Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 25 September 2023

Miskatonic Monday #220: The Great American Dynasty

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu Invictus, The Pastores, Primal State, Ripples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was Five Go Mad in Egypt, Return of the Ripper, Rise of the Dead, Rise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

—oOo—
Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Keller O’Leary

Setting: Modern day USA
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Thirty-eight page, 14.34 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Sacrifices have to be made to maintain control
Plot Hook: A clean-up task reveals an incredible conspiracy
Plot Support: Staging advice, four pre-generated Investigators,
four-hundred-and-fifty-seven NPCs, four handouts, two spells, one map, and two Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Decent

Pros
# Conspiracy on conspiracy action and investigation
# Combines Americana with the Mythos
# Miskatonic University connected ‘Society for the Exploration of the Unexplained’ as the Investigators’ Investigator Organisation?
# Could be used as a campaign starter
# Paranoia
# Melophobia
# Gerascophobia

Cons
# Feels like Delta Green and Need to Know
# Needs an edit
# Some elements will need developing by the Keeper
# Opportunity to interact with presidents and celebrities of the past undeveloped

Conclusion
# Great American conspiracy meets Call of Cthulhu
# Serviceable scenario which needs development to flesh out some of its encounters and details

Miskatonic Monday #219: Baba Dochia

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

—oOo—
Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Christopher Dimitrios

Setting: 1990s Romania
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Sixteen page, 4.57 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Suffer the little children... for the greater good
Plot Hook: Corruption and faith may be undoing of the ancient ways.
Plot Support: Staging advice, four pre-generated Investigators, four NPCs (plus more), two handouts, one map, and 
one Mythos monster.
Production Values: Decent

Pros
# Wraps local folklore in the Mythos, but the Mythos is not really needed
# Engaging piece of folkloric horror
# Strong sense of place
Frigophobia
Gerontophobia
Pedophobia

Cons
# NPC connections and what they know could be clearer
# Lines of investigation could be more clearly presented
# Wraps local folklore in the Mythos, but the Mythos is not really needed

Conclusion
# Creepy post-Communist folkloric horror one-shot
# Keeper needs to make line of investigation clearer to better run the scenario, but the scenario has everything she needs

Sunday, 24 September 2023

Lizards & Birds & Pirates, Oh My!

The Ages of Man have long since passed and the Old Ones are no more. They bequeathed the world and their relics to the ones… Well, whether it was the ones they worshipped or the ones that served them, it does not matter. For the beliefs and attitudes of the ones they worshipped and the ones that served them—in the Monarchies of Mau and the Kingdom of Pugmire respectively—matter little when you are far out on the Acid Sea, with only the plastic hull of your to protect you from the corrosive waters and your shipmates to rely upon. As pirates, sailors, and treasure hunters you set out from the ‘safety’ of pirate havens such as Waterdog Port, whose ownership has long been disputed between the Monarchies of Mau and the Kingdom of Pugmire or Port Matthew, the trade port in Monarchies of Mau, ready to keep your ship from being eaten away, hoping you do not encounter Acid Sharks or one of the dread Kraken, or worse have one of your crew possessed by a Stormcaller, a demon of the weather, but hoping that you do discover new lands, buried treasure, or a ship to capture! On your hip you have strapped a sturdy cutlass, whilst stuffed in your belt is one of the new gunpowder flintlock pistols, intricately carved from butt to the end of the barrel, and when that is not enough, your crew’s Alkalist can throw bombs that explode or heal, and your crew’s Rimer will sing you a song or tell you tale that will keep your spirits up. Many a Dog from the Kingdom of Pugmire and Cat from the Monarchies of Mau has sailed the Acid Sea, but few truly answer its call. More ready to heed the call are the transient Species, itinerant travellers and traders. They are Lizards—Geckos, Serpents, and Turtles—and Birds—Parrots, Crows, and Sparrows—and together they are the
Pirates of Pugmire.

Pirates of Pugmire is not a standalone roleplaying game, but is rather described as a ‘Chronicle’ book that works with Monarchies of Mau and Pugmire—either separately or together. Published by Onyx Path Publishing following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it expands upon the world of Pugmire, best described as a combination of the anthropomorphic, the apocalyptic, and the fantastical genres, adding new Species and Callings to play, new Knacks, plus an entirely new environment—only hinted at in either of the core books—to explore and experience. Part of that experience includes a mini-campaign set on the high seas which takes the Player Characters from First Level to Sixth Level. Like both core settings, Pirates of Pugmire does involve action, intrigue, and very much exploration, but this is an expansion setting where the Player Characters (and others) make their own families formed of different species rather than the packs of dogs or the clowders of cats. Where on land, the cats and dogs take an interest in the legacies and artefacts of the Old Ones—of Man—they do so from a primarily scientific or academic point of view. Nothing quite so dry in
Pirates of Pugmire. Pirates are only interested in treasure and there is plenty of treasure to be found—and if not found, squabbled over and stolen—if the pirates sail far enough, but in addition to facing the fearsome monsters of the Acid Sea, every treasure has a dangerous legacy and legend to it. So, the pirates had better hope that there is only a grain of truth in some of these legends.

Pirates of Pugmire includes plenty of fiction to get the tone and style of the setting—swashbuckling action, intrigue and squabbling, and so on. The book is illustrated with full colour painted artwork and the text is accompanied by commentaries from three in-game characters. These are Polly of the Seven Blazing Feathers, who is new in the Pugmire setting, and Princess Yosha Pug and Sabian Sphynx von Angora, who will be familiar from Pugmire and Monarchies of Mau, respectively. The first of the two families introduced as playable Species are the Lizards, who are primarily desert nomads, known as traders and excellent storytellers and the high value they attach to salt. This mineral is used in cooking, to aid water retention in their arid homes, in their religious rites, and as a component to their Akalist’s magics. The three Lizard families are Geckos, charismatic, agile, and able to blend into different cultures with their Chameleon Knack; Serpents are reserved, strong, and intelligent, and able to cross different terrain with their Slither Knack; and Turtles are slow and wise, but can take partial cover their Hunker Down Knack by withdrawing into their shell. All Birds dress to show off their plumage, yearn to return to the Sky Kingdom, a real place to some, more metaphysical to others, and have a difficult relationship with Cats. They are divided into three ‘nestes’ and the closer a neste is to the Sky Kingdom, the greater its influence in Bird society. Parrots are talkers and performers who Spin any tale or story to their advantage with their Spin Knack; Crows are tough and quiet, with a love of trinkets and ornaments, and have the Glide Knack; and Sparrows are flighty and prefer song as the means to tell stories, and with their Soar Knack, the only Bird capable of actual flight.

Besides new Knacks such as Sailor and Marine,
Pirates of Pugmire introduces six new Callings. These are Alkalist, Crusader, Gundog, Mystic, Rimer, and Torpedo. The Alkalist devises potions and concoctions as both balms and bombs that can both be thrown; the Crusader is a warrior with strongly held beliefs who fights for what is right; the Gundog is a warrior who uses the new gunpowder weapons and treats his weapons with reverence; the Mystic draws upon the power of the sea for his magic; the Rimer uses song and dance as misdirection; and the Torpedo uses stealth to strike hard and fast. There are some limitations in terms of Species and Calling. A Dog can only be a Crusader or Gundog and a Cat a Mystic or Torpedo, but any of the Callings from either Pugmire or Monarchies of Mau. There are no such limitations on Lizards or Birds and both have a different view on each of the Callings as explained by Polly of the Seven Blazing Feathers. All six Callings give a general view of what each thinks of the other five Callings and some sample Backgrounds.

If the mix of Species, Callings, and Knacks are engaging and fun, and make you want to play a Pirate Parrot or Gecko, the new mechanical elements of
Pirates of Pugmire are not always as successful. The good include Signed Knacks, such as the Signed Captain Knack which enables a Signed Captain to command a fellow crew member to reroll a die once per day aboard ship or the Signed Sailing Master Knacks which grants Advantage on all navigation rolls. Signed Knacks become available when the members of the crew sign the ship’s Articles and become Signed. Ship’s Articles are a way of enforcing the attitudes of a captain and his crew. Thus, Articles such as ‘Every pirate of the crew gets an equal share of the spoils’ and ‘This ship is a democracy, except when boarding or being boarded.’ represents a very different ship to one whose articles include ‘Prisoners are dead weight’ and ‘Never give an enemy comfort or mercy’. There are new seafaring spells such as Briny Deep which inflicts the sense that one is drowning on a target, Rough Seas which makes the seas around a target vessel or kraken choppy and the equivalent of rough terrain, and Suppress Gunpowder, which temporarily makes all gunpowder nearby inert. These are all great spells, flavoursome and genre suitable, as is the way that Pirates of Pugmire treats gunpowder. Originally seen as an Alkalist novelty, gunpowder and gunpowder weapons have been taken up by pirates everywhere—but not all pirates. The Gundog and Torpedo Callings are immune to the effects of Gunpowder Panic. Anyone within hearing of a gunpowder weapon being discharged who does not have the Exotic Weapon Aptitude Feat or Pistoleer Feat must make a Charisma saving throw to avoid gaining the Deaf and Scared Conditions. This keeps gunpowder scary and powerful and meaningful for the Callings that have it, without every Player Character having access to it.

Also detailed are the dangers of the Acid Sea, which constantly corrodes a ship’s plastic hull, sometimes reducing its Seaworthiness to the point where the ship is unsafe, hobbled, or simply adrift. If its Seaworthiness is reduced to zero, the ship will sink. Not every ship has a plastic hull and in game terms, a ship will need to have its Hull or Seaworthiness improved when built will outfitted with one. Ships are treated like a Player Character except their only stats are Artillery, Hull, Seaworthiness, and Speed. Only a few ships and ships weapons are detailed, but what is apparent is that these ships are small with crew numbers ranging between six and twenty, so the scale of them in
Pirates of Pugmire is actually quite small compared to that of the actual Age of Sail. As good as the other mechanical details are here, the ships are themselves underwhelming and the rules for ship-to-ship combat glossed over, relying on narrative detail perhaps more than the other rules in Pirates of Pugmire actually do. There are, however, lots of good explanations as to why a Cat, Dog, Lizard, or Bird might take up the life of a pirate or sailor, as well as what the various roles are aboard ship and what they do. In terms of piracy, Pirates of Pugmire is very much less “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” and more swashbuckling and storytelling. The intent is that the Player Characters are adventurers and explorers rather than dangerous, lawless buccaneers.

One pleasing mechanic which pulls the Player Characters together in
Pirates of Pugmire, is how Fortune is used. Fortune in the game can be spent for various effects, such as rerolls or to cast a spell if the Player Character has no spell slots. In Pugmire, Fortune is a collective resource shared between the party, but in Monarchies of Mau, a Cat can have his own Fortune as well as access to collective Fortune. This remains the same in Pirates of Pugmire, which adds separate Fortune resources for Birds and Lizards, but once a ship’s crew has signed the ship’s Articles, then Fortune can become a collective resource between all of them. In this way, Fortune models the Player Characters becoming a family.

In terms of background,
Pirates of Pugmire adds a host of new creatures, such as the Acid Shark, the Globster, rotting sea life infused with necrotic magic, and Stormcallers, weather demons which possess crewmembers during storms, and crew like the Crow Lookout, Mouse Gunner, and Otter Boarder. Colossal Foes are added too, for example, the Kraken, which has two hit locations—Kraken Tentacles and Kraken Head, complete with different Hit Points and attacks. Treasure is important in Pirates of Pugmire because every artefact—major and minor—has its own legend and notoriety. Ranging between one and three, the latter represents both how well each treasure and its legend are widely known and the Notoriety that its discovery, recovery, and possession will grant a pirate. Effectively, the greater the Notoriety of an item of treasure in a pirate’s possession, the more widely known and recognised and easy to find he is. Beyond the magical effect that the treasure may bestow, this Notoriety is the only way a Lizard or Bird can benefit from a treasure. Neither can absorb a masterwork item or treasure like Cats can or Dogs can improve. Not every treasure has a beneficial effect, and as you would expect, many are also cursed.

In terms of setting,
Pirates of Pugmire describes several locations. These start with two ports. The first is Waterdog Port, whose founding triggered the War of Dogs and Cats and after numerous vicious Alleyway Skirmishes, the city’s leaders tired of the war, established the city’s independence, and made every species welcome. This includes Rats and Mice, Otters and Weasels, and Badgers, although none of them are particularly detailed in the setting. The other is Port Matthew, the Monarchies of Mau’s shipping capital, designed with a warren of tunnels and bridges to prevent successful assault by outsiders. Port Matthew is less welcoming as a city, especially to Birds, although in both cities, the Lizards have gained a reputation as arbiters when issues want to be settled. Both cities are nicely detailed, and include their history, species found there, politics and prominent leaders, and various locations. Beyond the waters of both harbours, Pirates of Pugmire details several locations far out to sea. Most notably, the more lawless archipelago of Dalmatian Cove, consisting of several islands of different character and all together shaped like a crab. In many cases, it is possible to get from one island to another via ships, ropes, and wrecks held fast between them. Several other locations are also detailed and they are followed by a number of story hooks using the previously described locations.

The three scenarios at the end of
Pirates of Pugmire, together called ‘Going on Account’, make further and more detailed use of the locations as well. Together, ‘Rotten Rats’, ‘The Race’, and ‘Heart of the Storm’ make up a loosely connected campaign that takes the Player Characters from First Level to Sixth Level. The looseness means that the Game Master will need to develop some adventures of her own, but all three scenarios end with a ‘Future Stories’ section which add more story hooks for her to use in addition to those earlier in the book. ‘Rotten Rats’ is a land-based adventure, set in Waterdog Port, in which the Player Characters are hired to recover a treasure—the Lost Flask of Bobby Golden—which can transform any liquid into something beneficial. The problem is that the city’s Rats are said to have it and they are not dealing with anyone as tensions are high in the city between the rodents of Waterdog Port. The Player Characters will need to work out the cause of the tension and perhaps ease it if they are to learn any clues. This is an investigative scenario, whereas ‘The Race’ takes them to sea—whether in their own boat or one they hired—to get to an island which is said to appear only once every ten years, find the treasures hidden in it, and come back. Of course, there are rivals racing with the Player Characters as well as those not ready to race, but ready to steal what the Player Characters have already found. Lastly, in ‘Heart of the Storm’, the Player Characters’ ship is caught up in the worst weather possible on the Acid Sea, almost shipwrecked, and forced to land on Stormheart Island where they find more shipwreck victims. The Player Characters need to delve into the island’s history to find out what is going on and perhaps a way of getting off. At the end of ‘Going on Account’ the Player Characters will be able to return with the treasure they were seeking and perhaps more. Although it does need fleshing out with extra content between the three adventures and the adventures themselves are fairly linear, ‘Going on Account’ is a nicely detailed and fun mini-campaign.

Physically,
Pirates of Pugmire is well presented. The artwork is excellent, whilst the cartography is okay. Perhaps the only thing really missing would have been maps of Waterdog Port and Port Matthew.

It does feel as if there is something missing from
Pirates of Pugmire. Perhaps it is that mechanically, it feels underwritten in places, and that it would have been fun to see Fortune used to help the Player Characters swashbuckle some action or the ship’s combat rules developed a little more. Nevertheless, Pirates of Pugmire expands the world of Pugmire in pleasing fashion, sending it out to sea and into another genre where the Player Characters have a bit more freedom and are less beholden to their families. Once aboard a plastic-hulled vessel, together with content developed herself, the Game Master has everything she needs to run anthropomorphic action adventures on the Acid Sea and let the Player Characters become Pirates of Pugmire.

Tales from Spaaace...! (Part One)

For fans of Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was and Things from the Flood, the roleplaying games based on the paintings of Simon Stålenhag, as well as other titles from Free League Publishing, there is the Free League Workshop. Much like the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons, this is a platform for creators to publish and distribute their own original content, which means that they also have a space to showcase their creativity and their inventiveness, to do something different, but ultimately provide something which the Game Master can bring to the table and engage her players with. Such is the case with Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One takes the kids out of the Loop and throws them into deep space. It takes the traditional stories of Tales from the Loop, which contrasts the wonder of strange technologies and mysteries with difficult, often fraught home lives, away from Sweden and Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren, the site of the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics—or ‘The Loop’—to the west of Stockholm, and sets those tensions in an alternate timeline, very far from Earth. In this timeline, at the end of World War 2, Maximillian von Grau, a German scientist took advantage of the Nazi desire for more wonder weapons to develop an engine powerful enough to get a probe to Proxima Centauri. No one believed he succeeded, until pictures were received on Earth in 1977. There the story would have ended, but for eccentric entrepreneur billionaire Elton Dors. He offered to fund further research and development by von Grau. With the new engine, developed by the German and known as the Max Drive, Dors then built The Argo, the world’s first interstellar starship, capable of travelling to Proxima Centauri in thirty years, with its crew and passengers—the first two hundred colonists on a whole new world—in deep sleep. The Argo is regarded as the eighth wonder of the world and it is aboard this vessel that Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One begins.

The kids are the children of the crew and the passengers—or colonists—aboard The Argo. They and everyone else aboard the starship wake up and very quickly there is a lot of hustle and bustle around the children, though it is not immediately obvious why. They are quickly taken to the ship’s school room where their teacher, Miss Lovely, can keep an eye on them. It soon becomes apparent that The Argo has not reached Proxima Centauri, having stopped in deep space, and that one of the children aboard is missing. Could the two be related? Well, the answer is, of course they are. Exactly how is another matter, but the plot is relatively straightforward, whereas getting to solve it is not. The biggest obstacle for the kids is not the mystery itself, but getting round the adults to investigate the mystery, and then once that is revealed, solve the problem at its heart. The adults are preoccupied with the technical problems aboard The Argo, so will either ignore the kids or send them back to the supervision of Miss Lovely, who is definitely not as nice as her name suggests. The Game Master should have some fun roleplaying her.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is a solid one-session scenario. It makes use of a range of different skills, so every kid should have an opportunity to shine. If it is missing anything, it is advice on creating kids for this scenario. They would still use the same rules from Tales from the Loop, but some questions related to who their parents are aboard The Argo and what they think of travelling to another star system could have helped set the scene. Perhaps a set of pre-generated kids could help with that? The only real issue with the scenario is with its aftermath. Even solving the problem is underwritten, and by comparison, the cost of failure is glossed over. This is severely disappointing, since the cost of failure in Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is a tragedy that is very likely to be emotionally devastating for the kids as well as the adults. It may well be campaign ending were the Game Master to want to run the sequel to Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One.

Where Tales of the Loop captured the feel of Sweden of the eighties, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One instead captures the feel of positive, even homely Science Fiction of the period, whether that is Space: 1999 or Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yet, there is a sly dig at its retro-optimism with everything being a triumph of design over practicality and it is not too difficult to work out who Elton Dors is a parody of.

Physically, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is well presented, but needs a slight edit here and there. The artwork is excellent, whilst the overview of The Argo gives an idea of the layout rather than specifics.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is undeveloped in places, but contains everything that the Game Master and her players have to roleplay a mystery scenario in space from their kids’ perspective. It can be run as the first part of a campaign or it would work as a convention one-shot. Overall, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One proves that some things do not change, no matter how far you are away from home, it is just a case that the consequences of failure are bad—really bad.

Saturday, 23 September 2023

Magazine Madness 23: Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickststarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.

—oOo—

The first thing you notice about Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 is the dice. Of course, you are meant to. A set of black polyhedral dice with red lettering in a silver tin on a red cardboard background. It stands out. After all, what gamer does not like a set of dice? And they are nice dice. They sit on the front of the first issue of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer, a partwork from Hachette Partworks Ltd. A partwork is an ongoing series of magazine-like issues that together form a completed set of a collection or a reference work. In the case of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer, it is designed to introduce the reader to the world and the play of Dungeons & Dragons, specifically, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. With the tag line, ‘Learn – Play – Explore’, over the course of multiple issues the reader will learn about Dungeons & Dragons, how it is played and what options it offers, the worlds it opens up to explore, and support this with content that can be brought to the table and played. Over the course of eighty issues, it will create a complete reference work for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, provide scenarios and adventures that can be played, and support it with dice, miniatures, and more.

Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 does not just come with the dice. There is the first issue of the magazine, there is the ‘Introduction to Combat’, there are four ready-to-play character sheets, and there is advertising. The main item is Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1. Future issues of the partwork will include secretions dedicated to the seven gameplay elements—‘Sage Advice’, ‘Character Creation’, ‘The Dungeon Master’, ‘Spellcasting’, ‘Combat’, ‘Encounters’, and ‘Lore’—of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, but Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 concentrates on ‘Sage Advice’, ‘Character Creation’, and ‘Lore’. This starts with the basics of play, ‘The World of D&D’, ‘The Structure of Play’, and more… Notably, in ‘The World of D&D’ it mentions several worlds, including Dark Sun and Ravenloft, but notes that the Forgotten Realms is where all of the adventures to come in Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer will be set. It mentions the origins of the roleplaying game too and its creators, alongside a photograph of the original Dungeons & Dragons. Then it explains the ‘Structure of Play’, how the dice work and the concept of Difficulty Classes, the role of the Dungeon Master, and then it breaks down the elements of a Player Character, including Species and Class, equipment, and more. This includes the backgrounds for the four pre-generated Player Characters included in Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1. There is advice too, throughout. Some of this is done in ‘Top Tip’ boxes, split between those for the Dungeon Master and those for the player. For example, a ‘DM Tip Top’ gives advice on how to present an NPC using a one sentence description and motivation, whilst a player ‘Top Tip’ suggests that he think about not just his character’s best qualities and abilities, but also his worst, in particular, as a means to aid in roleplaying the character. Elsewhere the advice is more general, covering aspects such as the Session Zero, the lack of necessity to know all of the rules to play and run the game, and rolling the dice behind the screen. The latter is perhaps the most controversial piece in Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 suggesting as it does that the Dungeon Master use a screen to anonymise her dice results in order to prevent an unnecessary party death if she is rolling particularly well.

Is this good advice? Well, yes and no. Yes, because you do not want the players to necessarily fail on their first encounter or exposure to Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and because if they do, there is no real advice as to what to do next in the pages of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 in the event of Player Character death. Yes, because the publisher wants the Dungeon Master and her players to remain interested in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth edition, and thus, Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer. Yet no because it is not entirely fair on the game itself which relies on the randomness of the dice rolls and the possibility of death is part of the game itself. It will be interesting to see how this issue is addressed in future issues.

The ’Lore’ section in Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 describes the town of Phandalin, the location for the scenario from the original Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and also the more recent release from Wizards of the Coast, Phandelver and Below – The Shattered Obelisk. It gives a one-page introduction to the town in readiness for the ‘New & Exclusive Adventure’ in Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1, which is more of a detailed Encounter rather than a full adventure. It is, nevertheless, described as ‘Adventure 1 – 1 King of the Hill’, so that suggested that there is more of the adventure to come. ‘King under the Hill’ is set in the Stonehill Inn in Phandalin. It is intended to be played in one or two hours and involves a mix of combat and exploration with a little roleplaying thrown in. It is clearly explained, involves just the two linked monsters, and as with the rest of the magazine, there are DM Top Tips throughout such as describing particular feature of one of the monsters and reminding the Dungeon Master should describing the scene for her players and asking them what they want to do next. It is all clearly presented and easy to read from the page. In addition, the events of ‘King under the Hill’ are tied into Phandelver and Below – The Shattered Obelisk so that a Dungeon Master could add this encounter to that campaign if she wanted.

In comparison to the rest of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1, the included bonus ‘Introduction to Combat’ booklet is digest sized and has wire hoops to help it sit in the binders designed for the partwork. In eight pages, the booklet takes the reader through ‘The Rules of Engagement’, covering surprise, establishing positions, initiative, actions such as attacking, casting spells, helping, hiding, and more, before explaining Hit Points and damage and its effects. Then, in the ‘Combat Example’ it gives an example of combat using the pre-generated Player Characters included with Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 and the scenario, ‘King under the Hill’. It is designed to show how a round or two of combat could play out rather than should.

The four Player Characters in Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 have their own sheet each. They include a Human Rogue with the Charlatan background, a Hill Dwarf Cleric with the Acolyte background, a Wood Elf with Outlander background, and a Halfling Wizard with the Sage background. They are done on standard Dungeons & Dragons character sheets and are completely filled with all of the details needed to play, including a range of spells for both the Cleric and Wizard. They lack background on the sheets though, but otherwise they are fine.

Then, of course, there is the advertising, all pushing the reader to subscribe to future issues of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer. The simplest of this is a request to the reader’s nearest newsagent to reserve forthcoming copies, but the more complex highlights the Special Subscription Offer and the free gifts that the reader will receive if he decides to subscribe. These include more dice, a dice tray, binders for issues of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer, and so. Perhaps the most ridiculous of these the ‘Dice Jail’, a wooden mini-dice jail into which a player can temporarily imprison dice because they have been rolling badly. The six-page flyer is a mixture of the informative and the advertising, providing a good overview of Dungeons & Dragons at the actual table with a photograph also used in the first issue of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer. It includes a quick and dirty overview of the seven gameplay elements— ‘Sage Advice’, ‘Character Creation’, ‘The Dungeon Master’, ‘Spellcasting’, ‘Combat’, ‘Encounters’, and ‘Lore’—and just some of the extras that will accompany future issues. It all feels unrelenting and over the top, but its inclusion is understandable.

Penultimately, consider this. Bar the Dungeons & Dragons Annual, it is difficult to identify anything to have been published for the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons, let alone prior editions, in the United Kingdom since the days of TSR (UK) and the mid-eighties. Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 might very well be the first in several decades, and unlike the Dungeons & Dragons Annual, what Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 does is show the reader what the roleplaying game is like and how it is played, rather than simply telling him.

Ultimately, there is the cost to consider with Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer. There is no denying that Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 is inexpensive, but that is how the partwork concept works. The first issue or two is inexpensive to draw the purchaser in, its contents designed to entice him to buy further issues or even subscribe. However, as the subject of a partwork, Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer is going to be different to other partworks, which traditionally collect a series of figurines or the parts of a big model. Dungeons & Dragons already exists as a complete game in its own right and a gamer need not collect any of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer to start playing. He can just buy the core rules or purchase a starter set. What Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer offers as an alternative is a gentler introduction to the roleplaying game, released in easily digestible and playable issue. Plus of course, the gifts that come with the issues. It is eighty issues though and that though does come to a grand total of £770. It is as they say a definite investment in Dungeons & Dragons.

Physically, Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 is very well presented, in full colour using the Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition trade dress and lots and lots of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition artwork. So, the production values are high, colourful, and the writing is supported with lots of ‘Top Tip’ sections. The result is that Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 is physically engaging. The core of it though, differs from a traditional magazine. Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 and the pre-generated Player Characters are glued together and designed to split and store in the partwork’s binders.

There is no denying that Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 is great value for money. The set of Dungeons & Dragons dice with the tin is worth the price alone, and that may well be the only reason that some purchasers buy it. But if you have never played Dungeons & Dragons then not only do you get your own set of dice, but you also get something that is easy to sit down and digest, prepare, and then explain and run in the space of an evening. By the end of session, both Dungeon Master and her players should have a good idea of how the roleplaying game is played and know whether they want to continue with Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 2—or even leap to the full Dungeons & Dragons experience. Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer Issue 1 is quite possibly the most cost-effective introduction to Dungeons & Dragons to have been released to the general public.

Quick-Start Saturday: The Gaia Complex

Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.

—oOo—

What is it?
The Gaia Complex – Quick Start is the quick-start for The Gaia Complex
A Game of Flesh and Wires, the Science Fiction, Cyberpunk roleplaying game published by Hansor Publishing.

It includes an extensive explanation of the setting, rules for actions and combat, details of the arms, armour, and equipment fielded by the Player Characters, two ‘Data Seeds’ (or scenario outlines and hooks),
and five ready-to-play, Player Characters, or Agents.

It is a fifty-two page, full colour PDF.

The quick-start is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is decent. The rules are a slightly stripped down version from the core rulebook, but do include examples of the rules which speed the learning of the game.

How long will it take to play?
The Gaia Complex – Quick Start and its two ‘Data Seeds’ are designed to be played through in two or so sessions.

What else do you need to play?
The Gaia Complex – Quick Start requires two twelve-sided dice and three three-sided (or six-sided) dice per player
.

Who do you play?
The five Player Characters a Human Operator, an ex-cop, made redundant, turned mercenary, a Human technician and drone operator, Human Operator, an ex-gang member and corporate enforcer, a Feral with his partner dog, and a Human Hacker.

How is a Player Character defined?
An Agent has seven stats—Brawn, Reflexes, Guts, Brains, Allure, Perception, and Grit. Stats are rated between one and ten. There are multiple skills. These do not have a value. A Player Character either has them or does not have them and his proficiency in them is determined by their associated stat. Endurance represents his physical health and Pressure his mental health.

How do the mechanics work?
Mechanically, The Gaia Complex uses two twelve-sided dice to determine the outcome of a skill attempt. A roll equal to or below the skill’s associated stat, after any modifiers for complexity, counts as a success, on either die. If both succeed, the Player Character will succeed at the skill attempt, whether he has the skill or not. If both roll higher than the modified stat value, the attempt is a failure, and if both are equal to twelve, it is a critical failure. If the stat value is below the difficulty rating of the skill test, the player has to roll the dice, but if higher, his character automatically succeeds. A specialisation in a skill allows the reroll of a single die if the result was not a twelve. Grit can be spent by the player to modify the die result.

How does combat work?
Combat in The Gaia Complex uses the same mechanics. It includes support actions such as ‘Jack Into a Hacking Rig’, ‘Perform a Hacking Action’, ‘Perform a Drone Action’, and ‘Meld – Feral Only’ which fit the setting. The range of other options are what you would expect for a modern modern game with firearms, included aimed shot, snapshot, and burst fire. Burst fire enables the attacker to reroll a single damage die. Combat is deadly, with Endurance reduced to zero indicating death, whilst Pressure reduced to zero, either from a Vampire special ability or the effects of a program in the Core.

In addition to the rules for combat, there are rules for drone use and access and hacking The Core, a virtual space akin to Cyberspace. Hacking usually targets secret data stores and other locations below the extensive data archives of The Core. It requires a hacking Rig and Jacking in and in combat, a hacking Player Character can only do one action per round. Out of combat, hacking is handled in narrative fashion rather than rolling for every encounter. Several dangerous countermeasures are detailed to ward off any hacking attempt
.

How do Vampire and Feral abilities work?
A Feral can Meld with a ‘partnered’ animal, which requires the use of the Meld skill. This enables him to imprint his consciousness into the animal and see through its eyes and act as if he is the animal. Damage suffered by the animal is suffered as Pressure damage by the Feral.

Vampires are not included in The Gaia Complex – Quick Start.

What do you play?
The setting for The Gaia Complex – Quick Start is the year 2119. Following the Resource War of 2039 and the damage done to the environment, humanity was forced to retreat into sealed metropolises. New Europe, which covers most of the European continent is the largest. in addition to the development of atmospheric processing and other meteorological protective technology, cyberware was developed and spread, true A.I.s came online, including in new Europe, Gaia. Her technological developments would revolutionise society, including heavy surveillance and increasingly, robotic law enforcement. The streets exploded into guerilla warfare as a resistance, augmented by cyberware,
arose against the surveillance and law enforcement as hackers attempted to stop the influence of the A.I.s. In between horrors out myth have swept onto the streets—vampires! Eventually, a synthetic blood source was developed as food for the vampires, but that does not stop vampire gangs in search of real from being a problem. Another species are the Feral, which are capable of melding with the consciousness of an animal, which are mostly biogenetic closes in 2119.

The Gaia Complex – Quick Start includes two of what it calls a ‘Data Seed’. This is not a scenario as such, but rather an expanded hook that includes an idea, one or more suggested scenes, and more. In ‘The Raid’, the Player Characters are hires to infiltrate and steal a file called ‘Hivemind’ from a research facility in Bruss (old Brussels). The three suggested scenes describe the research facility and what might be found inside and below it, followed by a difficult escape. The second ‘Data Seed’, ‘The Hack’, the Player Characters are hired to kill a mercenary hacker. Its suggested scenes involve the Player Characters hunting down the hacker and confronting him in his base.

Is there anything missing?
The Gaia Complex – Quick Start is complete.

Is it easy to prepare?
The core rules presented in
The Gaia Complex – Quick Start are relatively easy to prepare. However, the Game Master will need to do some extra preparation in order to have either ‘Data Seed’ ready to play.

Is it worth it?
Yes and no. Anyone wanting something that can be run with relatively little preparation, including a read-to-play scenario is advised to look elsewhere as each
‘Data Seed’ in The Gaia Complex – Quick Start requires more preparation than a standard scenario would. So, no. However, a Game Master happy to undertake that preparation or run either ‘Data Seed’ from the given information will have no issue with The Gaia Complex – Quick Start. So, yes.

Where can you get it?
The Gaia Complex – Quick Start is available to download here.

Friday, 22 September 2023

Friday Fantasy: DCC Day #1 DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack

As well as contributing to Free RPG Day every year Goodman Games also has its own ‘Dungeon Crawl Classics Day’, which sadly, can be a very North American event. The day is notable not only for the events and the range of adventures being played for Goodman Games’ roleplaying games, but also for the scenarios it releases specifically to be played on the day. For ‘Dungeon Crawl Classics Day 2020’
—the very first, which took place on Saturday, May 16th, 2020, the publisher released two items. The first was DCC Day #1: Shadow of the Beakmen, a single scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. The second was the DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack, which not only provided support for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, but also for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set, with a scenario for each. This format has been has been followed for each subsequent DCC Day, that is, a single scenario and an anthology containing two or three scenarios, all of them short, relatively easy to run and add to an ongoing campaign, or even use as a one-shot of convention game.

DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack is actually longer than most scenario releases for either Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, or the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set! The trilogy opens with ‘Expedition to Algol’, a scenario for First Level Player Characters for Dungeon Crawl Classics. The Player Characters are engaged by the wizard Bartakus-Thrum to participate in an experiment which will see them transported to another planet. Fortunately, the experiment is a complete success and the Player Characters find themselves under the intense heat and light and humidity of an alien world and its three suns—two yellow and one green—in a city of several thousand lizard-men being besieged by another several thousand cat-men. Unfortunately, the Player Characters have no way of getting back home, so as it turns out, the experiment is not actually a complete success. Their situation though, is not quite as dire as it sounds. Their arrival has been foretold and the Hall of Tests awaits them…

The Hall of Tests consists of a hollow tower which descends deeper into the ground and is dominated by a giant statute of a humanoid with three eyes. It has a number of rooms leading off the main tower that the Player Characters will work their way down, exploring and examining its techno-magical features. In the long-abandoned complex, the Player Characters will discover the source of the animal-men outside the tower and of course, in doing so, will transform themselves, some of the secrets of the thoroughly Lawful Evil Space Wasps which once ruled this world and their technology, a very helpful purple arm, and even a way home! The most fun part of this, at least for the Judge, is going to be portraying the arm. Ultimately, the Player Characters can find a way home, but if they are in any way transformed, will they want to? If they decide to stay, the Judge will find further information about the world of Algol in Dungeon Crawl Classics #84: Peril on the Purple Planet and of course, ‘Expedition to Algol’ can be used as an introduction to that campaign setting. ‘Expedition to Algol’ is an excellent scenario, whether used as a one-shot or introduction.

‘The Heist’ is the second adventure in the DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack. This is for Third Level Player Characters and is written for use with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set. As small-time crooks—thieves, burglars, and cutpurses—the Player Characters all know that the treasure hoard of the merchant-lord Duke Oraso is only bettered by the Overlord of Lankhmar himself. The most famous of his fabulous treasures are the Stars of Lankhmar, three enormous jewels that the duke has pledged to the Gods of Lankhmar, though not yet delivered. Whilst many a thief has sworn an oath into his cups to steal such treasures, none have succeeded, but when news comes that Duke Oraso will throw open the gates of his city manse and host a grand fête for all the nobles of the city, the opportunity to burgle one of the richest men in the city and do it under his very nose, is not to be missed. With this set-up, ‘The Heist’ is one-part grand soirée, one-part mystery play, and one-part dungeon, and all together, a grand affair.

The Player Characters will need to procure disguises and decide how they want to get into the duke’s manse and then begin their search of it—above and below ground—for the duke’s treasure vault. There are lots of opportunities for sneaking around, roleplaying (especially with dissolute members of the nobility), and larceny, all under the watchful gaze of the duke’s guards and his assistant, the Vizier. For the most part, the Player Characters are free to move around as they want, though their disguises will work better in some areas of the Manse than other, and there are a number of timed events throughout the evening. The Player Characters only really have to be present for grand finale to the duke’s mystery play. The scenario includes a full map of the Manse, both above and below ground, a table of rumours and gossip, timeline, a big table of nobles in attendance whom the Player Characters can mingle and hobnob with, a smaller table of treasures to purloin, and a quick-sheet of rules from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set for easy reference or if the Judge is running the scenario using just Dungeon Crawl Classics. The only thing missing perhaps is a table of possible relationships between the nobles attending the fête and more item descriptions of the things that the Player Characters can steal to add flavour and verisimilitude rather than just monetary value.

‘The Heist’ is a grand affair and at twenty-four pages in length, not just the longest scenario in the DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack, but its highlight. This is a great scenario, very well supported, with plenty of options in terms of how the Player Characters approach what could be a very Oceans 11-style heist. However, it is far too big and far too detailed to be really run as a one-shot or convention scenario as suggested, and given how good the scenario is, what is it still doing hidden away in the pages of the DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack and not being more readily available for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Judge? Hopefully, if there is an anthology of scenarios for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set, this one will be included. It deserves a reprint and to be better known to Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Judges.

The third and final scenario is ‘Ruins of Future Past’. Designed for Player Characters of First Level, this is for use with Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic. It begins with the Player Characters stumbling into a temporal rift and being sent swirling back in time to find themselves in a stone complex inhabited by an annoyed out of time ‘ghost’, and full of weirdness such as edible mushrooms seeking human comfort that sprout from the walls, a puppet show performed by skeletons, a library arranged as a perpetual spiral of book piles, and a thing of wax stretched so membranously thin it covers a whole room. This is the partially abandoned workshop of Ram’Gan, a wizard who specialises in the magic of time and considers himself to be a ‘chronoartist’ and much of the contents of the workshop consists of incomplete or failed experiments from his ‘art’. Located in a former temple to a minor pharaoh, ‘Ruins of Future Past’ concludes with a confrontation with one or more temporal echoes of Ram’Gan, such as ‘Primordial Ram’Gan the Vicious’ or ‘Black Powder Ram’Gan the Leadslinger’ and the discovery of a ‘time tunnel’. This can be used to get the Player Characters home or alternatively, thrown through time to their next adventure.

Although there are some technological treasures to be found at the end of the adventure, ‘Ruins of Future Past’ is only nominally a scenario for Mutant Crawl Classics. Of course, it pulls the Player Characters from Terra A.D. and out of time, but what they end up in feels like and is written as a dungeon more suitable for Dungeon Crawl Classics than Mutant Crawl Classics. The fact that the scenario is not written from the point of view of the Mutant Player Character and that the author suggests that it is “equally suitable for equivalent-level Dungeon Crawl Classics characters” lends itself to the suggestion that this was a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure quickly repurposed to Mutant Crawl Classics with mentions of Terra A.D. at the beginning and end of the scenario. That said, as a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, ‘Ruins of Future Past’ delivers all of the Swords & Sorcery weirdness you would expect of a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure and as a Mutant Crawl Classics adventure it works as a ‘fish out of water’—or ‘mutants out of time’—scenario. In either, its ‘thrown out of time’ start makes it easy to drop into a campaign and if the Judge wanted to start a time travel campaign using either Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic or the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, this would be a good jumping off point.

Physically, the DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack is as decently presented as you would expect from Goodman Games. The adventures are well-written, the artwork decent, and the cartography excellent.

Of course, the DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack was a bargain when it was released for DCC Day back in 2020. After all, it was free! Plus, all three scenarios are playable, with one scenario—‘Expedition to Algol’—being good and one scenario—‘The Heist’—being really good. In fact, ‘The Heist’ is a must have scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Judge, making the DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack a worthwhile purchase for that alone. In which case, the other two adventures are a bonus.

Grey City Ride

The very latest entry in the Ticket to Ride franchise is Ticket to Ride: Berlin. Like those other Ticket to Ride games, it is another card-drawing, route-claiming board game based around transport links and like those other Ticket to Ride games, it uses the same mechanics. Thus the players will draw Transportation cards and then use them to claim Routes and by claiming Routes, link the two locations marked on Destination Tickets, the aim being to gain as many points as possible by claiming Routes and completing Destination Tickets, whilst avoiding losing by failing to complete Destination Tickets. Yet rather than being another big box game like the original Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Ride: Europe, or Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, it takes its cue from Ticket to Ride: New York, Ticket to Ride: London, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam, and Ticket to Ride: San Francisco. Part of the ‘City’ series for Ticket to Ride, it is thus a smaller game designed for fewer players with a shorter playing time, a game based around a city rather than a country or a continent. The entries in the series are also notably different in terms of theme and period.

Published by Days of Wonder and designed for play by two to four players, aged eight and up, Ticket to Ride: Berlin is easy to learn, can be played out of the box in five minutes, and played through in less than twenty minutes. As with the other entries in the Ticket to Ride ‘City’ series, Ticket to Ride: Berlin sees the players race across the city attempting to connect its various tourist hotspots. All of entries in the ‘City’ series are both set in their respective and have a them representative of their city. Thus, Ticket to Ride: New York had the players racing across Manhattan in the nineteen fifties via taxis; Ticket to Ride: London had the players racing across London in the nineteen sixties aboard the classic double-decker buses; Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam took the series back to the seventeenth century and had the players fulfilling Contracts by delivering goods across the Dutch port by horse and cart and claiming Merchandise Bonus if they take the right route; and Ticket to Ride: San Francisco continued the lack of trains in the series by having the players travel around ‘The City by the Bay’ aboard its icon form of transportation—the cable car! In Ticket to Ride: Berlin, the players can travel from the Teirgarten to Check-Point Charlie, from Charlottenburger Tor to Alexander-Platzfrom, from the Reichstag to the Zoo, either by the trams that crisscross the city or the underground which encircles it—or both!

Inside the small box can be found a small rectangular board which depicts the centre of Berlin, from Moabit, Charlottenburger Tor, and Kurfüstendamm in the west to Alexander-platz, Humbodt Forum, and Morotz-Platz in the east. The board has a scoring track at its eastern end, running from one to fifty, instead of being placed around the edge. There are Streetcar and Subway Car pieces in four colours
(as opposed to the trains of standard Ticket to Ride), the Transportation cards drawn and used to claim routes between destinations, and the Destination Tickets indicating which two Destinations need to be connected to be completed. Both the Streetcar and the Subway Car pieces are nicely sculpted, the Streetcar pieces having a more rounded feel, as opposed to the square, more train-like Subway Car pieces. Each player begins play with eleven Streetcar pieces and five Subway Car pieces. The Transportation cards come in the standard colours for Ticket to Ride, but are illustrated with a different form of transport for each colour. So black is illustrated with a river cruise boat, blue with a taxi, green with a streetcar, purple with a bus, red with a train, orange with a subway car, and the wild card with a bicycle. This really makes the cards stand out and easier to view for anyone who suffers from colour blindness and the range of transport options give the game a greener feel. Similarly, the Destination Tickets are bright, colourful, and easy to read. As expected, the rules leaflet is clearly written, easy to understand, and the opening pages show how to set up the game. It can be read through in mere minutes and play started all but immediately.

In comparison to the boards in the other entries in the ‘City’ series, the one Ticket to Ride: Berlin is more functional than attractive. The various routes are laid out in strong coloours over a light tan streetmap of the city. It is not an unattractive board, but there is an austerity to it. Most routes are one, two, or three spaces in length, though there are three routes four spaces long, all of them grey in colour meaning that any colour can be used to claim them. The major difference with the board is that is that it is ringed by an underground system. Each only has space for one Subway Car piece, but the number of dots alongside the single space indicate the number of Transportation cards which have to be played to claim that route. These are either one, two or three Transportation cards. The board has two Route Scoring Tables, one for claiming the Streetcar routes and one for the Subway routes. In general, a player will score more points for claiming a Subway route than a Streetcar route. However, a player only has five Subway Car pieces to place as opposed to eleven Streetcar pieces.

Play in
Ticket to Ride: Berlin is the same as standard Ticket to Ride. Each player starts the game with some Destination Tickets and some Transportation cards. On his turn, a player can take one of three actions. Either draw two Transportation cards; draw two Destination Tickets and either keep one or two, but must keep one; or claim a route between two connected Locations. To claim a route, a player must expend a number of cards equal to its length, either matching the colour of the route or a mix of matching colour cards and the multi-coloured cards, which essentially act as wild cards. Some routes are marked in grey and so can use any set of colours or multi-coloured cards. If the route is a Streetcar route, the player places a number of Streetcar pieces on it equal to its length. If it is subway route, he places just the single Subway Car piece on it, though he still has to expend the indicated number of Transportation cards.

In fact, Ticket to Ride: Berlin feels so much like standard Ticket to Ride that it is not immediately obvious what makes it different from either standard Ticket to Ride or the other entries in the ‘City’ series, each of which has a strong theme and an extra mechanic. For example, in Ticket to Ride: San Francisco, the players also collect Tourist Tokens. In Ticket to Ride: Berlin, the difference is the subway network which rings the city. A player only has five Subway car pieces to place, so they are a limited resource, but when played, they tend to score more points and they tend to connect routes that are harder to connect via the Streetcar pieces. Most Destinations in the centre of the board lie just a single route’s length from the beginning and end of a Subway route. Thus, for the longer Destination Tickets, a player will likely be wanting to claim the Subway routes to get around the board, whilst claiming routes into the city using the Streetcar pieces. It is an underplayed difference in comparison to titles in the ‘City’ series and to Ticket to Ride in general.

What Ticket to Ride: Berlin is reminiscent of is the Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 7: Japan + Italy and its Japan map. This introduced the ‘Bullet Train’ route, which when claimed using the indicated number of Transportation cards, only used a single Bullet Train piece to indicate that it had been claimed. The Subway routes in
Ticket to Ride: Berlin work in a similar fashion, although unlike on the Japan map, they are not shared by all of the players and nobody is penalised for not building any Subway routes.

Physically, Ticket to Ride: Berlin is very nicely produced. Everything is produced to the high standard you would expect for a Ticket to Ride game.

Like Ticket to Ride: New York, Ticket to Ride: London, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam, and Ticket to Ride: San Francisco, what Ticket to Ride: Berlin offers is all of the play of Ticket to Ride in a smaller, faster playing version, that is easy to learn and easy to transport. The balance in the game lies between claiming two different types of route, one that feels faster and goes further, as well as scoring more when claimed, but the player is limited to claiming five of this type in total, the other shorter, more flexible, with more pieces to put down and claim routes, but not scoring quite as much. This is more demanding than the other ‘City’ series titles and in combination with the fact that Ticket to Ride: Berlin is not as strongly thematic as the rest of the ‘City’ series, the result is that Ticket to Ride: Berlin feels austere in comparison. Of course, Ticket to Ride: Berlin still offers the same quick, competitive play of Ticket to Ride, but loses theme in favour of slightly more thoughtful play.