Guest Post: Prison Architect Review

[Amy is a prolific techie, music blogger and games fan who kindly donated this review. For more stuff she’s involved in I recommend fairhearing.co.uk and the Nomad theatre website, nomadtheatre.com. -Ed.]

Two weeks ago, during my regular late night YouTube surfs I stumbled upon Sjin of the Yogscast playing the opener to the currently-in-alpha “Prison Architect”. I was hooked in the first 30 seconds and trotted off to Introversion where I could source this fantastic looking game.

Two weeks later, I’m still thinking about the prison plan I’m going to come up with when I get home from work.

Continue reading “Guest Post: Prison Architect Review”

Descent (2e) Initial Impressions – UPDATE

[17/10/2012 – I’ve had another go now and added a few new thoughts at the bottom of the post.]

Myself, Tom and Amy played through the tutorial mission and first couple of quests of Descent earlier this week, with Tom as the Overlord, Amy as a necromancer and me as a dwarf beserker.

My knee-jerk response: not as wowed as I thought I’d be. That’s not to say I won’t be playing it again – there’s enough good to overlook the bad, assuming I still feel that way after a change of character and a few more quests – but a bit of a downer after looking forward to trying Descent for quite some time.

A Quality Product

The product itself is of incredible quality – some of the best I’ve seen. Some of the model’s bases (particularly larger ones, it seemed) were warped but not so much the models couldn’t stand correctly. The flipside of this was each model is packed with a ridiculous amount of detail – the wizard’s magic book had sculpted scripture on the book. This would be incredible on a 28mm (GW scale) model, but these ones were around half that making the detail all the more impressive. Suck it, Finecast!

Complementing the level of quality the attention to the in-house art and flavour text given after every quest was greatly appreciated. Every hero has an associated quote, helping you to get into character – given the focus on dungeon crawling I felt these little atmospheric touches were very appropriate to give each player more of an investment in their characters and the overall story of their quest and the land.

I’m a big fan of multi-game / post-battle sequences in games (see the oft-mentioned Necromunda) and the shopping and experience system here was concise and neat, but adds plenty of long-term replay value. I particularly liked the multitude of options between class, character, specification and abilities which means no one character will play quite the same twice. That said I found to my cost that my Beserker wasn’t suited to a 2-hero game, as without a healer he ended up left in a bloody pool on the floor most of the time. The ‘unconscious’ mechanic was more frustrating than not – at one point I found myself thinking I’d rather be taken out of the fight than reviving, only to be knocked down again. A less scrupulous overlord could quite happily keep a downed character locked down while getting on with the objectives elsewhere. With more players and/or a character that can heal this would likely be much less of an issue.

Dice, Y u no simple?

Having a maximum of 2 dice to roll may help keep things simple, but certain enemies didn’t fit the pre-established pattern, causing confusion (why did spiders do a close combat attack, but using the dice for ranged attacks? Why were they the only ones?) Reading and tallying multiple effects from the dice (along with effects from abilities, items etc.) seemed to bog down the game and negate the benefits of only rolling 2 dice in the first place. Two potential solutions spring to mind:

  • More dice to roll (e.g. roll 2 attack dice and one separate surge dice. Or, since the close combat dice can potentially do more damage, could close combat attacks simply roll a 3rd dice?)
  • Using some (or all) regular d6s and compare the results between attacker and defender (such as with Project Pandora, for example) – this would be more ‘elegant’.

That said the game moved quickly without too much rules confusion – far more graceful than a dedicated RPG like DnD. Rules for everything you’d need were in pretty close reach at all times (and will be helped by the Headless Hollow game sheet next session, assuming I remember to print them!)

Overall definitely a worthwhile purchase and I will be playing again – but some surprising rules quirks did temper my enthusiasm.

17/10/2012 – Not-so Initial Impressions

So Tom and I tried another run of the game yesterday with me taking two guys against the Overlord this time and – I pretty much got my arse handed to me again.

I certainly enjoyed the new classes, and the dice system is  straightforward enough now I’ve gotten over my initial confusion to keep play running along smoothly. But two heroes don’t seem to be able to put out enough damage to complete their objective – next time we’ll need to see how the game plays with 3 or 4 heroes on the table, I suppose.

“Nightfall” (Lady Blackbird Sci-Fi Conversion) Session Notes

Roll20

Before I go into the session, this was the first time using the online roll20 system. There were some strange bugs (one of the players was still in the session but we couldn’t see his portrait) and the voice chat couldn’t compete with Skype, so we quickly dropped it. As we didn’t use characters or maps it was largely treated as a doodle/scribble space, which was occasionally a distraction but more often a handy way to describe characters and items, as well as take quick and public note of everyone’s dice pools.

Overall it was a pretty slick system and I’d use it again – I’m sure I’m not the only gamer who has friends all over the bloody place and it’s great to have a way of us all playing together (albeit without actually being together).

Session 101: “Nightfall”

This was my first runthrough as GM for my “Nightfall” one-off RPG, inspired by the likes of Lady Blackbird. With me were Tim (as 21, an old mutant merc with bright eyes and purple hair) and Tom (as Szygy, an aquatic alien doctor with a secret mission).

The players started onboard a public transport ship en route between planets. Without warning, the ship was attacked by a massive, black, run down pirate ship bristling with guns (later found out to be piloted by a vicious lizard-like species known as the Karg).

Directed to the nearest escape pod, the players watched as the ship was torn into pieces – the fates of the other pods unknown.

After drifting in space for several hours, the pod came into range of the local net from the closest planet. Unfortuntely, they also drew the attention of a Karg boarding ship. Both players placed themselves in the path of the boarding party (one giant karg foot soldier) – who crumpled like an 8-year old when Tim kicked him straight in the nuts. (Un?)fortunately the authorities intervened before Tim could do any more kicking and it took some fast talking from the players to stop them being blown out of the planet’s airspace. As it was, they managed to calm traffic control down enough to get a tow to the nearest satellite, Shallow Star 8.

Onboard the satellite (a sort of customs and dropping point for people looking to get to the planet below) the players found themselves some bed and board. Szygy sent a courier beacon to his government telling them he was safe, but due to the nature of space communication wouldn’t get a reply for at least 24 hours. 21 on the other hand did what he enjoyed best – found the seediest pub on the station and gambled and whored his way into oblivion. [one of 21’s keys is that he is addicted – after this we all agreed he was addicted to gambling.]

The following day, the players got a message from one of the other survivors to meet them in a seedy bar. The other survivor – a well-dressed human – had a proposition for them: he was a human politician  travelling undercover, and needed capable bodyguards to get himself back to humanity and out of the clutches of the Karg. 21 was unsure – he had no way of trusting the human – but a fortnight’s wages was enough to sweeten the deal. [Szygy was happy to go along with any plan that got him closer to his own civilisation.]

All three agreed that, notwithstanding any other options in the meantime, securing the Karg boarding ship (currently impounded somewhere on the station) was the best option and agreed to meet at the hangar in 24 hours. The human left to secure some supplies for the encounter.

Szygy left the bar soon after. After realising he wouldn’t get any help from his government any time soon, he decided to explore the hangar in advance and try and find where the fighter was located. Collaring the youngest engineer in the bay, he convinced the poor sap he was an official and needed to know where the ship was right away. Suitably intimidated, the tech led Szygy straight to where the ship was stored; although unfortunately he couldn’t get past any of the guards. At this point Szygy realised he’d need 21’s help and headed back to the bar to track him down…

In fact, 21 hadn’t left – at least not by choice. After the others had gone, he’d settled in for another night of gambling and whoring, only to spunk away most of his profit to some yuppie twerp who’d come off planet for the weekend. To make matters worse, an alien even uglier than his started smack-talking the minute he sat down to drink his pint. [“My friend doesn’t like you. I don’t like you either..!”] Inevitably, a bar fight soon followed and 21 found himself sent straight through a plate glass window. The police arrived on the scene to drag him away.

The following morning, 21 was sleeping off a hangover in the cells (made of stone, as was the tradition of the rock-based security chief Phroszt) when he got a visitor – Szygy had tracked him down. Out of options, Szygy attempted to stun the rocky guard but needed 21’s help (more accurately, his boot, thrown through the bars with unerring accuracy). With the guard stunned and 21 free, the two made a break for it.

They made their way to the main holding area – waiting for them was the guard on reception (keeping himself and 21’s guns behind a thick glass screeen) and reinforcements in the shape of a single swat team member. Between the two of them, they managed to take the SWAT man down, steal his equipment and break into storage to get 21’s guns back. Leaving the HQ, they got an angry message from the human – they were already 90 minutes late for their rendezvous…

Session Thoughts

Overall everyone seemed satisfied with the system. I’m aware I railroaded the players a bit initially (to get them into an escape pod) – in retrospect it would have made more sense to simply start the game in the escape pod and let them improvise from there. Once things got going both PCs were quite happy to improvise and help build the world on the fly and I enjoyed stepping in and escalate things when rolls went bad.

I think the traits and tags as used were either too constricting as a concept, or I simply didn’t give each player a wide enough array of options from the start. I have some ideas to tweak this system for future sessions which should be both more entertaining and flexible.

Review: Faster Than Light (PC)

Grab it on Steam or direct (DRM free) from the website.

Good

  • Immersive but simple gameplay
  • Easy to get caught up in your characters wellbeing
  • Lots of Star Trekky elements to fiddle with, all with ongoing value as you play the game
  • Rewarded for the bigger risks
  • Frontier/Elite random generation adds great replay value
  • Music seemed too simple (almost cheap) at first but becomes surprisingly haunting later on

Bad

  • Sprites are simple and get the job done, but lacking in style
  • Was hoping for something more open-ended
  • Random generation can make for unnaturally difficult game (personally I like that kind of element, see Necromunda – again!)
  • Could they incorporate multiplayer somehow? (something like Artemis)

Overall

Fantastic value game, very easy to pick up and play (and then get engrossed). A very old-school vibe meets modern casual gameplay. Recommended.

RPG design in the “Lady Blackbird” style

So I’ve been recommended Lady Blackbird a couple of times and it’s been in the back of my mind to build something based off it. (Obviously I can’t just play the damn thing as written, that’d be far too straightforward.)

So far I have a new, sci-fi setting (taking some cues from things like Star Trek and Mass Effect, as well as some of the ideas from an RPG I was working on earlier this year that may still see the light of day, tentatively called Erebus).

“Nightfall” (Beta 03/10/2012) (pdf)

I showed the spoiler-free parts to some of the group last night and they seemed pretty positive (the ones who weren’t falling asleep, anyway – we did start looking about 11:30). The traits and tags mechanics seemed clear enough, as did the basic characters I’d created.

Based on the feedback I clarified some of the descriptions and tried to make each character a little more unique. I’m still a bit cagey as to how they’ll work in gameplay but hey, only one way to find out I guess.