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Wednesday 1 January 2020

Reviews from R'lyeh Post-Christmas Dozen 2019

Since 2001, Reviews from R’lyeh have contributed to a series of Christmas lists at Ogrecave.com—and at RPGaction.com 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 (Post-)Christmas Dozen, I can only hope that the following list includes one of your favourites, or even better still, includes a game that you did not have and someone was happy to hide in gaudy paper and place under that dead tree for you. If not, then this is a list of what would have been good under that tree and what you should purchase yourself to read and play in the months to come.


Ravensburger £24.99/$29.99
Can you defeat the great white shark which has been preying on swimmers and holidaymakers on Amity Island? Jaws: A Game of Strategy and Suspense is proof that game designers can take an forty-five year old intellectual property and turn it into a good game. This is a semi-co-operative game in which Brody, Quint, and Hooper must first drive off the shark—played by the fourth player—before it eats too many swimmers and go to sea aboard the Orca to face the shark as it hunts them. This is a tense game of hidden movement (by the shark) and desperate searching (by the hunters) played across two very different acts, but which together can the flavour and feel of the film. Play the game, quote the film, and see whether you can beat a great white shark before it eats you and the boat!

Chaosism, Inc. £23.95/$29.99
The Game Master Screen Pack for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is proof that you can do more with a GM screen and some reference and/or character sheets. Yes, there is a references booklet, a Gloranthan Calendar, two character sheets, seven pre-generated characters, and six full colour maps, and that in addition to the sturdy, genuinely useful GM screen. That is not all though, for the included ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book provides everything that the Game Master needs to get her RuneQuest campaign going. It reintroduces the classic setting of Apple Lane as well as the surrounding lands and supports it through three scenarios and numerous scenario hooks. These tie the adventurers into the local area, events, and politics following the Dragonrise which presages the coming of the Hero Wars. Altogether, the Game Master Screen Pack will not only support a gaming group for numerous sessions, but it also sets a standard by which other Game Master screens and their supporting content should be measured.

Cubicle Seven Entertainment £22.99/$29.99
The shelves at our local gaming shop always feel better for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
the British fantasy roleplaying game being on them. And they feel better for the new Fourth Edition having its own starter set. Like any good starter set the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set includes everything necessary to play. In particular, 
ix, ready-to-play adventurers, a complete setting, and a five-part mini-campaign, plus a whole lot more for the Game Master to develop. This is a richly appointed box set which comes at very pocket friendly price and with everything necessary to get a group playing or it can be used as a scenario and setting set which can be played using the full rules of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition. Whichever it is used, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set is a perfect introduction to the Old World and a life of ‘Grim and Perilous’ adventure.

Old School Essentials Classic FantasyNecroctic Gnome £26/$40Remember a time when men were men (and Clerics, Fighters, Magic-Users, and Thieves) and Elves were Elves, Dwarves were Dwarves, and Halflings were Halflings? And what they did was delve deep into caverns and dungeons in search of adventure and danger? This is the world of Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy, a retroclone of Basic Dungeons & Dragons, the version designed by Tom Moldvay in 1981. Long out of print, this redesigned and represented version brings ‘Old School’ roleplaying back like never before in an accessible and attractive hard cover enabling gamers to experience the gaming they played back when they started or even for the very first time. The Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Rules Tome is everything that a gaming group wanting to try the Basic Dungeons & Dragons’ of old will need and the perfect update that the 1981 Moldvay version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons deserved.

Published as a beautiful hardback, Liminal is an urban fantasy roleplaying game set entirely within the United Kingdom, a United Kingdom with a Hidden World populated by the strange and the otherworldly, in which magic and magicians, vampires, werewolves, the fae, and many myths of the British Isles are real. It is riven by factions, such as the conerservative Council of Merlin, the scheming vampires of the Soldality of the Crown, the Fae lords, the Queen of Hyde Park and the wife-hunting Winter King of the north, whilst the Order of St, Bede, a Christian order, is dedicated to protecting the mundane world from magic and the supernatural and keeping it and the existence of magic a secret. Where Fortean or inexplicable crimes occur, P Division, a national agency of the British police, are likely to investigate, but cannot mention magic, for fear such knowledge might leak… The players take the role of ‘Liminals’, able to stand astride the mundane and the Hidden World, working as a Crew—which the players create along with their characters—which has its own objectives and facilities, to investigate the weirdness and mysteries that seeps into the real from the Hidden World.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game
Free League/Modiphius Entertainment £39.99/$53.99

In the vast coldness of space, you might lose your life to the environment—radiation will cook you alive, black holes will rip you apart, and the void itself will freeze your blood and seize your brain; you might die as collateral damage in the cold war of aggression between rival governments; greedy corporations might enslave you or drive you into poverty in their relentless scramble for resources; or the frontier world you staked your hopes and dreams on might simply poison or starve you. Then are the things that lurk in the darkness, the things of nightmare, the things that see humanity as prey, as a resource… or worse. This is the future of 2183, a future we have seen depicted on the Silver Screen in Science Fiction Horror classics, Alien and Aliens, but now made accessible and ready for us to explore in the Alien: The Roleplaying Game. Play marines or corporate troopers, colonists, ship’s crew, scientists, company men, even synthetics in cinematic one-shots or grim sandbox campaigns in what is the definitive licensed bug hunt Science Fiction roleplaying game.

King Arthur Pendragon
Chaosium, Inc. £31.99/$39.99

The classic roleplaying game of Arthurian legend, questing, honour, passion, romance, and glory returns in a brand new, full colour edition, today very much the masterpiece it was upon first publication in 1985. King Arthur Pendragon takes place in the ‘Dark Ages’ of the Fifth Century with native Britons, the players taking roles of noble knights, holding off the Saxon invaders, sees the discovery and rise of King Arthur, inaugurating a golden age of chivalry, Christianity, and feudalism, and of honour, romance, and great quests, before the death of Arthur ushers a return of the Dark Ages with greater Saxon successes… At its heart lie a set of personality traits shared by every knight which can change and grow over time, but in play can direct a knight to a particular response or action and so further the story. Knights do not only go on quests and go to war, but they raise families too, hoping to have an heir who will continue the glorious actions of his father. This dynastic play ensures enables a gaming group to play from before, after, and throughout the whole of King Arthur’s reign. King Arthur Pendragon is one of the greatest roleplaying games ever published, the perfect combination of mechanics and theme. 

Best Left Buried
Soul Muppet Publishing £12/$17

We have been doing it for decades. We have been venturing through the cracks and breaks in the ground into the caves and crypts below and beyond in search of secrets and treasures. We were told that this was dangerous. We were told that we would face monsters, weird environments, eldritch magic, and more… We did not believe what we were told. We were fools. Deep underground we suffer constant stress, face fears hitherto unknown, and will probably return from the depths physically and mentally scarred, the strangeness we have seen and the wounds we have suffered separating us from those not so foolish as to descend into the dark. This is the background to Best Left Buried, a stripped back, simple Old School Renaissance-style roleplaying game of brutal, unforgiving underground exploration, in which Cryptdiggers plumb the depths, make discoveries if they are lucky and suffer the consequences if not… Best Left Buried is a bruising fantasy heartbreaker, presenting the old school style of play anew in which few Cryptdiggers return unscarred from their endeavours with some remaining below to become monsters that will stalk and prey on future delvers.

The world of Carbon 2185: A Cyberpunk RPG is the Earth of 2185, a world of the left behind by ‘The Scramble for the Stars’, a world where rampant environmental collapse has forced cities to build protective against the rising seas and pollution has turned the spaces between the cities into wastelands, and a world that is simply a market for corporations discovering and developing new products offworld. As Daimyo, Docs, Enforcers, Hackers, Investigators, and Scoundrels, the player characters need to find a way to survive, to make connections, to make money in this Cyberpunk roleplaying. If only to pay for the implants and cyberware whose power cells are poisoning them even as they give them an edge on their missions. Using the mechanics from Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, this is a surprisingly accessible, but gritty treatment of the Cyberpunk genre.

Nightfall Games £45/$60
SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 takes SLA Industries, the roleplaying game set in a far future dystopia of corporate greed, commodification of ultraviolence, the mediatisation of murder, conspiracy, and urban horror, and serial killer sensationalism beyond the mammoth city walls and out into the poisoned, disease ridden, horror infested, dream rent, carnivorous pig romping, Carrien filled, Manchine-stalking, trench-cut quagmire-jungle-urban ruin no-go zone that is Cannibal Sector 1. Here the Shivers man outposts and send out forward patrols in an attempt to stop the incursions into Mort City by monsters, serial killers, and terrorists that would murder its citizenry—and worse, as Rangers work deep into the ruins of what was once part of the city itself to determine the nature of threats SLA Industries faces, and SLA Operatives get to the cool stuff and look good on TV! SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 opens up an whole range of environments for SLA Industries along with numerous threats and dangers. It also adds new ways in which to play, including running conflicts out in Cannibal Sector 1 as squad battles using miniatures. Every monster, every threat, every item of equipment is fully illustrated in glorious colour, bringing the World of Progress to live as never before. SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 is the supplement that SLA Industries has been waiting for and fully deserves. There is so much detail here, all of it rife with gaming potential that this supplement could have been a roleplaying game all of its very own.

Berlin: The Wicked City – Unveiling the Mythos in Weimar Berlin
Chaosium, Inc. £35.99/$44.99In a good year for Call of Cthulhu, with numerous supplements and plenty of support on the Miskatonic Repository, the highlight Berlin: The Wicked City – Unveiling the Mythos in Weimar Berlin, a supplement which explored the place of the Mythos in the wickedest, sexiest city during the Jazz Age. This most mature–in both tone and subject matter–of supplements for Call of Cthulhu explores Berlin as a city and its radical culture and politics and also discusses both LGBTQI investigators and LGBTQI politics. It combines all of this with three sophisticated scenarios which together form a loose campaign which begins in the decade’s political turbulence and end just as Hitler comes to power, foreshadowing the horror which was to come in the next decade and a half. These three take in history, noir, louche artistry and dissolution, and the frightening effect to which Mass Media could be utilised. There is still yet room aplenty around these scenarios for the Keeper to create her own scenarios, or indeed, for Chaosium to bring us an anthology of Berlin-set scenarios. In the meantime, Berlin: The Wicked City sets the blueprint for what a good city or setting supplement should be like for Call of Cthulhu.

Image result for Dune board game
Gale Force 9 £39.99/$50
With a film adaption of Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune coming in 2020, it is no surprise that it is being licensed out, including to games publishers. There is a Dune roleplaying game to be published by Modiphius Entertainment, but when it came to a Dune board game, instead of designing something new, Gale Force Nine turned to a classic long out of print and much sought title, the original Dune board game published in 1979 by Avalon Hill. This is a game of warfare, diplomacy, alliances, and treachery in the very far future on the planet Arrakis where highly individual six factions work to take control of the only source of the life-extending Spice. Updated and newly presented, this is a game of asymmetrical that fans of the book and film will enjoy, whilst gamers will enjoy the chance to play a board game classic.


And last, but not least, because after all of the fun and palaver of getting the family together, you might want to play something about bringing them together or breaking them up once and for all. Plus of course, it is traditional to not actually do a dozen.

Eve of Rebellion
March Harrier Publishing £3.81/$4.99
A Traveller adventure like no other, Eve of Rebellion, enables five players to take the roles of the great, the good, and the well-intentioned of the Third Imperium and explore the events which would lead up to the assassination of Emperor Strephon and the rebellion which would follow. Except that is not a forgone conclusion, for the cast of five—Emperor Strephon Alkhalikoi, Grand Princess Ciencia lphegenia Alkhalikoi, Prince Varian Alkhalikoi and Prince Lucan Alkhalikoi, Dulinor Astrin Ilethian, Archduke of Ilelish, and Duke Norris Aella Aledon—have their own motivations and goals, many of them conflicting, not necessarily all of them in the best interests of the empire. The scenario includes everything needed to play—five detailed characters with goals and resources, background material for all five characters (and those new to the Traveller setting), and solid advice for the Game Master in running what is all but a systemless scenario.

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