake walked over the opposition.

CONCLUSION: One of my favorite compositions of adventure elements for Deadlands. This was a very fun romp with a lot of variety in the elements, and I was running it for one PC at the time (which nearly got him massacred against The Butcher). A very, very good entry (with Deadlands Reloaded conversions) that tends to get overlooked by the next novel in the series...


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The most infamous entry in the Dime Novels series. So infamous, in fact, that the author is commonly referred to as John "Night Train" Goff. Yeah. The story sees Ronan Lynch and Hank Ketchum running into a very foul train carrying a cartload of undead bloodsuckers. It's completely horrific, bordering on over the top, and thus another good indicator of the Deadlands "feel".

In the adventure, the PCs get to do a little investigation at Barlowe Station before arriving at Varney Flats and getting the MAIN action going. (And points to you if you get the references. I did.) This one does have noticeably less plot than a lot of Deadlands adventures, ultimately coming down to the PCs versus an evil Force of Nature. Most Deadlands groups now have THEIR "Night Train story", and it's become a popular convention adventure. Warning: The body count for this adventure is HIGH.

There is a Night Train scenario for The Great Rail Wars included in the back of the book.

WHAT WORKS: Arguably the most iconic Deadlands adventure. There's a reason for that.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Might be a rough fit for an ongoing campaign, what with the chance of Total Party Kills. I used it in mine, but Adventure Cards, Fate Chips and the Wild Card/Extra divide went a long way towards giving the group a leg up.

CONCLUSION: Arguably the most iconic Deadlands adventure. There's a reason for that. Heck, my group came out of it a lot better than most did, and they're still paranoid about trains, especially ones that show up in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

And The Winners Are...(2013 Edition)

Folks, I will not lie to you: This is my favorite part of the year, blogging wise. I lovelovelove when people get to try awesome new games due to the kindness and generosity of publishers. I love it love it love it. This year, I'm only sad that I wasn't able to provide more prize support. If I could have, everyone that entered would have won something. As it is, we had five great prizes and now we have five lucky winners. And the winners are...

1. Bob Huss - Dragon Age Set 1
2. Daniel Walsh - Dresden Files: Our Story
3. Alexandre Zuin Alegria - Heaven's Shadow
4. Jay Peters - Monster of the Week
5. Peter Bogdasarian - Volant: Kingdoms of Air and Stone

Thanks once again to our WONDERFUL sponsors, and to everyone that sends me an email saying "Hey, I was on the fence about this game until I read your review!" and, of course, thanks to everyone that makes their purchases through my affiliate links, because that helps keep me deep in games that I can turn around and review.

I am striving to give you compelling reasons to come back and read the blog (like my sweet new banner), and I hope I'm succeeding.

Let's make 2014 the Year of the Gamer!

Let's make a deal: I keep writing, you keep reading, and we'll both keep gaming. Sound good?


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tommy's Take on Colonial Gothic 2nd Edition

So I'm a pretty big fan of Deadlands, which is a bit of a distant cousin to Colonial Gothic, seeing as they are both alternate history horror games. Plus, I'm a bit of a fan of early American history, so that helps, too.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Night News - Interface Zero, Heaven's Shadow, Accursed, Warage and Werewolf!

Just a few items to toss out there for your Sunday night news reading:

  1. The Birthday Blog Giveaway Ends January 15th! - On January 1st, I unveiled my Top Six of 2013, and gave ya'll a chance to win five of the six products listed on the Top Six. You have just over two days left in which to get your entries in and win some great games. Don't miss out!
  2. Interface Zero 2.0 now available! - The second edition of Interface Zero 2.0 has hit in PDF format, and it's bigger and badder. Unfortunately, a review won't be coming...but that's because I worked on this one, pitching in on the editing! I've been a supporter of Gun Metal Games in the past, and I was all too happy to help out in the process of getting this book finished. Pretty much the final word in Savage Worlds Cyberpunk as far as I'm concerned.
  3. Heaven's Shadow is on sale! - Heaven's Shadow is on sale for 50% off as part of the New Year's, New Game sale in PDF format, but Bedroom Wall Press has also discounted the print version by 25% until the end of the month in honor of being named one of Tommy's Top Six! Obviously, I would recommend that you not pass on this.
  4. Accursed is available in print! - Accursed is a game I've spoken of pretty highly as well, a Savage Setting in which you play a monster fighting in a world overwhelmed by monsters. At the time of my review, the print version was not it's available in softcover, hardcover standard and hardcover premium formats.
  5. Warage on Kickstarter - The folks at District Games got ahold of me earlier this month about their game Warage, which is a deckbuilding game that professes to have some RPG elements, and is playable for up to four players out of the box. The publisher says it's already been released in the European Union, and the Kickstarter is to get it printed and released in the US. You "create" your character by combining Race and Class cards for different combinations. Sounds pretty promising, especially as my son and I have been playing more and more card games. The Kickstarter still has a day left to go, and you can get the game for $40 (expected retail is going to be $49). They do have the full rules available on the website, which is always promising for a game Kickstarter. Currently, Elves, Humans, Angels and Orcs are available in the base set, with Warriors, Paladins and Mages available as Classes (no Rogues or Clerics? Interesting). Add ons and Stretch Goals add other options, including Dwarves and Goblins.
  6. Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition on Kickstarter - I got to play a version of Werewolf at GlitchCon last year, and had a blast. For those who don't know, everyone has a "role" in the "village", but there's a werewolf (or werewolves) roaming around, killing people. (A version called Mafia is pretty popular on message boards, or so I'm told). The villagers have to figure out who the werewolf is before he eliminates the town, helping sow seeds of dissent as the game goes on. It was a very, very fun party game. Bezier Games launched a Kickstarter for Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition, attempting to make their version of the game bigger and badder. They blew past their initial goal and are blowing past their stretch goals like crazy, already at $30,000+, of a $5,000 goal. Don't like the art on the card sets? That's okay, they have craptons of artist variants for you to choose from. Want to shake it up even more? There's cards for Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Nostradamus, Sorcerers, Ghosts, it goes on and on. There's a loooooooot of variations available, and buy in for one art set only costs you $'s a great looking set to be used for a great looking only problem is I'm lucky to have four people at my table...I can't imagine ever having enough players to play a proper game of this...but if you have lots of friends who are into this sort of thing, this is looking like a Holy Grail kinda deal.
I'm trying to stay on a "twice a week" schedule of reviews, full reviews on Tuesdays and a trifecta of small reviews on Fridays. Is that working out for ya'll? Is the extra focus on board and card games helpful? Or do I have anyone reading this that even cares about that sorta thing? Inquiring minds want to know!

Keep the dice dizzy, and the proof is in the fun!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Tommy's Take on Revolver 1.1, 1.2 and By The Gun They Died

So I recently reviewed the card game now I thought I'd shed a little light on three of the expansions for the game!

Revolver 1.1: Ambush on Gunshot Trail

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Ambush on Gunshot Trail is not required to play Revolver...however, Revolver 1.2 and By The Gun They Died both assume that you are also using Ambush on Gunshot Trail. This small card expansion runs for about $15 retail, and includes cards for both Colonel McReady and Jack Colty, as well as introducing 2 new bandits for Colty (one being Sister Sarah and her Mule), as well as a new mechanic: Ambushes. With Ambushes, McReady was planning ahead, and an Ambush is dealt to each battlefield, sometimes giving McReady more firepower, sometimes killing one of Colty's men, but occasionally it's a false alarm and the Colty gang beats them to the punch. Other new Colty cards include the Cherokee Freedmen and Dragged Behind The Horse (which forcibly moves a Law Dog back one battlefield), while McReady gains Pinkerton Agents, a new Bounty Hunter and even a card that can derail (pun intended) Colty's desperation tactic aboard the train. The new cards are intended to be swapped out of the existing decks, providing a deck tuning mechanic.

WHAT WORKS: More backstory for the new characters (including two that are actually in the promo pack). The Ambush Mechanic adds a new dimension to gameplay without speeding up gameplay, and Colty gains more cannon fodder.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The price might be a tad high if you can't get a discount somewhere. The gratuitous cleavage from the bounty hunter is, well, gratuitous. I'm not a fan of the deck tuning mechanic, as it slows down an otherwise quick set-up and quick moving game.

CONCLUSION: My son and I have just been integrating the cards into the decks, as all it does is increase the random element, which proves to be more of an equalizer for the two of us. The set exudes a ton of personality, with unique, named characters who are all heroes of their own story. Strong recommendation for this expansion if you're digging Revolver.

Revolver 1.2: Hunt the Man Down

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This expansion follows on the back of 1.1, going so far as to include an additional ambush card (and a violent one), as well as a new, optional battlefield holding the sadistic Santiago, a prisoner with a mad-on for Colonel McReady. It also introduces a new winning condition for McReady, in the form of bullet tokens Colty can gain over the course of the game. McReady gains more Pinkertons (who now actually draw the fire when on the field), while Colty gains more cards that can circumvent the 3 row limit, if only temporarily. More references to classic westerns abound, and an undertaker is added who can put the newly deceases to rest AND score you more cards.

WHAT WORKS: Impressively, the prison raid adds almost no time to the game, even with Ambushes from 1.1 in full effect, while also adding an additional strategic element, as the Colty player decides if Santiago is worth risking his men over.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Price is still going to be an issue for some, and 1.1 being required for fans wanting to pick this up is going to be annoying for some.

CONCLUSION: So far, so good. The truth about McReady gets a little seedier with each set, while the lines just get greyer and greyer. Major props to the designers for creating a whole new battlefield that adds to the game, but never really slows it down. The continued shout outs to classic westerns is also cool, going above and beyond just abusing common western tropes.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This one is completely playable without 1.1 or 1.2, though there are some icons you aren't going to understand at first. Also, this set includes Elias Hooker and Brady Logan, two promo characters released for the game. Again, this set assumes you are going to be deck building/tuning, giving McReady options like Apache Warriors, a Pinkerton Sharpshooter who is made for Whiskey Canyon (the nastiest battlefield for the Colty gang to hide in) and the very thuggish Wriggler Hooley and the Swain Boys. Colty isn't left short handed, adding in the multiplying Bandidos, as well as an alternate version of Bullet (much meaner, as he will take someone with him now), and Turkey Joe (who also pops up in Revolve 2), as well as a card that implies a much deeper relationship was going on between Poppy McReady and Colty.

WHAT WORKS: No new mechanics to learn (aside from the deck tuning), and more cards with personality, both people and events.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The price, again, seems high, especially since it's not wrapped in any kind of real packaging, either. That said, there are some viable options in this set for fans of the game who like to build decks, as well as some cool cards for guys like me who don't mind piling them all on. Get 1.1 if you can only get one expansion, but the others are worth it if you like the game.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tommy's Take on EPOCH: Experimental Paradigm Of Cinematic Horror

EPOCH is a very interesting, ambitious horror RPG by Imaginary Empire in which your goal is as much to be the most interesting character as it is to survive the "Horror Movie" you are in.

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year, New Game Sale - What Should You Buy?

RPGNow, in conjunction with some wonderful RPG publishers, is launching the New Year, New Game Sale once more, providing a toooooooooon of corebooks for half off their normal price.

And that's all well and good, but WHAT should you BUY?

Weeeell...I have some experience with some of the games, and I thought I'd call those out to you.

Age Past: The Incian Sphere - I wrote two pieces of short fiction for this fantasy RPG. Very fun if you like having powers to tinker with.
Don't Rest Your Head - One of the first RPGs I ever reviewed, actually.
Epoch - This unique horror RPG is actually being reviewed on my blog tomorrow, so stay tuned for that!
Heaven's Shadow - I obviously think highly of this RPG, naming it one of my Top Six of 2013. Speaking of...the print version of this is now on sale until the end of the month, in honor of being named one of my Top Six!
ICONS - I've ran it once, and I own a lot of books for it, but I've never review IT. Tons of support.
Leverage - A previous Top Six pick, based on one of my favorite TV shows.
Part-Time Gods - Another previous Top Six pick, playing mortals suddenly imbued with Godlike powers.
Savage Suzerain - Another previous Top Six pick. I've contributed to a few Savage Mojo projects because of my high opinion and reviews of their products.
Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer's Edition - It's my favorite RPG. Ever.
School Daze - A very cool and unique school-based RPG.
Shainter: Legends Arise - The new version of the awesome fantasy setting for Savage Worlds.
Stormrift - Another RPG I reviewed very highly, featuring an alien invasion and the freedom fighters that would stop them.
The Mutant Epoch - Another Top Six pick, featuring some of the craziest, over the top, post-apocalypse fun one can find.

RPGs for sale here that I haven't had hands on experience with, but are on my "to-read" pile include:

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - I'm not a big OSR fan, but this looks great.
Bulletproof Blues - I have a fondness for supers, what with being a comic book writer and all.
Dead of Night - Because I also like horror.
Dungeon Crawl Classics - I got to play a short PBEM game of this, and I looooove the 0-level character funnel and magic system. It's on my "review list".
King Arthur Pendragon 5.1 - I've had this for a few years, but not yet ran it. It may well be on the agenda soon, with the Great Pendragon Campaign.
Rapture - I bought their big charity bundle recently.

And there are those that I DON'T yet own, but I have my eye on. Namely...

Adventures Under The Laughing Moon
Against The Darkness - I have almost pulled the trigger on this a dozen times, but the timing is never right.
Atlantis: The Second Age - It looks REALLY cool.
Crimson Exodus - Comes highly recommended from a friend.
Eldritch Ass Kicking
Eternal Contenders
Hoodoo Blues
Little Wizards
Modern Day Gladiators - Being an ex-pro wrestler has me curious about this one.
Noir - Because I like noir.
Shattered Moon
Sojourner's Quest
Sorcery & Super Science!

(Of course, I'm open to review copies of these or any other games on the sale. *cough*)

So try a new game, and use my affiliate link so I can get store credit and try a new game of my own, that I will then review on this blog!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Tommy's Take on Card of the Dead, Cardstock Cowboys and Horrors of the Weird West

Card of the Dead
You don't have to be the fastest...just faster than the person next to you.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Card of the Dead is a small, light card game (56 cards) from AEG, in which you play people attempting to survive a zombie apocalypse. You have three kinds of cards you can draw: Action cards (which you can play for Movement Points to try to escape the city, or to perform the action listed on the card, like using Lure to sic a zombie on someone else, or Chainsaw to mow down the zombies in front of you), Zombie cards (which are trying to kill you), or Event cards (which come into play immediately, often to your detriment, like Fog which disperses the zombies in play among the players or Swarm, which causes everyone to draw two cards a turn going forward). If you get a certain amount of zombies surrounding you, you can no longer "run"...too many more on top of that, and you're dead. The round ends when a) there's one survivor, b) one person gets enough movement points to escape the city or c) no cards remain in the deck. From there, you get a number of Survival Points based off of how the round ended (but if you have the Bitten card, you don't survive, period). After 3 rounds, the player with the most Survival Points wins.

WHAT WORKS: It's a fun, light card game that a family can play. My wife, my son and I cracked it open and busted through the game with little problem. The cards all feel pretty thematic (like having a Slugger card to fend off Ruffians who want to take your stuff, or Hide, which forces a Zombie in front of you to wander to the next player). Affordable price point (retailing for $10).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Some complain that the art's a bit too cartoony. For a simple game, we made a couple of minor rules mistakes due to rough translation of the rules.

CONCLUSION: It's good, light fun that the whole family can play and play quickly, great for a quick, casual game setting. My son (Geek in Training), my wife (very casual gamer) and I (pretty hardcore, as I'm writing a blog about the game) all enjoyed it (even though my wife was a magnet for the Bitten card). A silly time filler for folks that don't take their zombies too seriously.

Deadlands: Cardstock Cowboys

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This is a printable PDF ($7.49) for figure flats covering most of the major Deadlands needs: Gunslingers, Texas Rangers, Men in Black Dusters, Blessed, Hucksters, Natives of all stripes, shysters, bandits, desperadoes, cultists, most of the previous also on horseback, walkin' dead, Hangin' Judges, wendigos, devil bats, Los Diablos, Mojave Rattlers and even Maze Dragons.

WHAT WORKS: This'll cover most of your Deadlands stand-ups needs. One of the biggest pains we've had is one PC that is a Native who has been Deputized...we managed to find a standup that did a pretty decent impression of him as well. It's cool getting different varieties of the same archetypes. Especially so I don't have to resort to, say, using Necessary Evil figure flats in a Deadlands game. You get 16 PAGES of printable flats, of various sizes as needed (the Prairie Ticks are tiny...the Maze Dragons are massive).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: This was originally a print product, and the first page has a large trade dress/sidebar that you can't work around if you want to print that first page off. A lot of the art is good, but a bit too small, especially with the color, and it loses something. I've seen smaller images on printable figures that were just line art that printed better because of it. No Harrowed.

CONCLUSION: A really good purchase for a Deadlands fan that uses minis but needs something cheap and easy to fill up his battlefields (i.e. me). I would love a more fully featured product with clearer art and customized printing (like being able to select the figures you want to print off, instead of printing off three separate pages to get to the three figures my players were using, as I had to). I probably would have LOVED this in print, but working with a cheap printer, it is a less than optimal product...still a good purchase, just not a GREAT one.

Deadlands: Horrors of the Weird West

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The companion product to Cardstock Cowboys, this 8 page document covers pretty much everything from Rascals, Varmints & Critters 1 & 2, including nosferatu, Dracula, demons, the five unique Hangin' Judges, automatons, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry and more.

WHAT WORKS: A really good selection, covering the bulk of the remaining official monsters.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The same limitations of being designed for a print product hinder the PDF of this as well. Running Night Train and want a legion of Nosferatu? Get ready to print page 1 - including trade dress that covers a quarter of the page, as well as a bunch of creatures you don't have an immediate use for - over and over again. You're also going to get a lot of dead space on some of the pages, which is doubly annoying when it's your ink and paper going into printing these.

CONCLUSION: A more specialized selection than the first set, combined with a sub optimal set-up for home printing, and my recommendation for this set is even more lukewarm than for Cardstock Cowboys. Right now, this is as good as it gets for Deadlands fans, but I would love to have newer sets that took advantage of the advances in technology. It wasn't a waste of money, but it wasn't my wisest purchase, either.

DISCLAIMER: Affiliate links used in the reviews may provide me with store credit to the given stores. None of these products were review products. They were all purchased by me for my personal use.

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 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 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 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.!