Justus Productions

Colt Express

Colt Express

From: Ludonaute

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

When it came to crime in the Wild West, train robberies were far more common than bank robberies. Banks had the problem of being within (literal) shooting distance of the sheriff’s office. Not only was this not a concern with trains, but there was the added advantage of it often being uncertain in which jurisdiction the crime occurred. Colt Express applies an action programming mechanic to this scenario.

From the rulebook:
“The Union Pacific Express has left Folsom, New Mexico, with 47 passengers on board. After a few minutes, the sound of rapid footsteps is heard, coming from overhead; and then, gunshots. Heavily armed bandits are mercilessly robbing honest citizens of their wallets and jewelry.”

Gameplay consists of two phases; Scheming and Stealing. After everyone draws a hand of six Action cards, players will take turns either playing an Action card face up or drawing three more cards, with the number of turns being indicated on the current Round card. Some turns may be marked as having a special effect, such as the player order being reversed or requiring that cards be played face down. Once Scheming is done, the cards are then resolved in the order they were played. Possible actions include moving to an adjacent car, switching to the roof or interior as appropriate, punching a rival bandit who is in the same location, firing at a rival bandit who is in an adjacent location, claiming a Loot token in your current location, or moving the Marshal to a car adjacent to his current location. Some Round cards will also have an event which occurs once the Stealing phase is over.

Both forms of initiating player conflict have their own advantages. Punching employs superhero physics, as it sends the targeted bandit flying into an adjacent car. In addition, he’ll leave behind one Loot token of the attacking player’s choice. Firing has more long term effects, where the attacking player adds one of his Bullet cards to the target player’s deck. A Bullet card is unusable during the Scheming phase, effectively limiting the range of actions the player can take. Another source of Bullet cards is the Marshal. Should the Marshal enter a car occupied by a bandit (or vice versa), the bandit’s player adds one of the Neutral Bullet cards to his deck.

A common trope in Westerns is to have one or more characters walking on the roofs of the train cars while they’re in motion. Colt Express employs some incentives to encourage this. While up top, the Move and Fire actions have a range of three. Since the Marshal never goes up top, it’s also the best way to get around him (especially if you don’t want him filling you with lead).

From the website:
“Each character has his own personality but, at the end of the day, they all have the same goal: to get the biggest slice of the pie in robbing the passengers.”

One of the more distinctive aspects of the game is how, instead of a board, the action takes place in a three dimensional cardboard model train. Assembling the cars is a snap thanks to the clear instructions provided. The different parts also fit together snugly, so there’s no need to apply glue. The only potential issue is that thick-fingered gamers may have trouble handing Loot tokens and Bandit pawns inside the cars.

Since the conflict elements work better with at least three players, some modifications are necessary for a two player game. In this case, each player controls two bandits. To avoid the awkwardness of handing two sets of cards, players use combined decks consisting of one Marshal card and one of every other Action type for each of their bandits.

In conclusion, this is an excellent game for introducing gamers to the action programming mechanic, as the chances of played actions being rendered useless (and the attendant frustration) are minimal. It also features one of the better two player fixes I’ve encountered.

Rating: 18

Product Summary

Colt Express

From: Ludonaute

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Christophe Raimbault

Cover Art by: Jordi Valbuena

Additional Art by: Jordi Valbuena and Ian Parovel

Game Components Included: Rulebook, 6 Train cars, 1 Locomotive, 10 Terrain elements, 18 Purse tokens, 6 Jewel tokens, 2 Strongbox tokens, 6 Bandit pawns, 1 Marshal pawn, 17 Round cards, 6 Character cards, 60 Action cards, 36 Bandit Bullet cards, 13 Neutral Bullet cards

Retail Price: $39.99

Number of Players: 2-6

Player Ages: 10+

Play Time: 40 minutes

Website: http://www.ludonaute.fr/portfolio/colt-express/?lang=en

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: Deluxe Edition

The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: Deluxe Edition

From: APE Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

One of the more prominent gaming webcomics out there is Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick. Part of its longevity can be attributed to its successful transition from a basic gag comic poking fun at the tropes and mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons to a tale with an elaborate storyline, while never abandoning its humorous roots. The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: Deluxe Edition revisits the dungeon crawling antics from which it originated.

From the rulebook:
The members of the Order of the Stick are a band of deeply incompetent and dysfunctional fools who are more interested in proving who is the best than in working together as a team.

The game is a modular board dungeon crawler of the semi-cooperative variety where the objective is to explore the Dungeon of Dorukan and defeat the evil lich Xykon. As the above quote implies, everyone is out for themselves in spite of their common goal. One turn you could be helping another player lay a smackdown on some goblins, and the next you could be bushwhacking that player and taking their stuff.

Players interact with the game through their Shticks. Each of the six characters has their own Shtick deck providing a wide range of abilities themed for the character in question. For instance, Elan’s Shticks lean towards aiding other players while Haley’s are geared towards Loot acquisition and Belkar’s encourage him to attack other players. Some Shticks are flipped when you use them, leaving them unavailable until you get an opportunity to unflip. New Shticks are gained primarily by cashing in either Loot cards or XP gained from killing monsters. If you draw a duplicate of a Shtick you have in play, it provides a Boost. A Boost grants an additional bonus for the Shtick, which are cumulative if multiple Boosts come into play.

A player’s turn begins by taking any number of non-combat actions desired, such as looking for stairs or collecting Loot cards in the room. The player may then choose to move up to three spaces, though movement must end if a newly discovered room is entered. If there are no other characters or monsters in the room, players take turns playing monsters from their Battle hands, starting with the one to the left of the active player. The number of monsters that get played are based on factors such as how deep the player is in the dungeon as well as relevant monster abilities. If there are any monsters in the room the player must engage in combat. Once combat is over, any available non-combat actions may be performed.

As is appropriate for a dungeon crawler, slaughtering monsters is a key element. The player starts by selecting a Battle Shtick. If a valid Shtick isn’t available (typically due to a monster being immune to certain Shtick types), the battle must be done Shtickless. For the first battle, the player must use Defense if he moved earlier in the turn and Attack if he didn’t. If desired, you can request aid from another player on the same floor. This is done by offering Loot cards with Drool icons matching the character used by the player being petitioned. If accepted, a +2 is gained for each Drool icon. Unused characters hang around in the lowest floor revealed, where they’re always willing to provide aid. The modifiers from the Shtick and any aid are then applied to a die roll and compared to the monster’s Attack or Defense rating as appropriate. If the result is higher, the Shtick’s listed effect is applied. If the result is lower, the player takes a Wound (counter-intuitively called losing a Wound in the rules and game materials), moving the Wound token one space down the track and ending combat. A tie results in a draw, as does getting a higher result without a Shtick, which also ends combat. If a Shtick’s result inflicts a Wound on the monster, it gets removed from the room and saved for its XP while placing the indicated number of Loot cards in the room. If there are still monsters in the room, you can choose whether or not to continue fighting. However, you can’t collect any Loot until all the monsters in the room have been defeated. Another advantage to continuing combat is that you can choose to Attack or Defend, whichever is more advantageous.

You don’t necessarily have to be in the same room to fight a monster. If a Battle Shtick is listed as having a Range of 1 or greater, you can use it to Attack a monster in another room on the same floor. The only requirement is that there are no monsters in your current room and you haven’t moved. The main advantage to using a ranged Attack is that if the die result is lower than the monster’s Defense, it counts as a draw so long as the monster’s Range stat is lower than the distance between the two. However, unless you have a Shtick that allows otherwise, you can’t collect any Loot cards that get dropped on the same turn.

There’s more to managing your Battle hand than just slapping down the toughest monster you have available. Several monsters will have one or more special abilities which can prove more troublesome than a high Attack or Defense. The most powerful of these are those that make the monster immune to a specific type of Battle Shtick. Monsters can also have Support abilities, which function similarly to a Shtick’s Boost. In this case, the Support’s effect is applied for each monster of the indicated type that’s on the same floor. In addition to the monsters, the Battle deck contains several “Screw This” cards. These are one shot abilities which allow you to bend the rules in your favor. However, it doesn’t pay to hoard them, as you must discard your Battle hand and draw a fresh one if you’re called on to play a monster and don’t have one.

Monsters aren’t the only things that can hurt you. Some of the Loot cards are actually traps to ensnare unwary adventurers. When a trap is revealed, the player must roll higher than the trap’s listed Evade or suffer its effects. Players can also fight each other so long as the player initiating the combat isn’t in a room with monsters. The procedure is much like that of monster combat except that both sides roll a die and add on the relevant modifiers, with the higher result applying its Shtick effect. Should the attacker win, he also gets to take one of the defender’s Loot cards.

With all the ways you can get hurt, your Wound track can easily drop to the bottom before you know it. Should this occur, on your turn you must flee in a cowardly manner by using your full movement to head towards the Dungeon Entrance. What’s more, before moving, you drop one of your Loot cards in your current room. Once at the Dungeon Entrance, your Wound track resets and any flipped Shticks become unflipped. However, there are ways to avoid this ignominious fate. One of the best is to ask that Durkon’s player use his Healing Shtick on you, healing a number of Wounds based on the amount of Boosts it has. This requires that both be on the same floor and you pay Durkon’s player with a Loot card. Should this not be an option, you can always choose to Rest as the sole action for your turn, so long as there are no monsters at your location. This allows you to move your Wound tracker up one space and unflip all your flipped Shticks. But it does entail a risk. Until the beginning of your next turn, you suffer a -4 penalty on your Defense rolls should any players choose to attack you.

From the side of the box:
Banjo the Clown commands you: Play this game!! Obey the will of Banjo!

There are two ways to play the game. The default method has the dungeon generated on the fly. The number of floors that can be generated depends on the game length the players agreed upon at the beginning of the game. In this version, the lowest floor uses a special deck of room cards to represent Xykon’s lair. In addition, each room gets a draw from the Xykon deck. These can either stick the room with an additional feature or provide a unique monster (one of which is Xykon himself). But before the lair can be entered, a player must possess a minimum number of Shticks and Loot cards. The second variant has three floors worth of room cards dealt out face down at the beginning of the game. But instead of the dungeon crawlers coming to Xykon, Xykon comes to the dungeon crawlers. Every turn a die is rolled to see if Xykon comes out of his lair based on the number of Shticks in play. Once put in play, Xykon’s turn will occur after that of the player who made the offending roll. On his turn, Xykon will move two spaces towards the closest player so long as he hasn’t just successfully wounded him. The Wandering Xykon has a Wound track like the players, so he won’t be going down with a single hit. Once he’s one wound away from being taken down, Xykon will flee like the dastardly coward he is back to his lair. Should the players fail to score the final hit on Xykon before he makes it back, his Wound track will reset. Of these two, I find the Wandering Xykon more enjoyable. In the base game, Xykon goes down with one wound like any other monster. As mentioned above, the Wandering Xykon can take multiple wounds, making for a more dynamic boss fight. And since there is no Shtick and Loot card minimum like in the base game, it’s less likely to drag on for hours on end. The one negative is that an unlucky roll can result in Xykon coming out before the players are ready. This can be especially brutal in a two player game, with Xykon bouncing back and forth between them.

Once Xykon has been slain, some idiot will activate the self-destruct and the dungeon starts collapsing. At this point, all monsters are removed and have their listed Loot left behind (which can be collected by players on their way out). At the end of each turn, a Room card from the lowest floor that hasn’t completely collapsed is removed, saving a room connected to a stairs card for last. Once everyone has cleared out, it’s time to total up Bragging Points, with the highest total winning the game. These are based on the number of Shtick cards you have in play, possessing Loot cards with Drool icons matching your character, the order in which you exit the dungeon, and if you killed Xykon (as well as wounding him in the Wandering Xykon variant). An optional source of Bragging Points comes from the Backstory cards. At the beginning of the game, three of these are dealt to each player. While some will score by meeting a specified condition, the bulk of them will give points for the number of monsters you’ve slain that are of a particular type or possess a specific ability.

In conclusion, despite a couple of niggling quirks (particularly the troublesome Wound phrasing issue), the mechanics employed stand out from other modular board exploration games while being fairly easy to grasp. The way the Shticks decks encourage players to act like the web comic characters they selected also helps establish the theme.

Rating: 17

Product Summary

The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: Deluxe Edition

From: APE Games

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Kevin Brusky and Rich Burlew

Cover Art by: Rich Burlew

Additional Art by: Rich Burlew

Game Components Included: Rulebook, Quick Start rules, 54 Dungeon Room cards, 7 Xykon’s Lair cards, 6 Character cards, 6 Quick Reference cards, 1 Xykon Character card, 156 Shtick cards, 210 Battle cards, 10 Xykon cards, 136 Loot cards, 48 Backstory cards, 5 Wandering Xykon cards, 8 Stairs cards, 1 Dungeon Entrance card, 7 Movement tokens, 7 Wound Tracker tokens, 2 twelve-sided dice

Retail Price: $54.95

Number of Players: 2-6

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 90 minutes+

Website: http://www.apegames.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Battle Merchants

Battle Merchants

From: Minion Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Fantasy literature is replete with accounts of massive armies clashing against one another in epic conflicts. But have you ever stopped to think about the logistics behind fielding so many troops? There’s a reasonably good chance that you haven’t, and a greater likelihood that the author didn’t either. Battle Merchants focuses on one of the factors in this complex equation.

From the rulebook:
It is a time of conflict, The Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Hobgoblins all hate each other with a passion, and are ready to declare war. All they need are weapons.

As implied by the above quote, the players are arms merchants in a typical fantasy world ready to supply all sides with their weapon needs. Over the course of four seasons, players will attempt to amass more gold than their competitors so as to dominate the weapons market.

On a player’s turn, one of four possible actions can be taken. Upgrading your Craft levels will be an early priority. This is done by selecting one of five face up Craft cards. While the majority can be taken for free, some require that you spend gold on them. These will offer benefits like providing multiple Craft levels or reducing the cost of forging a weapon. You can also select from one of three face up Kingdom cards. Each Kingdom card provides either an immediate or long term benefit. However, there’s a limit to how many Kingdom cards a player can possess based on the current season. In addition, players cannot discard any of their current Kingdom cards to gain a new one. So be very sure when you take one.

The real meat of the game comes from the production and sale of weapons. To forge one of four types of weapons (swords, axes, hammers, and maces) requires at least one Craft level in the weapon type. The more powerful and profitable vorpal weapons require at least five Craft levels in the weapon type to forge. Up to three weapons may be forged per turn so long as the player has enough gold to cover the production costs. Selling weapons requires that you cater to the current demands. The game board consists of three or four regions (depending on the number of players), each with a line of six battlefields. At the beginning of the game, all but the centermost battlefields will be locked, as indicated by their Demand tokens. Each battlefield has two icons consisting of an outline of a weapon type. Selling one of the weapons you have forged involves placing a Weapon tile and an ownership cube on a matching icon in an unlocked battlefield and gold from the sale is collected. Once both icons in a battlefield have been claimed, its Demand token is moved to an empty space in the current Season area and the Demand token of the next battlefield is flipped to the unlocked side.

From the rulebook:
As a Battle Merchant, your goal is to make as much money as you can. Fortunately, none of the races seem to notice that you’re selling weapons to their enemies at the same time…

Once the final spot in a Season area has been filled, it’s time for the races to duke it out. But before that happens, each player except the one who removed the last Demand token gets one more turn (with any Demand tokens that get removed at this point going to the box). Each battlefield with two Weapon tiles in place is then resolved. Victory goes to the player who has more Craft levels for their weapon. Vorpal weapons also defeat standard weapons automatically, regardless of how many Craft levels are backing it up. The winning player then takes the losing tile (which get used to determine any bonus gold received at the end of the game) and gains two gold. If the battle results in a tie, both tiles are removed from the board and returned to the supply pile, with their respective players gaining one gold each. When the battles have concluded, all currently face up Craft and Kingdom cards are discarded, with new sets being dealt out.

If there’s one weak spot, it’s the two player game. Like many economic games, the dynamics work better when at least three players participate. However, a fix is provided in the form of Salesman Steve. Whenever a player sells a weapon, on the same turn Salesman Steve will make a sale as well. This is done by placing a matching Weapon tile on the empty battlefield space pertaining to a specific race (which alternates) closest to the center. Salesman Steve’s wares are of poor quality and always lose in battles against weapons sold by players. Though this is an improvement over using the rules as written for two player, the predictable nature of Salesman Steve still makes it less than satisfying.

In conclusion, the moderate array of options is such that the gameplay has considerable depth while not being so overwhelming as to induce analysis paralysis. Just be sure that you can get at least two other players before setting up.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Battle Merchants

From: Minion Games

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Gil Hova

Graphic Design by: Chuck Whelan

Game Components Included: Rulebook, Game board, 4 Player mats, 101 Coins, 24 Demand tokens, 80 Standard Weapon tiles, 40 Vorpal Weapon tiles, 68 Reward tiles, 28 Kingdom cards, 56 Craft cards, 4 Craft Bonus cards, and 64 Ownership cubes.

Retail Price: $54.95

Number of Players: 2-4

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 90 minutes

Website: http://www.miniongames.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Interview with Jason Marker of Melior Via

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

Sure thing. My name is Jason Marker. I’m a freelance writer and game designer from Detroit, Michigan. When I’m not writing I’m a stay-at-home dad caring for my two young daughters, play in a guerrilla/punk rock brass band, work as a tour guide in Detroit, and collect and restore old motorcycles. I have a pretty busy schedule.

As for gaming, I’ve been playing RPGs for thirty years now. I started, like most gamers of a certain age, with the Dungeons & Dragons basic red box set. I came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, which were a kind of golden age for RPGs. If you can think of a game that was popular, then I played it or ran it or both. Everything from AD&D to Cyberpunk, Toon to Vampire: the Masquerade (and all the other WoD settings)–if it had to do with RPGs I was playing it.

I’ve been working in the industry on and off since 1999. I started freelancing, mostly with Palladium Books, while I pursued other careers–first as a chef, then in advertising as a commercial photographer. In 2007, I got a gig as a staff writer at Palladium, where I helped bring the Robotech RPG back to market. In 2009 I went freelance again and got picked up by Fantasy Flight doing first the Warhammer 40K RPG and then Star Wars (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, Force and Destiny). In addition to that I’ve done work for Wyrd (Malifaux RPG), Catalyst (Shadowrun 4) and some other, smaller houses. I also helped produce Accursed with John Dunn and Ross Watson through Melior Via. Now I’m doing The Thin Blue Line (TBL) and I’m not sure what’s next.

Describe The Thin Blue Line for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

It’s Hill Street Blues meets The X-Files. Overworked and underpaid cops in a run-down Detroit police precinct battle the supernatural as their minds erode from psychic powers and constant exposure to paranormal elements.

What works of fiction helped inspire The Thin Blue Line?

TV cop shows and horror stories, mostly. When I developed TBL I was a serious Law and Order fan, and I’ve loved police procedurals and PI shows forever – anything from Hill Street Blues to Magnum, PI to The Wire to Homicide to The Rockford Files. I loved mystery-type shows too, like The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories (I am seriously showing my age here). As for horror stories, it was a lot of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, with a smattering of Stephen King and even some William Gibson (there are some stories in the Johnny Mnemonic collection that are straight-up horror with a veneer of Gibsonian cyberpunk).

What is it about Detroit and its Corktown neighborhood that led you to choose it as the central location for The Thin Blue Line?

Detroit is an old, old city. It’s also a super weird city. When the French showed up in 1701, there was a huge mound complex along the river, similar to other mound complexes like you see at Shiloh and along the Mississippi river. So, of course, they demolished the mounds, threw the bones in the river, and used the dirt for fill for their new fort. Behavior like that gets you a haunted city. We’ve also had three-hundred odd years of catastrophe, disaster, wild success, and abject failure, which breeds a lot of strong emotions and really fiery, resilient people. I mean, we’ve got our own harbinger of doom in Le Nain Rouge. There’s little I could make up about Detroit that is weirder than the truth.

As for why Corktown?  Well, it just sort of happened. Corktown is Detroit’s Irish neighborhood, and it’s also the oldest extant neighborhood in the city. I needed a good place to set the players when I was developing the game, and Corktown was as good a place as any. I was spending a lot of my time in Corktown during initial development (I still hang out there a lot as a bunch of my friends and bandmates live in the neighborhood), and it has an Old Detroit flavor that I felt suited the setting really well.

What aspects of The Thin Blue Line do you believe cause it to stand out from other paranormal investigation and urban fantasy settings on the RPG market?

Well, first and foremost is the setting. The Thin Blue Line is tied very closely to Detroit. The city itself is almost an NPC. The city, its people, and the land it is built upon are all super important to the game. Using a real city only slightly tweaked for narrative purposes and tying it closely to the game is pretty unique among game settings, I think.

We’ve also worked hard to make the paranormal parts of the game unique. We’ve developed a TBL-specific style of psychic powers, and our take on the paranormal is a little different than most games. TBL isn’t an urban fantasy game. It’s a gritty police procedural game with paranormal elements. To that end, there aren’t a lot of traditional urban fantasy monsters. There are no vampires in Detroit, no werewolves living downriver, no zombies in the Packard Plant. The paranormal in the game is less well defined and more “Spirits” (land spirits, city spirits, ghosts, etc.) than serious fantasy monsters.

Many Savage Worlds settings feature what is known as a Plot Point Campaign. Will The Thin Blue Line have one, either in the main setting book or a future supplement? If so, are there any details about it you’re willing to reveal at this time?

At this time we are not making any announcements for a plot-point campaign. The Thin Blue Line is more a monster of the week/police procedural kind of game. You can run long campaigns, and there is a larger, high-level backstory at work in the setting, but it’s tailored toward investigating specific crimes, dealing with the perpetrators, and moving on to the next.

If The Thin Blue Line proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?

Interview with Ether Dev

Ether Wars is the new game being Kickstarted by Ether Dev.

Provide a brief description of Ether Wars.

Ether Wars is not something easy to describe. It’s a new concept of board game that mixes things rarely or never mixed before into an abstract strategy with a deep sci-fi and fantasy space theme.  It also has a new dice troop system that combines abstract strategy with probability as well as inspiration not only from board games but from video games.

The result of the mix (and lots of testing and modifications) is a game of strategy in which each player represents a unique species who fight each other using a wide range of possibilities to acquire the power of the Ether. To win, you have to anticipate the intentions of the other players, surprise them, and count with the favor of the gods. It is a truly new experience in the strategy board game world.

The tagline on your Kickstarter page says that Ether Wars is, “An RTS videogame experience translated to the tabletop.” How so?

It’s a rather strange story of how we started with board games. We played more video games during years, but we rediscovered this world after coming back to our city and started to understand better the magic of playing face to face, with the players being the ones who interiorize the rules and not a machine.

Because of this we wanted to translate our video game experiences to such media, creating something different and fresh, and disrupting a bit in the board games development. Some of the game genres that we used to play were real-time strategy (RTS) games, like StarCraft, Command and Conquer, Warcraft and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, like League of Legends. Because that was the objective, we still maintain that it is the principal point of our creation.

We must say that Ether Wars is not a video game, and therefore it is not an RTS or a MOBA in a strict way. We take a lot of our inspiration from them and tried to create a similar experience on the board, merging those ideas with the board game mechanics we enjoy from other board games. Those mechanics will be more easily recognizable for the board game community, but Ether Wars is not represented by any of them separately.

What aspects of Ether Wars do you believe cause it to stand out from other worker placement games on the tabletop game market?

The main aspect is that Ether Wars is not strictly a worker placement game; worker placement is just one of the core mechanics in the game, but is not enough to describe Ether Wars. The workers are also soldiers. The players can attack each other directly and indirectly, and extraction is only a tool to win the Ether and gain advantages for your strategy, not a victory requirement. Worker placement is just part of the mix, the jam on the cheesecake, so to speak.

If Ether Wars proves to be successful, are there any expansions you would like to release?

Ether Wars truly has a lot of replay value. There’s always a different experience depending on several factors, including the players involved. However, we have thought on many possibilities for future developments. We’ve already worked on some possibilities for expansion material, such as new species, new resources, new cards, and even an up-to-six-players game expansion.

Infestation: An RPG of Bugs and Heroes

Infestation: An RPG of Bugs and Heroes

From: Third Eye Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

The concept of an RPG where you play as an animal dates all the way back to the early ampersand-crazy days, when Dennis Sustare and Scott Robinson adapted Richard Adams’ Watership Down into Bunnies & Burrows. Infestation: An RPG of Bugs and Heroes explores a different area of this niche genre by focusing on insects.

From page 8:
Even with this fight over territory overtaking much of their headspace, a bug’s life is not much different now than before. They exist to serve their colony or tribe, making sure their people have enough food and security to continue growing and taking more of This House for themselves. However, each one now also has a sense of adventure boiling inside its thorax, pushing them to venture further than their instincts tell them they should or attempting to take on predators they would have previously run from.

Chapter One starts off by giving an overview of the setting. The premise is that the insects of a particular house were granted sentience. The how and why are left to the discretion of the Hive Master (i.e. GM). This is followed with an overview of the different types of bugs which have gained sentience (as not all bugs have been so gifted) and their typical personality traits. The overall impression is like a cross between A Bug’s Life and Redwall.

Chapter Two goes over the process of character creation. Selecting a bug type determines the starting values of your attributes (Body, Mind, Charm, and Instinct) as well as what Qualities are automatically received. Additional points are then spent on increasing the attributes. The bug is then rounded out with the selection of Qualities. A bug starts with three Attribute Qualities (which mostly provide bonus dice in certain situations) and two Item Qualities (essentially your gear). Alternatively, Quality points may be spent to take Bug Magic, which comes in two varieties. Concoctions produce a one-off effect that require some basic items to employ. Rituals (which may not be taken during character creation) produce more permanent effects that can only be performed once and require unusual materials, the gathering of which can be its own adventure.

Chapter Three focuses on the house in which these bugs live, referred to in the game text as This House. A general overview is provided for each room type. These are given whimsical names like the Carpet Desert (living room) and the Deep Dark (basement), providing a vibe reminiscent of Low Life. A series of charts for generating random room Qualities and determining which bug types dominate a particular room help out in further customizing This House.

Chapter Four covers the game mechanics, which employ Third Eye’s Pip System. This involves rolling six-siders of two different colors (white and black are used in the text, but any two distinct colors work). When a task is attempted, the player rolls white dice equal to the attribute being used and black dice equal to the difficulty assigned by the Hive Master. Each die with a result of four or better counts as a success. The task succeeds if more white dice have successes and fails if more black dice have successes. If there’s a net of three or more successes (or three or more fails), a great success (or critical failure) is achieved (as appropriate), while a tie counts as a success with complications. A multitude of examples are provided on how each of the attributes can be employed. Opposed rolls work in a similar fashion, but with the attribute the target chooses to resist with being the task’s difficulty. Combat is similarly straightforward. Initiative totals are determined by rolling a die and adding it to your Instinct. Attacks use opposed rolls, inflicting Hits to the resisting attribute. Once sufficient Hits are taken to an attribute (based on the number of linked Qualities possessed), it cannot be used until some healing is applied. This can be accomplished through eating, resting or using Bug Magic.

From page 17:
Why do Giants squish bugs, though? No one truly knows, but many believe it is because bugs now hold the secret to life itself. If bugs are allowed to prosper in This House, they could theoretically move on to populate the world and eradicate Giants forever. It could also be because some bugs keep them around to feed on their blood.

Chapter Five provides advice for a Hive Master on running a game. Much of what gets covered is fairly typical of GM advice chapters seen in other RPGs, which more experienced GMs can probably skim over. Suggestions of the sort of adventures which can occur in Infestation warrant more attention due to the highly unconventional nature of the setting. Following this is a bestiary listing the sort of hazards a bug is likely to encounter in an adventure. The chapter concludes with two scenario outlines. The first involves dealing with a rival bug tribe from outside moving in on This House. The second concerns a toothpick jousting tournament which the various tribes of This House are competing in.

In conclusion, the niche nature of the setting means it won’t have an especially broad appeal. But if you’re the sort who thinks that A Bug’s Life is unfairly maligned, the simple mechanics of the Pip System make playing out similarly themed adventures a breeze.

Rating: 17

Product Summary

Infestation: AN RPG of Bugs and Heroes

From: Third Eye Games

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Eloy Lasanta, Jacob Wood, and Amanda Milner

Cover Art by: Melissa Gay

Interior Art by: Melissa Gay

Number of Pages: 103

Retail Price (PDF): $8.99

Retail Price (black and white print): $13.49

Retail Price (color print): $22.49

Website: http://thirdeyegames.net/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Doomtown: Reloaded

Doomtown: Reloaded

From: Alderac Entertainment Group

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Back in 2000, I first came across the Deadlands RPG. Westerns and horror are two of my favorite genres, so seeing them combined intrigued me. I also learned of the CCG spin-off Doomtown. However, I found the CCG model and the prospect of buying a gazillion booster packs unappealing, so I gave it a miss. However, when AEG announced they were reviving the game using a model much like the Living Card Games produced by Fantasy Flight, that was something I was more willing to get behind.

From the rulebook:
Gomorra’s a hard place that has seen more than its share of action, and a good day is any day that doesn’t end in a pine box.

While nominally a card game, Doomtown: Reloaded plays more like a board game. The premise is that you’re running one of four outfits vying for control of the town of Gomorra, California. Each player starts with a deck of fifty-two cards (or up to fifty-four if a player elects to use Jokers) constructed beforehand. Cards come in four varieties; Actions, Dudes (which serve as game pieces), Deeds (which essentially become the game board), and Goods. As well as any relevant stats and abilities, each card will also have a suit and value of a poker card. Actions are clubs, Dudes are spades, Deeds are diamonds, and Goods are hearts. It is not necessary (or advisable) to construct a deck where no two cards have the same suit and value. However, each suit/value combination has a limit of four to a deck.

A game turn is called a day and consists of four phases. The Gambling Phase determines play order for the day and is resolved with a hand of lowball poker (that is the lowest hand wins). Each player antes one ghost rock (borrowing from the bank if necessary) and draws the top five cards from his deck, with the winner taking the pot. During the Upkeep Phase, players gain ghost rock income from any Deeds they control and own. The upkeep costs for any Dudes in play are then paid for, as well as any loans from the bank incurred during the Gambling Phase. The meat of the gameplay occurs during the Noon Phase. Starting with the winner of the Gambling Phase, players bulk up and maneuver their forces, as well as having the occasional conflict. The day concludes with the Sundown Phase. Everyone totals their Influence (from their Dudes in play) and their Control (from the Deeds they currently control). Should a player’s Control total be higher than the individual Influence totals of all the other players, he wins. Otherwise, everyone draws their play hands back up to five cards and unboots any Booted cards before starting a new day.

Two important mechanics to be familiar with are Booting and Pulling. During the Noon Phase, a card in play can become Booted, which is indicated by turning it sideways. For Goods and Deeds, this mostly serves as an indicator of the use of an ability which can only be used once per day. Dudes can become Booted for other reasons and are also more vulnerable to certain actions while in this state. Obviously, Dudes who are already Booted cannot perform actions that require them to become Booted. Pulling usually comes into play when using a Hex Goods card or purchasing a Gadget Goods card. When a Pull is called for, the player draws the top card from his deck. If its value is equal to or greater than the target number called for, the task in question succeeds. This is where one of the more potentially confusing aspects of the game crops up. Aces are treated as having a value of one and are effectively the lowest ranked card. For the sake of consistency, this applies to all aspects of the game where a card’s poker value comes into play. Since most people are accustomed to thinking of an ace as the highest ranked card, this could easily trip up new players.

During the Noon Phase, a player can do one of six things on his turn. Shopping allows him to place a non-Action card into play from his play hand by paying the indicated amount of ghost rock. Trading allows two Dudes in the same location to exchange a Goods card, so long as the recipient is not Booted. Moving sends a Dude to a new location. However, unless the destination is adjacent to the starting point, that Dude must become Booted. Acting allows the use of an Action card or the ability of a card in play that has the keyword Noon. Calling Out allows a Dude to challenge another Dude from a rival outfit in the same location to a Shootout. This can be refused by Booting the challenged Dude and moving him to the outfit’s Home location. If a player can’t or is unwilling to perform any of these options, he can choose to Pass. The Noon Phase ends when all players consecutively Pass.

From the back of the box:
Who will control the town? Slap leather in the town square and join in the story.

As with any proper Western, Shootouts are a key component. These are useful for lowering an opponent’s Influence total, as well as running off any interlopers on one of your Deeds (and thus regaining any Control points). Assuming the challenge wasn’t refused, both sides form up their posses. These can consist of any Dudes in the location as well as any Unbooted Dudes in adjacent locations, who become Booted upon arrival. Once the posses are assembled, both sides take turns performing any available actions with the Shootout keyword if desired and then choose a lead shooter. The Shootout is then played out with a hand of poker. This is more involved than the poker in the Gambling Phase, as it requires that you calculate the Stud bonus and Draw bonus of your posse. Each Dude will have either a Stud rating or a Draw rating, indicated on the card by a number on a colored bullet (silver for Stud and bronze for Draw). The Stud bonus is equal to the lead shooter’s Stud rating (if any) plus one for each Dude with a Stud rating (regardless of the actual value). Draw bonuses are calculated in the same fashion with the Draw ratings. Once this is sorted out, both players draw a number of cards from their deck equal to five plus their respective Stud bonuses. They can then discard and redraw a number of cards up to their respective Draw bonuses. After discarding their hands down to five cards, both players reveal them. Before the results are applied, either player can use any available actions with the Resolution keyword. There is also a special subset known as a Cheating Resolution, which can only be used when the opposing player’s hand has two or more cards with the same value and suit. Once finalized, the players compare the ranks of their hands, with the loser having to pay the difference of their ranks in casualties. If both players have the same ranked hand (regardless of the actual value of the cards), both pay one casualty each. Placing a Dude from your posse into your discard pile covers one casualty, while placing a Dude in Boot Hill covers two. However, once a Dude is in Boot Hill, that Dude can no longer be put into play, even if you have a duplicate still in your deck. If both sides still have Dudes standing, another round may commence. However, if the previous round didn’t go so well for one player, he has the option of running like the yellowbelly dog he is by moving his remaining Dudes back Home, Booting any that weren’t already.

As you can see, the game can have a rather steep learning curve. As well as the counterintuitive nature of aces, the wide range of special abilities the different cards possess can be overwhelming for a new player trying to figure the best way to employ them. Therefore it’s best for a player’s first game to be a two player affair. For one thing, this greatly simplifies the Influence and Control comparisons made at the end of each day. But more important is how resolving Shootouts can drag until you get the hang of them, leaving uninvolved players stuck twiddling their thumbs.

However, once you clear that hump, gameplay moves quite smoothly. With a bit of practice, performing actions and running Shootouts will become second nature and minimize analysis paralysis and player down time.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Doomtown: Reloaded

From: Alderac Entertainment Group

Type of Game: Card game

Game Design by: David Williams and Mark Wootton

Developed by: Eric Jome, Konstantinos Thoukydidis, Steven Martino

Cover Art by: Mario Wibisono

Graphic Design by: Kalissa Fitzgerald and Blake Beasley

Game Components Included: Rulebook, Introductary Booklet, 2 Player Aid boards, 4 Outfit cards, 52 Deed cards, 102 Dude cards, 38 Goods cards, 10 Spell cards, 2 Joker cards, 54 Ghost rock tokens, 20 Control tokens, 20 Influence tokens, 20 miscellaneous tokens

Retail Price: $39.99

Number of Players: 2-4

Player Ages: 14+

Play Time: 30 minutes

Website: http://www.alderac.com/doomtown

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Interview with Burning Games

Burning Games is a new company whose first RPG will be Faith: The Sci-fi RPG.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

We are a group of friends who have been playing all kinds of games since we were twelve. We have always talked about making games, and we have made several of them to play with our friends. Last year we decided to try to publish our first game, Faith.

Describe Faith for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

Faith is a sci-fi RPG that uses no pen and no paper. It is played with custom poker cards instead of dice. Players choose cards from their hand, thus being able to manage their luck and resources. The gear and NPCs also come in beautifully illustrated cards with all the game information needed to use them.

What works of fiction helped inspire Faith?

Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Saga, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Hyperion, Elysium, District 9 and many others.

One of the key elements of Faith is that gods are both real and actively (though not directly) involved in the affairs of their worshippers. As this is something more commonly associated with the fantasy genre, what prompted you to apply this to a science fiction setting?

We wanted our sci-fi to be as consistent with actual science as possible.  In fact, many elements from the setting are inspired by our science and engineering backgrounds and from the help of an astrophysicist from the Imperial College. However, we did want to keep the interest that comes from supernatural elements such as divine powers.

What other aspects of Faith do you believe cause it to stand out from other science fiction settings on the RPG market?

The Gods of Faith represent moral paths and reward players whose character plays accordingly – taking this theme and implementing it into the gameplay.

The universe is controlled by two species that coexist in a state of permanent cold war. Aware of the consequences a direct confrontation would bring them both, they compete for resources and try to collapse each other’s economy through fierce commerce and black ops operations.

Humanity is the underdog, a species with no society of its own, they are mercenaries and low level workers only appreciated for their physical strength and their desperation for living one day more.

If Faith proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Indeed! We have plans to release additional gear, more powerful NPCs, rules and components for spaceships and harsh environments… However, all of that is dependent on the success of our current Kickstarter campaign.

Brain Slugs From Planet X

Brain Slugs from Planet X

From: Silver Gryphon Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

If I were to play some word association with you and said, “Fifties cinema,” most of you would likely respond with, “Alien invasion.” However, a few of you might instead go with, “Teen angst.” Both of these genres were well-represented in film during that decade, so it’s no surprise that the two were sometimes combined (with The Blob probably being the best known of the lot). It’s this particular genre mash which Brain Slugs From Planet X employs.

From page 1:
Low-cost, often formulaic, with hammy acting, yet, despite these ‘flaws’, the B-Movie continues to fascinate us. To bring us back to fun days of childhood huddled before the glow of a late-night TV when the world was perfect as we sat there eating popcorn and waiting for the rubber monster to pop out of those shadows, causing us to giggle and squeal with delight.

Before the scenario proper, Brain Slugs From Planet X starts off with a discussion regarding the appeal of B-movies, as well as some of the more commonly applied tropes. Very handy for getting the GM into a proper frame of mind. This is then followed up with a list of common high school movie archetypes, each with a sample character profile at Novice level. However, the profiles are not fully balanced against each other. There are a couple of instances where the writer forgot to take into account that raising a skill above its linked attribute during character creation costs two points per advance instead of one. While this is a simple enough for the GM to correct, it’s a bit sloppy.

The scenario itself consists of a broad outline which covers the movements and actions of the Brain Slugs as well as the more prominent human NPCs over the previous few days. At what point the player characters start off can largely be left to the discretion of the GM. This lack of set pieces can be daunting for beginner GMs, who should probably give it a miss for now. However, the loose structure makes the scenario ideal for gaming groups who prefer sandbox-style gameplay. This is then followed up with character profiles of the Brain Slugs and human NPCs. Suggestions are also provided on the sort of improvised weapons to be found in a high school and how teachers may react to the shenanigans the player characters are likely to get up to.

From the front cover:
They came from the stars to send you to the grave!”

When it comes to the motive for the antagonists, Brain Slugs takes a slightly unconventional approach. In the typical “Thing From Outer Space” B-movie of the Fifties, the aliens are here either to invade or engage in some recon and/or infiltration as a prelude to an invasion. Here, the aliens simply crash-landed and are attempting to repair their ship. Unfortunately for them, the school’s delinquent has swiped a critical component of the ship’s engine. The fact that they’re acting more out of desperation than malice means that players can opt to employ diplomacy. Of course, your players may be more inclined to resolve matters with violence anyway, but it’s nice to know that the choice is available.

In conclusion, as long as both players and GM are fine with winging it to a certain degree, Brain Slugs fully emulates the vibe of Fifties-style teen angst and alien invasion B-movies. But though the default time period may be the Fifties, it can easily be set in a more recent decade should that be desired.

Rating: 16

Product Summary

Brain Slugs From Planet X

From: Silver Gryphon Games

Type of Game: RPG Adventure

Written by: Dave Baymiller

Contributing Authors: Kevin Rohan

Cover Art by: Brian Brinlee and Ben Overmyer

Additional Art by: Brian Brinlee

Number of Pages: 12

Game Components Not Included: Savage Worlds Core Rules

Retail Price: $ 5.00

Website: http://www.silvergryphongames.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Interview with Rob Jordan of Keep Games

Rob Jordan is the President of Keep Games and Lead Designer behind Labyrintheus.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’m Rob the lead designer of Labyrintheus. Personally, I’ve been a gamer (board, computer and pen/paper RPG) since I was very young. My favorite games from when I was a child were Heroquest, D&D (First and Second Edition) and Magic: The Gathering. I used to dabble a little in programming and at one point thought that my calling in life was to create video games. But life took hold, and I went a different route getting into data and voice networking. Around 2000 I really started branching out from the normal RPG style games (D&D, Vampire, Werewolf, etc.) into Warhammer 40k and Mage Knight. Then on to non-CCG like Munchkin and Red Dragon Inn. As far as professionally, none. Keep Games is a new venture for me, a chance to actually do what I’m passionate about. A chance to chase a dream and live it!

Describe Labyrintheus for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

For years this King has taken the adventurers and put them up against each other in this magical dungeon called Labyrintheus. And if you can survive Labyrintheus, then you are offered a place in among the King’s Champions, his personal body guards. It’s really a way of finding the best of the best. It’s a card game where you choose your persona, or character you want to be and utilize their special abilities to survive monsters and traps and sometimes the other players. But if the king is bored with you, he will increase the difficulty of everything inside of Labyrintheus to increase the carnage. You use items found from killing monsters or treasure chests to increase your odds of survival. Each persona comes with their own unique monsters, traps and items. So every time you play with a different persona it’s a different experience.

What works of fiction helped inspire Labyrintheus?

Tolkien for one. Roman history as well. Most, if not all, the items in the game has artwork based off of actual items from that time frame. For instance, the Orcs in this world are pretty much the Roman Empire.

What aspects of Labyrintheus do you believe cause it to stand out from other dungeon crawler-style games on the tabletop market?

The art style is fantastic. The Persona Card System is the inventory system and give a unique feel to the game. The Encounter Level Up Cards are very flexible. You can use those to speed up or slow down a game if you desire. The game is playable from 2 to as much as 6 players if you want. We put on the base box 2-4 since it only comes with 4 personas. But with the expansions you can increase that. And increasing that will only increase the time slightly since its time factor is more controlled by the Encounter Level Cards. You could be twenty minutes in and think it’s going to last much longer. Then all of a sudden, wham! Things just got harder. The longer you go the more difficult the game becomes.

If Labyrintheus proves to be successful, are there any additional expansions you would like to release?

When we started designing Labyrintheus we originally came up with between 10-12 personas. We picked four to begin with, but we have plans for others. Each expansion we’ll want to include two additional personas. The first expansion will have a Half-Dragon Paladin and a Halfling Druid in it. Each will introduce a new mechanic to the game and new Encounter and Treasure cards. The expansion after that we are thinking Human Cleric and Gnome Bard. The Encounter cards will also have some of the same mechanics as the other persona decks, but will have new mechanics not already in the game to spice things up.