Atomic Highway Review

February 2, 2011

Ok readers, first off, allow me to apologize for Mondays lapse. As some of you may have heard, we had a wee small fire here at the house recently. Not to worry, no one was hurt and the damage was relatively minimal. Thing is, the only thing worse than the disruption caused by a minor blaze in the living room is the disruption caused by a major blaze in the living room. The last couple days have been a laugh-a-minute merry-go-round of packing up my entire living room, moving it to other parts of the house, replacing the carpeting and then moving it all back. And lemme tell you; you buy a couch as comfy as mine you’re paying for weight too. Five hundred pushups a week I do folks and that sumbitch nearly wrecked me.

In keeping with recent events I thought I’d review a game about another little phenomenon that has been known to shake things up ever so slightly; total global nuclear annihilation!

This week’s review is Atomic Highway by Radioactive Ape Designs. Ahhh, Armageddon. The very word summons up images of gritty, hard bitten warriors waging war for a tank of juice in a desolate no-mans land that looks suspiciously like the less tourist-friendly parts of Australia. That, or Ben Afleck getting chased around an oil rig in his underwear by a shotgun-wielding Bruce Willis. Good God do I watch too many movies or what?

But, as usual, I digress. Remember this guy?

Well, back before he went completely off the rails he made two amazing post-apocalyptic movies and one that proves even box office giants will do damn near anything to make the mortgage.  These and a great many other films of varying quality were the inspiration for Atomic Highway.

Atomic Highway is set in a future where civilization has gone down harder than a drunken debutante at a frat party. Where gleaming cities once marched across the landscape and humanity numbered in the billions there are now scattered little settlements of ragged-arsed survivors barely hanging on from one day to the next. Roving gangs raid travelers and tribes of nomadic neo-primitves roam the wastes looking for food, shelter and whatever bits of old-tech they can scavenge. Life is hard, dying is easy and genetically twisted mutations abound.

Into this merry setting stride our intrepid heroes. That’d be you all, the PC’s . While Atomic Highway doesn’t offer classes and races as such it does provide players with a list of potential Rearings and Pursuits to form the foundation of their character. Rearings are where you’re from, how you were raised. Pursuits are what you do for a living. Each one gives you a starting set of Skills as well as some basic gear that you can build up further using the four initial skill points you get to start with.

Once you figure out who you want to be you get to build it. As with the Serenity RPG, Atomic Highway is based off a point-build system. In this case, you get eighteen D6 to spread around between seven Attributes. These are Muscle, Understanding, Tenacity, Appeal, Nimbleness, Toughness and Senses. Just for fun take the first letter of each word and tell me what they spell. Nice touch that, on the part of the writer.

After selecting your Attributes you get to pick you skills. The list provided in the book is not ultra-comprehensive and you can make up new ones if you feel the need. Everyone starts with four skill points to start. In both cases, Attribute and Skills the number of points you have represents the number of D6 you get to roll when performing an action relevant to that Attribute or Skill. Any sixes you get are successes. Ones are….not your friend. Remember what I said about dying being easy? Yeah, like that.

Of course, nuclear fallout doesn’t just clear out the sinuses. It’s been known to relocate them over the left side of your noggin. Or possibly your elbow. To that end Atomic Highway offers players the option of playing mutants. During your character creation you can either opt to be a  mutant of essentially human stock with a few hiccups in your DNA or a humanoid animal. The rules for both are pretty easy to understand and there’s even a very small section on optional psychic powers. So if you’re a Furry who has dreamed of taking your telekinetic otter persona on a motorcycle tour of the end of the world you now have the means to do so.

Of course, being a mutant isn’t all spandex and   green-skinned women who can double as a flotation device. In fact, in Atomic Highway it’s hardly any of that at all. Mutants, while possessed of some advantages, such as natural armor, claws or echolocation are also damaged. Dull senses, speech impediments and an inability to digest any food outside of a very limited range of items are among the potential genetic speedbumps waiting for you down Mutie Lane if you decide your character really would look better with prehensile feet and toxic saliva. And that’s not even considering angry mobs of bigoted norms or bounty hunters who see you as a potential payday. So think before you freak.

Of course, no game about life after the collapse of civilization would be complete without a selection of armed and armored vehicles tearing across the wastelands in a hail of crossbow bolts and automatic gunfire. True to its name, Atomic Highway delivers in this regard as well. Certain Pursuits, such as the Outrider, Raider and Road Warrior get a beginning pool of points to build their own custom vehicle with.

The chapter on vehicles provides a list of basic templates to start off with. From there you can customize your ride, adding weapons, armor the like. The addition of vehicular combat adds an extra level of fun to the games and encourages the use of mini’s. Plus it stays true to the genre’, enhancing the experience of being in your own post apocalyptic movie or novel.

There’s a good selection of gear, of both the general day to day stuff everybody needs and weaponry. As a bit of a gun geek I tend to be pretty unforgiving of less-than-lethal firearm statistics in a game. Let me just say that I didn’t have that problem here. The sample character offered up in the character creation section is a pretty buff dude with sixteen Health. A single attack from an assault rifle has the potential to do thirty health damage. So don’t get overly itchy to start spraying the lead around unless character creation is your favorite part of the whole RPG experience.

The book offers up a short opening adventure scenario and a few sample beasties and bad guys but with such a wealth of supporting films and fiction it isn’t really necessary. Ditto with the gear and skills. If you don’t see it and think it’s needed, stat it out and put it in.

Now, lest you think this is one big love-fest there are a few flaws with the book. Mostly it comes down to relative placement of information. For instance, how you get Fortune points –a device to help you stack the odds in your favor- is located two pages after how you use them. Ummmm barkeep? One large Whiskey Tango Foxtrot please. Neat. Same thing happens with the weaponry stats. Call me crazy but it seems you should at least put a paragraph on the mechanics of burst and auto-fire in next to the descriptions of the guns themselves. Instead of waiting thirty additional pages to give you that information!

All in all though, this is a solid game. It started out as a labor of love by the creator Colin Chapman and turned into something far more playable than the average “Hey I think I know how to design a game.” project. The company website http://radioactiveapedesigns.com/ has additional tips and errata. Plus there are some supplements available either for download or hard copy purchase though you need to go to either Amazon or your FLGS for the hard copy. Irradiated Freaks offers an expanded look at mutations with additional flaws, species and benefits.

All in all this is a solid game. The $30.95 price tag makes it a decent buy for gamers on a budget. The fan support in the forums offers additional resources in the form of art work, PC’s and NPC’s, paper mini’s to print and adventure scenarios. Plus the nature of the game lends itself equally well to extended campaigns or a beer n pretzels smash-‘em-up.

So if you’re looking for something fast, fun and gritty to play, pay a visit to your local FLGS. Lay down your thirty bucks, strap on some leathers and spike and head out into the wasteland!

 

 

 

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January 31, 2011

Sorry folks but I’m taking the day off. We had a fire small recently and the handy man is coming out today to tear up the carpet and hopefully replace it with something a mite less charred. Wednesday should prove more fruitful.

Is That A Tentacle?

January 26, 2011

What’s more fun than sitting around with your friends watching a bad B-Movie? Sitting around with your friends, playing a card game about making bad B-Movies! In 2001 Z-Man Games launched their hit series of make-your-own-bad-movie games with Grave Robbers From Outer Space.

Nine sequels have since followed in a rainbow of genre’s . Is your professional name Doctor Jones? There’s a game for you! Like movies where everything up to and including the trees walk? The Z-Man crew has something to make fun your beloved classic as well. You name it and they’ve probably thrown poop at it in the course of this series. Best of all, unlike actual movie sequels the quality has remained consistently good.

The games are simple, fun and can be combined or played independently.  Each card has a word written upside down at the bottom. At the start of the game you deal six cards and make a title for your film. “Skeletons Massacre The Robot Master On Bone Mountain” was one recent title at my house. After that, each player gets dealt a hand of six cards and strives to make the best movie they can while trashing their opponents.

Now, to make a movie you need stuff. You need a Location, some Creatures, a few Props, some Characters (I guess) and, of course, Special Effects.

A coherent plot and any semblance of an ability to act are strictly optional , as anyone who has ever seen a Megan Fox film can attest .

 

Most of the cards have a small number in the upper left corner . On Characters , Locations and Props, this is known as the Defensive Strength or DS of the card. On Creatures it is known as the Attack Strength. On your turn you play as many Characters as you like into your movie. If you’ve got any Props you can give those out as well, one to a customer per turn. Then comes the fun part; jacking with your fellow players!

If you want to mess with someone you can do one of two things. Your first choice is to play a Creature card. If the AS of the Creature card is equal to or greater than the entire combined AS of the defending movie the attack succeeds and one character of the attackers choice, along with all their props gets tossed in the discard pile.

The other option is to play Special Affect card on somebody and mess with their world that way.  FX cards can be played at any time and have a mix of offensive and defensive uses. Just like in the real movies they are the game changers of the game. But you can’t win with just a whole handful of Special Affects. Sit down and shut up Mr Cameron!

That right there is the essence of the game. Build a movie and wreck the other guys attempt to do the same. Just like Hollywood for real. Play continues until the bottom of the draw pile is reached or someone plays Roll The Credits. At that point everyone scores their film. And no I don’t mean you all scramble to hire to write a song for you.

Instead, everybody totals up the DS of their film, including Props, Characters and Locations. Remember the title of the film? Not really but who cares? Well, in this case it’s important because every card you have that has a word written upside down on the bottom that is in the title is worth five additional points. Highest score wins.

The games are fast paced and loaded with low-brow humor sure to appeal to any schlock cinema fan. The flavor text on the cards is hilarious and part of the fun is recognizing beloved characters from favorite films. “This is my boom stick” ring any bells?

Table talk and reading the flavor text on the cards is another big part of the fun. The quotes are frequently hilarious; “Dreeeeaamm Stalker, I believe he’ll kill me in the ni-ght!” is just one of about a billion examples I could spoilerize you with. Long story longer; if you’re a fan of MST3K or RiffTrax this is your kinda card game.

Something else to be aware of. These games are not meant for little kids. They come with a PG-13 rating right on the box and with good reason. A lot of the humor comes from the single entendres that are rife throughout the various iterations of the series. The movies that get made have an almost inevitable tendency to devolve into “American Pie”. Only not as subtle. The Town Cougar and the Teenage boy Desperate To Get Some are in the Sleazy Hotel? Gee, wonder where this is going? And don’t even get me started on the Pizza Delivery Guy and the Town Sheriff in the Tool Shed. Anyone besides me hearing bad  (like there’s some other kind) 70’s disco music?

At $19.95 a pop the G.R.O.S.S. games are highly affordable as well. Heck, these days they cost less than an actual trip to a theater.

The ability to combine decks means you’ve got almost limitless variation. If you’re feeling twisted and bored enough you can make a swashbuckling sci-fi horror film set in the Wild West. Just don’t blame me if Bruce Campbell spontaneously materializes in your living room.

Remember way back to the bygone era of Monday ? https://mechgogogames.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/gaming-on-the-go/   Well the B Movie games are perfect for gamers on the go. A single deck measures four inches by five. Drop one in your pocket along with a pen and paper and you’re good to go.

Most quality shops carry them or they can be found at http://www.zmangames.com/ .   So grab some friends and some popcorn and make some movie magic!

 

Gaming On The Go

January 24, 2011

Ours is a sedentary hobby, no doubt about it. Give the average gamer some games, a table and something halfway comfy to sit on and he’s got half of what he needs to kill an entire day. The other half of course being copious amounts of snack food and a group of like-minded friends.

Thing of it is, you’ve got to get there don’t you? You’ve got to get from where you are to where the game and the snacks and the like-minded friends are. And if you’re like most gamers I know you need to do it with a small mountain of mini’s, cards, dice, books, papers, pens, and board games. Today we look at ways to get where you’re going with your gear in the most spatially economical way possible. If nothing else, every cubic inch of space you don’t waste on stuff you don’t need is one more you can use for what’s important; snacks!

This

is your typical Munchkin core game box. It measures 6 inches wide by 9 long and 2 thick. The average Munchkin card measures about two and a quarter inches wide by about three and a quarter long and I didn’t bother busting out a micrometer to learn how thick. It’s towards the middle of the road as game boxes go. Toward the lower end you’ve got classics like Atlas Games Lunch Money at three and a half by five by one. Toward the higher end you’ve got Descent by Fantasy Flight which could, with a set of glued on legs do service as furniture.

Now, I understand that marketing and the “ten foot test” are important to selling any product and I don’t grudge the manufacturers one bit for what they do. But it’s a lot easier to tote around a dozen games the size of Lunch Money than it is one of Descent. And they’re both top quality games in their own ways.

So what to do? First thing we do is kill all the ….. no! Wait! This isn’t Shakespeare and my kid sister is a lawyer so let’s start over. First thing you do is go out to the grocery store and buy yourself a box or two of these bad boys.

Yes, zip-close sandwich baggies. I’ve been in the hobby for years and these things have really helped me streamline my operation. Admittedly, I tend more towards card games than board but they work a treat with board games of the build-the-board-as-you-go persuasion too. I can fit my entire collection of Zombies! games into a shoebox for cripes sake. Ditch all stuff that isn’t actually part of the game and in many cases you have just cut the amount of space you’re using in half. Put the cards in the little baggies then put the combined decks into a gallon or quart sized bag, preferably with the name of the game on it in magic marker. Keep the boxes though. They will probably come in handy if only when you move to a new place with bigger closets, more book shelves and greater proximity to your favorite geek emporium.

They also come in handy for keeping the various play counters separated in transit. Arkham Horror is a brilliant game if you’ve got an afternoon to kill. Sorting out the various sigil and health and sanity and investigator pieces can take forever. Couple minutes prep time once you get the game home from the store and you’ve just slashed your setup and teardown time significantly. What can I say? I’m all about efficiency. Every minute I don’t have to waste playing “Where’s (insert component name here)?” is one more I get to waste playing the game the component is a part of.

So now you’ve got your games reduced to the bare essentials. What to put them in? Whether you’re driving or taking public transit you need something to lug the games in. This

is a plastic toolbox by the Contico company. My sister-in-law gave me one like it in yellow for Christmas one year. The woman is an uptight, judgmental pain in the butt but she gives good gifts, I’ll say that for her. I’m pretty sure she intended that I put tools in it. Instead I put games in it. That sound you just heard was her once again applying Desk directly to the forehead.

On a typical day I am able to get the following items into it at the same time.

Five Munchkin core games plus at least one expansion.

Three different flavors of Fluxx from Looney Labs

Five different Dungeoneer games by Atlas Games

Lunch Money and Beer Money by Atlas

Let’s Kill by Atlas (what can I say, I really like Atlas games)

All ten Bad B Movie games from Z-Man games

Kung Fu Fighting and More Kung Fu Fighting https://mechgogogames.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/everybody-was/ by Slugfest

One hundred little plastic zombies for the Zombies! line of games

One hundred and eighty assorted dice in various sizes, colors and side numbers

Twelve No. 2 pencils and a sharpener for them

And….for some reason, a fork. I’m not kidding. I just went through my box and there’s a fork in there. What the hell?

The point is you can cram a ton of stuff in one of these things. They are lightweight, designed to be portable and nearly impervious to the weather. I don’t know where you live but I call Minnesota home. Among other things. And we  get all kinds of weather here. Much of it sucks and much of it is not the kind of thing you want to expose your games to.

They work a treat for mini’s too. If you’re a pewter pusher like I’ve been in my time (there’s a reason Mechgogo and Mechwarrior both start with the same four letters) lay down alternating layers of foam and miniatures and you pack a very solid number of figures into one of these and still have room for paints, brushes and other assorted necessaries.

Or if you need a way to transit some of the pre-painted plastic mini’s that Wizards puts out for D&D you can dispense with the foam. I’d advise a bit of organizing by some sort of type but that’s just me. And no I’m not getting any kickbacks from the zip-close plastic baggie industry but thanks for asking.

But what about the big stuff? What about Arkham and it’s half a dozen expansions? Carcassonne, Alhambra or Catan? What about the vast sweeping armies of Crackhammer 40K?

I suppose you could just swing by pretty much any retail store of your fancy and ask if they’ve got any empty boxes you can take off their hands. As a retailer myself I can tell you that most places are all too willing to give out a few of their empties. It’s less stuff they have to haul out to the Dumpster at some point in the day and less time they could spend doing other stuff.

Thing is, unless you live some place where the weather is usually dry and clear that’s not always the best option. Rain and snow are no respecter of cardboard and they will eat your box-and anything made of processed wood pulp within it- for lunch. Painted mini’s don’t exactly thrive under a Midwest or Pacific Northwest downpour either.

To that end, the best thing to do is swing by your local K-Mart or Target and check out the home storage bins.

There’s plenty of big, clear boxes with securable lids available for a reasonable price. A little shifting around and you can probably fit most of your favorite board games in them. Slap a couple inches of foam padding in there and your mini’s are protected. I still recommend you go through the boxes the games came in and ask yourself how much of the original packaging you really need to take with you but that’s just me.

Just remember; the weather doesn’t care what a nice person you are. The rain and the snow will go through those things like BS through a politician. Take a minute and line the inside of the case with a good-sized plastic trash bag. Place your gear inside the bag, close it up and you’ve just saved yourself the expense and bad language of having to replace part or all of your collection. A good coat of Scotch Guard on the outside wouldn’t hurt either. Three bucks between the garbage bag and the spray to save God knows how much in quite possibly out of print games? Works for me.

So, we’ve covered some of the basics. But we haven’t covered what is, perhaps, the most basic.Dice!

Almost every single game out there needs dice for some reason. Magic needs dice to track your mana. D&D needs dice for, well, everything. Miniatures games need them at least for damage and often for whether or not you hit anything in the first place. Dice are the duct tape of the gaming world. Without them (and enough caffeinated beverages to give a rhino a heart attack) our hobby would fall apart at the seams.

So how do we get these indispensable tools of the hobby from where we are to where we’re going? Well, of course there’s always the venerable and respected Crown Royal bag.

Everybody has used one of these at some point in their gaming life. Some people reading this might be using one right now. Then there’s chain mail dice bags, leather pouches from the local ren fest, tubes and, if you really wanna get weird, your pockets. Freaky I know, right?

One that I stumbled on and am probably not alone in is this.

Remember those one hundred and eighty assorted dice I mentioned earlier? One-forty-nine of them are kept in that. It started out life as a twenty-nine ounce container for powdered lemonade mix. Once it was empty I gave it a good washing, dried it out and voila ! Easily portable container for almost two hundred dice of assorted sizes, colors and  shapes. It’s cheap, durable as heck-I’ve had mine since 2005- and the source for them is ubiquitous. Jokes about Mountain Dew and Cheetos  aside, most of us in the hobby like our sugary drinks. I’m willing to bed that if you’re reading this there’s probably a pitcher of Kool-Aid or similar in your fridge right now. Plus it’s good for the environment!

Everybody’s on a recycling kick these days. Remember kids it takes gasoline to get your recycling to the center and then more energy to sort it and turn it into whatever it’s destined to be reincarnated as. So why not eliminate the middle man? You’ve already got a use for it! Why not just turn it into a dice container and save all that pesky hassle?

So, there you have it. A few handy tips on how to take your game on the road. I hope they’ve been helpful, especially to my geek brethren and sisteren (yeah I know it’s not a real word. Bite me ok?) who are stuck using public transit to get where they’re going. Driving around with a carload of games is a minor inconvenience in the loading and unloading. Going cross town on the busses and trains with an army of minis or a decent collection of board and card games can be a quest worthy of Tolkien if you don’t have the right tools for the job.

One final note before I sign off. I’ve been checking the stats and it’s very gratifying to see so many of you reading this blog. I hope I’m entertaining you and passing on a little bit of knowledge and, when the time comes that I make the “Got the money, doors open XX/XX/20XX” post y’all will show up in droves . Until then, I’ve two small favors to ask. First, if you like what you’re reading, hit the subscribe button. It’s free and it only takes a second. Second, whether or not you feel like subscribing pass the word on to your friends and fellow hobbyists. Who knows, maybe something I’ve written or have planned to write will be of interest and use to them. Dunno unless they read it. That’s all for now. See you Wednesday and I’ll be taking you all to the movies!

Til next time

Mech out!

 

 

 

 

In September 2002 Joss Whedon, of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel fame brought us a new TV series best described as the wild west in space. Eleven out of order, frequently pre-empted episodes later it became the latest casualty to the engine of evil, fueled by the broken dreams of hopeful geeks that is the Fox network.

But all was not lost! Those eleven little stories spawned a worldwide phenomenon of fandom. Conventions, fandom organizations, fan fiction (including way too much slashfic for this writers taste.) a movie and, for the purposes of this article a very well done little RPG.

Now, before I go into the review I’m going to do one of my little disclaimers. I am a Browncoat. That is to say I am part of that subset of science fiction fandom that curses the Alliance and those bastards at Fox equally.  Remember when I said you’d see this material again? https://mechgogogames.wordpress.com/ .Wasn’t lying was I?  I know what “I’ll be in my bunk” is a euphemism for and firmly believe that all the best starship pilots wear Hawaiian shirts and play with little plastic dinosaurs. I am a nerd on the wind. Watch how I geek.

That being said, the Serenity Role Playing Game is not just for people who know who Vera is. If you like good science fiction, good game mechanics and some decent product support then you are someone for whom the game is intended. Of course, fans of the show and movie are going to get an extra kick out of it but that’s really no different than, say, a guy with Chewbacca’s autograph tattooed somewhere getting a little extra thrill out of a well made Star Wars RPG.

One thing. Don’t come to this game looking for encounters with alien life forms. About the closest you’re going to come is dealing with the Reavers. There are no aliens in the Firefly verse! Though some have argued that Serenity pilot extraordinaire Hoban Washburne is a giant Fraggle. Can’t really dispute that given the photographic evidence above.  But there’s no alien space babes looking to learn more about this strange custom called ‘kissing’ or bug-eyed monsters looking to slurp your brains out through your nostrils. Well, maybe Jayne on a hangover but…

The basic premise of the Firefly universe (henceforth refered to as the ‘verse) is that Earth was used up. Humanity took to the stars because our home could no longer support us. We found a solar system with dozens of planets and hundreds of moons, many of which were capable of sustaining life. The ones that weren’t, we terraformed.

Civilisation is broken down into three basic groups. The Core or Inner Planets, the Outer Planets and Reavers. Core worlds are highly civilized models of high technology. They have all the best toys and more rules than mushrooms after a hard rain. Think of them as Back East in old west terms.

The further out from the Core you get the more rough and tumble things become. Law is a mite more tenuous and technology is a good deal more catch-as-can. You’re more likely to see a horse than a hovercraft out in the fringe because a hovercraft needs fuel, tools, spare parts and a whole infrastructure. A horse needs a vet, some hay, a stall and, if you want to make more, at least one other horse.

Reavers are humans who, for whatever reason slipped a cog. Then ate it. Zoe puts it best in one episode. “If they take over the ship they will rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothes. And if we are very, very lucky they will do it in that order.” Reavers are bad . Write that down.

The premise of the game is the same as the premise of the show. Get a ship. Get a crew. Find work. Keep flying. And yes, you can play as any or all of the cast of the original show and fly the good ship Serenity as she appeared on screen. Or you can build totally new characters, grab a different ship-including at least one armed variant of Firefly class freighter and have adventures that have nothing to do with the personalities or exploits of Mal, Zoe and the rest.

The mechanics of the game are, as I said, simple and easy to grasp. Character creation is point-based which I tend to prefer over random rolls. It lets you create a more personalized character and puts the emphasis, I think, on building a three-dimensional alter ego rather than just a random collection of stats. Your starting point pool is determined by the Heroic Level of the campaign, set by the GM. In other words, how experienced are your crew when they start out?

Greenhorns are the least experienced. As babes in a basket as the good captain would say. They start out with 42 attribute points. This means that if you’re smart you’re going to want to start out taking lower risk missions but will have plenty of room to grow.

Veterans have been around the block a few times. You’ve been on some runs, gotten into and out of a scrap or two. You start out with 48 attribute points as a Veteran. This gives you the means to take on jobs that are more interesting than others. Of course following the example of this dashing fellow might not be the best idea if brains were intending to be one of your stronger suits .

Big Damn Hero. So let me get this straight. You five all mean to kill me. Tell ya what ; just to be sportin’ I’ll keep my eyes closed until the first three are down. Big Damn Heroes are cinematic characters who take on the big jobs and are known far and wide for their exploits. They start with 54 attribute points.

So what do you do with your attribute points? You buy Attributes! The core Attributes in the Serenity RPG are Agility, Strength, Alertness, Vitality, Intelligence and Willpower. The number of points you spend determines what sided die you get to use for that Attribute. Four points buys you 1D4, six points buys you  1D6 and so on up to D12.

From there it’s a matter of determining your secondary abilities which are generally a function of your Attributes. Your starting hit points get their basis come from the max total of your Vitality and Willpower dice for instance. Get yourself some skills using your 20 skill points that you spend much as you did your attribute points. Then go out and see what the ‘verse has to offer.

Once you’re out in the black you’re going to find yourself Doing Stuff. All kinds of stuff. Some of it might even be legal! And how do you Do Stuff? Sometimes you just do it. Other times you figure out which Attribute makes the most sense in combination with what Skill to accomplish your task under the circumstances and roll the dice.

The difficulty of the task determines the number you have to equal or exceed in order to do what you’re trying to do. An Easy task is going to need a three or better while an Impossible one will require a roll of thirty-one or more. Good luck with that. You’re gonna need it.

The last mechanic

(sorry but I have a firm rule of never passing up the chance to look at pictures of Jewel Staite, however thin the excuse)  of the game is Plot Points. Everybody gets six to start. Additional ones get rewarded at the GM’s discretion for doing something cool, helping to achieve a goal the entire crew has and other reasons.

You use these to improve your dice roll one of two ways. You can either use them to buy an additional die to roll before you roll or you can use them after the fact to get a plus on your end result. Catch is you have to decide before you roll. You can only have a max of six Plot Points saved between game sessions and can use the rest-or more if you like  -to improve your character . Never a bad thing in a game where dying is easy and stupidity or bad luck tend to the fatal side of things.

Fair warning; combat in Serenity can get you back in character generation mode quick. Guns can kill with a single successful hit. Everybody is packing outside the Core and there are no magical medical devices that heal a sucking chest wound in a few seconds. So trigger-happy players take note; think before you shoot unless you’re in a tearing hurry for your former character’s identical cousin to show up asking the Captain if he’s hiring.

All in all this is a solid system. Not surprising with industry icon Maragaret Weis  putting her stamp on it. Yes, that Maragret Weis. In addition to the main book there are several supplements, ranging from a Big Damn Heroes Handbook,

to a book of pre-generated adventures to a whole campaign supplement that takes you can play through from beginning to end. The main book also has several adventure seeds you can use. Or, if you like, just lift the plot of any western film or novel from the last hundred years and use that. Heck, True Grit has been redone starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Slap down your ten bucks, take some notes and put the whole thing in outer space.

The downside of the game is that there isn’t as extensive an online support system for it as I’d like. Fireflyrpg.com is sparse at best and several others no longer exist. About the best one I saw in my research was browncoats.com to be found here http://www.browncoats.com/index.php?ContentID=42ea90c7f2629 . A quick google using the keywords “Serenity RPG Scenarios” will get you to a few interesting places as well.

The index of the main book can be a bit tricky to navigate. I found it a mite counterintuitive in places and there isn’t a definitive list of tables to be found anywhere. Page 31 will give you what you need for how to build a character and 141 will tell you how to Do Stuff.

All in all though this is a solid game. The benefits, to my mind, more than outweigh the relatively few flaws. The simple fact I was willing to shell out $40 US each for the main book and Big Damn Heroes in today’s economy should say plenty about the quality of the product. I ran it at CONvergence 2010 with a group of people who had mostly never seen the show and who had never, to a person, played the RPG. Everyone had a great time and felt like they’d made a contribution to the adventure.So find a coat, (brown is a damn fine color and you can find them on sale 😉 ) strap on your hogleg and head out into the black. Keep your boat in the air and no power in the verse can stop you!

It Burns! It Burns!!!

January 17, 2011

 

Well, here we are, another Monday and all five of my readers are back for more. Gods how I wish that weren’t a tired repeat of an old joke that wasn’t funny twenty years ago when the first guy to make it did so. In all seriousness (Oh wait! He was being funny before! Now he’s being serious. Right. Duly noted. Carry on.) there’s something important I want to talk about today. Two things actually. First is the schedule of this blog. Mondays are going to be Op Ed Day. Wednessdays will be Review Day. That was my wife’s idea actually and, as evidenced by the fact she married me she’s got more than your average portion of good sense.

The second thing is today’s topic. Nerd Funk. And no, I don’t mean some geek at a gaming con spending his days pretending to be Bilbo Baggins and his nights tearing it up at the club to the bumping sounds of George Clinton. I mean stank. I mean B. O. , reek, rank, odor, ordure, oh-dear, fetor, maldor, miasma and sudoresis. Actual word, sudoresis. Here’s a link to the dictionary definition http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/sudoresis . Means to sweat profusely. This

is called soap. If you get it wet and rub it on your body you don’t smell like a homeless person took a dump in your hair! It comes in a wide variety of brands, scents and colors. You can get organic soap. Vegan soap. Soap in a whole variety of geek-friendly shapes including Ninetendo Wii and Ps3 controllers. You can actually get your game on and get clean at the same time! Don’t we live in a golden age?

They even make soap that smells like pumpkin pie! And it’s shaped like actual pumpkins! How cool is that? If you want to walk around smelling like pumpkin pie all day you can! Check it out!

 

 

Now, why am I bringing this up? Because sadly one of the clichés about people in our hobby is we don’t wash. What’s even more sad is all too often it’s true. I’ve been going to conventions for years now and poor personal hygiene is so endemic they actually have to include admonitions to bathe once a day in the welcoming literature.

Did you know that some cons actually include bars of soap in their goody bags and keep bottles of Febreeze on hand to cut down on the smell? That image at the very top of this article? An actual shirt designed by industry icon John Kovalic.  What the hell people!

And it’s not just the conventions either. It’s in the gaming stores. It’s on the street! It’s frigging disgusting is what it is! Seriously ladies and gentlemen it’s not that difficult. You simply block out fifteen minutes a day to go into a special little room in your house that looks something like this

 

cover yourself in hot soapy water, rinse off, rub a towel over yourself and you’re good to go!

Now please understand. I am not ripping on all gamers here. Just the stinky ones. The non-bathers. And I admit, I’m not perfect myself. I’ve been known to miss a day here and there. But if you sit down to play a game with someone and they have to hold their breath because the last time you got wet was when it rained outside you’re part of the problem. Ditto if your hair stays in place due to what appears to be styling product and you’re not using any styling product!

Maybe you think it’s not a big deal. Maybe you think you’ve got better things to do. Maybe you think you’re too busy or are short on cash or that you don’t need to conform to society’s expectations or what’s the point because it’s not like you have a girlfriend to impress or anything. Well I’m sorry but it is a big deal. There are millions of gamers out there and it isn’t fair when those of us who wash regular get put in the same used-kitty-litter-smelling box as the ones with gray skin, greasy hair and a ten foot forcefield of olfactory ick repelling humanity like a wave of heat from a five hundred degree oven.

This goes double if you smoke. My wife is a smoker. I love her to pieces. She is, without question, the best thing to ever happen to me. She smokes and she doesn’t stink. That is because she has a longstanding, very friendly relationship with hot water, soap and shampoo. Those of you with a fondness for Vitamin N may not be aware of it but it is readily apparent when you’ve had a cigarette. I’m not going to rip on smokers because A)The nice lady who cooks all me meals is one and B)This isn’t about that. It’s about poor personal hygiene.

If you smoke you need to wash daily daily daily. And brush your teeth for God sake, whether you smoke or not. Ours is a social hobby folks! We spend a lot of time talking to one another from a distance of less than three feet. It kinda ruins the moment when you’re going through the dungeon and you realize that it isn’t the Ancient Red Dragon you need to do a Save vs Breath Weapon against. It’s the team cleric!

And don’t hand me the rest of that nonsense either ok? Better things to do? Like what? Your Magic cards will be there to organize when you get done bathing. Your CrackHammer mini’s will be dry and you can apply the next coat of paint. And the latest episode of whatever sci-fi show those soul-sucking bastards at Fox (this is called foreshadowing kids. Pay attention. You will see this material again!) are currently running with the intent to cancel just when the geek community gets good and hooked will still be on TIVO ready for you to watch. While you paint your minis and your hair dries.

Low on cash? Guys I’ve been homeless and had money for soap! I’ve been didn’t-eat-today-and-tomorrow-ain’t-lookin-good-neither poor and had money for soap. So please spare me that one ok? And maybe there’s a connection between the whole not bathing thing and the whole not having a girlfriend thing. Ever think of that? In my experience girls bathe. I even have photographic proof of it. Behold!

 

See? Actual proof that good looking females congregate in showers and bathtubs! Why, for all you know, there might be a good looking girl in your shower or bathtub right now! Why are you reading this drek for? Go check you fool! She might need help! She might have a friend! They might let you watch!

There are some smoking hot ladies in the hobby fellahs. Beautiful sexy geek goddesses who can hold their own at Magic, WarHammer, Munchkin or Cataan and look jaw dropping gorgeous while they do it. But they generally like guys who bathe and don’t exactly line up three feet deep to kiss men with effed up looking Jack Sparrow teeth. Why is the rum gone! Because I drank it all to numb myself to the open grave stench wafting off your grimy carcass you malodorous turd! And shave your teeth!

And ladies, you’re not immune either. While most geek girls are lovely beyond words and most take very good care of their personal maintenance there have been more than a few I’ve known who figured that overloading on perfume meant they didn’t have to shower. No. It doesn’t mean that. It just means that instead of ass you smell like roses and ass. Or whatever other noxious chemical weapon you’ve chosen to saturate yourself with.

Which brings me to my final gripe about the whole great unwashed thing. I can respect and understand the desire to smell good. Heck, that’s what todays whole conniption fit is about. But there’s a fine between not being able to be around you because you haven’t showered this week and not being able to hang out with you because you overdid it on cologne. Helpful hint folks; those eight ounce bottles of body scent? Not single servings! A quick spritz and you’re good to go. Not spritzspritzspritzspritzspritz .

So please folks, for the good of the hobby. For the good of your love life. For the simple pleasure of not having a homeless person give you money take a lesson from your ol’ buddy  Ernie and keep it clean.

 

Until next time

Mech out

 

 

 

 

Everybody was…!

January 12, 2011

Ok, so it’s a cheap opening line and the joke isn’t very funny the fiftieth time around. So hit me in the junk with a nunchuck and call it a day. Today we’re talking about Kung Fu Fighting by Slugfest games. If you aren’t familiar with Slugfest or their line of products you need to be.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure I’m going to reiterate Monday’s declaration that I am a demo volunteer for Slugfest. That means they send me free stuff and I run events for them at stores and cons. That being said, I don’t run events featuring un-fun games and I sure don’t waste my time shilling for a company with a track record of producing drek. So if I give a good review take it at face value.

Kung Fu Fighting is a brilliant, simple and very fun little game. It recreates all the best parts of all the great martial arts movies. And some of the not so great ones. Players each select a play mat, roughly the size of a paperback novel, draw seven cards and begin the game with their little red glass chi counter on the number 20 in the play mats upper left corner. This represents how much chi or life force you have. You D&D nerds can think of it as hit points. If you drop below 1 chi you’re out. Fists of steel, jaw of glass. Nappy time for grasshoppah!

In addition to the chi count the mat also contains a space for a Stance and a Weapon. Yes, that’s right, you get to hit people with weapons in this game! You can have one Stance and one Weapon in play at any time unless you have a card that says otherwise. You can switch out either one at will and the game expansion, imaginatively enough called More Kung Fu Fighting allows you to have weapon and stance enhancements. More on that later.

Game play is fast paced and easy to grasp. I have personally taught it to and gotten my ass soundly kicked by complete newcomers to the hobby in under five minutes. On your turn you may discard and draw up to seven cards, play Chi Restoration cards (three guesses what they do), swap out Weapons and Stances and, best of all put the hurt on your friends! Basic attacks consist of punches, kicks, trips and throws. These can be enhanced by Attack Enhancement cards such as Spinning, Flipping and Running Up The Wall. You can play any number of Attack Enhancements on an attack that you want. The only catch is you can only play one of each kind! So no double-flipping or running up two walls for you. You’re a Kung Fu man. Not a Spider man.

The person getting jumped can block the attacks by playing Block cards. This is a fun game but at least part of the fun comes from watching someone lay out a truly epic sounding attack that should knock the wonton out of their victim only to hear “The foot says no!” as a Blocking Kick card is played. Great! Fifteen points of  damage out the window with a flick of the wrist! Thanks Neo!

Remember our friends the Stance and Weapon cards? Well they give you bonuses to your attacks and defenses under certain circumstances. So read the fine print!  For instance, if you are in the Dragon Stance and have a choice between making a Flying Punch attack or a Flying Sword attack take the second option. Especially if one of your opponents is in the Crane Stance and others aren’t. It’s the difference between a 10-12 point attack or a 7-9 point attack. And that is just one of about fifty examples I could offer from direct personal experience.

The various Weapon cards have their own strengths and weaknesses. You can attack with them and, with the exception of the Table and Chair cards, they stay in your possession. Attack Enhancement cards work the same with the weapon cards as they do with the basic attacks. A normal sword slash becomes something truly cinematic and devastating with the right combination of Enhancements.

Defense. A wise man once said that the best offense is a good defense. Personally I favor a loaded 12 gauge with an axe for backup but to each their own. Sadly, Kung Fu Fighting offers neither shotguns nor axes. It does however offer plenty of cards that say “Defense + insert number here”. Only the damage that exceeds your defense affects you. Important fun fact; all defense numbers stack! So if you have the Fan in play while in the Snake Stance an attacker must do at least 5 points of damage to even scratch you.

So that is the core game and mechanics. As mentioned earlier, there is also an expansion; More Kung Fu Fighting. This set of additional cards provides you with more basic attacks, new stances, new weapons, the option of team play and two things I personally find very, very cool; Archetypes and Finishing Moves.

Archetype cards are renderings of all the great chop saki movie tropes. The Imperial General, The Venerable Master and so on. Each has their own advantages and, unlike Stance and Weapon cards stay with you throughout the game. I recommend their use personally. They add to the cinematic feel of the game and make it even more fun than it already is. But if you don’t have the ten bucks right away for the expansion or just don’t want to use them, go ahead. It’s still a good time and that’s the whole point of this hobby.

Finishing Moves also add to the fun and feeling as if you’re in a movie. You know that scene in every film where one guy-or girl- leaps, spins, hovers for a second and then kicks their opponent through a wall? Finishing move. They are the punctuation, the “Um, excuse me. Did this used to be your spleen?” at the end of an attack. You can only play one per attack but they add extra damage, give you back chi if successful and, most importantly are cool as Hell .

Overall this game and its expansion are a great way to spend a couple hours. A typical game lasts around 20 minutes so you can get several in a short period of time. At $19.95 for the core game and $9.95 for the expansion they are a great value as well. I’ve had my copy for years and it never runs out of fun. The core game isn’t much bigger than a paperback novel and the expansion is half that so it’s perfect for taking with you on a trip. Just be careful going through airport security. A couple years back I learned the hard way that a box full of card games looks an awful lot like a box full of plastic explosives on a scanner. God how I wish I were making that up.

Two final things, before I sign off. First, as much fun as Kung Fu Fighting is, part of that comes from describing what you’re doing in your attack. This is a cinematic game. Make your play cinematic. Be the star of your own chop saki epic. You know you’ve always wanted to.

Second, we have a little house rule in my family. In your opening draw, if you get a Weapon or Stance card you can play them immediately. But your total hand size including Weapons and Stances in play cannot exceed seven cards. So, pop down to your local game store or click the link to Slugfest Games website http://www.slugfestgames.com/index.php and Bring It!

Until next time

Mech out

Inaugural Post

January 10, 2011

Inaugural Post

1/10/11

Well, here it is, yet another blog about the gaming hobby. How new! How different! How very, very unusual! How about I quit trying to impress you with how damn clever I think I am and get to the part where I tell you what this blog is about, who I am and why you should read this one instead of the 87 billion other blogs about geek life that currently exist?

Odds are if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you already know me. I am Bob Wagner aka Mechgogo. If you’re a member of the Twin Cities gaming community you’ve probably shared a gaming table with me. I’ve been playing board, card and RPG games since 1989. I have been an MIB with Steve Jackson games and have been a major part of the gaming track at CONvergence since 2002. Ever played a game of Munchkin with Munchkin Guy at CONvergence? Well, now you can read about him twice a week. I admit; I’m a figure of some modest controversy. I’m plain spoken, more than a bit profane and generally not known for a soft response to people who don’t take “You are out of bounds. Please knock it off .” to heart the first time.

That being said, I know the hobby. I’ve run games for most of the systems out there. Munchkin, GURPS, D&D, HERO, Slugfest, Atlas, Looney Labs (the nice people behind Fluxx) and more.  I know what works, what doesn’t and what needs a little tweak to take it from passingly playable to addictive. This blog is going to be about board, card and RPG reviews. Odds are my painful level of honesty is going to bite me in the butt at least once since I don’t hold with giving only good reviews. If it’s playable I’ll tell you. If it sucks, guess what? You’re gonna hear about it. And in the interests of full disclosure I should let you know; I’m a demo volunteer for Slugfest Games and also for Atlas Games out of Maplewood Minnesota. Both solid companies that put out some quality merchandise but if they publish a turkey I’m going to say so.

I’ll also be doing op ed pieces. Local events going on in the gaming community, general geek etiquette, that sort of thing. I am going to be updating here Mondays and Wednesdays. Usually a new post should be up before noon that day but if it isn’t, come back later. It won’t be long. Comments and feedback are always welcome and I’m inviting anyone reading this to send topic suggestions. Just keep it civil. Manners are what separates us from the animals. Well, that and the ability to conceive of and build a flamethrower. Too bad really. It’d make trips to the zoo way more entertaining if thrown monkey feces was suddenly the least of what you had to worry about. And by all means, take all the shots you want about the similarities between this blog and thrown monkey poop.

One final note before I sign off. This blog isn’t just about what makes Eden Studios “All Flesh Must Be Eaten” RPG such a sleeper smash hit or why you’d need to be concussed to enjoy a game of “Cthulhu 500”. It’s also going to be about promoting my upcoming store, tentatively called MechGogo Games. And yes, that’s a copyright folks so don’t get any ideas.

Yes, gentle readers like every other nerd with delusions of adequacy I want to open my own gaming store. And I’m working on it as we speak. The difference between me and all too many people who make a run at it is experience. I’ve got twenty-three years behind a cash register my friends. I know what it takes to make a store , if not hugely successful then at least keep its nose above water from day to day. I’ll be keeping you posted on my progress along with the reviews, pictorials and rants about why soap is your friend. With any luck at all, this time next year at least some of you will be turning to one another and saying “Hey, did you hear the guy who runs Munchkin at CONvergence opened his own place? We gotta see this!”

That’s all for now. See you Wednesday when I’ll be reviewing Kung Fu Fighting by Slugfest Games.

Cheers!

Mech out.