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Wednesday 21 December 2016

Reviews from R'lyeh Christmas Dozen 2016

Since 2001, Reviews from R’lyeh have contributed to a series of Christmas lists at Ogrecave.com—and at RPGaction before that, suggesting not necessarily the best board and roleplaying games of the preceding year, but the titles from the last twelve months that you might like to receive and give. Continuing the 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 its annual Christmas Dozen, I can only hope that the following list 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.


The Black Hack
(Gold Piece Publications) $1.99/£1.60

Take the player-facing mechanics of Numenera and meld them with the stripped back set-up of Dungeons & Dragons and what you have is The Black Hack. What this means is that the players get to make all the rolls whilst the GM can get on and run the game, whilst the set-up means that The Black Hack plugs into just about any Dungeons & Dragons style or retroclone available. The simplicity of the mechanics has also led to a number of ‘Hack’ RPGs. Want to investigate the Mythos, then look at The Cthulhu Hack. Want to find redemption or forge yourself anew after a fall from grace in the Whitechapel of the 1890s, then The Jack Hack is perfect. These days, there is a ‘Hack’ for every genre.

Read the full review here.

7th Sea Core Rulebook

(John Wick Presents) $59.99/£49.99

Out of print for almost two decades, the 7th Sea Core Rulebook brings back the original RPG of swashbuckling action, courtly intrigue, exciting exploration, and heroic adventure. This mixes The Three Musketeers, magic, and more in a world inspired by the 17th century in which the players get to roleplay heroes uncovering mysteries, thwarting conspiracies, and so on, using newly redesigned mechanics that encourage wit, storytelling, and action. All presented in a lovely new rulebook in full colour and written to set up and play through fantastic tales in which the player characters take centre stage in the great Age of Sail (and adventure!).

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

(Z-Man Games) $49.99/£46.99

Once again the cultists of Lovecraft Country are dedicated to bringing about the End Times by summoning the Old Ones to Earth, but this time they seem to working in concert to ensure that not only are the most alien of beings are let loose upon the world, but dread Cthulhu himself is released in watery prison deep in the Pacific Ocean. In Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, the investigators must work together to the cultists from summoning shoggoths which will make their way to the nearest gate and thus summon an Elder God, gather enough clues to shut each of the gates, and stop themselves from going insane. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu brings the Cthulhu Mythos to the co-operative game design classic that is Pandemic and presents a very tough challenge in which the players play against both the board and the Mythos.

Apes Victorious: Rules for Science Fantasy Adventures on a Planet Ruled by Apes

(Goblinoid Games) $17.99/£14.99

What would you do if you landed on a devastated world where Apes are the primary species and humanity little more than animals? Sounds like the set up for Planet of the Apes? Well not quite, but Apes Victorious, an Old School Renaissance RPG explores a world very similar to it. It presents Classes and campaign ideas to play as Astronauts, the Apes, the mysterious Underdwellers, as well as in a mixed group, but sets everything up for the Astronauts crash landing and discovering the horrible realisation of a future of the 1970s that never was… All together now, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” 

Doors to Darkness: Five Scenarios for Beginning Keepers 

(Chaosium, Inc.) $34.95/£17.99

2016 was a good year for Call of Cthulhu, not only because the Investigator Handbook and Keeper Rulebook were both released in print for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, but because both books were supported by several good scenario anthologies. Not least of which is Doors to Darkness, a collection of five scenarios designed to be used as a set of introductory scenarios for Call of Cthulhu and Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. What this means is that this quintet takes both Keeper and players step-by-step through the various rules for Call of Cthulhu and does without making it obvious, all the whilst presenting good plots and horrifying situations. All five are set in Lovecraft Country, so they also introduce—whilst still leaving its secrets for other supplements—and open up future play to that blighted region of New England. Which means that this anthology is a great starting point for the playing group new to Call of Cthulhu or simply new to the new edition, as well as being both a great entry point for Lovecraft Country and a good collection for the Keeper looking for more Lovecraft Country scenarios.

Read the full review here.

Puppetland: A Storytelling Game with Strings in a Grim World of Make-Believe
(Arc Dream Publishing) $39.99

One of the original ‘New Style’ games, the storytelling RPGs that preceded the Indie Style movement of the noughties, is back after seventeen years and in a beautiful new edition. In this revolutionary RPG, darkness and horror have come to Puppetland with the murder of the Maker at the hands of Punch the Maker-Killer. Now the hubris and ambition of the dictator-puppet has turned Puppetland into a savage autocracy against which the true-hearted puppets of the players valiantly stand. The tales of their heroism will be told in precisely one golden hour each and told in the style of a tale read aloud before bedtime. Can the puppets find tales of hope to tell in a grim world twisted by Punch the Maker-Killer?

Symbaroum Core Rulebook
(Järnringen/Modiphius Entertainment) £34.99

2016 was a great year for the Swedish RPG with several making their way to the English-speaking market, but first and foremost amongst them has to be Symbaroum. This is a dark, rich RPG imbued with a brooding atmosphere and a sense of foreboding set in the young kingdom of Ambria, founded on the ruins of the ancient and long-lost empire of Symbaroum as the refuge for the survivors fleeing north over the mountains from the Kingdom of Alberetor as it fell to an onslaught from the necromantic Dark Lords. Before the young kingdom stands Davokar Forest, ancient woods long grown over an ancient kingdom which hides long secrets which Ambria believes should be hers. Can the adventurers unearth these secrets whilst not breaking the Iron Pact with the Elves that protects the forest?

Read the full review here.

(Stonemaier Games) £69.99

What grabs you first about Scythe is the artwork—the image of giant mechs in rural Europa in an alternate 1920s—but once you get the box open you have great components to match any Euro game (in both wood and plastic). In Scythe, five factions competes to control the territory around The Factory, the last hangover from the Great War, which makes it sound like a combat game and because it has mechs, it looks like a combat game. It is anything other than that, for Scythe is a worker placement-economic engine game which nicely manages the balance between the giving players multiple options and keeping the play brisk and busy. The players work to constantly to upgrade their mechs, build structures to strengthen their hold on territory, enlist new recruits to enhance character abilities, and expand their borders to gain more and better resources. These are of course fed back into economic engine and so play continues. Like every good Euro game, there is no player elimination and the winner is determined when the game ends and not before.

Adventures in Middle-Earth: Player’s Guide
(Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd) $39.99/£26.99

The One Ring is arguably the best RPG to be set in Tolkien’s Middle-earth in forty years of the gaming hobby, which is why it made the Christmas List back in 2011. Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2016 is that its publisher, Cubicle 7 Entertainment, extended the RPG to another game system, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. This after forty years of the two being kept very much apart due to licensing conflicts in the early days of Dungeons & Dragons and essentially, the high magic of Dungeons & Dragons being incompatible with Middle-earth. Set in and around Mirkwood in the years following the events of The Hobbit, Adventures in Middle-Earth: Player’s Guide presents a low magic, stripped back approach to Dungeons & Dragons that focuses on the cultures of the region, the dangers of being abroad on the road, and on the growing threat of the Shadow out of Mirkwood… The result is stronger emphasis on place and on roleplaying that showcases the flexibility of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and the capacity of Middle-earth to do adventures away from the main plots of the source material.

The Things We Leave Behind: Six Adventures into Horror and the Unknown
(Stygian Fox Publishing) $39.99/£26.99

If Doors to Darkness showcased how to take your first steps into Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, then The Things We Leave Behind showcased what the new edition could do for the here and now. It does so with six strong scenarios—two of which are really good—which explore unavoidable fates, dark secrets, and seriously bad choices. Why did a Federal Agent abduct a child and then kill himself? Who are you and what happened to you last night? What caused Karen to run away? What if a ‘hell house’ really was hell? How dangerous can fandom be? Why does a series killer take his victims' body fat? All these questions are given answers that you really do not want to know in this anthology of scenarios that should only be tackled by adults.

Read the review here.

Broodmother Skyfortress
(Lamentations of the Flame Princess 27.50

You remember how in the classic G 1-2-3 Against the Giants series of modules for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, you sneaked into the homes of giants who had been stampeding across the land and struck a blow for civilisation, but never once saw evidence of the death and destruction that ten feet tall (plus) humanoids can rent on mankind? Well, you probably do not, but now you can revisit the concept with Broodmother Skyfortress, a scenario for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay, in which giant indescribable—but probably not Lovecraftian—things descend from the sky, anchor their cloud fortress to the ground, and go on a rampage! Combining elements of a complete set-up and a toolkit, the Referee being free to set the exact nature of the things and possibly the reason why the adventurers are to ascend to the Skyfortress and penetrate its secrets, Broodmother Skyfortress is a chance for the Referee to kick over the ant’s hill that is his campaign and when all is said and done with this superb scenario, the Referee gets the Greatest Hits of the ol’ Arch-Mage’s essays and game tools into the bargain.

TimeWatch: A Game of Time Travel Action and Investigation
(Pelgrane Press) $49.99/£35.95

As the annus horribilis that is 2016 draws to close, there is yet a final chance to put everything right by turning the clock back. A final chance that involves time travel, being agents of TimeWatch, and a time travel RPG—well all right, just a time travel RPG then… The agents of TimeWatch monitor the timestream from just within the Big Bang watching for signs of intervention and paradox that will resort in history being rewritten. Their foes in this duty includes velociraptor-type sentient dinosaurs from an alternate reality where dinosaurs never went extinct and intelligent cockroaches wanting a balmy and radioactive Earth, as well as rogue TimeWatch Agents and independent time travellers whose well-intentioned idea is to kill Hitler. Players get to be Time Agents from this timeline and from the ones next door; the GM gets multiple campaign frame works, from the classic Time Patrol to Chrono-Horror with the Mythos, to play with; and the RPG’s GUMSHOE System means that the players can easily go get the clues and fight the good fight without having to worry about all that mucking about with temporal causality. Oh TimeWatch is a time travel RPG, so it comes with extra temporal causality then.

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