I haven't done one of these game round-ups in a while. Here are some of the games that have come into the ol' game lab recently.
What games have been on your table recently? Post up in the comments.
Stargrave: Hope Eternal (Osprey Games, $27)
If you've been waiting for the ability to play Stargrave in solo or cooperative modes, here's your supplement. Here's how the campaign behind Hope Eternal is described in the book:
Since the end of the Last War, the great pirate fleets have roamed the ruins of the galaxy, pillaging, extorting, and enslaving. No one has had the power to stand against them, and the desperate few who have tried, have been quickly and brutally crushed. However, when the independent crews are hired for a simple hostage rescue, it leads to a dangerous opportunity to strike a blow against tyranny. Two of the largest and most vicious pirate fleets are meeting for a parlay near the ruins of an ancient research station… one that once experimented with 'supernova-level events'. If the crews can locate the station, slip past the pirates, and infiltrate the facility, it might be possible to release such an event just as the fleets have gathered…
Stargrave death star, anyone? I absolutely love the idea of a cooperative campaign that could end in your gaming group doing something to fundamentally change the universe you are playing in.
The supplement has some cool rules changes for coop play, like the two players dividing the warband in half with both taking leveled-up First Mates and then taking turns each scenario running one FM as the Captain. And Joe McCullough has designed the campaign so that if you fail in one of the scenarios, you still have a chance to meet the mission objectives in the next scenario. As always, there is also a bunch of nifty new tech, beasties (barbarians, giving you an excuse to use your Frostgrave minis!), and a few new rules and attributes.
Tournament of Pigs (Weird Works, $50)
How cool is the concept behind this beautiful boxed 5e D&D or DCC (Dungeon Crawl Classics) adventure setting? The Tournament of Pigs is an annual event in the tiny kingdom of Nook. All citizens must crowd into the arena. The mad king's sage, Durandoro Falazar, draws seating locations and if you're unlucky enough to be in the wrong seat (you are), you get lowered into the arena and are subjected to various terrifying ordeals. Given the fact that death is ever-present in the arena, each player fields 4-5 zero level characters. That's right, zero level. You are playing commoners–butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc. The hefty boxed set comes with a handy Zero Level Rulebook that shows you how to quickly roll up zero level characters.
When your characters get thrown into the arena, they are presented with various challenges, from solving riddles to negotiating traps, fighting various monsters, and trying to capture the titular (greased) pigs. Characters in the arena are allowed to choose combat items from a "Crap Rack" (you pick a card and then flip it over to reveal what you grabbed). As the name implies, most of it is of dubious usefulness. If your character wins an ordeal, they get to choose from the Silver Rack, weapons that might help them survive another round or two. After each round, characters are scored by being alive and if they got a silver reward.
The final score for players in based on how many points you cumulatively collected from all of the commoners you feed into the meat grinder. One cool thing about the game is that, for any zero level characters that survive, you can level them up to Level 1 for play beyond Pigs, and my oh my, what stories they will bring with them. Tournament of Pigs is available in two flavors, D&D 5e or DCC.
The Adventurer's Tarot: Empress Deck (Weird Works, $50)
I have long been fascinated by the use of tarot cards in fantasy RPGs. It's a no-brainer. But how to use them? The Adventurer's Tarot: Empress Deck can be used as an alternate initiative system, as a D&D-friendly divination deck to add flavor to your campaign, or a player can try their hand at the new spellcaster class, the Wild Oracle, which casts spells using the deck. There are also rules for using the deck as an in-game magical item. The cards and the packaging are tres luxe!
Crescendo of Violence (Osprey Games, $33)
These days, there seems to be an RPG for every genre, subgenre, and sub-subgenre of science fiction, fantasy, and far beyond (e.g. Exalted Funeral just raked in a $1.6 million Kickstarter for a Monty Python RPG). Neon-noir is a cyberpunk-adjacent genre of mainly filmmaking. Films like Thief, Driver, Good Time, Strange Days, even Blue Velvet, have been characterized as neon-noir.
And now, it has it's own RPG. Taking place in 2093, Crescendo of Violence is really a mash-up of neon-noir and the "high-tech low life" of cyberpunk (but with less emphasis on evil megacorps as the main adversaries). Think cyberjazz over cyberpunk. And lots of neon.
Crescendo uses a d10 dice pool and a "Testing" system. You roll a prescribed number of d10s for a given task, take the highest roll and compare it against a 1-10 difficulty rating for the task. Combat works by rolling your pool (from the appropriate character trait, called a Path), each adversary choosing their highest die, and highest die hits or dodges. Damage is resolved by the attacker's weapons damage pool vs. the hit character's "Resolute" pool. Bonuses and penalties in the game add or subtract d10s from the pool.
One of the coolest, theme-appropriate rules in the game is the Spotlight mechanic. To determine initiative, the group needs to think cinematically, as if the game were a movie, and who would be in the camera's spotlight for a given action. This really gets the players thinking of the game as a movie. There are a number of other clever rules built into the system that are designed to emphasize the narrative, cinematic aspects of gameplay.
This is a beautifully-produced game with lovely (dare I say it again) neon-soaked artwork, relatively rules-light, designed to be more about creating a group cinematic experience than combat and treasure-collecting. So, why the strange title, Crescendo of Violence? Because everything in the game is designed to come to a head in the third act ("The Big Finale") and that's the only time when playing characters can actually die, i.e., the crescendo of violence.
Into the Odd (Free League Publishing, $45)
Oh my word, this latest "remastered" edition of the rules-light old-school-inspired RPG, Into the Odd, is ridiculously beautiful. Here is Ben at Questing Beast doing a clear and concise walk-through of the book and the rules.
This "industrial-age cosmic horror" game has a really simple and fast way of kitting out your character. After rolling for Abilities (only 3) and Hit Points, you consult a matrix chart where you match up your highest Ability score with your HP to see your character's "starter package" of weapons, special abilities, and magic items (called Arcana).
Like its design and aesthetics-heavy sibling, Mork Börg, Into the Odd has frustrated some players with its rather brilliant rules-light design that seems to get lost as you try to figure out how to play the game and navigate the book (though that trip is far more sober than Mork Börg). But, if you're OK with doing some "gaming in the gaps" and playing your way through some of the game's eccentricities and ambiguities, Into the Odd is worth a look. For game collectors like myself, I'm thrilled just to have it on my shelves.
Dungeons, Dice & Danger (Ravensburger, $25, 1-4 players, Ages 12+)
From acclaimed designer Richard Garfield (Magic: The Gathering, Android: Netrunner, KeyForge, King of Tokyo) comes this simple but fun roll and write game. It's a dungeon delver where you move through a dungeon map by choosing pairs of numbers from a collective dice pool and mark off rooms (and fight monsters) with those numbers. You get points for collecting treasure and defeating monsters and pray your health doesn't plummet to zero. It's all basic stuff on a very hackneyed theme, but it doesn't take itself seriously and it's a fun palette cleanser kind of game or as a Solitaire-like time waster. You get 2 two-sided pads of 4 dungeons at progressive levels of difficulty. Do yourself a favor, don't use the included pencils. It becomes increasingly difficult to see the dungeon as you move through it. Use a small rubber stamp or non-bleed fat marker to mark off the rooms as you "search" them.
Old-School Essentials Online Reference Document
A free online version of the Old-School Essentials (OSE) Classic Fantasy rules. The site also has online generators, a set of tools to quickly roll up encounters, treasure, magic items, NPCs, and more.
[More on Boing Boing about OSE.]