Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Return of Jovian Chronicles!

Hello all! As I mentioned in my last post about the gaming year 2016, it's time to finally get Jovian Chronicles to the table. Both the roleplaying game and the miniatures game. My spark was well and truly rekindled when DP9 announced the release of the new fleet scale fighters for the game and then continued to tease about possible upcoming fleet scale EXO armors as well. Initially I thought it was finally time to play some Lightning Strike, but then I got more and more into the idea of playing through the Odyssey Seed campaign that is an updated version of the Odyssey presented in the first green book when JC was still a part of Mekton. It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time and 2016 will be the year it actually happens!

Of course there's no guarantee that we will actually play through the entire thing, but later this month we'll at least have our first session where we create characters and play a short intro scenario. Exciting stuff! I've put together a shared cloud folder full of different kinds of text and video that serves as good inspiration for JC. Gundam is of course a huge influence, but so is proper hard scifi as well. In fact The Expanse works great as inspiration with the very hard scifi feel and political intrigue.

Since the Odyssey is a very broad campaign that incorporates many different milieus it can be tough (although perhaps a fun challenge!) to go through it all with just a single set of characters so I think we'll take more of an ansemble cast approach to it. Each player will have have two characters or one main character and one or more side characters. I'm leaning toward the first option, but the second could be interesting as well. We'll start off simple though, with the players making a Jovian Armed Forces EXO pilot each - the gundam influences simply are too strong to ignore and I think we all want to have fun with it. For later sessions the focus will probably shift to other types of charaters with more interpersonal and investigative skills instead. Still first thing's first - pilots and mecha!

For the most part we'll use the abstract rpg rules for everything, including space combat, but I'm toying with the idea of using the tactical rules for larger or more "important" battles. They are fairly detailed and would definitely take up the lion's share of a play session but a tactical battle now and then might be a nice change of pace and work well to remind the players of how different space is as well as creating more of a feeling of actually controlling a vehicle. We'll at least give it a try and see how we feel about it.

I don't have enough EXO miniatures to properly represent everything on the tabletop as my collection is rather eclectic, so instead we'll use the standies that come with the demo game. Should work well enough with my large hex space mat. If we ever see the fleet scale EXOs from DP9 I expect this to change though. I actually don't mind the big scale difference between EXOs and ships, and larger EXOs would look better while playing the rpg anyway, but at the moment there's no room in the budget to spend on the amount og 28mm EXOs I would need for us to play.

As for the rpg rules, I actually think Silhouette/Core Command is a pretty solid system. The basics are quite easy and intuitive (yes, you do have to do some simple arithmetic) so we'll be playing it pretty much as written when we start out. My biggest worries are its lethality and the many skills built into it. Skills are easy to cut down on though, so shouldn't be a problem if we feel the need for it. As for the lethality factor... we'll wait and see... :D

And that's about it for this update. I will be writing more about Jovian Chronicles soon, but from a miniature game perspective. I'm prepping a bunch of ships for painting and DP9 have some interesting ideas for the future of the game that I really hope will come to fruition!

Until next time.
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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Future - 2016

Alright! Here we are on the other side of that midnight clock strike and now it's all of a sudden 2016! Following on from my ramblings about past achievements and downfalls let's look forward and talk about what the new year has in store...

Board Games

I'll put MERCS: Recon at the top of this list as it's on my mind at the moment - being in a container ship a couple of days from making port in Hamburg from where the two base game boxes will find their way to my doorstep. Yes, it's almost a year late at this point, and all the extra goodies won't be here until February-ish... hopefully... but it does seem like a lot of fun and I'm excited to stuck in painting the minis.

I've talked about the game before and it's basically Syndicate the board game where you play as a five man squad of highly trained and equipped agents MERCS that infiltrate different facilities to steal corporate data, kidnap scientists, destroy prototypes etc. It's all cooperative and as you work your way through the building the alert level keeps rising and more and better equipped security turn up to try and stop you. All the while regular office workers are just trying to escape the mayhem!

Another game, actually the first I played in 2016, that I'm very excited about is Roll for the Galaxy! Race for the Galaxy since I first played it back when I lived in Tokyo. Race is a super tight card game that's easy to take with you and quick to play with great mechanics! However, it can be a little tricky to teach as there are some concepts, like your cards also being money and goods, that often confuse people. Or at least make it harder for them to make good decisions until they've played it a bunch of times. So while fairly simple the actual learning curve is steeper than it looks so it hasn't seen as much play as I would have liked in the past few years.
I've been a great fan of

Now we have Roll for the Galaxy as well, which is a kind of reimplemenation of Race but with dice as workers that you use to scout, develop, colonize, produce etc. You also have a separate track for your money and breaking it out like this has made the game so much more approachable. Much easier to pick up decent strategies from the start and simply easier to get your head around for new players. I was really surprised at how well designed it was actually! I spontaneously put it as a 10 on BGG, which is rare for me, after just one play. I enjoyed it immensely and I hope to see it on the table often during 2016. Oh, and of course the lovely lovely lovely dice... they are lovely.

2016 will also be the year when we'll see the ultimate(?) edition of High Frontier! It was very successfully kickstarted in 2015 and I have actually been holding off on playing the current version with my friends as I don't want them to learn rules that are getting outdated. There are so many things to keep track of already! Also the 3rd edition seems to be the most streamlined yet and I'm very eager to get my hands on it! High Frontier being my favourite game and everything.

When I learned that Phil was adamant about using all his original art I was both relieved and a bit disappointed. If there's one area most of Sierra Madre Games' products could be improved on, it's the art design. On the other hand it's a delicate process as Phil's art has great impact and contains so much cool information that makes you appreciate the game more. I think Greenland 2nd edition and Neanderthal might have been able to pull it off, but I would much rather have Phil's original art than some bland space art that removes a lot of the flavour when it comes to High Frontier. Anyway... when I get the new edition I'll be sure to get my friends hooked and then I'll write more session reports like the two old ones.

As I was considering what else to put in this list MYTH and Star Wars: Imperial Assault came up as two strong contenders. Both miniature based board games that require a large investment of money and time (to paint) to really get the most out of. I did get my mittens on Imperial Assault last year but have so far only played a couple of test missions with my nieces. MYTH on the other hand saw quite a bit of play and I've managed to paint most of the heroes and all of the undead (except Bones), and while Imperial Assault is all kinds of fun I've always felt that MYTH provides a more unique experience and have much better miniatures. I of course intend to play (and paint!) both games this year, but I think I might be more excited about MYTH actually. Especially with Journeyman on the horizon. Speaking of Imperial Assault - anyone besides me who'd want to play an episode VII+ version of the game?

Some other games that are high on my to-play-list is Forbidden Stars, City of Iron, Panamax, Sekigahara, Fire in the Lake, The Battle of Five Armies and, of course, Netrunner! If it seems like I'm mostly talking about games I already own you're either a long time reader of the site or some kind of savant, but it's true. During 2016 I will try to spend less money on new games and focus on playing an re-playing the ones that are already in my collection. There will of course be new games, but recently most of my board game funds has gone toward smaller, cheaper games that are quick to play and that I can bring to play with my family and relatives. Basically I will try... try being the operative word here... to limit my big game spending this year in favour of playing all the games I know I already like.

Roleplaying Games

With virtually no roleplaying being done in 2015 this list is somewhat similar to last year's. I still really want to play The One Ring. Mirkwood has always had a special place in my heart so that's probably where I would set the adventures, but Rivendell is really good and I have just started leafing through Ruins of the North which also seems pretty damn cool. And then there's the Rohan supplement not far off. I might have to consult with my players to see what they would prefer.

I have also acquired the new revised edition (thanks Ville!) which is structured better than the original two books and have some updated rules here and there. Very much looking forward to getting this to the table.

Last year I put Genlab Alfa in this spot - the sister game to Mutant Year Zero focusing on the mutated (uplifted) animals - this year I'm putting in Mutant Maskinarium instead which is another Mutant sibling game but this time focusing on the robots of the setting and should be arriving in my mailbox in March/April. The players construct a robot each as their characters complete with special cards for chassi and mechanical options, and then they are let out into the great robot Collective. Many years ago the humans disappeared but the robots remained and are now finally starting to question what they are doing and if there is any point in trying to obey the last order of the humans. Just like Mutant Year Zero really dug deep into what it meant to be a mutant Maskinarium tries focus on what it means to be a robot, about "artificial" life vs "natural" life and free will. If it sounds cool to you I'm happy to tell you that it will be released in English at a later date, although you'll see Genelab Alpha first. Oh, and if the cover art feels familiar it's probably because it was painted by world famous sci fi artist Simon Stålenhag. ;)

Next I'm going to list one of my "cornerstone games" and that is Jovian Chronicles from Dream Pod 9. It has always been a favourite of mine in terms of setting. It is basically Gundam with the serial numbers filed off but it has a lot more to offer beside mecha combat. In fact, you could remove the EXO armors (as they're called) completely and you would still have a fantastically deep and broad hard sci fi setting to play around with. I'm personally really fond of the mecha and a fan of the parts of the Gundam universe that is actually good, so for me they're just a bonus. For a comprehensive review of the game I recommend the one by The Alexandrian. There are two reasons I'm pulling this game out of the freezer for 2016. One was the inspiration I got from watching The Expanse (if you haven't seen it yet, what are you even doing here?!!) and the other was the announcement from DP9 that they're releasing fleet scale fighters for Lightning Strike, JC's miniature based sister game, and that EXO armors and a potential rules update might be released in the future if there's enough interest.

More about that last bit later on but suffice to say it made me all giddy about the setting in general. I've been spending the last few evenings reading sourcebooks and watching the original Mobile Suit Gundam. It would take some prepp but what I really would like to do is play through the Odyssey as a campaign. That is quite an ambitious plan though so perhaps a shorter adventure to be played over an evening or two might be the better jump off point. I also need to decide if I want to go with the original Silhouette system that's in the book or hack it to something else. While I quite like the core of the system it does feel a bit dated in places. We'll see.

There are of course loads of other games that crave attention. Torchbearer is never far from my thoughts and I really would like to try it with a group that aren't really veteran roleplayers or haven't played for a long time to see their take on it. Speaking of the Wheel I got the 2nd edition of Mouse Guard and right now Luke is running a kickstarter for the Burning Wheel Codex which is basically an updated book containing the old Character, Magic and Monster burners. Count me in for that! Two other RPGs that will be arriving through kickstarter this year are Infinity and Blades in the Dark. I'm still a little bit torn on Infinity - I think it will be good (they have a great line manager in Justin Alexander!) but I have not got that wow-feeling that I need to really start working on a campaign. Perhaps when I can actually read the books. Blades in the Dark looks all kinds of cool though and I'm also looking forward to the different hacks that us backers will receive. Like changing the setting to Mad Max or Star Wars. The latest quick start rules are pretty much final so I should try and get a group together to try it out!

Miniature Games

Considering the amount of board games featuring miniatures that I'm excited to play this year I think I'll avoid the more demanding miniature games to focus on games that are quick to paint and make terrain for. At the top of the list is of course  Dropzone Commander. I got almost 1500pt of Scourge just ready to go so all I'm really waiting for is my partners in crime to catch up. Gille is going for UCM and Anders, who at first wasn't partaking but changed his mind during the Dropfleet kickstarter, will command the Post Human Republic. Last year we only managed a quick tutorial game but I hope to get some proper battles under my belt during 2016. The models are quick to paint and while you can spend a lot of time on the terrain it looks perfectly fine just using the stock paper stuff as well. Thumbs up for that!

Hand in hand with Dropzone Commander comes of course Dropfleet Commander - the space combat game in the same setting with rules by veteran designer Andy Chambers. Actually, when I say space I should perhaps say orbital as the game is very much focused on the space/dirtside interaction with ships in different orbital layers and trying to land troops in cities on the planet below. Twenty years after Battlefleet Gothic Andy Chambers is again designing a space combat game and it seems like he wants to correct the mistakes in BFG but also bring something new to the table. While still following the rule of cool both Dropfleet and Dropzone are generally part of the hard sci fi school which shows in the design of the rules. I'm very excited to try this as everything I've seen and read about it so far has made it seem like a dream game come true. Hopefully it holds up to the high expectations.

Echoing my roleplaying list I'm putting another DP9 product in here: Lighting Strike - the miniature companion game of Jovian Chronicles. Another space game! Well, it's the easiest kind to make terrain for. Hehe! As I mentioned above DP9 have released the fleet scale fighters they teased more than a decade ago and they are kind of feeling the waters in regards to there being a market for Lightning Strike or not. I think the success of games like X-Wing and Armada as well as Dropfleet Commander is a great testament that people like to play space combat games. While Star Wars is of course a big pull there is more to it as there is more hard-ish sci fi in movies and on tv these days compared to the last 10 or 15 years. There's a growing excitement for space in general and I think the world is ready to go crazy for the first proper Mars mission! Anyway, I'm going to paint all my Lighting Strike ships as well as maybe some EXO armors, but what I'm really hoping to see is fleet scale  Pathfinders, Wyverns and Syreens. While I actually don't mind the scale difference all that much I think fleet scale is definitely the way to go to attract new players. I'll play some battles and post some after action reports here to see if I can't help create some buzz for what really is a great space combat game. More on this in a separate article a bit further down the line.

X-wing is also very high on my to-play list this year. I really miss the quick setup and action so hopefully we'll see a come back in 2016. Maybe even one of the campaigns that come with the huge ships! Infinity and Dust Warfare aren't going anywhere but as they are more labour intensive (especially Infinity!) they might have to take a backseat for a bit. That's to say, I'd love to play either of them, but I'm not seeing much new content being generated for them by me. Of course, seeing as I will get the rules for the tabletop game of MERCS with my MERCS: Recon pledge I will try that out as well. I actually think it has the potential to see a lot of play if it turns out to be fun as you only need a 60x90cm area for it and the squad selection is super quick. I would also like to get to play and paint some historic games like Saga or Ronin (would LOVE to do a historical Japanese table!), but I don't see me having time to get into something completely new like that this year.

And I think that's about it for the games that are at the top of my head now during the beginning of the year. I'm sure a lot of things will get shuffled about before we get to 2017 but I feel that most of these games are close to my heart and I think they'll feature quite a bit during 2016...


Thursday, 31 December 2015

Past - 2015

The time has come to look back a the past year and see what games I actually managed to play and how much fun I had with them. Generally I haven't played as much during 2015 compared to years past, which is entirely natural considering the newest addition to our family. Still, while roleplaying and miniature gaming took the largest hits I have managed to play quite a few board games!

Let's have a look at the top three lists...

Board Games

My top played this year is another card game. However, Star Wars that held this spot last year has been dethroned and decapitated by Netrunner. This was the year that I finally got absorbed into the game properly! While I still really like Star Wars the choice to go with Netrunner when it's time for a two player card game has been an easy one. Yes, Netrunner can run on longer, depending on the match-up, but it's still the better game overall. The large amounts of bluffing and trying to figure out your opponents thoughts combined with the well integrated theme makes for an exciting game that I think will be part of my collection forever. This year we also discovered online play which has allowed us to play a lot more than we'd ever be able to do face to face.

Number two is... actually the same as last year: A Few Acres of Snow! This year I've been able to play the (beautiful!) physical copy a bunch of times though, as well as some plays at It really is such a good game and while I have now accidentally discovered the Halifax Hammer I simply feel like you can just play it and avoid that single strategy. I've also become more interested in the period of the game more generally and I think I might have to see if I can source Wilderness War by Volko Ruhnke that covers the same period but in much more detail.

Number three is a newcomer and it's... *drumroll*... MYTH! While I played it once last year it didn't really take off until I got hold of my own captain's pledge and started painting. Yes, the 1.0 rules were all over the place, but we've now moved past that and the game is a lot of fun. Since I always end up the GM/Overlord/DM in my games I felt I needed at least one coop dungeon crawler and MYTH was the one I liked the look of the most. Beautiful minis, unique gameplay and a very interesting non-generic setting. I also personally really enjoy the modular bits that invite you to create the story as you go so that appeals as well of course. With Journeyman turning up next year I think MYTH will see even more play in 2016.

Behind the top three we have K2, Camel Up(!), MERCS: Conflict and Imperial Assault. Then there's Troyes, Eight Minute Empire: Legends, City of Iron, Star Trek Fleet Captains and Pax Porfiriana. To name an eclectic selection. The only thing I really miss this year is heavier titles like the COIN series or most of Phil Eklund's games. The COIN games generally require a bit more preparation and I have one person who really can't stand Sierra Madre Games' stuff so that is why. Will try to turn this around in 2016, especially since we have High Frontier 3 coming our way!

Roleplaying Games

This will be a short one as 2016 almost became a year without playing a single roleplaying game (although reading many!). However, in the nick of time a couple of friends hit me up to see if I wanted to test the latest version of the Swedish OSG game Fantasy!, which I immediately jumped at of course. Fantasy! turned out the be pleasant enough with a simple yet interesting system that I think has potential but sorely needs polish (even though this was version 3.0!). I played as the thief Slocum and together with my two companions we traveled to an ancient temple to find a legendary stone. All very OSG-ish! It didn't end well for me as I was killed by (literally) two blows from a reanimated corpse. Yes, if you're not built for combat it can be extremely deadly. Really enjoyed myself though and while Torchbearer is my OSG game of choice, I'd love to play more Fantasy! next year.

Besides that single instance there's been nothing. We haven't really had the energy/time to get our Mutant: Year Zero campaign back on the tracks and we want to do that before continuing with other games like The One Ring or Svavelvinter. Here's hoping for 2016!

Miniature Games

While most of my min gaming this year has been of the introductory sort and not full fledged battles that does mean that I have potentially more players to be able to play with next year!

In first place with a meager two plays is Infinity. My buddy Claes got into the game early in the year and we have a couple of learning/tutorial game to get into the rules. Which of course has been great for me as well as there's a bunch of new stuff in N3. We haven't really touched hacking yet and camo and droptroops only made a brief appearance, but we're having fun!

Speaking of droptroops. Dropzone Commander manage to qualify with a single play (that you can ). It's also the mini game I've done the most hobby work for - unless you count MYTH which is technically a board game - so I think I'll put it ahead of X-Wing which also saw a single play. While my friend who bought into DzC at the same time as I did still hasn't really started modelling his stuff I'm hoping we'll see a turn around on this in 2016 with the coming of Dropfleet Commander that three of us have pledged for.
read about here

As you can see Deadzone has gone completely off the radar and I'm doubtfull it'll appear again anytime soon. Dust Warfare hasn't been played either but that is certainly not for lack of will. Me and Anders have been talking about doing a follow-up to the 150pt battle report we did a couple of years ago and build on the armies we used there. Would have liked to have tried MERCS but since the KS shipment has been delayed by almost a year (hey, it's a kickstarter) no dice there. Oh, and speaking of mini gaming kickstarters, my Games & Gears battleboard for Dropzone Commander that I pledge for in December 2013 and was supposed to be delivered in May 2014 still hasn't arrived. They're saying it should be here in January but they said that a year ago as well, so yeah. Haha!

And that was my gaming year in 2015. I'll put up another post soon about the stuff I look forward to play and paint in 2016. Happy new year!!

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Monday, 21 December 2015

The Force Awakens - a No-Spoiler Review

Rey and BB-8
Last week I went to Swedens first commercial IMAX theatre to watch Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens. I was not disappointed.

Non-spoiler Impressions and Review

There is a lot to like in The Force Awakens, but the most important thing is that it actually feels like I'm watching a 'proper' Star Wars movie again! While watching it I was awed by the production design, props and creature design as pretty much all of feels like it fits perfectly into the Star Wars universe. Just like when I watched The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, I almost got a little teary eyed watching TFA as there are so many moments that I had seen in my minds eye since I was a kid and somehow they had been translated perfectly to the silver screen!

Still, when walking out of the theatre I felt happy to have seen a new Star Wars movie but it took me a day to really process it and discover my interest in the setting being rekindled. Don't get me wrong, I've always been a Star Wars fan, but ever since the disappointements of the prequals my enthusiasm has been somewhat dampened. That might have happened anyway, naturally over time, but the prequals certainly didn't help. However, now I suddenly find myself properly excited about Star Wars and the future of Star Wars for the first time in 15 years!

Say what you want of the entire saga, but even including the prequals, I kind of felt that it has grown a little stale. Hmm... that's probably the wrong word for it, but it very much felt like everything had been done. An x-wing is an x-wing is an x-wing. Kind of. Now it's all new and dynamic and fun again and I feel like that time when I was a little kid and learned that there was more than one Star Wars movie! Just having that feeling of apprehension and wanting to see what happens next, what kind of cool spaceships and planets we'll see and just following these great characters again.

Another thing that occured to me was how nice it was to have a Star Wars movie for grownups again. The prequals always felt like the aimed squarely for the younger age bracket and even though I quite enjoy Star Wars Rebels (and to a much lesser extent the Clone Wars) the same is true there. The Force Awakens, while fun and silly in just the right places, goes back to the much grittier feel of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. It's awesome having Stormtroopers actually being scary!

Now I find myself checking out all the new Star Wars books that are being released together with the movie and while books like Ultimate Star Wars look awesome I'm actually more interested in finding out about The Force Awakens - The Visual Guide, The Incredible Cross Sections and the Art Book look really nice for that! Also, I think I might need the Rey's Speeder LEGO set...

So yeah, that's my touchy-feely thoughts on the movie. Here are some bullet points.

  • Costumes, props, ships and general production design is almost flawless. There was nothing that stood out to me as 'un-starwarsy' (unlike the prequals) and it generally felt grounded in the setting.
  • It's funny in a good way! Just like the original trilogy there are jokes and funny moments and they all work and are actually funny. No poop jokes or C3PO going mental.
  • Rey, Finn, BB-8 and Poe are all characters that are likable and fun to watch.
  • The music is... there. Only Rey's Theme really stood out to me during the actual screening, but I think I need to listen to the soundtrack a bit more to get a better feel for it. 
  • Scary Stormtroopers doing the stuff that was only hinted at in the original movies.
I could keep on just typing stuff, but I'd start to repeat myself. Bottom line: the Star Wars I grew up with is back but it's new and exciting! While you can nitpick at details in the film that simply doesn't compare with the great achievement JJ Abrams and the rest of the crew has managed to pull off.

Now I need to book another screening...

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Free Fall and Strange Flesh Book Reviews

Again... it's all because of Netrunner. Playing the game has of course made me want to explore FFG's Android setting more and I decided to start by tracking down the different Android novels released during the years following the first Android board game. Most of them I managed to find through online bookshops but Golem, the first book in the Identity trilogy, proved more elusive and I had to make a special order at my local game store. While waiting for it to arrive I read the two stand alone books, Free Fall and Strange Flesh. Let's start out talking about Free Fall since that was the first book release and seem to have the broadest, most generic approach to the setting. But first, to get into the mood, let's watch a trailer for Blade Runner...

Written by William H Keith/Ian DouglasFree Fall for the most part feels like a tool to draw the reader into the world of Android. Anyone familiar with the setting knows it's a blend of many different classic sci fi works, Blade Runner being chief among them. Kevin Wilson is quick to point this out in his designers comment section in the original Android board game rulebook and he's been laying it on pretty thick in general. It's almost like a tounge in cheek über-pastiche with names like Weyland, Heinlein and Melange peppered throughout. However, although it seems like it would just be too much and become a soup of stolen ideas, the end result is greater than the sum of its parts and it works pretty well as a setting in its own right!

Still, a groan escaped me when the main character/narrator turned out to be named Rick Harrison. Yes, sometimes it's a bit too on the nose. Anyway, Rick Harrison is the typical gritty detective who tries to do the right thing in a corrupt world. The characterizations in the book aren't all that great, but most of the time they're flat stereotypes so you kind of know them already anyway. The writing in general is passable but unexciting and the story pretty much the same. If you read this book looking for a good crime story you'll likely come away a bit disappointed - however if you're in it for information about the setting it's a gold mine!

The actual board of the Android board game featuring New Angeles, The Beanstalk and the Moon.
We get to explore many of these locations in the books.
The gist of the story is that a politician connected to Humanity Labour (which is an anti-android organization) has been murdered in a very grisly fashion in a luxury hotel on the Beanstalk (the huge space elevator that the city of New Angeles has grown up around). Rick Harrison is sent to investigate but to keep it on the down low as it's a volatile situation. As the investigation progress there are human as well as bioroid (robots) and clone suspects. There's a fair bit of future CSI-ing going on which is quite well done with most of the technology used feeling reasonably realistic if you extrapolate from what we can do today. 

Still, much like the original Android game, the murder case is not really the main show - it simply serves as a framework to present the many different parts of the Android setting that makes it interesting. Although the title is a dead giveaway I was actually surprised that almost the entire book takes place on the Beanstalk or on the Moon and we only get a small section about New Angeles. The city has a much larger role in Strange Flesh though, so I suppose they planned it like this from the start. During space detective Rick Harrison's investigations we meet or at least hear about pretty much every character that is in the board game. Lily Lockwell plays a large role, as does Floyd 2X3A7C and Raymond Flint. Caprice Nisei and Louis Blaine are mentioned as well as some of the suspects like Noise, Eve and Mark Henry. In fact the only character I found conspiciously missing was the in dept bounty hunter Rachel Beckmann. When you take the time to include every other main character, why not her?

The book provides a good base coverege of the Android universe and is quite detailed on stuff like the Beanstalk. You also get a good feel for the technology level and that it is a hard sci fi setting. Smaller things like how personal communication is handled (the famous PADs of the PAD Campaign from Netrunner for example) is also expanded upon. You also get a much better idea of what bioroids and clones, the titular Androids, actually are and how they work in everyday life. Having read this book I find myself much more interested in this part of the mythos and would love to play as Floyd or Caprice if I ever get a chance to experience the board game again.

That's quite a bit of rambling with almost no information on what the book is actually about. Sometimes I impress even myself. Haha! I guess the bottom line is that it's an ok sci fi book, actually better than I expected, but great as a way to get some more meat on the bones of the setting. If you play Netrunner (or Android or Infiltration for that matter) and like the world that each datapack keeps opening up more of, my advise is to check it out. Yes, I wouldn't be surprised to see much of the same information being in the forthcoming The Worlds of Android book that FFG is releasing any day now (and I can't wait to get my hands on!), but even so I think it's well worth the time to read Free Fall. It's only 300 pages or so anyway so it should be quick.

With that said, on to the next book; Strange Flesh by Matthew Farrer.

I might as well start out by saying I liked Strange Flesh better than Free Fall. The latter was simply riddled with so many clichés that it was hard to get properly invested with the characters. While Strange Flesh is certainly no Crime and Punishment it manages to at least get me more interested in both the story and the characters. It's written in a series of flashbacks as clone detective Caprice Nisei interviews/interrogates civil rights journalist Tallie Perrault and she tells her how she ended up in a shootout with the cops.

The main focus of the book is the megacorp Jinteki and clones in general. The story follows Tallie as she is contacted by two individuals who claim to know the shady genesis of Jinteki's rise to power. This naturally involves cloning and of course, Caprice is a Jinteki clone herself specially designed for and on loan to New Angeles PD. Not just any clone but one with apparently human level intelligence and emotional capacity as well as a unique PSI ability that allows her to read minds! This is by far the most 'out there' concept in the otherwise fairly scientifically grounded Android universe and I think it was a good move to devote a book to this very special case. Overall I think it is handled well with Caprice's abilities following a certain logic and having limitations.

Her relationship with Jinteki and chairman Hiro is explored more indepth as well as some of the inner workings of Jinteki as we follow Tallie as she investigates the paper trail that her to clients present to her. I think the clone information is especially interesting as it almost reads like background to Blade Runner - explaining more about the replicants and how they're used. It's quickly clear that clones are designed and used as equipment and most of them seem much more simple or perhaps single minded than, for example, the replicants of Blade Runner (or Caprice Nisei for that matter). In one sequence (small *spoiler alert* here) a fast food worker clone is kidnapped (stolen?) and tied up in a bathroom and what he's most worried about is that he's missing work and how the restaurant might perform worse if he isn't there. He's basically programmed to love his job and only be good at what's needed for his specific line of work. It's simply good sci fi and I would have loved for the book to delve even deeper into it.

Strange Flesh is also much more focused on the city of New Angeles and while the Beanstalk makes an appearance Tallie Perrault and her clients move around many different parts of the city, allowing the reader to get better acquainted with it. There are several "famous" locations like Levy University and Broadcast Square and it's nice to connect faces to the names, as it were. While the story can be a little slow at times and Tallie often comes across as aggressively naive, I still quite liked the book and felt it was a more interesting read than Free Fall from a hollistic perspective. While it presents info on the setting it actually has a decent story to tell as well.

All in all I'm quite happy about investing some time and money in these books. Mostly because my greater comprehension of the setting (I now know New Angeles is located in former Ecuador!), but as entertaining stories as well. I've arranged to get my grubby paws on the Identity Trilogy as well, starting with Golem, and I'll make another book report once I've read that. If you decide to go for it I highly recommend plugging the Blade Runner soundtrack (preferably the Gongo edition) in your ears as you do it, it really enhances the feel!

Also, it really made me want to play the board game again. Even though I've never really been able to make it work as well as I'd like. Unfortunately I had to sell my copy when I moved back to Japan and my friend Anders got rid of his copy as well. Let me know if you have it for cheap! ;)

Don't forget, Fire Broadside is on Facebook nowadays, just like your mom and dad and uncle Enus. Until next time, dear readers!
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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A Look at Awaken and Designer Interview

Trying to fight off  a Colossus.
Now and then I get an email about kickstarter projects and creators who are interested in talking to me about writing about the project or making a preview or some such. Most of the time I politely turn these requests down as I tend to only write about kickstarters that I'm actively backing myself. However, I had to make an exception for the last email I received.

It was from one of the guys behind a project called Awaken (already funded) which turned out to be a dark fantasy roleplaying game developed by a team in Croatia and based on Slavic and Mediterranean folklore. This immediately caught my eye as I'm always looking for stuff outside the bog standard Anglic/Nordic based fantasy rpgs we're so used to. Also, when is the last time you heard of an rpg from Croatia?! This deserved further investigation.

I talked further with Zoltan Lečei, a Games Collective member and co-creator of the game, and sat down to read through the campaign and the quick start rules that are available and I am really impressed! The system used is heavily influenced by the original rules of White Wolf's World of Darkness roleplaying games although switched to a D6 base and modernized a bit. The basics are not groundbreaking as such but there are some really neat things going on like the Picture rule that gives you bonus dice, or lets you succeed automatically if you describe what you're doing really well and it makes sense in the fiction. This is something I've seen before and I imagine a lot of groups has it as an unspoken house rule, but it's always nice when a game explicitly rewards active player participation!

The other very cool thing is how combat works. You gather up your pool of dice from your Attributes and Skills and then decide how many you want to use for offence and how many for defence. All participants in the combat do the same thing and then everything takes place at once! Yes, you of course do it in sequence to avoid utter chaos, but there is no iniatiative roll and by a simple system of cancelling dice on a 1-to-1 basis (offence vs defence) you can quickly suss out what happened and who killed who. While I have yet to try it out in practice it seems really simple yet dynamic as it allows a player fluidly decide how to use the abilities of his characters depending on circumstances.

The setting is far from the tired tropes of D&D and seem fresh yet slightly familiar at the same time. I guess the idea of playing as a special group of people with powers no mere mortals possess is not uncommon in rpgs, but combining it with a completely different folklore than what most of us are used to combines to create something new. Oh, and the art! Did I tell you about the art? Because if I didn't I really should have because it's gorgeous! I'll sprinkle some in this article, but please head over to the kickstarter page for more.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. I conducted a short Q&A with Zoltan through email, just to get a better feel for the game, and I thought I'd share it with you here:

Fire Broadside: Zoltan, the game looks beautiful, with an interesting setting and some clever use of dice pools. How did the idea for Awaken come about?

Zoltan: We've created the game full of local, Slavic and Mediterranean folklore because we ourselves (and I'm talking foremost about the co-creators, Marko and me) are fascinated by those elements, even to the point of having a hard rock band with local ethno and folk elements! That's why we thought it was only natural to create a game inspired by our surroundings and present it to the world. 

Regarding the system; as you can probably notice, Mark Rein-Hagen's point distribution system was a huge influence on us. We consider it easy and inspired method of creating the diverse characters without bowing to the strict and rigid rules.

While we were playing in our gaming groups, we would often use the system in various settings, just for it's flexibility. And after we started working on the game, we decided to create a similar system that could be versatile enough to allow people to focus on the game, story and role playing, without rule mongering. To reinforce that, we've decided to include one of the "more common house rules" (to quote one reddit user) as a part of the system itself, a possibility of rewarding the player with extra dice and bonuses for his creativity during the actual play - we call it "the picture rule" 

And to speed up the in game conflicts and combat, we've decided to test out the potential of throwing the dice in the same time and simply "reading" the course of the situation from the results (when I put it that way it looks like we're fortunetellers :D ) after subtracting the negated dice from the equation. 

FB: Sounds good! Before we go further, I need to ask about the art direction! The game looks stunning with great art from a number of artists. This is one thing I love about European role playing games, or simply European games in general - they're often beautiful looking in way that many American games simply... aren't. Often (not always!) in rpg's from the US it's much more function over form where art feels like an afterthought with pictures haphazardly inserted into the book whereas in Europe graphical design is just as important as the background or the rules. The art for Awaken has a kind of otherwordly, slightly dreamy feel to it that I think goes great with the setting. How much of the art is influenced by the setting and how much is the setting influenced by the art?

Z: Hey, thanks for the kind words! Our lead artist, Kristina, is the main reason for that slightly dreamy feel you describe. She is really good when it comes to transferring the atmosphere of a certain event or giving a breath of life to characters. I really don't know what to answer regarding the influences. We just clicked somehow; whenever we imagine something and describe what we would want, she always gets it in the first try! Either we're really good in describing or she is telepathic. But it's probably that she's just a great artist :D
But to be honest, some of her works which weren't specifically designed for the game really inspired us for parts of the setting, so I could probably say that you can find the both situations here.

FB: The game system is, as you say, strongly influenced by WoD but it seems to me like that there is more to it. The Vasalli, with their different orders and gifts, almost feel like WoD characters in their own right.

Z: Well, you could say that we share the similarities with the WoD system and world building. Maybe the elegance of it influenced us more than we know. I understand that orders and gifts could look like something out of WoD books, but it somehow came naturally. Since we didn't want to limit players with various character classes, we decided to at least give the option of belonging to some organization. And gifts are just the alternative to standard magic.

FB: You've mentioned Call of Cthulhu as an inspiration for the parts of the game connected to your character's willpower and sanity. There's not really much about it in the quick start rules, so would you care to tell us a little bit about it here?

Z: Yes, the quick start edition wasn't dealing with sanity much, we wanted the adventure in it to be a little more epic and less horror kind of a story. The sanity of a character is reflected in „Virtues“ part of a character sheet (Luck, Courage and Will) and in „Corruption“ part. It's a neat mechanic which could be used for various situations; from sanity shattering situations and horror stories to the drawbacks of too much power.

FB: This might be connected to the question above - the use of gifts can have severe drawbacks to the character and there's the risk of corruption. Spontaneously this makes me think of games like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Dragon Age where magic is inherantly dangerous to use. Or perhaps Werewolf where you run the risk of succumbing to the beast inside you. How does this come out in play?

Z: Yeah, it connects nicely. The Vasalli, as we imagined them, are the regular humans intensified; all the best what could be found in people and all the worst could potentially be found in one Vasall. Vasalli are stronger, tougher and smarter than average human. But they are also more susceptible to their desires and instinct. We imagined them as volatile characters which could be prime paragons of virtues that could turn into power corrupted beasts if they allow themselves too much. And that's the main reason behind the „corruption“ mechanics – as we know, power corrupts so we wanted to balance out the potentially great power which lies in Gifts with something equaly dangerous.

FB: The setting is arguably the most unique part of Awaken I think. It's just so refreshing to have a European fantasy setting that is not (semi) anglo-saxon or nordic in its makeup. Off the top of my head the only other setting with similar elements that I can think of is The Witcher. However, whereas The Witcher feels very down to earth (well, all being relative) and gritty, Awaken comes off as much more heroic, or perhaps extravagant. The art of course helps with this, but the rules and setting as well evoke much more of a dark high fantasy world that make me think of Elric of Melnibone. I'm not entirely sure where this rambling question is going, but I'd love to hear more about how the setting came about and what kind of "power level" (to use a very mundane turn of phrase) you envision for the characters.

Z: Ah, yes, the great Witcher series! Well, our setting was designed to be slightly more epic as you noticed. But we really didn't envision it to be too epic or high fantasy. Yes, there are various creatures in the woods and the darkness, but they aren't magical beasts; at least they aren't considered as such in the world of Awaken. On the other side, we have giant Colossi which were a pretty big deal once, and now are dying out. Then, you have the Vasalli of course. With all their gifts and plethora of abilities, they are somewhat epic, but still not in the high fantasy kind of way. We actually had some questions about the „power level“ of Awaken, and we feel that it could be played in different ways, all depending on the Narrator and players. But we prefer to play it (and the setting was mainly created that way) as a toned down fantasy; the wonders of the world and setting reflected mostly in the bizarre situations and character abilities.

FB: Moving back to the system for a bit. While it will be, for the most part, familiar to veteran roleplayers there are a couple of things that immediately stuck out to me. One was the Picture system, where if you describe something well enough the narrator gives you bonus dice, or even lets you succeed automatically! This is something I'm familiar with from Torchbearer/Mouse Guard and I think it's awesome! It's probably one of those things that many players kind of do anyway when they play, but having it in the rules make it much more of a tool for the players and generate better stories. You mentioned it growing from a house rule of yours, would you care to expand on that?

Z: It's just like you said! It's commonly used house rule, but we really did want to draw attention to the existence of it and emphasize that it's a good thing for developing role playing in the groups and sessions. And since we feel the game is pretty accessible to new players and game masters we wanted to incorporate it so people could get acquainted with that options even if that is their first encounter with tabletop gaming.

FB: The other really neat mechanic is how combat works. That everyone acts at once was interesting but what really got my whiskers twitching is that you generate your entire combat pool and then divide it between defence and offence. Something I haven't come across before. It's such a simple idea but through it mechanics that are often separate in other games are boiled down into one decision which I imagine will help both with speeding the game up and making it a lot more cinematic - depending on how many dice you use on what you can see exactly how your character is fighting. How did you come up with this combat system?

Z: Marko who is lead designer of mechanics was toying with various options. He really wanted to speed things up and to avoid the usual downtime during long combats. During one of mechanic testings, it just came to him that people could avoid all that and that we could emphasise the creativity and give freedom to narrators and players during the combat. Also; it's designed as a reflection of a real life combat; it's messy and dirty, there are no chess moves while fighting. Something goes wrong, something goes right, but nobody waits for the other to punch. Everything happens in the same time. That's why the rolling in the same time is used for the game. And the decision to split the pool between offense and defense is also natural; when in a fist fight, people usually know if they want to fight defensively or all out; so the split pools would mean various stances, openings, aggression, caution etc.

FB: Finally, to round off, what kind of future do you have in mind for Awaken? Lots of splatbooks covering the different factions, pre-written adventures and campaigns, sourcebooks for interesting places, monster manuals? What can we expect to see?

Z: There are some ideas what to do after the campaign, but we have to see the reactions after the product is finally released. Of course, the world is big, and there are some things we didn't put in the core rule book. And there are different perspectives on things happening in the setting of Awaken, so there is a lot of room for additional material, and there are a lot of ideas, but for now we want to put the core book out there and see where it leads us.

FB: It's great to hear about some of your thoughts on the design process. Thanks for joining me here at Fire Broadside, Zoltan!

Z: My pleasure!

So there you have it! As I said the game is already funded, but naturally more backers means more product lined up. Right now it's only three days left, so if you're the least intrigued about what you've read head on over and give it a further look!

Although I am not able to back the project at this time, I'm hoping to be able to have a look at it when the game is released to make proper review!
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