21 Plots Too

From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Gypsy Knights Games has released a new RPG Supplement, 21 Plots Too.

21 Plots Too is a sequel to Gypsy Knights Games’  very creative and inspiring 21 Plots.  In much the same way as 21 Plots presented you with plot ideas, 21 Plots Too does as well. The supplement presents several plots around patrons encountering a party with a starship. While 21 Plots had a few fairly eccentric and unconventional plot ideas, 21 Plots Too seems to have a few more.

From  page # 2: “Much as our previous book, 21 Plots, did, this book will concentrate on those groups who have a starship and are plying the stars as is most common for Traveller groups.”

As before, each plot takes up a full page with a summary of the initial pull. This is followed by a table with six options that a GM can roll on or pick from. These options provide the gimmick or the core motivation of the plot and the parts the player find out throughout the adventure. These range from pretty straight forward and mundane to menacing and challenging.

As I said, 21 Plots Too has quite a few more interesting and unique plots than the first supplement. From escorting a gambler possibly over his head or delivering bananas to a religious ceremony to escorting a rock star that could have a secret life or filling in for local system defense while the main defense system of the planet is under repair, this sequel does it again and more.

From page # 2:“Some of these plots, as presented, are intended to take place on worlds in the Cascadia subsector… “

The Cascadia subsector will be reviewed in the near future by The Gamer’s Codex, but as the book says, it’s not needed to enjoy these plots. Coupled with that supplement, however, the GM can have several nights of good sci-fi gaming regardless of the system or setting.

In conclusion, at the risk of sounding like I did before when I reviewed the first one, this book has a lot to offer for a GM in search of plots. Whether in Traveller or any other sci-fi setting, this book can provide a lot of adventures for a game group seeking it.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG Supplement “21 Plots Too” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 15

21 Plots Too
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Written by: John Watts, Wendy Watts, Larry Guffey, Tony Hicks
Cover Art by: Dave Ross
Number of Pages: 26
Game Components Included: One soft back book
Game Components Not Included: Traveller core rulebook, Mongoose Publishing
Retail Price: $10.99 softback, $4.99 PDF (US)
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Radiance Player’s Guide

From: Radiance House
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Radiance Player’s Guide is a new Role Playing Game from Radiance House.

I stumbled across this RPG in a discussion about a friend wanting to start a new campaign that wasn’t Pathfinder or D&D 4e.  He asked for suggestions for other systems and someone suggested this one.  It was described as a combination of all that was good about 3rd edition OGL mashed together with good bits of 4th edition as well as some Star Wars d20.  I was intrigued.  In a time when the market is dominated by what is considered the next generation of the 3rd edition rules – Pathfinder – I was interested in seeing someone else’s approach to update the 3rd edition rules.

From website: “Behind the bright lights, beneath fuming factories and above dirigible skies, at fey masquerades, or off in exotic lands… mysteries whirl, eldritch magic unfolds, ghoulish tentacles slither, and angels and demons still struggle in battle for our eternal souls.”

Although the website touts the game as a generic fantasy RPG, the book itself implies a default setting that is fantasy as well as steampunk.  Initially, I did not see a lot of detail about the setting.  The book seems to focus more on the rules than the setting.  The closest the book comes to dealing with the setting is a chapter on something called Electrotech.

Not being a person that is overly familiar with D&D 4e, it was difficult for me to discern between the 3e influences and the 4e influences initially.  At the end of the PDF, it has the obligatory 3e OGL license agreement but I felt there was more 4e influence than 3e.  It might be a gray area in legalities between the 3e OGL and equivalent 4e agreement.

On the surface, character creation is fairly standard for those familiar with d20 OGL.  You determine your attributes (standard d20 six, ranging from 3 to 18), select a race, class, skills, and determine various stats.  However, in the effort to provide with fewer tables and thus fewer needs to page dive into rule books, it provides more straight forward ways of calculating and determining many of the values.  With what little I know of D&D 4e, I was able to recognize some of the influences here.  For instance, many of the classic bonuses like save bonuses or attack bonuses are now rolled up into class level.

Also it has changed some of the aspects of each of the “big six” attributes and added a few more to supplement as secondary attributes.  For example, charisma is less about how your character physically looks and more about your character’s personality, leadership and appeal.  For the physical side of this, the game adds an attribute called Comeliness and it is derived from the race.  In general, comeliness is relative no matter where you go and in this case it is relative to an typical human – 1 to 4 is ugly while 21 or higher is supernaturally beautiful.

There are a considerable number of races to choose from – a total of 24.  There are the ones you would expect- human, elves, dwarves, half-elves and half-orcs.  There are also tieflings like in 4e.  There are also other more obscure races– Asimar (celestial race), Dromite, Goliath, Grippli, Raksasha and Pygmy.  There are also some fairly original races (from what I can tell) – the Atlan (aquatic humanoids), the Drack (draconians), and the Warmech.  The Warmech in particular is obviolsy inspired by the Warforged in Eberron, but changed just enough to be different. Races provide a variety of important things including bonuses to atributes, base size, speed, wound points, racial abilities, base age and, as said, comeliness.

Gone, however, are the notions of feats or powers.  Each class has a set of abilities that the character can choose from.  In much the same way that D&D 4e has powers, Radiant has various tier abilities – core, basic, intermediate, advanced and paragon (similar to the three tier system in D&D 4e).  Additionally, a character has racial abilities to choose from.  All of these take the place of class abilities, feats and spells.  However, how that reduces the book diving, I am not sure because you still will be looking up how the abilities work.

Also rather interesting is the number of classes this game provides – a total of 30.  They range from the standard Rogue, Barbarian, and Druids, as well as other classes influence by Pathfinder and D&D 4e like Artificer, Blackguard, Gunslinger, and Warlock.  Some I think were prestige classes at one time in 3rd edition but now have been rolled up into base classes.  When selecting a class, the player is choosing a Prime Attribute, which drives many things in the system.  Classes also provide base attack (also derived from level), which save you use for defense, armor and weapons proficiencies (although they are no longer feats), core abilities as well as tier abilities.  Core abilities are the abilities the class starts out with and as the character goes up in levels, they can choose from their tier abilities.

This is where a lot of the book-diving the game claims to rid you of, will occur.  Many of these abilities remind me of the old 3.x feats with a little more kick.  Meanwhile, they scaled down the concept of spells, in the interest of balance much like 4e did, and limited the magic users to these tier abilities as well.  The tier abilities are spells as well.  Gone are the concepts of schools, spells per day and known spells.  They are just powers you can whip out whenever.  It does take away some of the complexity behind magic users while balances out a mixed party but it also takes away some of the mystique and appeal of a magic user.

The old 3.x mechanics behind spells known, spells per day, etc were also the difference makers between all the magic users.  In this edition, the difference makers are in the nature of the classes.  Sorcerers, for instance are virtually restricted to one school – the draconic school of magic – and slowly take on draconic attributes as they level.  Other “schools” of magic are represented through other classes like Artificer, Elementalist and others.

Something new to the character creation process is something called a Theme, which is  “a narrative path” for your character.  From the book – “A theme provides an archetypal focus or meaning.”  At first glance they appear like professions in d20 Modern.  However, they are a little more than that.  They provide further ways to customize your character through Minor and Major Awards.  I know one of the major complaints of the 3.x class system is the feeling of cookie cutter characters.  Radiance makes every attempt to resolve that.  Themes are just one way it does that fairly well.

From the back cover: “Radiance RPG blends the best of editions of the world’s most popular role-playing games.”

At the heart of any d20 based/D&D influenced game is combat.  The most common question is “…yea but how long does combat last?”  From the start, Radiance touts that it is streamlined and flexible.  From a character generation point of view, that seems fairly true.  It definitely creates better options than the cookie cutter classes of old d20.  There are two key aspects of game play when judging a system – combat and task resolution.  Skills have no levels and are strictly based on attribute bonus and a d20 role.  Some abilities (racial or class tier) add adjustments to that as well, like feats used to do, except with a range of +3 to +10 and sometimes more.  Difficulty classes are also slightly adjusted from standard d20.  For instances Easy in old d20, Easy was a DC 5.  In Radiance, Easy is DC 10.

Combat has always been a sticking point in any d20 variant, from base to Pathfinder.  One way Radiance streamlines this process is reducing the number of bonuses and stats you have to worry about.  Defenses are all rolled up into the standard  saves – Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.  Armor no longer adjusts defense but instead has Damage Reduction.  It always bothered me that some armor had both a bonus to defense as well as a damage reduction value.  This streamlines all that up.  Radiance uses the Wound/Vitality system alternative to hit points, like Star Wars d20 and others.  This can be a little more deadly than standard hit points.

There is also a chapter, “Exploring,” which covers a lot of the other game rules that you would expect – interaction with the environment,  special rules on environment and movement, travelling through space, breaking things, weather, and a variety of other special rules.  There are also a few pages dedicated to “other Realms.”  These are divine realms of the many deities (see below) and it gives the DM more options for adventures.  There is also a whole section on creating creatures and gives one sample.  I would guess a bestiary is pending.  I saw somewhere in the commentary of a video review of this product that monsters from D&D 4e are easily converted to this system.

Also included is a chapter on the pantheon, complete with 22 deities, all basically similar to the pantheons most RPG players are used to seeing.  However, the gods are another source of abilities called Boons.  These are one-time abilities the players use when they spend Faith Points.  All classes – not just faith-based characters – gain faith points each level.  This interestingly ties a character’s faith into his character, making him thematically stronger.

To complete the book is a considerable chapter on equipment which contains a variety of fantasy based weapons and a few steampunk oriented ones as well.  There is also a chapter on magic items and a chapter called people, which introduce a series of factions, cultures, and people.  I can’t help but get the feeling that I am reading only half the story – that they are giving you some of the setting but don’t want to give you too much.  They are trying to bridge the gap between generic system and the setting they based it on without making you feel obligated to using their setting.

In conclusion, this game has a lot of thought put into it.  The writer defines his goals for the game upfront and for the most part accomplishes them.  It bridges the gap between D&D 4e and Pathfinder/3.x edition d20 systems.  It creates a much more flexible environment for characters while keeping theme and character roles important.  I would not say it’s the perfect system but it is a good system to try out.  I was never a fan of 4th edition and there is just enough of its influence that it’s noticeable but doesn’t ruin it for me.  I commend the writer for his ingenuity, passion and creativeness in this system.  Despite the veiled references to a setting, it is a complete product from a system point of view.  It is also presented rather handsomely with great looking art and a great layout.  I have heard that the hard back is worth buying.

For more details on Radiance House and their new Role Playing Game “Radiance Player’s Guide” check them out at their website http://Http://www.RadianceRPG.com.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

Radiance Player’s Guide
From: Radiance House
Type of Game: Role Playing Game
Written by: Dario Nardi
Cover Art by: Eric Lofgren
Additional Art by: Judah Ben Jehoshua, Eric Lofgren, Mike Muffins, Dario Nardi, Chris Pritchard, Joe Slucher, and Frank Walls
Number of Pages: 286
Game Components Included: PDF or Print version
Retail Price: $ 14.95 (US) (for print); Free PDF
Website: http://www.radiancerpg.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

B-Movie Inspirations: Dark Planet (1997)

Rating: R

Coming across this in my Netflix list, and I thought “how bad could it be with Michael York?” Come on! Logan from Logan’s Run? 1997 was a time when CGI sci-fi flicks were coming out a dime a dozen and many of them had halfway decent effects. Babylon 5 was at its peak. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was hot also. Putting all that in perspective, I really thought this movie had potential.

Boy, was I wrong.

Here is the Netflix teaser of the movie:

Reeling from the destruction of World War VI, planet Earth is dying. When scientists discover a potentially habitable planet, a brave navigator leads an exploration mission. Soon, however, political treachery threatens the mission and the crew.

Conceptually, the plot has potential. It was in execution that it failed. The thing that turns people off is the special effects. So poorly done, it reminds me of cardboard cutouts being slide across a canvas.  I am not entirely sure they were CGI but if they were, it was bad, really bad.  The 1970s Italian cheesy movies I watched had better special effects.  However, I made the best of it and tried to watch it for the story.  At points, it was rather good but still budgetary issues prevented them from exploring the true potential of the world the writer created.

It is 2638 and there are only two factions left on Earth after 6 world wars (3 of which occurred in the past 200 years) – the dominant militaristic Alphas, a genetically engineered superior race, and the “mutated” Rebels (they could have come up with a better name than that).  Earth is dying.  You find out later that humanity is dying out.  The two warring factions have to come together for one final mission to save what is left of mankind.  A rogue pilot and apparently a war criminal naked Anson Hawke stumbled across a wormhole somewhere out there in the depths of space and on the other side, he found a livable world.  A team of Alphas and a team of Rebels are assembled and with Hawke’s help plan to traverse the wormhole to lay claim to that world.  Unfortunately, deep seeded mistrust and hatred take over and things go badly.

In the end, it is revealed that the Alphas want to launch a satellite on the other side of the wormhole to make it impossible to navigate unless you have certain codes or tech that allows you to bypass the satellites interference.  This of course will make the wormhole useable by only one side.  The heroes have to stop the launch of the satellite before they reach the other side.

Not only are the special effects bad, but the dialogue is bad too.  Plot devices are laid out in contrived and entirely too convenient times and thus filling plot holes just in time. I like the idea behind the plot, but like I said the execution of said plot was extremely poor.  Michael York is good in it but the rest of the actors need work.  Some of the others that I expected to have bigger parts did not.  Actors like Ed O’Ross and Phil Morris (look them both up and you will recognize them or you will recognize their work) played much smaller parts than I expected and could have added more story to the movie if the writers had let them.

 

ff_d_14753_0_darkplanet

Despite all that, there are still some RPG plot gems in this movie that I got out of it.

  • Finding a new home – There are a lot of sci-fi settings where humans have one way or another rendered Earth useless and go out among the stars searching for a new home.  Most assume by that time, humans have figured out faster than light travel.  But what if we haven’t?  Where will we go?  This is a subtle central theme to the movie.  Because of all the wars we have gone through, we never discovered faster than light travel.  This wormhole is humanity’s only hope of escape from our own solar system.  This is a cool setting waiting to happen.  Even though this movie executed the mechanics of the story poorly, the concept has a lot of adventure potential.
  • Factions Fighting Over Essential Technology — I read a brilliant book by Timothy Zahn named The Icarus Hunt. In it, a ship holds the key to breaking the monopoly a particular race holds on a particular essential technology.  Several factions fight over it.  I used that idea in one of my campaigns a long time ago.  This movie has two factions (which is kind of boring in my opinion) fighting over the only means to escape a dying home world. All onboard one ship.  This can easily be done in any setting.  The key is the factions and the setting.  Is it s steamliner in a modern or modern historical setting, a sailboat in a fantasy setting or a starship in sci-fi setting.  Either way, cooping up 3 or 4 factions in one place for a period of time is just asking for trouble.
  • Wormholes to Somewhere – A mysterious wormhole opening up somewhere is an adventure in and of itself.  In any setting, it could take the adventurers to a new world.  It can be used to cross genres.  Or it could be a trap set by a bad guy.  The central gimmick of  the movie and TV series Stargate was a wormhole.  It has all kinds of potential if used right.

B-Movie Inspiration: Outerworld (1987)

I have been trying to shorten my Netflix list this year and watch more of the lesser known movies to get them off my list. Some of those movies have been pretty bad and I can not believe I had them on my list for so long. Others had nuggets of coolness that got my mind thinking. Of course, my thoughts always go straight to gaming and what RPGs I can use these ideas in, but that’s just who I am.

From IMDB.com

An alien spaceship is being sought by various factions on Earth. A female cyborg and a rogue trader team up to stop evil forces from taking over the ship.

I found it hard to believe that this was 1987. I think they went back in post-production and added some CGI in the space battles because those were pretty decent for a low budget film. According to what I have read online, this was a micro-budget film, almost literally filmed in the backyard of the director or producer’s house. Considering that fact, this is a pretty good movie. It has special effects reminiscent of Gerry Anderson but also some CGI mixed in (which as I said was added in when the technology was cheaper). The acting is HORRIBLE! However, the story line was what I liked a lot. I also liked the style of the movie.

The story line and setting had some similarities to Babylon 5 and other near future settings. An alien ship just appeared in orbit around the Earth, abandoned and derelict. From that, we obtained technology to explore the stars. No other signs of this alien race have been found…until now. It is a mad dash to find this new relic of the ancient aliens.

Stylistically, it had homage to Alien and Blade Runner – more the latter than the former. Thematically, it had elements of a Phillip K. Dick story as well. Of course, the terrible acting and the patchwork set design was a distraction. If you can ignore that, though, it was a great story.

My mind was immediately pulled in by the initial premise of the movie. Here is a good line that grabbed me.

Since the initial discovery of the alien spacecraft in 2054 by the Antigen Corporation, we have located no other remnants of the Teserand culture. Why they abandoned the vessel? What do they look like? Where do they come from? Where did they go? All we have is a tantalizing piece of machinery and damned few answers.

This of course ties into the classic ancient alien plot lines that are present in many sci-fi settings – Babylon 5, Stargate, Star Drive, and Fading Suns, just to name a few. Any setting with built-in ancients could take advantage of this kind of plot line.

Of course, this is not an original idea, but it is still very cool. Alien artifacts drop out of nowhere and hurl humanity to a new level of technology. Like the monoliths of 2001: A Space Odyssey, this device takes man to its next level of advancement. I have always been fascinated by derelicts and wrecks; old houses and ruins. They all have stories to tell and this ship is no different. This could be a great jumping off point of a campaign or a cool premise of game setting.

The plot line to the movie is also a cool idea for an adventure. “They found another one and everyone and their brother wants it!” It’s fairly easy to see the potential in that.

outerworld-dvd

Here are a few ideas that popped into my head for settings I have played:

  • Setting: Fading Suns – The ancient ship is actually a ship from the Second Republic. It was found by a developing alien race and helped advance its technology. Now the human-centric Pheonix Empire has to face an alien race armed with technology roughly equivalent to the Second Republic. What would the Church say? An entire race “corrupted” by Second Republic tech?
  • Setting: Fading Suns – Like the ship in Outerworld, the jumpgates affected human history in Fading Suns on many levels. It propelled them into interstellar space. Through the Second Republic, they found many of the jumpgates. But what if they found something else related to the jumpgates – an ancient key manufacturing ship or a jumpgate construction ship. There would be a mad dash to find things like that.
  • Setting: Stargate – A Stargate team gates to a world where the people have tapped an ancient alien technology not seen before. They learn of the orbiting ancient alien ship and find that this people treat it as a holy sanctuary and no non-natives are allowed aboard. Of course, something will drive the players to that ship and they find something dark about it.

Those are just a few ideas that popped into my head while watching this movie.

21 Plots

From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

21 Plots is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

Traveller is one of the oldest scif-fi RPGs in the business and I have played it off and on in different incarnations.  I own several of the original smaller books from the 70s, bought at a con auction, and also own the d20 version.  I primarily run science fiction games, and Traveller has always been a good source of inspiration for one shot as well as campaign adventures.  They set the standard for hard science sci-fi RPGs.  Anyone that tries to create a sci-fi RPG usually ends up modeling something after how Traveller did it.

John Watts and his group of friends are diehard Traveller fans and when Mongoose Publishing put out their edition of the classic version, Gypsy Knights Games arose from that group with a whole slew of material for the Traveller fan.  21 Plots is just one small part of the extensive product library.

From page # 2:
“Using the familiar format for Traveller players, this book presents 21 possible plots for the Referee to use with a gaming group.”

Can’t get much more simple than that.  That is exactly what this book is.  Each plot is one pget and has a simple summary of the intro or pull and then a table for possible gimmicks to the plot.  The tables have 6 total possibilities and range from fairly benign to downright sinister and dangerous. A GM should not feel compelled to roll, of course, if he likes a particular choice in the table.

What I like most about these plot lines is the potential for adventure in them.  Many of them are very inspiring.  They can be used as campaign adventures, one-shots or even background events for specific characters that need fleshing out.

One of the plots I liked was in the very beginning.  The party arrives on a planet and it just so happens that one of them bears an uncanny resemblance to a former dictator.  Running with that would last me a good 3 or 4 sessions, bringing in faction after faction that either hates or loves the dictator. Something I really liked is one of the choices in the tables that says that the dictator is in hiding.  This could be rather inconvenient for the dictator who is looking for a chance to rise to power or it could be a way to fake his death.  This speaks to me because I love political intrigue in a game.

Another good plot describes that characters are hired to deliver some supplies to a remote station only to find it deserted.  A very Alien-esque set up that I realize is not very original but I love a good mystery and a good opportunity to freak the players out with something alien.

From the page # 2:
“Like all our products, the main intention of this book is to provide an extra spark to the Referee’s imagination.”

Of course, these plots can be used anywhere, just about.  Although their passion is Traveller, these are written in a way that I can use them in any of the game settings I run.  Traveller is also not known for its over-reliance on supernatural elements so a creative GM can add more gimmicks relating to supernatural elements in their setting, if they so choose.

In conclusion, I am very tempted to take this book and run an entire campaign with just these as the seeds and then make up the rest as I go.  No story arch, just general real life circumstances that occur in a sci-fi setting.  Of course, story arches can easily grow out of these as time goes on.  These kinds of books are always so useful for a GM like me.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG Supplement “21 Plots” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/ and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 16

21 Plots
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Written by: John Watts, Wendy Watts, Larry Guffey, Tony Hicks
Cover Art by: Dave Ross
Number of Pages: 26
Game Components Included: One soft back book
Game Components Not Included: Traveller core rulebook, Mongoose Publishing
Retail Price: $10.99 softback, $4.99 PDF (US)
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Road Kill Rally

From: Z-Man Games
Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Back in 1975, cinema schlockmeister Roger Corman released a film called Death Race 2000. The story was set in a dystopic future America where cross-country racing that involves running over pedestrians for points is the favored entertainment of the masses. The New York to Los Angeles Death Race is the Daytona 500 of this grisly sport. The darkly humorous tone of the film has helped make it a cult classic. So it was hardly surprising that Z-Man Games (a company known for developing titles with movie themes) decided to model a game after it.

From the back of the box:
“As a driver in the Road Kill Rally, you are racing against opponents eager to destroy you with guns, rockets and flame throwers. But the big points come from scoring pedestrians: running them over or blasting them out of the road. After all, you have three billion viewers to satisfy.”

While Death Race 2000 is the primary inspiration, a bit of Autoduel has been thrown into the mix, as you can trick out your ride with a variety of weapons, defenses, and other modifications. The Weapon Accessory cards offer a nice variety of attack options, each well balanced against the others in terms of power, range, and ammo consumption. Defense Accessories are more iffy, as they tend to have a narrow focus in what they’re effective against. The supplemental modifications are not so well balanced, as some are clearly superior to others (most notably the ones that improve your chances of scoring pedestrians).

Rally cards are the lifeblood of the game. While their most obvious function is to provide a variety of one-off effects when played, there’s a lot more to them than that. Among those functions are increasing speed adjustment, improving the odds of scoring pedestrians, providing ammo for your weapons, and serving as your vehicle’s hit points. With all the ways that you can use them, it’s easy to spend them faster than you can draw new ones.

An aspect I particularly love is the tile-based board. In my experience, car racing board games tend to be real table hogs. The ability to add on the track as needed while removing those parts which are no longer in use helps keep things compact. It also provides some replay value by allowing a different track formation for each game.

Perversely for a race-themed game, taking the lead and going fast is a recipe for defeat. There are some advantages to the former, such as getting first crack at pedestrians and an improved chance of getting the 100 point bonus for crossing the finish line first. However, the leader also has less time to react to obstacles that may crop up when a new tile is drawn. More important, other players can attack the leader and (unless he has a turret-mounted weapon) he can’t attack back. While that 100 point bonus is nice, it’s a far cry from being a Golden Snitch. Speed is also frequently your enemy, as you risk taking damage or even wiping out (the latter of which deducts from your final score) when you take curves too fast. As with the Hare and the Tortoise, slow and steady wins the race.

From the rulebook:
“No driver has been able to beat the 200 kill record set by August Gomes in 2022. The closest was Eric the Red driving the Soul-Grappler in 2024, who scored an unbelievable 117 kills by mid-season. Unfortunately, Eric was tragically killed with a poisoned taco by race protesters and never completed the season.”

The biggest issue may be getting a game started in the first place. Like the movie that inspired it, Road Kill Rally requires a stomach for tasteless humor. Many of the themes present in the game may not go over well with some of your gaming buddies. So it’s a good policy to ask them about such feelings before you haul it out on Game Night. It’ll save you from the awkward silences that could occur when the Euthanasia Day tile is drawn or someone plays a Loyal Fan Rally card.

But if the game themes are not an problem, it’s a great way to indulge in your Inner Road Rage in a safe manner. The only significant gameplay issue is that the supply-to-demand ratio for Rally cards feels a bit off, it often being too easy to run out and difficult to replenish quickly.

Codex Rating: 15

Product Summary

Road Kill Rally
From: Z-Man Games
Type of Game: Board Game
Game Design by: Daniel George
Box Art by: Chris Quilliams
Additional Art by: Chris Quilliams, Edward Artinian, Karim Chakroun, and Daisuke Shimizu
Game Components Included: 1 Rulebook, 20 Road tiles, 68 Accessory cards, 92 Rally cards, 12 Skill cards (optional use), 57 Shoot tokens, 3 Place tokens, 18 Wipe Out tokens, 40 Pedestrian markers, 6 dice, 6 Player Dashboards, 6 Players Cars, and 6 Speed Indicator tokens.
Retail Price: $60.00 (US)
Number of Players: 3-6
Player Ages: 13+
Play Time: 60-120 minutes
Email: sales@zmangames.com
Website: http://www.zmangames.com
Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Smash Up!

From: Alderac Entertainment Group
Reviewed by: Marty Connell

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you take ninjas, pirates, robots, aliens, wizards, leprechauns and zombies and throw them all together? Well now you can find out in the hot board game Smash Up.

The premise of Smash Up is pretty simple. Take two of the eight faction decks and shuffle them together to create a 40-card deck. Use minions and actions from that deck to attack and destroy bases. The first player to accumulate 15 points from the destroyed bases wins the game.

From the website: Smash Up, designed by Paul Peterson, is the all-new Shufflebuilding game from Alderac Entertainment Group.  In Smash Up players take two factions, such as pirates, ninja, robots, zombies, and more, and combine their decks into a force to be reckoned with!

At the beginning of the game, place the eight faction decks on the table (Aliens, Dinosaurs, Ninjas, Pirates, Robots, Tricksters, Wizards and Zombies). Determine who is going to be player 1 and that player selects one of the eight decks. Proceeding to the left, each player then selects a deck. The last player to select chooses his/her second deck and each player does the same going in reverse order. Each player then shuffles their two decks together. The base deck is shuffled and then one card is drawn for each player plus one. These base cards are placed on the center of the table. Play is now ready to begin.

Each player gets the opportunity to play the Minion card and one Action card in any order. When playing a minion, choose a base and place the card beside the base so that it faces towards you. Resolve any abilities/effects of the minion card. When playing an action card, show the card to the other players and do what it says. Most action cards are one-time actions, such as destroy a minion, play an extra minion card or action card, or move minions between bases. Some action cards have ongoing abilities which will affect the game as long as the card is in play.

After each player finishes his or her turn, the strengths of all minions attached to each base are added together. If the combined strengths exceed the bases Breakpoint Value then that base is scored and players receive their Victory Points. Each base card has three victory point values. The player who had the most combined minon strength gets the winner victory points, the player with the second highest combined strength gets the runner up victory points, and the third highest strength gets the third place victory points. After any scoring, the player draws two cards and then play passes to the player on the left. Each time a base is scored, check to see if any player has 15 or more victory points. If so, the game is over and that player is the winner.

From the rulebook: The Shufflebuilding Game of Total Awesomeness.

At its heart, Smash Up is a simple card game along the lines of Fluxx. You play an action, play a minion and draw two cards. From that you try to gain victory points by destroying bases. The strategy of this game comes in trying to synergize two faction decks with each other as each faction plays totally different. For example, dinosaurs are very powerful and have high strengths, zombies are weak but keep coming at you by special actions that allow additional zombies to be played from the hand and discard pile, and pirates can easily move from base to base. As such, this adds to the replayability of the game since you can mix two different factions each time you play. However, one drawback is that some combinations seem to be stronger than others which leads to some balancing issues.

For more experienced gamers, Smash Up is great quick game for when you are waiting to start a more serious game. This game is really more a filler for a game night as you are waiting for others to show up or need a break between longer games.

For more casual games, it is a great game to teach because it is easy to learn and easy to play. There is enough strategy to keep people interested but it is not so deep that it will lead to long periods of analysis paralysis.

One group where Smash Up is a hit is with children. Kids are drawn towards dinosaurs, wizards and aliens. So right out of the box, they are very intrigued by the game. The art style is very cartoony and child friendly so there is no need to worry about images of scary zombies. As stated before, the rules are simple and as long as the kids can read and understand the cards, they can play the game. Highly recommended for this group.

Smash Up is a game that tries to answer those questions us geeks have asked at one time or another. What would happen if you mix aliens and zombies? Wizards and robots? It’s a pop culture mashup. Don’t try to reason why these factions would play together; just do it and enjoy it. Who knows, maybe the old age question of Pirates vs. Ninjas will finally be answered. Unless they play together….hmmm.

Codex Rating: 15

Product Summary
Smash Up
From: AEG
Type of Game: Board Game
Game Design by: Paul Peterson
Graphic Design by: Kalissa Fitzgerald
Number of Pages: Rulebook: 12
Game Components Included: 8 faction decks (20 cards each), 16 Base Cards, Rulebook
Retail Price: $29.99 (US)
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Player Ages: 12+
Play Time: 45 min
Website: www.alderac.com
Reviewed by: Marty Connell

B-Movies Inspirations: The Lost Continent (1968)

Rating: NR

Part of the reason I wanted to do this series was because it was old movies like this that inspired my childhood imagination more than anything else. Yea, I know, reading probably should have too, but I spent most of my reading time in novels based on screenplays of the movies my parents would not let me go see.  I have vivid memories, though, of watching old 50s and 60s sci-fi and horror on Saturday or Sunday, and I was fascinated by some of them.  This was one that stuck out in my mind.

lostcontinentFrom Wikipedia.org

The film sees the crew and passengers of the dilapidated tramp steamer Corita heading from Freetown to Caracas. While the passengers all have their own reasons for getting out of Africa, the captain of the ship is also eager to leave, as he is smuggling a dangerous explosive cargo. Whilst en route to South America the ship is holed and eventually what’s left of the crew and passengers find themselves marooned in a mist-enshrouded Sargasso Sea surrounded by killer seaweed, murderous crustaceans and previously marooned descendants of Spanish Conquistadors and pirates.

The film’s opening theme song had me laughing at the start. It was some very jazzy tune by a band called the Peddlers. If I was from that era, I probably would know who that was but the music seemed pretty odd for this type of movie.

Watching this again now had it’s nostalgic moments but also felt like watching it for the first time. For some reason I remember two movies with similar premises but one did not have as much supernatural creatures, etc. Well, I think it’s because I watched the first half of this movie without completing it, at one point. Then I watched the other half at another time, thinking it was a different movie. Because in reality this movie feels like two different movies in one, but in a good way.

I should note that this is a Hammer Film. Hammer Films was well known during the 50s through the 70s for making Gothic-style horror as well as science fiction and fantasy films. This is just one of their cult classics. They are more well-known for their Frankenstein and Dracula movies. Next to Roger Corman movies, Hammer Films movies should be right up there in a GM’s library for good gaming inspirations.

This film, like I said, is like two stories in one. There is a ton of back story that is both explicitly and implicitly laid out. The first is a British film-noir mutiny story on board a boat. Enter a boat full of questionable characters leaving Africa in a hurry, on board what surmounts to be a smugglers trawler. The films takes its time laying out a few of the main characters’ back stories, showing you that these folks are not all as squeaky clean as they appear.

The second story is the survival story of those that were forced to abandon ship after a hurricane made it impossible to stay aboard. They stumble across an island of living man-eating seaweed that has been trapping boats in its grips for centuries. Also caught in the seaweed, as the description says, are descendants of Spanish Conquistadors and pirates. A society of religious zealots rule over those that inhabit the derelicts that live on the mysterious mist-covered island. There are also creatures that live on the small islands of rock littered throughout the seaweed.

There was so much potential in this story that was left unexplored, though. I feel that too much time was spent on the mutiny and the problems on board the ship and not enough on the seaweed island. In today’s quick-cut style, that first hour of the movie would have been told in 10 to 15 minutes. Regardless, it was an entertaining movie if you consider the time it was made and prepare yourself for a little slower pace, like many movies of this era.

As an RPG GM, what I loved most, of course, was the island and what they found there. An island of living seaweed, people trapped in it from various times and cultures, and a religious zealot using the seaweed to rule over the people. What is not to love? This entire movie can easily be a great adventure. It is structured like a pulp horror adventure and has a lot of juicy elements. A smuggler ship. Natural disaster encounters. Survival at sea. Sharks. Pirates. Boy kings. Inquisitors. Did I mention pirates? Giant crabs and scorpions. And Living Seaweed!

This can also be in any genre.  The movie has its own noir/pulp feel to it, like many of the Hammer Films, but this could be in fantasy easily, or even space opera sci-fi.  Imagine an asteroid field infested with some amorphous “space seaweed” type thing capturing starships from all over the galaxy.  This movie leaves so much out there, I don’t really have to work hard to present the possibilities.  If you can sit through a slower paced film with a lot of story in it, I highly recommend this for the ideas it will give you.

Mysticon 2013 – Roanoke, Va

Day 1 – First Impressions

2012 was a very turbulent year for me, from a convention perspective. I shifted my focus to Justus Productions and gaming cons and away from the fan cons I was volunteering for.  After 11 years working a nonprofit fandom con on top of working several gaming events for Justus productions, I had enough of the silly fandom politics and moved on to bigger and better things.  However, my kids who grew up going with me to the fandom cons wanted an outlet.  I also wanted to visit a few cons that I never got to.

In 2013, my wife and I picked a couple of cons to go to. First on the list was Mysticon in Roanoke, Virginia (February 22-24).  This is a con with an interesting history.  In the 80s, Mysticon existed for 3 years and I am not sure about the circumstances behind it’s collapse back then.  It is now in its third year in its new incarnation. I remember working with some of their concom, helping them with advice when I worked in the fandom con business.  They are good people, very smart about their approach to the business and I think they are going to see the fruits of that intelligence for years to come.

I have family in Virginia, with my parents basically growing up in the state.  However, I have never been to Roanoke.  Just west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you find yourself in what is called the Ridge and Valley region of the Appalachians.  It is a very hilly and ridgy area of Virgina.  It is called the Big Lick, which I never knew, and is a big joke with a lot the first time visitors.

100_1912My arrival to the Holiday Inn was fairly pleasant as the first thing I saw was the 1960s Batmobile right there out in the front.  Where was this thing when I was looking for one for the car show I was organizing in 2012?  He had a real nice one.  He towed it all the way down from Jersey.

The hotel was nice enough, if not a little cramped.  I am fairly sure this con is going to have to find a larger space after this year if they maintain the growth rate.  They were like a perfect storm this year – the right guests at the right time.  They are in a small enough city that is close enough to other smaller cities and a college town that they can draw in enough people to sustain a good con.  They struck gold with landing Peter Davidson (Dr. Who #5) during the 50th anniversary of the show.  Nothing is more hot then Dr. Who right now.  They also got a guest that we found very hard to get – Orson Scott Card.  Along with Larry Elmore, they had a great line up of guests.

Just to give you an idea, Roanoke is a small city of about 100,000 people.  This 3rd year con had a pre-weekend badge count of 1100 people.  For comparison, a con I worked for in Charlotte, NC – a city of over 2 million –  did not get to 11oo until it’s 8th or 9th year.  That’s an accomplishment for this concom. It is also a sign that this con has staying power.

Like any new hotel, it is a little disorienting when you walk around but I got it figured out fairly quickly.  Again, the one thing I noticed is the tightness in the hallways and the smallness of the programming rooms, relative to the crowd I was already seeing.  I could tell they were going to get slammed this weekend.  And the worst part is that most people will want to stay inside because it’s too cold to hang out outside.  That’s the drawback of winter cons, though.  I highly recommend any winter con, when scouting out for space, find a hotel with some good “hang-out” space somewhere.

Opening Ceremonies was standing room only.  It was very fun.  Rich Sigfrit is always  a great masters of ceremonies.  Carla, the president of organization behind Mysticon, took the mic as well and she just has a great presence for cons.  She seems like a natural and probably one of the core reasons this con has done well.  She was nice enough to supply me and my family with badges so we could attend the con.  I guess my reputation after 11 years in fandom cons ended up being worth something.

100_1944

I’ll be honest, from a gaming point of view, this con is a little of a disappointment.  Unlike the fandom cons I worked, this one did not start with a foundation of gaming and build around it.  This had a good fandom base to start with.  It also had a LARP base.  I know that other cons in the Va area had a strong LARP presence and this one is no different.  I think I read at least three major LARPs playing here.

However, from a table top point of view, it does not allocate a lot of space for gaming.  I found a total of 8 tables spread throughout the hallways on the 1st floor and found gaming rooms in several of the suites on the 3rd and 5th floors.  There was even a pretty decent computer gaming room in one fairly large suite on the top floor.  They definitely utilized their space as best they could, but there are some drawbacks to that approach.  The primary drawback to this is noise.  You don’t always want noisy gamers on the sleeping room floors.  Just down the hallway, I can here an Are you a werewolf game going on, and if played right that can get downright noisy.  Not for any other reason than the game is darn fun.

I can not hang the con for the lack of gaming.  It’s just never been a strong focus of the con and I understand that.  But with its growth, gaming too will grow and they are going to need space for it.  Gaming can be a good cornerstone if not a good foundation.  Give them tables and they will come, I always say.  You just have to find the right space to include both gaming and fandom.  That’s not always easy, especially in a smaller city like Roanoke.

On the positive side, they definitely seem to have their act together.  Learning from various other cons’ mistakes and taking good advice from certain people, their program is good, their booklet is also clear and understandable, and they have great posters of what is going on in each room outside each door.  They have a good staff – better than what I had to work with in the past.  They are very friendly and equally as geeky as the Carolina fandom I am used to.  I felt quite welcome.

Onward to day two, where my daughter will wear her Hunger Games costume and my son will wear his Darth Vader costume.  We’ll see a few panels, perhaps the costume contest, maybe the auction and then who knows.  Lots of people here want to talk shop, of course, and I always end up doing some of that, even if I don’t want to.

Day 1 – After thoughts of first impressions

On Friday night, I found myself all too willing to give advice and pointers when I found concom standing around (which admittedly was rare because they were always busy).  I realized later just how arrogant that sounded so I made it my goal to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the weekend unless people asked.  I have 15 + years experience in running cons and especially running gaming at cons and/or running gaming cons and I guess when I see certain things I want to share.  But if I reverse that situation, I probably would not take it too kindly especially when I am in the heat of running the con itself.

That said, what is near and dear to my heart is gaming and from what I can see with what the gaming director has done, he has done the best he could with what he was given.  I admire that and compliment that.  He obviously has the full support of the con as they printed schedule posters for his stuff as well as programming, making everything appear seamless.

Sign-up occurs at the location of the game itself, which I implement for smaller events because it’s easier.  The GM handles the sign up.  Because he does not have a centralized location for gaming, the gaming director probably could not do it any other way, and I understand that.  That’s exactly how I would have handled it.

However, in my experience, that system doesn’t work as you get bigger.  You need a more centralized location to control the chaos that is gamers.  So when they move (and they will have to after this year), they need to keep that in mind.

One of the new things that people in the con business are pushing for is a simple mobile app for con schedules.  Enter Live Con!  Mysticon is using that. Retail statistics show that less than 2/3 of the US are on smart phones, which is still a good portion.  That’s probably higher in the geek demographic so it’s a safe bet that going mobile is not isolating as many people as it is helping.  Unfortunately, old flip-phoners like me are going to have  deal until we can afford the internet charges.

Mysticon 2013 – Day 2 – Peak Time

I call the Saturday of a three day con peak time.  If people are coming for the day, they are more likely to come for Saturday.  And boy did they.  As I expected, the hallways were a nightmare.  Their programming rooms are standing room only and they have to turn away people because the rooms were too full.  However, I have to say that the con staff is handling it the best they can and the attendees seem to be understanding.  I know these folks are under a lot of stress but on the outside they all seem to still be having fun.

Walking around in the early morning just to scout out things, the crowd had already started to form.  Registration looked a little overwhelmed and the hallways were getting tight.  I do not mean to paint that in a negative light, because the con staff is handling it pretty well.  I just see this as a little more than regular volunteers could handle.  Interestingly, they obviously knew it was a little more at least in the security area because it looked like they hired an outside company to run their security (or maybe they just rented uniforms).  All were very professional even when they told me my kids had the wrong badges.  For some odd reason, my 8 YO and my 5 YO needed a different color badge because they apparently could not tell they were kids?  Not sure.  All cons have those quirky little policies.

100_1909My kids donned their costumes, one of the primary reasons we came.  Taylor donned her Hunger Games “Katniss” costume and Keegan was Darth Vader.  However, the full helmet I bought him was “too heavy.” I walked around holding his helmet most of the morning.  Taylor had a lot of people recognize her costume which thrilled her.  I paid to have their pictures taken with the Batmobile.

We attended the cute magic show for kids, which my kids liked a lot.  It was more a silly magic show for kids but it had it’s funny moments.  It was nice of them to put it in main programming.  It was quite full by 10 minutes into it.

I stuck around for the Peter Davidson Q&A while the wife and kids went to the room.  My youngest, Aubrey, needed a nap.  The room was packed in minutes.  I am sure they had to turn people away.  People complained about the size of the room and all I could say was, “It’s the biggest room they have for programming.”  And other than the dealers room, it was the largest room.  They really had no idea what kind of crowds they were going to get.  Either that or they knew and could not do much about it.  More likely the latter.  But if they find a new place to go next year, people will know that it can only get better.

The interview with Peter Davidson was very entertaining and funny.  My good friend Davey Beauchamp interviewed him and he had some really fun questions.  Peter Davidson is a very fan friendly guest, treating every question like it was the first time he was asked it, even though I know he has heard the same inane fan-boy and fan-girl questions over and over again.

We tried to make the Match Game in main programming but once again it was standing room only.  My kids were not going to last in that one.  This is a drawback of small space and the massive attendance they got – many of the events are just not able to be attended by those who can’t wait in long lines or stay in crowded hallways.   So we went to eat dinner early with the intention of trying to get a seat in the costume contest.

Again I do not blame the con com for any of this.  They are a victim of their success.  I have been involved with a con with the same problem.  This kind of thing can make or break a con.  It depends on how it is handled.  From meeting the con staff and the power players behind the con, I can easily tell that this con has the brains to handle it well.  There may be a few people burned by the crowds and the packed rooms, but not enough to not come back.  There is nothing but a positive vibe throughout the con.  This honestly feels like the early years of the sci-fi con I used to be involved with.  The energy is very good.  The people are very enthusiastic.  And they are smart about their organization.  With what they have, this can only get better.

After dinner, we did make the costume contest, which was fun.  Nothing overwhelmingly stunning to me, but it was fun all the same.  Lots of pretty good costumes, fun little skits and generally good entertainment.  Once again, the room was packed.  After that, I went to the auction while my wife got the kids to the room to calm them down for bed.  I stayed long enough to bid on some gaming items I want to review and then left, but they had a good amount of stuff.  What I liked about it was the the cause was a scholarship fund for an aspiring young writer.  A very worthy cause.

I walked the con for a little while as the shift from early evening to late evening kicked in; when a father like me should have his kids in bed because the drunks, loud music and silly behavior begins.  And this con is no different.  At any con like this, all that positive energy and excitement has to have an outlet. Parties and general revelry are the usual solution for that.  For me, it’s usually getting in one last good game but that’s the gamer in me. However, I can’t abandon my family for 3 to 4 hours (not without permission at least).

100_1934

I realize now that I have nearly typed 2 and half sections about this con without mentioning the dealers room.  I buzzed through it multiple times and spent some money on myself as well as my kids (mostly my kids, to be honest).  It is smaller than I would have expected but for the space, they did well.  They had a variety of dealers including my good friend Dan from Walt’s Cards in Baltimore.  I know that I am going to spend money when he is at a con.   They had a great sword dealer and a few good “nick-nack” dealers.  There were also a few book dealers and a few anime dealers.  A fairly good balance for the space they had.  With the crowd they had here, the dealers should be happy.

Other features that people look for were also here. They had a con suite but you wouldn’t plan a meal around it.  It was strictly for hanging out and munching, which is where most con suites go these days.  It’s very difficult to find anyone willing to handle the con suite the way it should be handled and many cons simple lay out snacks and provide a place to hang out.  No prepared food, no crock pots of meals, no planned menus.  I did hear they had a Tardis cake at one time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr Who.  I have learned to not rely on the con suite because even if they have the personnel, you have the moochers that hang out there way too long and consume most of the food, leaving a family of 5 like I have to go out to eat.

The day ended fairly quietly as the kids settled down and I stayed up to chat with a few folks, networked, picked up a few things to review and wrote this review.  The third day won’t be much as I plan to leave fairly early but I am goint to get what I can in.

Mysticon 2013 – Final day

The final day was fairly short as I was not going to hang around for closing ceremonies.  I got up early enough though to join in on a “How to Run a Con” panel where I intended on being just an audience member but ended up being one of the panelists.  Nearly 15 years worth of con running experience with averaging 2 to 3 cons a year qualifies me as experienced, I suppose.  I appreciated the panelists allowing me to crash their panel.

After that, it was pretty much chatting with a few people about the business and then rounding up the kids and leaving.  I chatted with the outgoing president Carla Brindle and found we saw eye to eye on a lot of things in regards to convention running.  Because of strange con politics and limited space choices in the fair city of Roanoke, finding a new location may be harder than I thought.  There is another con in town and there is some pretty difficult circumstances that make more space challenging.  I can understand that.  They have an amazing relationship with the host hotel they have and they are willing to go above and beyond to keep the con there, including using heated tents to expand the space.  You have to admire that a little.

I am not one to nitpick about little things like the badge style, badge art,  program booklet layout or organization.  Each con has their own style and each person has their own likes and dislikes.  I can say that their con program booklet was better than others and well laid out in my opinion.  Between it, the program grid they handed out and the large posters on the wall, I was able to figure out what was going on wherever I was.  They do a solid job in programming and planning.

Also, as a side note, I did have a concern about the overflow hotel.  They were forced to arrange for an overflow hotel and were able to get the host hotel to shuttle attendees back and forth, which was very nice.  Because of our late decision to attend, my family almost had to stay in that hotel.  However, thanks to Carla’s wonderful hospitality, we last minute got a room in the host hotel.  However, I really felt sorry for those that were in the overflow.  I am not sure how well the shuttle worked out but I know from other cons, that it doesn’t always run when you want it to.  The hotel was on a pretty precarious hill in a pretty heavy traffic area, so your only choice was to take the shuttle.  Again, the con was presented with a hefty challenge and did what they could about it.  I am  just not sure a family like mine would be able to make it work well.  Thanks to Carla, though, for finding us a hotel room.

Another concern about the hotel I forgot to mention is that it is “pet friendly.”  Translated, this means that it is unfriendly to those of us with allergies.  Fortunately, they keep it clean enough that I did not completely shut down and our room was cleaned well enough.  Just be warned that your neighbors may have pets with them and it is recommend you bring your allergy meds if you are allergic.  Full disclosure – I was on two all weekend.

Overall, it is a good con with a lot of solid energy and passion for the genres.  They like to have fun and they truly look like they have fun together.  They get along better than most con committees that I have experienced.  That is a sign of longevity and strength.  My only major complaint is the gaming.  I would not rate this con as gamer-friendly, although they are trying to get there.  I had a short chat with the gaming director and told him he is doing as good a job as I would expect given his circumstances.  I would recommend they consider trimming some of the programming and perhaps dedicating some of the smaller rooms to gaming, instead of just placing them out in the hallways.  Thanks again to all those at Mysticon for a great con and good luck following that up next year.

Codex Con Ratings:
(1-10 where 1 is horrible and 10 is perfect!)

Location: 5
Programming: 8
Guests: 10
Gaming: 3
Dealers Room: 6
Overall: 6.4