Here are some of the games that have found there way into the ol' game lab recently. As always, these are tabletop games that are new and interesting to me and may not necessarily be new to the marketplace.
What are you playing these days? I always love to hear in the Comments.
I was so excited for the release of Free League's Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game. The content, in both the hardbound Core Rulebook and the boxed started set, is an awe-inspiring immersion into the Blade Runner universe. I can't wait to see where they take the franchise from here. Free League has already announced two significant expansions on the horizon, Fiery Angels, a Case File boxed set, and a sourcebook, Replicant Rebellion.
The year is 2037. The game, built upon Free League's house game engine, Year Zero, draws most of its core inspiration from Blade Runner 2049. The game does a fantastic job of…um… replicating the crime and grime feel of being a detective in the rainy, neon-drenched dystopian future of Los Angeles. True to the concerns of the films, Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game is designed so that your character is constantly grappling with questions of mortality and morality, identity, the nature of memory, and what it means to be human. Lots of dreamy, smeary artwork throughout perfectly conveys the mood.
There has been some controversy over the theme of the game. On its surface, it appears to be a crime-solving detective game (which makes sense given the source material), but there's a sidebar in the rule book which makes it clear that the cases you're investigating are actually not the point (i.e. this ain't no Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective). The deeper themes of confronting what it means to be human (or replicant) and the moral dilemmas of your job as a Blade Runner are the point (as your character balances Promotion and Humanity Points). The cases are the carrier wave for this, part of the setting. That said, the detective investigations as set and setting are really well done. The boxed starter set comes with an envelope of case material handouts and a bunch of maps to locations related to the Electric Dreams case that comes in the core book and the boxed set. You also get a giant map of Los Angeles, 2037.
Those who've played other Year Zero games, like ALIEN and Vaesen, will recognize some of the dice pool mechanics, but Blade Runner uses polyhedrals, from d6 to d12, where most YZ titles rely of d6s. The multiple-bone denominations allow for a fascinating stepped dice mechanic. Characters have different dice associated with their attributes and their skills and roll these two together as a base dice roll. Anything 6 or higher is a success. The official dice that come in the boxed set have eye icons along with the numbers for anything 6 and over. Two eyes (found on numbers 10, 11, 12) count as two successes. Ones on any die (the dreaded origami unicorn) are critical fails that deal mental stress or physical hurt. The system also includes a push mechanic where you can re-roll failed rolls, but you have to accept the final result.
If you've ever dreamed of climbing into a Police Spinner and floating up into dreary skies of perpetual rain and replicant tears, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is your ticket. I for one can't wait to see where in this blighted world we get to go next.
The Game Master's Book of Astonishing Random Tables (Media Lab Books, $23
If worldbuilding and random tables are your gaming jam, you'll want to pick up The Game Master's Book of Astonishing Random Tables. Part of Media Lab Books' well-regarded "Game Master's Book of" series, this book is filled with over 300 random tables, covering everything from creating god pantheons, planets, realms, and cities, to tavern ditties and drink concoctions, pickpocketing results, and criminal charges. Peppered through this handsomely-designed tome, you'll also find a series of GM Note sidebars that are quite helpful. The Game Master's Book of Astonishing Random Tables is 5e and Pathfinder compatible but could be easily employed in any fantasy RPG.
Frostgrave: Wildwoods (Osprey Games, $27)
In this latest expansion of Joseph McCullough's beloved Frostgrave, players get to venture with their warbands outside of the Frozen City and into The Wildwoods of the northern lands above Felstad. The 90-page supplement contains all of the tools players need to take on the wilds. You get the normal additions of new soldier, magic, and treasure types, traits, and new besaties to face off against. But here, you also get new terrain rules, rules for using boats, managing supplies, transporting cargo, and more. There is also a six-scenario campaign that culminates in a final showdown in the ruins of a tower on a demon-haunted island in the middle of a frozen lake. Holy Frostgrave, Batman!
Murderous Ghosts: A Party Game (Lumpen Games, $10, 2+ players, Ages 12+, 20-60 minutes)
Murderous Ghosts is an easy-to-learn one-shot horror/ghost stories RPG. It's designed to be played by two people, a Master of Ceremonies and a Player. Each person gets a prompts booklet. The game can also be played by a larger group with all the players using the same prompts book. Ghosts has been designed so that you can start playing without any set-up. The MC sets the stage and MC and Player(s) following the instructions in their respective booklets. Like sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories, the goal of the game is basically to scare the crap out of everyone. And not die. Spoiler: You are so going to die.
Dragonbane RPG (Free League Games, $50)
While we elder-nerds in the west were playing Dungeons & Dragons 40 years ago, in Sweden, the name of the game was Drakar och Demoner (Dragons & Demons). Swedish game makers, Free League, have now unleashed a new and reimagined English-language edition of Drakar och Demoner, called Dragonbane. Free League has launched the title via a lovely and lavish boxed set. You get a rules book, an adventure book, cards, standies, dice, pre-rolled character sheets, and a fold-out map. While much of Dragonbane has similarities to D&D, there are a few significant differences. It's a Class-less and Level-less d20-based roll-under system where "1" is a Dragon (a critical hit) and 20 is a Demon (a critical fail). And there are humanoid duck characters (the Mallard)! Dubbed a "Mirth and Mayhem" system, Dragonbane is a weird and wonderful mix of the dark n' deadly and… well, the Mallard! Somehow, it all works, in an adorably Scandinavian way, making Dragonbane a worthy alternative to 5e D&D.
RPG & Wargame Newsletter (Free, User Supported)
Jim Kelly, aka The Tabletop Engineer, is one of those makers/indie game content producers who never stops creating interesting stuff. He's done RPG adventures, YouTube how-tos and gameplay videos, laser-cut terrain kits, magazines, and more. One of his more recent offerings is the RPG & Wargame Newletter. This breezy weekly pub covers gaming news, new releases, conferences, miniatures, and terrain. Definitely worth checking out.
Demon Ship (Black Site Studios, $40 Starter Set, $60 Terrain Kit)
Back in May, I wrote about Demon Ship, a solo, micro sci-fi/horror game that was creating a buzz on the eve of its release. Now that I have the game, have assembled the terrain kit, and played it, I have to sing its praises once again. This is a seriously cool game which scratches all my solo game itches. It's easy to learn, it's fun, it's fast, and its brutal. Malev and Black Site Studios have done a seriously impressive job here. This indie game, by a new, unknown game designer, is as good as any larger commercial release I've acquired of late. The rules, the writing, the design, the minis, the packaging — are all top shelf. And, the MDF terrain kit is so cleverly thought out and fun (if challenging) to build. Adding the terain kit (at $60) makes the game a bit pricey, but I think it's totally worth it. I plan on using the terrain in other games such as Stargrave and Necromunda. If you have a 3D printer, you can also get a set of STL files, with the terrain you need to play, for $20. The starter set rule book also includes terrain images in the back that you can print out and use (with any miniatures you have on hand).