Friday, January 1, 2016

Tommy's Top Six of 2015 and Birthday Blog Giveaway

It's that time of year again...a New Year and a time to look back on my past year in gaming. I reviewed a ton in the first half of the year, then spent the second half of the year doing way more writing than reviewing. But I did still hit on six products that filled me with a particular joy, so here we go.

The rules, as arbitrarily decided by me: 1) One game per publisher. 2) My primary exposure to the game must have been in from December 1st of last year to November 30th of this year. 3) I must not have been involved of the production of the product (but you should totally check out Savage Tales of Horror, ya'll).

AMP Year One (by Third Eye Games)

1) Perfect for those wanting a Heroes-style "emergent supers game", rather than a traditional comic book-style setting.

2) The unique setting helps the game stand out in the pack of superhero RPGs in the world right now, as the system and setting are married together quite well.

3) Strong adventure support is a focus for the line, as AMP Year One got multiple adventure packs upon release, and Year Two has added in Faction Books with adventures.

4) The metaplot provides interesting twists and turns in the setting, with a five year plan mapped out for the setting and new elements being introduced as the setting develops.

5) The powers are neat and flavorful, and the new powers have thus far done a great job of providing new options, rather than power creep.

6) I loved this setting enough that I worked on two of the Year Two faction books (TRAC and the upcoming Hounds clarify, I only had a hand in two supplements, not on this book at all).

Camp Grizzly (by Ameritrash Games)

1) I have never had a bad game of this. We've busted it out repeatedly, and had a blast each time, including the time Otis just spent the whole game mauling us.

2) The game is lite enough that you can run multiple characters to ensure you have a full spread of counselors, even if you only have two or three players.

3) The game is just full of slasher movie tropes, clearly crafted by fans of the genre, for fans of the genre.

4) Every character in the game, from Counselor to Otis to the campers and the cameos just screams that they walked out of an 80s Friday the 13th knock-off. From the little girl that keeps you from a little late night action, to the a-hole cops that can interfere with you, the brave lifeguard counselor who runs to stop Otis when he appears nearby to the little psycho girl who is going to grow up and live in a horror movie of her own someday...just a great cast of characters.

5) The Finale System (8 unique finales, depending on where on the board you initiate it at) provides ample uncertainty as to how the game will end and what you have to do to stop Otis. It may turn out that Otis was never there at all, and it was just an imposter, or Otis may aim to take you with him as he goes. We still have not played all of them, but the finales are arguably the the strongest part of an already great game.

6) For a simple roll and move game, the interaction between counselors, Otis, random placement of objectives, the 8 finales and the sizable card decks just overflowing with horror tropes ensures that there is a lot of replayability, and five expansions were unlocked with the Kickstarter and are still coming.

High Strung (Precis Intermedia Games)

1) Do you know a lot of other RPGs about playing a members of a rock band who are trying to make it in a harsh and unforgiving industry (as opposed to members of a rock band who fight crime and/or monsters)?

2) Lots and lots and lots of random tables, which obviously draws my attention.

3) Short and sweet. Whole thing comes in well under 50 pages, but provides a full game with no big, gaping holes.

4) The premise is "rock band", but the drama is on the personal events that surround the group in their pursuit of the big dream, essentially making it about a band who is trying to succeed in spite of themselves, especially as Hope (the game's big in-game currency) is stolen from player to player.

5) Brand new layout from the original version released by Flying Mice Games adds an additional visual flair, while still maintaining the indie charm that a game like this requires.

6) Player versus player with no player elimination, great for a change of pace if your group is one that likes to butt heads every now and then, but are capable of doing so without hurt feelings.

Shadow of the Demon Lord (Schwalb Entertainment)

1) Random tables for every aspect of your character, plus Interesting Things and even how you learn your new Paths. Have I mentioned that I love random tables?

2) Evocative art that constantly reinforces the slightly grimy, slightly "off" feel of everything about the setting, from character Ancestries to monsters.

3) The setting is at once a broad strokes kitchen sink, while also having a very distinctive feel and tone to it. While not a true "horror" game, it is definitely "weird", as everything just feels a touch "off".

4) Definitely a change of pace from high powered heroics of modern fantasy games, harkening back to older games with more "expendable" characters, combined with newer design concepts (such as unified subsystems, the Fortune mechanic and so on).

5) The Paths are fantastic, allowing you to guide your character through the career paths of their choice. You can even willingly become, say, a Warrior at level 1, turn Thief at level 3 and transform into a Magus at level 7, hitting three of the four major "multiclass" points. Obviously, certain combinations of Ancestries and Paths will mesh better together, but none are forbidden.

6) Shadow of the Demon Lord was one of my favorite purchases of the last year. Not least because of all the cool stretch goals I got in the Kickstarter, but the corebook itself as proven to be worth it, both reading and in play.

Star Wars Force & Destiny Beginner Game (Fantasy Flight Games)

1) Great introductory set for what can otherwise be a confusing system to get your heads around. The handy charts breaking down the dice symbols on each character folio made running and playing the game very smooth.

2) As is to be expected with both Star Wars and Fantasy Flight Games, the production values are top notch and intentionally evoke the darker mysticism of the Star Wars universe.

3) The included adventure not only provides multiple encounters, but multiple ways to resolve those encounters as well. One of the PCs in the game I ran was a top flight negotiator, and he managed to talk his way through half the adventure, whereas the other PC would certainly have had to fight.

4) The system, once you get the dice symbols down, is both simple and flexible. Struggling to explain some of the "Yes, but..." and "No, but..." results can be a problem, but in a pinch you can always hand out Boost and Setback dice to keep it moving.

5) The Force system is great in that it can force "Conflict" without automatically turning you to the Dark Side. Essentially, it randomizes your concentration and emotions (based on your Force Rating), providing actual incentive to tap into darker feelings to use The Force.

6) It convinced me to not only buy the Force and Destiny rulebook, but Age of the Rebellion and Edge of the Empire as well.

The Super Villain Handbook (Fainting Goat Games)

1) Available in ICONS, Fate and Supers! versions, each villain archetype has a set of sample stats for the system in question.

2) If you have the Field Guide to Superheroes, it has an appendix that discusses how to tweak those archetypes into villains.

3) The focus is on who the villains are, not what they can do. The ability to shoot bolts of energy from their eyes should define a good villain less than that they are a white supremacist who is using that power to "cleanse the genepool".

4) Multiple examples are provided for each archetype to draw a mental connection between the character types and actual villains you have actually read about.

5) Each entry breaks down not only the abilities that the archetype is likely to have, but the qualities they are likely to have, as well as the stories you can tell with them. This is useful to drive home the fact that there is more than one way to make an Assassin, or a Mastermind or a Cult Leader.

6) This book is at least as useful to me as a writer as it is for me as a GM. Honestly, even if you're running a supers RPG that this book hasn't been released for, it's still a valuable resource. It's that good.

And now, for the part you have all been waiting for...The Birthday Blog Giveaway! The blog turned six years old today, and we have prizes! Send me an email to "tommybrownell(a)gmail(dot)com" with the subject "Birthday Blog Giveaway" and send me your choices for prizes in order of preference. The prizes are:

- Two (2) PDF copies of AMP: Year One.
-  One (1) PDF copy of High Strung.
- One (1) PDF copy of the Victims of the Demon Lord Starter's Guide.
- One (1) PDF Copy of The Super Villain Handbook (ICONS, FATE or SUPERS!, your choice)
- One (1) Print Copy of The Super Villain Handbook (ICONS)
- One (1) Print Copy of The Super Villain Handbook (FATE)
- One (1) Print Copy of The Super Villain Handbook (SUPERS!)
- One (1) set of Laser Cut Wood and 3D Printed Gaming Terrain by Daft Concepts

For the Print Prizes and the gaming terrain, I can only ship them to the continental US, sorry. All entries are required by 11:59 Central time on 1/14, after which I will select winners! I do require a valid email address to provide to publishers for the digital rewards, and valid US mailing addresses for the physical rewards!

Good luck, thank you to the publishers for the prize support, and thank you to everyone who is still reading!

Tommy's Take on Shadow of the Demon Lord

Earlier in the year, I called Shadow of the Demon Lord "the RPG I was most looking forward to". When it was released, I gushed about it. This weekend, I actually got a chance to run it, for my son and one of my longtime players. So this is my actual play review of Shadow of the Demon Lord by Schwalb Entertainment. I ran the Survival of the Fittest and Apple of Her Eye adventures, so some spoilers for those may be included.