Justus Productions

SCARAB 2015 – Columbia, SC

After a long hiatus from gaming conventions I managed to attend the SCARAB gaming convention in Columbia, SC for the Saturday sessions last year. See my review of last year’s convention here: http://thegamerscodex.com/index.php/scarab-2014/

This year I once again ventured down for Saturday. Again, registration online was easy. Last year I was told that all game registration was done on the Warhorn website. Knowing this ahead of time made it easy to schedule games, and I even managed to get into a game with people I knew from the local gaming group.

From the greater Rock Hill area it is an easy drive to the convention. Having attended last year I knew where to turn off to get to the Medallion center where the convention is held. The sun is right in your eyes as you turn off the highway. If you attend in the future, beware of that. It’s not far off I-77 at all. Turn right just past the Waffle House and you’ll be good.

This year I arrived about 15 minutes early. The doors were open and no one was in line at the registration desk. The very pleasant young lady looked through a box full of badges and found mine easily. No wristbands or looking up names on a phone this year. Looking around the desk I did not see anything resembling a program. Not a huge deal. It is mostly a gaming only convention. I was on my way towards the gaming room with time to spare.

I was there to play a few Pathfinder Society games. Once again PFS seems to be their most popular attraction. The PFS games were in the larger room just to the right of the lobby. Last year the tabletop wargames were in the large room and the PFS games were in the back room. This room is not square shaped and sound did not seem to resonate as much as it did in the other room last year. The tables were spaced out a little more. There was room to get past pretty much any table. Only when people were sitting very far from the table or had large bags or boxes behind their chair were there any issues. I looked for familiar faces to find my table. Once I found them I was pointed to the helpful poster on the wall with a list of scenarios and table numbers. I have to admit that was probably on the wall last year and I just never saw it.

My first session was a mid level scenario with two players from the group I occasionally play with in Fort Mill. It was a fun and challenging game. We finished a few minutes early as SCARAB has five-hour slots for the PFS games. A group went out for lunch so I did not partake in the in house food. I did see several people who did and the food looked and smelled good. I did purchase a drink and snack there. The prices were the same as last year. Not bad for convention food at all. They had a nice mix of water, sodas, coffee, snacks, candy bars, cookies and more.

Back before the second slot, I took a tour of the convention center. One room held the kids track. I walked by it a few times and it seemed to be relatively calm and managed nicely. One large room held general gaming and the vendors. Several game store vendors were selling their wares along with a jeweler and the fun people from Geek Forge. The next large room held RPG tables and the wargame tables. As last year there was a lot of gorgeous terrain. I watched a few minutes of a game or two. I have to admit to being an ex-40K player who enjoys watching the extreme opposite battle of Tau versus Tyranids. This room was probably ¾ full all day. Walking past the lobby and across from the PFS room, there was a room for Anime and video games. The several times I walked by some group games were being played  – DDR, rock band type games and such. Around the start time of the last slot of the day a costume contest was held in this room. I saw around 10 contestants and some pretty darn good costumes. I checked their site to see who the winner was. I hope it was the young lady who came dressed as ‘Mother of Dragons.” Her Game of Thrones inspired costume was wonderfully accessorized by her two daughters dressed as dragons. The back room (where PFS was last year) held the LARP games. I saw maybe six to ten people here off and on all day. At either end of the building were the bathrooms. I did notice that the bathrooms and trashcans were cleaned more than once during the day.

My second session was with a bunch of people I did not know, but that’s part of the experience. A low level PFS game this time, lots of fun. The gamemaster really got into character with his NPC’s and obviously enjoys doing so. Once again the session ended early. I walked to an outside establishment for dinner. When I came back I saw several people with what looked and smelled like delicious Chinese food from the concession area.

For the last slot I decided to not venture into the PFS special. I did witness the muster and it seemed to go better than last years. Apparently the decision was made kind of last minute to move the other PFS games into other gaming areas. We were sent to the general RPG room but had no trouble finding a table. It was another great game, a good scenario with fun players. The last slot started at 8:00 and we were done a little after 11:00. I looked into the main room and it appeared that the special was still in full swing.

Compared to last year the few scheduling and management issues I noticed were pretty much cleared up. For the price it is definitely a fun gaming convention. If you are near Columbia, SC and are into PFS, look them up. Even if you are not, it looked like quite a few other games made their tables. Maybe next year I’ll go for more than one day…

The Monday after MACE West 2015

Monday morning is here and I am mostly awake. Thank you to everyone who made the con a fun filled weekend. Ron as always did a fantastic job setting up all the gaming. Thanks to Karen and Kim for handling the registration area with ease and grace. Thanks to all the GMs who put up with me in their games, thanks to all the dealers who displayed some incredible stuff, thanks to all the GMs who ran some incredibly awesome games throughout the weekend and thank to all of you who came out to play.

I love Asheville and the DoubleTree. As Ron pointed out, the only problem is lack of space. We filled up the rooms and the hallways this year. I am already reworking the layout for next year to make sure we still have room for 2016. A special thanks to the hotel staff. They were great. And a big thanks for the cookies!

I had a blast and I hope you guys did as well. We celebrated our 5th year this past weekend and I hope you like and will use the Dice Bags we created for the give-away.

Thanks for making MACE West a joy to run!

OGRE 5.0 is UP!!


SHIFT + REFRESH should do it

OK, I did it…. probably too soon but my eyes are blurry now trying to debug this code… so it’s your turn to do it  Not so soft role out of OGRe 5.0 is done! I have shifted ogre.justusproductions.com over to the new version. The database did not change so registration would be the same. I made some significant changes to the interface to make it easy, fewer refreshes and pop up windows.

I know I will get the usual array of complaints and there are probably some bugs in the system but know that I will try my best to fix them if you just let me know about them. Also know that this is done on my free time and as part of my hobby and not something I am getting paid to do. So please be kind.

B-movie Inspirations: Nemesis (1992) and its sequels


Nemesis (1992, Rated R)

… and its sequels (Nemesis 2: Nebula / Nemesis 3: Prey Harder / Nemesis 4: Death Angel)

Back in the early 90s, I got a copy of Nemesis from the local video store and watched it with a group of gamer friends as a movie night kind of thing. We were expecting just another terrible low budget B-movie with very little substance. We were pleasantly surprised by what is now considered a cult classic. It was a great action flick with awesome gun play and a deep story underneath it (although not very original).  It turned out to be a very satisfying film. With actors like a very young Thomas Jane, Tim Thomerson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Brion James, and using great sets like the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, CA. and Yuma Territorial Prison State Park, how can you go wrong?

Unfortunately, the follow ups were far from the original. My biggest disappointment was the change in the star. Switching from Olivier Gruner who practically owned the role to body builder Sue Price, who just does not work for me in the lead role, was a huge disappointment. The sequels followed the core story arch but had little to do with the setting and the background set up in the first film. By the second film, they advanced it 70+ years and resorted to time travel to tell the story. Yes, from then on, it is just a cheap rip off of the Terminator series.

However, there is some RPG story seeds as well as a good story arc in this collection that I would like to explore. Yea, taking on four movies in one article is pretty challenging but these movies are bad enough that they can be easily handled in one article. The genre of these films is primarily cyberpunk which is rarely done well in movies. Hollywood thinks they understand this genre but they really don’t. Nemesis nails it pretty well in a low budget way, and the sequels carry on with the consequences of a world entirely too dependent on the tech that populates the cyberpunk genre.

Nemesis introduces us to the initial hero, Alex Raine. Set in the near future, he is a LAPD cop in a time when the police are overwhelmed by the level of tech crimes they have to deal with. It starts out with a feel that is a cross between Blade Runner and any 90s cop thriller, with a little hint of Robocop and Escape from New York thrown in. Lots of gun play in this movie. Great stunts too. The opening sequence has always been very memorable to me.

We are also introduced to a world where the US and Japan have merged like two big corporations; a world that is slowly being taken over by its technology. Raine is hunting down what he thinks is simply a terrorist group, which in this day and age would have more meaning then the 1990s. However, as he finds out, he is being used by the powers that be to hunt down freedom fighters – the only hope for humanity against the cyborg and synthetic androids that are replacing humanity. Raine himself is roughly 85% human, and struggles to remain human in a world more and more dominated by cyborgs. This theme resounds throughout the first film – can humanity lose its soul as it becomes more and more machine? Through Raine’s narration, we talk of his struggles to hang on to his humanity as more and more of him is replaced. This is part of the appeal of this movie. Unfortunately, this theme is diluted or completely lost in the sequels.

After a bad encounter with the terrorists, a group called the Red Army Hammerheads (nothing makes a bad guy in the 90s more than associating it with the “Red Army”), Alex Raine is put back together by the LAPD cybernetically (losing probably more of that 85%) and then we find that he has retired and hiding out in various remote locations, hunting down those that got away in the opening sequence. Meanwhile, the LAPD is trying to get him back for one final mission. Through various encounters, they finally capture him and implant him with a bomb ala Escape from New York and Snake Plisken’s deal. They force him into one last job to hunt down the terrorists and prevent then to do some bad stuff (a complex plot of some stolen data of security plans for some kind of summit).

In basically the second act, we change locations from LA and hot desert locations to the Pacific Rim. He is on the hunt for the leader of the Hammerheads and another character introduced earlier – Jerod, a synthetic ex-lover of Raine’s. The who and the why don’t really matter, a lot of intrigue, cloak and dagger and gun play in the streets of some exotic Polynesian location in the shadows of a volcano. Raine is caught between the LAPD android agents sent to make sure he does his job (as if the bomb was not enough), the agents of the Hammerhead freedom fighters, and the faction friendly to Jerod. The synthetic ex-lover, a sympathizer to the pro-human cause, is physically dead but her memory and personality is saved and passed on to Raine who must get it to the Hammerheads. They also implant a encoded jammer into Raine to give him a little more time and temporarily prevent the bad guys from detonating the bomb remotely, but it will be decoded into 6 hours. Thus the chase begins.

There are some great moments in Nemesis. The 90s overuse of the Desert Eagle as a futuristic weapons of choice or the man-portable .50 cal machine guns being shot from the hip by cyborg bad guys are just a few that I found funny. The clips of never ending ammo, “I’ll be back” line from a dying cyborg played by 80s hottie Deborah Shelton, the old lady killing the cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s friend Sven-Ole Thorsen ending with the line “f*cking cyborg!“… all very great moments. These kinds of things were lost in the sequels unfortunately.

Core to the plot is an interesting idea on how the cyborgs are taking over. Instead of building an unstoppable army to roll over humanity in a massive war, the cyborgs are creating android clones that are perfect copies in all ways needed, controlled by the cyborgs. Raine’s boss Sam Farnsworth (Tim Thomerson) turns out to be one of those replaced.  His bad guy accomplices with German accents are also cyborgs. You are lead to believe that Farnsworth is at the center of the take over. Jerod has data about this cloning process and the take over that has to get to the Hammerheads. This kind of blurs the line between human and android, flesh and cyborg, a little more than even Blade Runner – biotech droids that are indistinguishable from humans but still have a metal structure so much so that when you shoot them, sparks fly out. I took a lot for me to wrap my head around that one, but they are really trying to differentiate themselves from other similar stories.

Like I said, the sequels destroy all that the first movie built up by advancing things 70+ years and then time travelling back to the modern era to a remote (and cheap) location. At the start of Nemesis 2, we are told through scrolling text that a girl was born with mutant DNA that gives humans special powers and could spell doom for the cyborgs, although you are never really told why. The mother of this child gets access to time travel tech and travels back in time to the African savannah. The mother is subsequently killed by local gun toting mercenaries and the baby is taken in by local tribesman. It is not until 20 years after the baby was found by the tribesmen that the first cyborg hunters arrive. Named Alex, played by body builder Sue Price, she fights off each one as they come. The first two sequels are basically one movie split in two as most of the second sequel is left over and unused footage of the first. Both are more or less the same plot – android hunters are sent back in time to hunt her down – not an overused plot at all!

This is one of the worst examples of sequels gone terribly wrong. Nothing of the original movie is preserved in theme or story, except the fight against the cyborgs. They show you flashes of the original film during the credits as if to say “hey, remember how cool the first one was? Well, this one isn’t but still watch it please…” In the plains of war torn East Africa, our muscular heroine is chased down by a Predator-like cyborg called Nebula while fighting off local rebels. It is basically a cheap rip off of the Predator movies and like I said, has little to nothing to do with the original. If that was not enough, the most they can tell us about her “special DNA” and the powers it gives her is that she is big and strong. I bet that has the cyborgs shaking in their cyber-boots! There is a weak subplot when a couple of extra characters are brought in – something about a treasure and a plane – but this simply deviates even further from what Nemesis established. This probably would have been a fine movie separate from the Nemesis series but associated to it, it was terrible. It adds nothing to the overall story arch other than the fact that the DNA mutant is in 1998 Earth and is a big muscular girl. Even the bad guy made no sense? Why did he need to have breathing sounds in the POV shots (a la Predator) if he was a machine? Why the heck did he have some kind of blood draining weapon on one hand? So much more I can go into.

Nemesis 3: Prey Harder (why the play on words, I don’t know) supposedly picks up where #2 left off but it really doesn’t. Somehow we go from our heroine being rescued by two military guys in a jeep  in #2 to her laying out in the desert with a Desert Eagle (yet again) in #3. This is actually explained later in a rather contrived but understandable way. Nemesis 3 brings back Tim Thomerson as Farnsworth 2, and by 1996, they found money in their budget to do rudimentary CGI for the new hunter drone. It camouflages itself as Tim Thomerson for the most part but is a chromed-up android underneath the human hologram.

Alex is pretty beat up and obviously dazed from something as she stumbles across Farnsworth 2. She has amnesia and doesn’t remember what happened to her or why she has a bullet hole in the head. Farnsworth helps her but at the same time manipulates her to try and remember what happened to her. This ends up being the first 30 minutes of the movie of which more than half is flashbacks to the previous film. Then the flashback scenes pick up in the jeep and carry it forward to a new time capsule entering into the shot. Thus finally enters the pendant her mother gave her in the first movie (and never was referenced again). It was like they said “oh yea, we forgot about the pendant… lets make another movie with all this extra footage we have.” It glows and leads her to the time machine where she meets her half sister, Rain. The two split up and plan to meet back at the time capsule. This leads to Alex having to search for her sister, who of course is in the hands of Farnsworth.

Nemesis 3 itself does more or less the same thing as the previous. Our heroine once again has to deal with renegade mercs, local rebels and exploding abandoned buildings. They introduce more eye-glowing cyborg hunters including two muscular platinum blonds and a few others that are helping Farnsworth. They reference the Nebula hunter from the first film as “just a bounty hunter” implying they are more official than the previous hunter. This comes into play late in the third act when the Nebula hunter reassembles, gains the same disguise function that the others have (somehow) and tries to claim its bounty from Farnsworth’s gang (introducing factional tension between the cyborgs). Using cloaking vehicles (that uses a very annoying special effect), the small army of cyborgs (that seems to grow with each scene) go after Alex in hopes they catch her before she procreates and passes on her genetic traits. She encounters several peripheral characters along the way including a shifty mercenary and a “war hero” that now has the brain of a 4 year old because of a head injury. They also brought over humans to help with the scientific stuff because the cyborgs can not perform abstract thought required to do the analysis of Alex’s DNA, apparently. They serve no other purpose other than to remind us of the enslaved humans in the future.

The sad part is that Nemesis 3 has more continuity with Nemesis 2 than Nemesis 2 had with Nemesis. And they did bring in more elements of Nemesis into the story, including a new Farnsworth and the plot behind the cyborg replacements. It carried forward the DNA mutation plot but still did not really explain why a stronger human would be such a threat. Can’t they make stronger androids? I think Nemesis 2 would have been a better movie if they simply merged the two and cut out a lot of the fluff. There was a lot more potential in Nemesis 3, especially when the reanimated Nebula hunter entered the picture, but it never reached it’s true potential.

There are many stupid moments in Nemesis 3 that I could have done without. The stupid cyber-cackle the two blonds would do after every one-liner; the aforementioned horrible effects for the vehicles which seemed to be some kind of cloak but didn’t seem to do any good because people always saw them coming; the inconsistencies in how durable the cyborgs are. It still was a little better than Nemesis 2, but marginally.

Finally, we return to the future (2080) in Nemesis 4: Death Angel. This brings it back to some semblance of the Nemesis, except with a lower budget and worse actors. We spend two movies watching Sue Price in skimpy outfits but never nude or topless, much to my relief. The director must have a fetish for muscular woman because in both 2 and 3, he tried to have as many provocative shots of her as possible without actually getting her naked. In Nemesis 4, however, all bets are off and she is topless or naked in most of the movie. I guess they were trying to make up for the lack of it in the other movies.

The plot of this is drab and disappointing, despite returning to the true genre of the original. The world of 2080 is a post war world, after the humans and cyborgs have come to an uneasy peace. Although they do mention that Alex is a human mutant, there is no mention of her special DNA or the threat she is to the cyborg take over. She has traveled to the future, apparently using the time capsule used by Farnsorth 2 in Nemesis 3. She even gains a last name – Sinclair. She is a bounty hunter and hit-man specializing in cyborgs, working for various factions of the underground and black market. She is good at what she does but her handler (played by Andrew Divoff) encourages her to retire after one final job.

This final job goes sour apparently and now someone wants her dead. People who thought she could trust turn on her. And she seems to wander the streets aimlessly while she waits for bad guys to come at her. During this mindless romp, she reveals several personal cyber and bio-mechanical modifications including a cyber-sex port allowing her to have sex with cyborgs, and some kind of nipple lances that she uses to skewer cyborgs through the head. Throughout, she is visited by a strange black garbed female she thinks is some kind of angel who has come for her. I thought this was going to be some kind of build up to the original DNA mutant plot but no, it was just a lame plot device that leads to the predictable twist – it was all a set up to kill her.

In the end, Nemesis 4 had even less to do with the original story arc then any of the others, except it had cyborgs. It dropped the “fate of humanity” plot for a lame crime syndicate plot ripped from an 80s TV show. The moral of the story is – don’t trust anyone in the cyborg future. And it turns out, Alex wasn’t all that special after all. I had high hopes for this one, and like my hopes when I saw Nemesis 2, they came crashing down.

RPG plots out of this are numerous, from simple adventures to long term campaigns. Some of them can come from what they could have done with the story arc they had started and not what they actually did.

Cyborg Enslavement: Something I got out of the Nemesis #1 was the Cyborg replacements. Cyberpunk games deal with the concept of “cyber psychosis” or the general break down of one’s humanity as more and more machines are implanted into them, in simple and very statistical fashion. What about the real consequences? What if the more you implant into yourself, the more you become a slave to the “system” or the “overlord AI” or whatever. An entire campaign can center around an AI overlord producing cybertech that slowly turns their wearers into cyborg slaves.

Who is the enemy?: The cyborg replacement plot-line had a Bodysnatcher feel to it. Replacing the powerful and the leaders can be an interesting plot twist that puts the characters on edge. They would not know who to trust. This kind of intrigue can only be accomplished with a solid group of RPers because many would not like being so left out there that they did not feel safe anywhere.

To find some place safe, they may need to turn to a former enemy.  Turning someone they thought was the enemy (like the Hammerheads in the first movie) into allies would take considerable role play and some leverage – perhaps something the former enemies wanted.

DNA Mutant: What they did not deal with sufficiently, at least to my satisfaction was what made Alex Sinclair so special. What did she have that could bring down the cyborgs? And by the fourth film, she was less human than when she started because of new implants she was sporting.  What was she? A mutant that could imitate any cyborg ability? A human that could not be copied into a cyborg synthetic by those that were doing the replacing? Or perhaps her DNA secretly stores a the code to a vicious computer virus that could infect all the cyborgs AI processors and destroy them once and for all (oh I like that one).  That could be explored and an entire campaign of escorting her from one point to another could be drawn out.

However, I would avoid time travel at all costs. Unless you have your “time theory” down and defined, it is just going to be a point of contention for all and something the GM would have to keep up with in detail. Too much work.

I think the blurry definitions of cyborg, android and synthetic in all four movies would have to be more clearer before we can decide what she was.  The cyborgs seemed more than organic material over a metallic endoskeleton.  They seemed like a combination Terminator and Blade Runner and Alien Synthetics.   They are partially organic but rugged and strong.  What makes them indistinguishable from humans, even “by the best scans,” according to the first movie?  A special cloaking field? Nanotechnology?  The line is so blurred that cyborgs are having sex with humans.  It’s pretty hard to imagine given the robotic and cybernetic examples we have had in the past, but with a little work and imagination, I think it can make sense.

The Hunter and the Hunted: I have done this kind of thing in multiple ways, but it’s fun to throw the players into a routine mission to some remote location where there is violence and then throw something alien and more violent them. Where do the players find allies? In the violent rebels they were just fighting with? In the villagers they were sent to save? Limit their supplies, isolate them from communication channels or a means to get out quickly. This is always fun for a one shot or a filler adventure.

However, because of the popularity of movies like Terminator and Predator, an adventure based on this concept has to be disguised well to prevent meta-gaming within the party.  Also come up with an original hunter, and fully stat it out.  In fact, come up with 3 versions of the hunter – lower powered, middle powered and higher powered.  Some parties may work well enough together that they can take on the higher level hunter while others may not and need to take on the lower level.  You may find yourself as a GM switching between each version during play until you are comfortable with one.

Battle of the X Armies:  If they had simply done a trilogy, and 2 and 3 were one film, then you would have ended up with an interesting mix of competing factions.  You would have two basic groupings – the modern Earth factions and the “other worldly” factions.  The modern Earth factions would include the radical anti-government rebels of East Africa, the unpredictable mercenaries and treasure hunters who are usually their for their own reasons and potentially (although they never brought them in) pro-government forces.  The “other worldly” factions would be the Nebula bounty hunter who was obviously in it for the money (and whoever he was working for) and Farnsworth 2 and his cyborg cronies (which would need to be trimmed down and made a little more unique, and significantly different from the Nebula cyborg).  And the players could be caught between all these competing factions for their own reasons.  These reasons could be, for example, the weak subplot that was never explored – the treasure hunter story in the second film or some mercenary team needs help extracting a wounded war hero they lost (who turns out to have severe head injuries and does not know who he is).   There is a lot of potential there and unfortunately, they did not explore it in the movie.

However, a RPG GM can explore it in whatever genre he likes.  Just define each faction, have stats for average soldiers, officers and special ops teams from each, a general idea of what each leader is like and his or her motivations, and make each faction significantly different so that the player do not get too confused on who they are dealing with.

Job gone wrong and it was a set up: Given a job that is actually a set up to eliminate the party can be a complex story line because you would have to have all the interested parties defined out well and their motivations clear. But once you have all that, the players would have a great time by first being the prey and then once they beat the hunters sent after them, they would turn to the hunters to take revenge against those that set them up.

Lost Hero: What the fourth movie should have done is return to the DNA mutant story line and bringing down the cyborg tyrants ruling over humanity but I am not sure their budget could afford it.  Instead they stuck the heroine in the gutters of collapsed society where humanity is a oppressed and subjugated minority.  Even that set up can be used, with a  little tweaking of the plot (as well as a little more money in the budget).  Now a cyborg assassin for hire, she would have to be pulled out of the dregs of society and reminded how important she is and why.  Of course, the reason why she is such a threat to the cyborgs would have to be fleshed out as I mention above, and perhaps that’s why they never pursued this established story arch – because they could not figure out why she was such a threat.  She could be caught in the middle of the plot to kill her, framed by various crime factions, and being chased through the ruins of an old part of a city (as she was in the movie) when a player party finds her and tries to convince her she is special and has the power to free humanity.  But first they have to help her out of the underworld situation she is in. Meanwhile, more cyborgs that know who she is are hunting her down, getting word that a new freedom fighter group (the player party) is seeking her out.

Raiding Pirates: Brethren of the Coast

Raiding Parties: Brethren of the Coast
From: Nick Pace Entertainment
Reviewed by: Tony McRee

Raiding Parties: Brethren of the Coast (RP:BotC) is a pirate themed card game in which you are trying to beat your opponent by defeating his raiding party before he defeats your raiding party. Crews battle each other through either long range combat or melee encounters with the outcome based on the flip of a card from a standard deck of playing cards. Before beginning the game, players “hire” their crew by determine the amount of gold that is to be spent. In other words, this is how you build your deck of cards. Once that is determined, players select their crew and let the battle begin.

Need to stop at this point and say that Raiding Parties: Brethren of the Coast is considered to be the expansion to the original game. Therefore, in this review, while I did not have the original game it was still possible to get a flavor for the game as a whole. The expansion added more ships and lands and did not have as many crew members as the original Raiding Pirates game. The original was produced in 2012 and the expansion was done in 2014. Both games are very hard to find currently and it has been awhile since the website was updated. Now back to the review.

“Hit the Deck”
First thing that catches your eye will be the art, it is gorgeous. This will help add to the theme of the game. The game is very quick to play and easy to teach. But like all card games of this type, it comes down to the deck building and that is where time will need to be spent and might challenge players until they get familiar with the various cards.

Because the game is quick to play, it can easily be set back up and go again. Strategy is not only in the hiring of the crew, but as you play and go through the normal card deck to determine outcome, you must figure out what your chances are based on what is left in that deck. Example, you play the Pistol card that will hit on a Heart, Club, King or Queen. Well, we know that there are 13 cards in each suit, and there are 4 Kings and 4 Queens to the deck. So for the pistol to hit, there is 30 card chance if the deck were still at 52 cards. But as you play, these odds will either improve or get worse depending on what has been played previously. Players will need to keep track of this to determine their chances during the game. While this seems to be a simple idea, it is a great strategy mechanism for this game.

If you like pirates and quick playing card games where the strategy is deceptive and the luck of the draw plays a small part in the outcome, give Raiding Pirates a shot if you can find it.

Codex Rating: 15 – Fairly Good
Product Summary
Raiding Pirates: Brethren of the Coast
Type of Game: Deck Building
Game Design by: Nick Pace
Artist: Don Maitz
Game Components Included: 55 game cards, rules of play
Retail Price: $ 16.99 (US)
Number of Players: up to 4
Player Ages: 10 and up
Play Time: 30 minutes
Website: http://www.raidingparties.com

Career Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook

Career Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Career Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

Even with the new incarnation of Traveller published by Mongoose in 2008, players of the game never really had options to truly flesh out their characters.  There was no real character advancement system in Mongoose Traveller and the careers seemed cookie cutter, in many ways.  It gets even more difficult if you design your own setting, like the Clement sector as many of the careers have to be re-tooled to apply.

Career Companion supplements many of the core rules of Traveller and enhances others.  There are three main sections to the book – one primarily focusing on various options and rules including Uplifts, Altrants, Aging and Wealth, a second that focuses on Career tracks and a third that introduces a character advancement system.

From the website:
“The Career Companion expands the already rich Clement Sector setting with addition of several new elements such as uplifts and altrants.”

For those that unaware, in Traveller there is a concept called Uplifts.  These are genetically and/or cybernetically enhanced animals brought up to a higher than normal intelligence level.  Commonly, dolphins and apes are uplifted, and these both are described in these pages.  Additionally, bear uplifts are described.  Interestingly, they also add in uplifted alien creatures from various other worlds in the Clement sector – Yeti and Kraken.  Game stats are given for those that wish to play these as characters although they should be played by experienced players, as most are not at the level of human intelligence.

Similarly, Altrants are genetically enhanced humans, what other settings might call transhumans.  This setting takes a simple and realistic approach to the concept, presenting four types of altrants that are common to the Clement Sector – Gaishan (low gravity adapted), Oskars (high gravity adapted), Aquans (aquatically adapted), and Sniffers (harsh atmosphere adapted).  It leaves a lot of room for the players or GM to create others, giving you a good baseline in the examples presented.  This opens up a wide variety of possibilities.

From the website:
“Need an uplifted dolphin to interact with your characters?  Perhaps a human altered to handle toxic environments?  Now you have the tools to include them in your Clement Sector adventures or even allow one of your players to create an altrant or uplift character.”

Aging is usually used in an RPG setting for characters that choose to be old or young.  Rarely is it used in a span of a campaign because most don’t last long enough for a character to significantly age.  I can only imagine that happening in a case where the GM advances the timeline of the campaign between chapters, intentionally, and even in that case, players may choose to simply make new characters.

However, due to technologies available in the Clement Sector setting, aging is significantly different.  Life extending drugs and tech have changed not only the physical lifespan of humanity but also many cultural norms.  Humanity in the Clement Sector is living as long as 250 years , and this section briefly covers the various effects that this has on society.  People have their real age and apparent age now.  A character might appear in his 40s but his actual age might be 190 or more.  There is a lot of thought provoking aspects in this section and it is a good read.

One of the major areas that Clement sector differs from the default Traveller setting is that it’s not a huge expansive stellar empire and does not have an established nobility structure built in.  The Social stat was used in Traveller to represent’s one role in that structure.  The social environment in Clement is a lot simpler and fragmented.  However, the Social stat still has some value in this type of setting and this book explains in what ways the players and GM can use it.

Careers help you inject your character deeper into the setting and its many facets, thorugh building up a background of skills and events.  It also helps the reader to get to know the setting through the various events that could happen.  GMs and players alike should read these for inspiration.  There are seven new careers presented here, including National Navy, Spy and Pirate.

The book ends with the character advancement system, which is a very controversial notion in the world of Traveller fandom.  Originally, there was no mechanic to advance a character’s skills or attributes.  Many would say that Traveller characters did not need it and were already experienced at character generation.  However, others would argue that the individual players need a motivation to do the things players do – a means to get better, and a feeling of tangible accomplishment.  A character advancement system is certainly a way to do that.

The system reminds me of the classic d6 System character points method, for those that remember that system.  It is important to note that these rules are optional.  It is a simple system and works well within the existing Traveller mechanics.  It’s not overly complex.  You spend character points gained at the end of adventures to advance skills, buy new ones and advance ability scores.  You also can gain Success Points when you accomplish amazing feats with specifics skills.  Advancement is slow but that is intentional, I think.  It is definitely a workable system for the given core rules.

In conclusion, this is kind of thing that I really enjoy in a sci-fi game setting – options that allow a character to be something more than boring old humans.  I love alien races and monsters in other settings.  And I felt that the Clement Sector setting was one that was lacking in that area.  This really fixes that for me.  They also fix a major hole I felt was lacking in Traveller in general.  This is an essential book for anyone wanting to play in the Clement Sector using Mongoose Traveller rules.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG SupplementCareer Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

Career Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Author: John Watts
Artists: Bradley Warnes, Ian Stead
Editor: Curtis Rickman
Number of Pages: 61
Game Components Included: One PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller books, Clement Sector core books
Retail Price: $6.99 (PDF), $15.99 softback(US)
Website: http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion is a new Board Game Expamsion from Fantasy Flight Games.

Talisman is one of those games I always seem to buy for.  I enjoy it with my kids and with my friends.  In past editions, it did get repetitive but what I like most about the FFG version is the variety they seem to be injecting into the game.  Unlike past editions, FFC has put out various sized expansions so as to control the bloat a game like this can develop.  I bought two expansions recently – The Firelands and The Nether Realm – that are very small but have significant impact on the game.

The interesting thing about The Nether Realms expansion is that it is designed by a fan.  I like when a company pays attention to its fans and gives them opportunities to grow the product.  This speaks well of Fantasy Flight Games.

From the website:
“Journey through the realm of Talisman on your quest for the Crown of Command but beware the fiery Pyrochanter, fearsome Titan Wraith, and other Nether Deck enemies that seek to thwart your plans in The Nether Realm expansion.”

The Expansion itself is very simple.  It contains Alternative Ending cards as well as new Nether Realm cards.  The Nether Realm is an expansion that specifically applies to the Alternate Endings contained within.  Each Alternate Endings instructs various uses of the Nether Realms cards.

The Nether Realm cards are alternate Adventure cards that pack quite a punch.  The majority of cards are very nasty monsters, ranging from Strength 1 to Strength 12!  Depending on what Alternate Ending is chosen, these cards can present a consider challenge to the players.

From the website:
“The Nether Realm was designed by Jon New, the man behind the Talisman-dedicated fansite Talisman Island. The Nether Realm offers three new Alternative Endings for Talisman, along with new Nether cards.”

In conclusion, although I like more challenge in my games, I am not sure I would choose these kinds of challenges.  Your character definitely needs to be ready for the Nether Realm challenges. 

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Board Game ExpamsionThe Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com , and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 14

Product Summary

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Board Game Expamsion
Expansion Design: Jon New
Additional Development: Samuel W. Bailey
Talisman Revised 4th Edition Design: Bob Harris and John Goodenough
Producer: Christopher Hosch
Graphic Design: Evan Simonet
Cover Art: Ralph Horsley
Interior Art: Bruno Balixa, Massimiliano Bertolini, Joao Bosco, Mark Bulahao, Christopher Burdett, Joshua Cairós, Felicia Cano, JB Casacop, Sara K. Diesel, Guillaume Ducos, Raymond Gaustadnes, Matt Larson, Alexandr Shaldin, and Joe Wilson
Managing Art Director: Andrew Navaro
Art Direction: John Taillon
Number of Pages: 3 pages of rules
Game Components Included: 36 Nether Cards, 3 Alternative Ending Cards
Game Components Not Included: Talisman 4th Edition Revised Core Set
Retail Price: $14.95(US)
Number of Players: 2-6
Player Ages: 9+
Play Time: 60+
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com  

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion is a new Board Game Expansion from Fantasy Flight Games.

Talisman is one of those games I always seem to buy for.  I enjoy it with my kids and with my friends.  In past editions, it did get repetitive but what I like most about the FFG version is the variety they seem to be injecting into the game.  Unlike past editions, FFG has put out various sized expansions so as to control the bloat a game like this can develop.  I bought two expansions recently – The Firelands and The Nether Realm – that are very small but have significant impact on the game.

Firelands is an Western Asian culture influenced expansion, with desert and fire themes.  It comes with a bunch of Adventure Cards, Spell Cards, and a new type of card called Terrain Cards.  There are new Alternative Ending Cards, and new characters.  Special to this expansion as well are Firelands tokens.

From the back website:
“The appointed time has arrived, and Talisman lies in peril with the fiery onslaught of the Ifrit. Your quest for the Crown of Command just became a lot hotter …”

The Adventure Cards have a strong fire or western Asian theme throughout.  These introduce several new concepts including the Fireproof symbol.  As you would imagine, this symbol makes the card immune to fire effects.  This includes a new effect called Burn.  Various effects from the Adventure cards or spells allow players to burn other cards on the board.  Any burnt card is taken out of play.  At times, character may suffer a burn effect and survive, but the card may instruct the player that any item or follower not Fireproof is considered burned.  This can be even worse than death late in the game.

The primary theme of the expansion is that legendary Ifrit have returned to exact fiery vengeance on the land of Talisman.  Throughout the adventure cards, players face various challenges related to the Ifrit as well as finding items related to him.  Ifrit Gold, for example, is fireproof gold.  A Flame Rift is an event that destroys Adventure cards in the space and the top 3 cards on the Adventure Deck, and leaves the space with a Firelands token.

Also in the Adventure cards are nasty creatures called Noble Ifrit.  These are 14 creatures that are special to the Firelands expansion.  They have specific on-going effects while in play and marked with a special border. For example, the Ifrit Sultan burns either the space or one of your cards in your possession, your choice. Or the Ifrit Raider that gains a bonus for every Firelands token in the region.

Fireland tokens are the newest aspect unique to this expansion.  When a space is marked with a Firelands token, it makes the space very deadly.  The more you have placed down, the more deadly the characters’ journey gets.  This represents the continued influence of the Ifrit as it exacts his revenge.  Fireland tokens cannot be paced in the inner region.

From the website:
“The Firelands introduces a host of danger to the realm of Talisman, and if you take too long on your journey, you may feel the fire licking at your heels. The Ifrit – once enslaved to create the Crown of Command – have risen to attack the land of Talisman, burning everything in their path.”

The Terrain cards are another addition to the game that is interesting.  From the rulebook – “Under the influence of the Ifrit, the land irrevocably shifts and changes.”  There are 3 Ruins cards, 3 Desert Cards, 2 Woods cards, 2 Crags cards, 2 Forest cards, 2 Hills cards, 2 Fields cards, 1 Plains card, 1 Chapel card and 1 Graveyard.  All the cards have similar art to the corresponding space with the same name on the board.  There are certain game effects that will ask the players to place a Terrain card on a space, which changes the nature of the space until the end of the game (or something changes it further).  Terrain cards cannot be placed in the Inner Region, but they can be placed on the Chapel or the Sentinel which totally changes the game in those respects.

There are four new characters added – the Dervish, the Warlord, the Nomad, and the Jin Blooded.  The Jin Blooded is the magic user of the group, very strongly tied to magic.  He even is able to spend a fate to gain a spell and vice a versa.  The Nomad is sort of the rogue type character, able to travel through the Outer and Middle Region freely, turning any space she chooses to a “draw 1 card” space. The Warlord is the fighter of the group, obviously.  The Dervish is stylish sword fighter, with a lot of finesse and able to fight with two weapons.

Finally, there are three Alternate Ending cards, two of which have a fire theme and the other plays to the heart of what Talisman is.  My favorite of the 3 is the latter, A Hero Rises.  It revokes the Fate limit and evokes a condition where a character gains Fate when they win a battle and loses fate if they lose a battle. First character to 13 wins.  I like that one a lot.

In conclusion, this is the kind of expansion I like in this incarnation of Talisman.  It changes the game to a degree that it is not repetitive but at the same time really plays to the heart of what Talisman is.  Let’s face it, Talisman is nothing more than a beer-and-pretzels Dungeons & Dragons.  There is not a ton of strategy to it.  It’s more thematic than anything else.  So the designer play with that theme and bring in more story and challenges for players to experience.  I really enjoy it for that.

My biggest concern as with most FFG games is the price.  For a small box, it is a little pricey. But I still bought it, so it was obviously not too much.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Board Game ExpansionThe Firelands, Talisman Expansion” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Board Game Expansion
Expansion Design and Development: Samuel W. Bailey
Talisman Revised 4th Edition Design: Bob Harris and John Goodenough
Producer: Christopher Hosch
Editing: Brendan Weiskotten and David Hansen
Graphic Design: Evan Simonet
Cover Art: Ralph Horsley
Interior Art: Aaron Acevedo, Aaron Anderson, AndriusAnezin, John Ariosa, Erfian Asafat, Bruno Balixa, Dimitri Bielak, Nora Brisotti, Mark Bulahao, Felicia Cano, JB Casacop, Trudi Castle, Jacqui Davis, Sara K. Diesel, Jon Hrubesch, Nicholas Kay, Kristin Kest, Dan Masso, Joyce Maureira, John Moriarty, Juan Martinez Pinilla, Jorge Carrero Roig, J. Edwin Stevens, and Frank Walls
Managing Art Director: Andrew Navaro
Art Direction: John Taillon
Production Manager: Eric Knight
Production Coordinator: Megan Duehn
Executive Game Designer: Corey Konieczka
Executive Producer: Michael Hurley
Publisher: Christian T. Petersen
Number of Pages: 4 page rulebook
Game Components Included: 81 Adventure Cards, 18 Spell Cards, and 20 Terrain Cards, 3 new Alternative Ending Cards, 4 new character cards and plastic figures, 34 firelands tokens
Game Components Not Included: Talisman Core set
Retail Price: $24.95(US)
Number of Players: 2-6
Player Ages: 9+
Play Time: 60+
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung