Archive for September, 2011


Polaris

Every once in a while I stumble across a game that forces me to reconsider the hobby; Ben Lehman’s Polaris is one such game. I’ve just finished reading it and feel compelled to write an immediate review: it’s just that good. Several years ago I read a few reviews of Polaris over at RPG.net. At the time I was intrigued by the premise of knights traveling a tragic, frozen waste. I didn’t purchase Polaris at the time because it wasn’t in a PDF format. But when I saw it this last monday in a local gaming store I couldn’t pass it up.

But I really had no idea the calibre of game I had stuffed into my front pocket before venturing into a packed black metal show (if I’d known the quality of game at the time, I’d have taken much greater precautions). Polaris doesn’t provide a traditional introduction, instead it delves into the flavor fiction that served to hook my interests immediately. Even in the first few pages I realized that this game prioritized tone and (at a level rarely paralleled in the hobby) a very authentic and substantial emotional investment. Participants play the role of knights whose struggle is tarnished by the failings of their decadent people. As I mentioned earlier, this game ends in tragedy. This is made all the more profound to the reader only in the few final pages (before the appendixes), which is a writerly tactic I found to be surprisingly moving – without even playing the game!

[photo linked from gdargaud.net]

The rule-mechanics are on the more abstract side – which curtail to my personal RPG tastes. There is no GM (which if you’ve read my reviews before, you know I approve of). Instead every main character is surrounded by a (metaphorically speaking) cloud of story arcs. So while one character/player owns the spotlight, the other participants take on the roles of the other characters, events, and storytelling responsibilities.

At it’s heart this is a game about developing a constantly evolving group-infused story. But the game’s true innovation lies within the subtle deal-making quality that the rules encourage. The story develops as players take turns compromising with, or pushing the other players to drive the story. The more a player is willing to push a character or the story in a particular direction, the more their character slips towards the promised tragedy. This game is in a class of its own; truly a piece of gaming-art if such a thing exists. Polaris attacks industry standards to prove itself a premier example of indie game design. Saying anything else is a waste of your time when you should be reading Polaris right now!

Advertisements

Space Exterminators

Marines!

Starship Troopers has marched (with machine-gun in tow) to the very pinnacle of tongue in cheek sci-fi’s that always seem to have a steady rotation on TV. Tremors is another long-running favorite of mine. These are the calibre of films that aren’t to be taken terribly seriously and thrive on good ole’ fashioned ass-kickin’ action. I love these movies for the same reason I love the zombie movies Peter Jackson has a hand in: these are films defined by a relentless and thrilling absurdity.

Rarely do I find an RPG these days that gets me as excited as 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars. 3:16 offers a refreshing space marine romp with a singular goal, eliminate all alien life. No, you aren’t really playing one of the good guys. Instead, you are playing a thrill-crazed warrior charging toward the flames of alien oblivion. I do not recommend getting overly attached to your character. Something I find very appealing in tabletop RPG’s is subtle competition between the participants. 3:16 is all about racking up as many alien-kills and medals as possible before the inevitable burnout.

This adds a certain bragging-rights appeal to the gaming experience which I find strangely comparable to console FPS’. The rules are are designed around the d6 and d10, and are perhaps the most impressive set of rules I’ve seen in years. The mechanics fit the tone of the game perfectly. The rules are fast, brutal, and easy to master. Character creation might take twenty seconds or so, certainly less than a minute (this is no exaggeration).

Photo found here.

This game is so appealing because the game allows character development and background to blossom during play. This is utilized in “flash-backs,” and is perhaps my favorite aspect of the game. There are also plenty of charts and tables to make things very simple for the GM. This game is marketed as low-prep, and it is (practically a Godsend for those busy GM’s and players who want to get right down to playing).

3:16 places a tremendous amount of control into the players hands. It is not the GM’s responsibility to narrate every minute detail, but instead players are encouraged to aid in the universe building to an extent rarely seen in most RPG’s. For example, when a player succeeds in an attack or action, they are encouraged to describe and embellish upon the specifics – not the GM!

The highest military rank the players can achieve in 3:16 allows them access to an item called “The Device.” It can only be used once (and I mean ever in a given campaign) because once used it ends the game. It destroys such a vast pocket of the universe that the players and even the entire army of the 3:16 are obliterated. Yes, players can voluntarily achieve “Game Over.” Why would anyone do this? Because they can, and it’s hilarious.

The writing is excellent, I love an RPG that can make me laugh. Gregor Hutton (the game designer) writes succinctly but with plenty of space marine “quotes” to get the GM’s right on target for the game’s feel. I should mention that the art also complements the game beautifully. At the risk of sounding art-ignorant (I am), the interior art reminds me a bit of Frank Miller if he lived in the Warhammer 40K universe. There’s ample use of negative space which I find to be highly dramatic and so very cool. Really it’s just top notch.

In summary, just go buy this game. If you like your sci-fi more than intense and the action humorously over the top, you will devour this game. I have. As I finish writing this I’m looking up other Gregor Hutton games, and I can’t wait to tear into those the next chance I get.

An aside: I have been writing on this blog far less than I would like to. Fear not – this blog isn’t dying. Hibernation is a natural occurrence,  and my blog is just going through a “bear-phase” right now (Really I’ve just been very distracted and busy). I will still be writing, just not as much as I have been able to in the past. My goal is to get back to the old pace, once life becomes a bit clearer for me.

Additionally, my oldest RPG pal and I have been talking about an RPG I want to design. Not only is he an excellent sounding board, he is also an excellent artist. The game will be sci-fi and thats all I want to say at this time. This is a project I’ve been mulling over for a very long time. My friend will be doing art for the project, and maybe a bit of writing if he has the inclination.

You will be seeing more about this project as it develops. Also, if there are any readers out there who dig the games I’ve reviewed or the things I’ve talked about, please contact me if you are interested in play-testing. That wont be for a long time, but I figure I might as well cast the line.