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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Reviews from R'lyeh Christmas Dozen 2013

Since 2001, I have contributed to a series of lists in December at Ogrecave.com, suggesting not necessarily the best board and roleplaying games of the preceding year, but the titles that you might like to receive and give. Initiating a break with tradition – in that the following is just the one list and in that for reasons beyond its control, OgreCave.com is not running its own lists – Reviews from R’lyeh would once again like present its own list. Further, as is also traditional, Reviews from R’lyeh has not devolved into the need to cast about “Baleful Blandishments” to all concerned or otherwise based upon the arbitrary organisation of days. So as Reviews from R’lyeh presents the what is my dozenth’s Christmas List Dozen, I can only hope that the twelve below includes one of your favourites, or even better still, includes a game that you do not have and someone is happy to hide in gaudy paper and place under that dead tree for you.


Tales of the Sleepless City 
(Miskatonic River Press), $29.95/£21.99
It is sad news indeed that Tales of the Sleepless City, an anthology of scenarios set in New York during the Jazz Age, is Miskatonic River Press’ swansong for Call of Cthulhu. This beautifully presented book contains six scenarios that bring the Big Apple to life like no supplement for Call of Cthulhu before! Let your investigators discover how far reactionaries will go to preserve the fabric of New York, expose them to bloody horrors in the museum, or have them experience Harlem in mourning. Send them into Hell’s Kitchen to live in a slum tenement owned by the worst slum landlord possible, have them expose a dark future for one young child in Chinatown, or let them truly enjoy a night at the opera… Tales of the Sleepless City is the best Call of Cthulhu title of 2013 – it is such a pity that we shall not see its like again from Miskatonic River Press.


Hanabi (Cocktail Games), $11.99/£8.99
Remember how 7 Wonders made the Ogrecave.com Christmas list back in 2011 after not winning the ‘Spiel des Jahres’ (German ‘Game of the Year’), but winning its new bigger brother award, the ‘Kennerspiel des Jahres’ (roughly ‘Connoisseur-Enthusiast Game of the Year’)? Well this year we include an actual ‘Spiel des Jahres’ winner, one from the designer of 7 Wonders – Antoine Bauz. His award winning design is Hanabi, a clever game in which the players race to bring about the most impressive fireworks display. This requires that the players work together in order to launch the fireworks in the right order, which means everyone playing their cards in the right order. The twist in this co-operative card game is that everyone can see each other’s cards, but they cannot see their own! This is a clever little card game about communicating the right information with your other players in order to win the game.


13th Age (Pelgrane Press), $44.95/£39.99
What do you get when a designer of Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition and a designer of Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition decide to create a fantasy RPG together? The result is Rob Heinsoo and Jonathon Tweet’s 13th Age, a furiously fun take upon playing Dungeons & Dragons. It still uses the d20 System, but streamlines the mechanics and play style for faster game, combining well-designed character Classes with story-telling aspects that both tie the heroes into the broadly drawn setting and make them stand out as potentially epic champions. With Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition not out until GenCon 2014, 13th Age is the freshest take upon Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying in years.


Ogre Designer’s Edition
(Steve Jackson Games), $100/£85
If in 2013 the gaming hobby, the elephant in the room that is Dungeons & Dragons was on holiday, then pound for pound, its spot was occupied by a 26 lbs. tank. Big enough and heavy enough to scare your game’s collection, the Ogre Designer’s Edition brings back Steve Jackson’s first game design in a very complete combination of the original classic Ogre and G.E.V. two-player game, plus more. Five maps, hundreds of counters, and over seventy 3D Ogres and buildings, all in a big box! What’s an ‘Ogre’ you ask? A big tank, a big damned tank under the command of an A.I. and bristling with big guns, big rockets, and big nukes, all rumbling towards you… Can you stop it before it stops the units under your command…?


Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords - Base Set 
(Paizo Publishing), $59.99/£49.99
Remember the original Adventure Path campaign for Rise of the Runelords and how we liked it last year enough to include Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path Anniversary Edition on the 2012 Ogrecave.com Christmas List? This year, you get to play it all over again with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords, a game that distils the essence of both the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and Rise of the Runelords into an elegant and quick playing deck-building card game that plays equally well for four players as it does for the single player. The game pitches a party of adventurers in a series of scenarios against various villains and their henchmen who are hidden – find the henchmen and the heroes have a chance of finding and defeating the villain. The adventurers need to have the right skills, right spells, and right equipment all at the right time – and if they succeed they get better. All represented on the cards, which makes for both slick game play and extended game play over the course of the Rise of the Runelords campaign.


Firefly: The Game
(Gale Force Nine), $50/£44.99 
If there is one RPG that we are looking forward to in 2014, it is Margaret Weis Productions’ Firefly Role-Playing Game – of which you can find a taster here – but that is coming in 2014. In the meantime, you can fly the ‘friendly’ ‘Verse in search of a profit aboard your own Firefly Class transport in this well-appointed boardgame from Gale Force Nine. Some jobs will be legal, some jobs will be illegal, and some may bring the attention of the Alliance or worse, Reavers! All you need is the right ship, the right crew, and the right job – maybe it’s a job for Badger, maybe for Niska, but it just needs to go shiny. The game does not always go smooth, but if you are a fan of the television series, then is exactly what you want. Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying…


Fate Core System (Evil Hat Productions), $25/£16.99
In most RPGs you sit down, create a character and start playing a world of the GM’s creation (or purchase). In Fate Core System, the new edition of the Fate System first seen in Spirit of the Century, you sit down and work with your fellow players and the GM to decide upon a world and the elements in it. This presents enormous flexibility in creating the game that everyone wants to play, whether that is protecting small town Texas from the scum of the universe in 1961, strapping on a jetpack to free the Solar System from the yoke of the Mongol Horde, or wielding the arcane arts against the greatest of Napoleon Bonaparte’s sorcerers! It means that right from the start, the players have narrative control of who their characters are and what their place in the world is, the GM taking his cue from these characters and the narrative that they demand. This is a game about dramatic characters and their adventures and the means to build and run them. (Two supplements – Fate Worlds: Worlds on Fire and Fate Worlds: Worlds in Shadow each come with six ready-to-play settings should the GM and his players not have the time to create worlds of their own, or just want to cut to the chase).


Love Letter (Alderac Entertainment Group), $11.99/£7.99
Princess Annette is unhappy and has locked herself away in the castle; as a suitor can you make her happy once again? To do that you need to get a love letter to her, but between you and the Princess stands the palace bureaucracy – from the lowly guards and priests up through the barons, handmaidens, the King, and the Prince to the Countess and the Princess herself. Each and every one of these august – and not august personages – has a special ability that will advance or block your path to the Princess, but no suitor knows whose favours his rivals currently possess. This is a quick-playing game of bluff and deduction that plays perfectly between other games.


Adventures in Kaphornia 01 – Draconian Rhapsody: A Fantasy Movie For Your Game Table (Chronicle City), $19.99/£13.99
Sadly, roleplaying takes time and there are times when it would be great to have something that you can pick and play with a minimum of preparation. Originally published in German by Ulisses Spiele GmbH, Draconian Rhapsody is just one solution. It is not an RPG as such, but rather a scenario that comes with everything necessary to play – except dice of course! It includes ready-to-play characters, simple rules, and of course an adventure that everyone can jump straight into. Arriving in Kaphornia, through circumstances beyond their control the adventurers discover that Countess Esmeralda of Belzheim needs a dragon, alive and inside of a week. Can they capture the dragon for her in this definitely cinematic, if slightly humorous adventure? Draconian Rhapsody is at its heart a fantasy action movie that you can play through in an evening.


Numenera (Monte Cook Games), $59.99/£39.99
Were the people of the Ninth Age ignorant of the past, then perhaps Clarke’s Law, that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” might be true. In the very far future of the Ninth Age, humanity is surrounded by the fragments and remains of the previous ages – swirls of nanotechnology, impossibly manicured buildings and landscapes, creatures and peoples bio-engineered to some unknown ends, data streams from still-orbiting satellites, and devices and objects weird and wondrous. Such devices, known as the ‘numenera’, can often be used by the peoples of the Ninth Age, or if not, adapted to a new purpose – perhaps by the Amber Priests. With Numenera, the author’s first RPG of his own design, Monte Cook lets us explore a world of fantastical science to build a bright new future.



Eternal Lies (Pelgrane Press), $49.95/£32.95 
In the 1920s, doughty and stalwart men and women banded together to investigate and thwart the menace presented by threats beyond mankind’s understanding and sanity. We have played out such attempts in Masks of Nyarlathotep, Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, and The Day of the Beast, each in their own way classic campaigns for Call of Cthulhu, but there is one question that has never been asked. What if they failed? This is the set-up for Eternal Lies, the first full campaign for Trail of Cthulhu, Pelgrane Press’ RPG of clue-orientated Lovecraftian investigative horror. In this globe-spanning campaign, the investigators must follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, uncovering clues old and new, not just to reveal the nature of the menace, but to determine where their predecessors went wrong. This is superb interpretation of a classic format that promises month after month of sanity searing play around the world.


Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game (Fantasy Flight Games), $59.95/£39.99
The gaming hobby feels all the better for having an RPG based in the Star Wars universe on its shelves and in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, Fantasy Flight Games gives us the first of a trilogy of new Star Wars RPGs. In the one you play Bounty Hunters, Colonists, Explorers, Hired Guns, Smugglers, and Technicians attempting to get by on the Outer Rim, far from the centre of the galaxy, but not so far that the Empire is no longer a threat. The new mechanics use a set of dice particular to the game whose results drive the adventure onwards with results that might ensure a hero’s successes whilst upping the threat or giving him an advantage, all in support of the game’s cinematic style of play. Already supported with several supplements, the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game is also available to help you get started.


Against the Slave Lords
(Wizards of the Coast), $49.95/£34.99 
With no new official Dungeons & Dragons titles of note this year, perhaps the best were the nostalgia titles repackaged and re-released by Wizards of the Coast. Against the Slave Lords collates four scenarios – A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity, A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade, A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, and A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition. Previously released as the collection, Scourge of the Slave Lords (A1–4) which was voted the twentieth greatest Dungeons & Dragons scenario of all time, Against the Slave Lords is a campaign for characters of fourth through seventh levels set in the World of Greyhawk that pitches them against an insidious gang of slavers. Presented as a pleasing hardback that not contains the original four scenarios, but also adds a fifth scenario designed to introduce player characters to the campaign, which means that Against the Slave Lords can not only be played by us old nostalgic players, but new ones too.