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Kickstarter Reviews: Five Moons RPG

Five MoonsKickstarter by Sean K. Reynolds & Gerald Lee

Five Moons
Kickstarter by Sean K. Reynolds & Gerald Lee

If you are like most Gamers of the RPG-variety and you have at least a couple of years experience under your gaming belt then you are probably familiar with the concept of Vancian magic.

Named after Jack Vance and his Dying Earth series, who many consider the grand-daddy of fantasy progenitors, Vancian magic is a system device used as a way of limiting traditional spell-casting classes in the D&D and other derivative rule-sets used in the gaming world.

Through daily ‘memorization’ limits, Wizards and other spellcasters have certain amount of slots or prepared spells they can cast each day or between rests, depending on your system. While this works for beginning adventurers, Wizards still typically dominate these sand-box worlds once they hit higher levels.

Enter systems like the Five Moons.

Five Moons Game Design Goals

Five Moons
Game Design Goals

What is Five Moons you ask?

In part it is a Kickstarter by veteran and legendary Game designer Sean K. Reynolds (yeah, THAT guy) of Wizards fame and Pathfinder boards.

But Five Moons is also a role-playing Game billed by its creator as one of those rare breeds that seeks to dismantle the limits inherent in troupes like Vancian magic, power-creep and counter-productive GM-versus-Player table-talk that can too often dominate a session. A great example Reynolds gives describing this uber-fixation on rules, and one I myself have pointed out at times can be found in such august works as the Pathfinder Core Rulebook which goes into the difference between Supernatural and Extraordinary abilities.

Check out Reynold’s beef with that mechanic here.

It’s a nuanced approach common among rule systems with as much specificity as Pathfinder whose procedural feel often requires such distinctions. Further instances of this word lawyer-ing can also be seen in the need to clarify differences like Natural weapons versus Manufactured weapons, Moral bonuses versus Insight and Competence bonuses, et. cetera, et. cetera.

Five Moons Iconic CharacterArt by Gerald Lee

Five Moons
Iconic Character

Art by Gerald Lee

Reynold’s Kickstarter, an RPG-rules-set currently in funding mode through the end of the month, attempts to shift the focus away from this crunch and saunter into the world of fluff (or munch if you will).

Based on preview videos and the plethora of informative blog posts and discussions the designer has given on the system, whose gameplay looks heavily like D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, the major differences to the system are additions with things like Boosts, which expands spell memorization and character themes. But the system clearly seems to stay close to its obvious roots with rules most Gamers will find reassuring: things like Initiative feats, Power Attacks, Charge bonuses and Rogues who need opponents to lose their AC bonus to make the game familiar enough to players migrating from these other systems.

Overall the main focus of the game seems to be on re-distribution of power amongst the classes, chiefly making sure that martial characters are power-competitive with arcane and/or divine (primal, mental, ad. Infinum) as characters level. This ties back into the Supernatural vs. Extraordinary analysis, with the work around apparently being to remove the uber-specific and limiting work-salad of rules.

Thus much like 4th Edition, Five Moons clearly asks the question: Why can’t a level 12 Fighters be as badass as Level 12 Wizard?

The answer given by the Five Moons RPG: emphasis on class themes over fantasy physics.

It’s an answer that has already successfully funded the campaign and clearly resonates with Gamers. It’s also an approach that comes with it an intriguing world pre-made to suit the Five Moons rule-set. Check that world out here.

One the other intriguing things about the Five Moons setting is the artwork.

Done by Gerald Lee (yeah, THAT guy), an industry titan whose other works include Ninjak, Magic the Gathering Comics and Iron Kingdoms, so far the style appears to have a definite Pathfinder flavor with a gritty and incredibly inclusive bent. In fact the two main or in D&D/Pathfinder speak, Iconic characters, appear to be a dark-skinned wizardly type and fair-skinned womanly rogue type—not your typical showcase characters.

Iconic Characters of the Five Moons RPG Kickstarter Promo Images Art by Gerald Lee

Iconic Characters of the Five Moons RPG
Kickstarter Promo Images
Art by Gerald Lee

Lee was gracious enough to answers some questions concerning his collaboration with Reynolds, the Kickstarter itself and his own myriad of gaming chops.

***

1.    Why Five Moons and why Sean K. Reynolds?

— “Why me?” was what I was thinking when he originally invited me to come aboard the Five Moons project. I’ve been working with Sean for quite a few years now, illustrating for many of his projects and publications, and before then I was enjoying his writing and game design as a player.

2.    How did Sean come to meet you and at what point in the relationship did the idea of collaboration come to each of your minds?

— An old friend of mine, let’s just call him Matthew, was actually doing some projects with Monte Cook, and had heard SKR was looking for some artists, and somewhere in the mix my name came up. Emails were exchanged and then the next thing you know, we’re signing contracts and publishing art. That was about a decade ago. I’ve actually only had the pleasure of physically meeting SKR once, while he was living in NYC. I gave him free movie passes to see Batman Begins…fitting I think.

As for the idea of collaborating on Five Moons RPG? He just came to me one day and asked me if I’d be interested in a secret project and I said yes. Everyone wants to be part of a secret project and we both have a long running history working together, know what to expect even if we sometimes exceed those expectations, and most importantly trust each other to get our jobs done. The rest of the details were just gravy…really good gravy.

Five Moons Monster Art Art By Gerald Lee

Five Moons Monster Art
Art By Gerald Lee

3.    What about the Five Moons campaign intrigued you the most from an artistic and design viewpoint?

— From a design viewpoint, being able to build it from the ground up was very exciting, not having the limitations of an existing system that has been already published and adhering for the sake of seamless compatibility. After reading much of the beginning mechanics and hearing the direction it was going to go, I was pretty convinced I would have no problems taking the plunge and trying out a new gaming system…which tbh, I generally like to stick to one system and migrate only when the support for it is all but dried up.

Most times artists are brought aboard after it’s been conceptualized so in a way an artist is recreating someone else’s vision. While we’re all inspired and influenced by others we admire, being able to get art direction of not so much how the monster should look but more where they thrive, their behaviors and type of community they live in was both a challenge and refreshing. When it’s more, “they should be a cross between a this and a that…but I’d like to see what you come up with.” That makes every project, every illustration, like tasting something new for the very first time.

4.    The iconic characters depicted on the Five Moons core—do they have stories behind them and who created their appearances?

– They all have stories, Five Moons has a lot more going on behind the scenes that most might think. I mentioned earlier part of the conceptualization for the races and monsters were based on how they live, where, along with some relation to a particular type of animal or element. SKR said, these are the iconics, here are their classes, here is the secret ingredient that makes them tick, and their ethnic background…make it happen. I know what I know and what I’ve discussed w/SKR. I don’t know however if I can reveal anything more than what’s been shown in his blog and the KS page. I am guilty however of giving the iconic warrior and rogue their names along with designing the current look for all the iconics so far based on the original ideas when we designed them.

Paizo Character Copyright: Paizo Publishing Art by Gerald Lee

Paizo Character
Copyright: Paizo Publishing
Art by Gerald Lee

5.    Would you say that Five Moons is similar to your previous work and style or a radical departure?

— Five Moons really pushed me to another level both artistically and responsibly. I had to take a few days to just practice inking to prepare myself for the many pieces to come in the Five Moons RPG. Normally I would just pencil sketch a drawing then digitally manipulate it so it would appear as inked or at least inked enough. I’m also happy to say I’m cranking out the artwork faster than I used to, meeting deadlines with time to spare, and all this whilst raising a family and my day job. 🙂

6.    What has some of your other work included? What would you say your previous work emphasized?

— I’ve done some commercial art. I did some illustrations and ads when I worked designing fashion accessories and jewelry… graphics for web pages, wedding invites, trading cards, greeting cards, package design, storyboards, logos, costume and character design for comics and video games… more or less everything that could involve an illustrator somehow. The majority of my previous work emphasized what the client wanted.

Someone told me it must be cool to be an illustrator, I asked why? He said because you can wake up every morning and say “Today, I think I’m going to be a painter or a designer or etc…” Yeah.

7.    Who or what are some of your influences and inspirations?

— …a long time ago…I had the privilege of apprenticing with Tony DiTerlizzi. I was his 1st apprentice. I learned a lot about myself and the direction of where my art could go. I’ve also worked in the comic book industry and met with a lot of artists and editors, was given a lot of critiques, and encouragement. So there’s a special place for those ppl at Valiant. Inspiration? My family, my friends, and everyone who hasn’t given up on their dreams.

Pathfinder Character Art Copyright: Paizo Publishing Art by Gerald Lee

Pathfinder Character Art
Copyright: Paizo Publishing
Art by Gerald Lee

 

8.    What are some the Gaming genres and settings you have played in? Which are you most passionate about?

— Mostly fantasy AD&D all the way to 4E and now Pathfinder Society, for a stint I tried steam punk (Iron Kingdoms because I had done a few projects for them) and modern/future (Shadowrun) rpgs but it didn’t keep me, since decking into a main frame wasn’t too far off from hearing about someone hacking into a computer, and there’s something more visually appealing drawing/playing a hero/ine fighting a horde of monsters w/a sword and shield than with an automatic weapon. I’ve also likely spent a small fortune playing Magic & Pokemon. I have a Mox emerald if anyone is interested.

9.    What part of Five Moons appeals to you the most from a Gamer’s perspective?

– It encourages out of the box thinking and even rewards them for creative solutions. There’s also a big mechanic on team work. If you want to build the single most powerful character in the system, that’s fine…to play one though, you might be better off just playing videogames though because there are leaderboards for those. Gaming has gained quite a bit of popularity recently along with momentum, it’s not just old skool gamers playing RPGs anymore, gaming is enjoyed and accessible to everyone now. Five Moons has fun for both the seasoned veteran and the curious new comer. No more 20 minute long rules dispute on how to resolve a grapple attack because two players couldn’t agree on how the wording was interpreted. Less time rules lawyering means more time playing and having fun.

10.    What do you hope Gamers and art fans get the most out of your contribution to Five Moons?

– I just hope they like what I’m putting out there for them…and if they want to dig deeper, find the story behind each illustration.

***

    Five Moons     Iconic Character     Art by Gerald Lee

Five Moons
Iconic Character
Art by Gerald Lee

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Game Review : Hunter’s Guild

Hunter's Guild by Robb De Nicola

Hunter’s Guild by Robb De Nicola

A card-game modeled after your typical Vampire-slayer mindset, Robb De Nicola’s successfully funded KickStarter Hunter’s Guild pits players against one-another in a race to compete and be the first to take down one of those pesky sun-deprived, eternally manic, blood-drinking fiends that stalk your neighborhood mischievously throughout the night. You know– your in-laws.

Mildly competitive and a heckuva lot of fun the game takes course over several turns with players equipping themselves with the best weapons, armor and various other types of Special items to go on the most holy of missions known to man- Vampire slaying.

The Goal

Hunter’s Guild is a turn-based card game where Players win by collecting a set of Vampire repellant cards, things like Holy Water & Stakes and mill through one of two separate Decks, Day and Night, until they reach a Vampire Lord. Vampire Lords are found in the Night Deck. The first player who encounters a Vamp Lord and has the requisite set of Vampire-killing tools wins the game.

Components

Vampire Lord's - The Goal of the Game Epic Scale Games

Vampire Lord’s – The Goal of the Game
Image Copyright: Epic Scale Games

  • 7 Hunter Cards
  • 100 Day Cards
    • – 24 Repel Cards
    • – 10 Armor Cards
    • – 12 Shield Cards
    • – 14 Weapon Cards
    • – 40 Special Cards
  • 100 Night Cards
    • – 12 Vampire Lord Cards
    • – 44 Event Cards
    • – 44 Creature Cards
  • 1 instruction set
  • 1 Backer Sheet
  • 1 twenty-sided die

Set-up

Players separate the two decks into the Night and Day decks. Players then either randomly pick their Hunter class cards or choose which ones they wish to play. Classes include the Knight, Ranger, Thief and Warrior and each player has one card corresponding to their Player Character which also lists their total number of hit points (4 Max). Following this, players are dealt four cards from the Day deck to their hand and play begins with the player to the left of the dealer.

    Hunter's Guild Ranger     Image Copyright: Epic Scale Games

Hunter’s Guild Ranger
Epic Scale Games

Game-Play

Game play is divided into turns, with each player getting a ‘turn’ and the entire group going through a Day Turn and a Night turn. These Day Turns or Night Turns correspond to which deck players draw from, either the Day Deck or the Night Deck.

So for example in a three-player game, each player gets 1-Day turn going around the table: player A draws a card from the Day deck, equips, uses items then play passes to the left, where player B draws a card from the Day deck, equips, uses items then play passes to the left and so on. Then each player gets one Night turn, again going around the table with each player drawing, this time face-up, one card from the Night deck. This cycle repeats throughout the game although Day/Night can change based on Event cards. The mechanic is basically Munchkins kicking down the door and looting, except separating it into two phases and with a bonus card draw before you go marching to your doom.

Hunter's Guild Weapons & Armor Cards

Hunter’s Guild Weapons & Armor Cards
Epic Scale Games

As explained, on a Day Turn, players draw 1 card from the Day deck. These cards consist of Weapons & Armor cards, Event cards or Vampire Repels cards. Players can equip Weapons & Armor cards at any time during their Day turn, but not during a battle– again closely following Munchkin‘s mechanic. Players can also play any special Event and Special cards anytime they are able; like Holy Water etc.

Its the Night phase however, when things get interesting.

Night Deck Event Cards Epic Scale Games

Night Deck Event Cards
Epic Scale Games

The Night Deck consists of Event cards, creature Cards and Vampire lord cards. Event cards are one time instantaneous events like loose armor, Swap a card from your hand with another player (blindly) or miraculously turn day into night (think Blade with his awesome tech gear).

creatures-HG

Night Deck Creature Cards
Epic Scale Games

Creature cards are the main focus of the game and are drawn from the Night deck and are what the entire game is designed around. They come in two varieties: Solo and Team.

When a player draws a Creature card form the Night deck they must fight it. Depending on a small icon, (A/S) the player must either face the monster alone or the entire party must face it.

Card Rotation MechanicEpic Scale Games

Card Rotation Mechanic
Epic Scale Games

Each monster has a number of Hit points denoted by Red Blood diamonds symbols or gems. Hit points come in maximum of 4 and proceed down to zero, the same as for players. To designate damage, monster cards are rotated to face the current player with the corresponding number of Blood Gems, or health points it currently has. So a monster or creature with 3 starting health would have the side of the card with 3 Gems facing the player who drew it from the Night Deck.

Monsters also come with a Level. This is the attack roll score needed to damage a monster. So a level 13 monster needs to have a 14 or higher to do damage to it. A roll equal to the monster level on the die face itself completely kills the monster: so in this case a d20 roll of exactly 13 destroys the monster outright (i.e. a Critical Hit).

Attacking a monster consists of rolling a die and adding any weapons you have equipped to the roll, but you may also play event cards during or after a roll to affect the die.

Creature Card with LootEpic Scale Games

Creature Card with Loot
Epic Scale Games

The player who lands the killing blow on a creature, that is drops its hp down to zero or below, can win the loot, if any, associated with that monster. Monsters have loot represented by icons and are either non-existent, i.e. no loot, solo loot, that is only the killing blow lands it (in a solo that’s only 1 player) or full party loot, where the killing blow gets extra loot and the rest of the party gets some loot for their assistance (yay back of the party help!).

Infected players (see below) also have the option of feeding from some Creatures, which entails gaining health back.

Each time a creature card is drawn from the deck either the current player or the entire party will fight until it is destroyed.

Fighting is a d20 roll with Equipment and Special card modifiers added.

A hit reduces the monsters Blood gems by a damage equal to the Players Weapon damage, while a miss hits the Player for 1 Point which they can, if they are wearing armor or have a shield, choose to reduce that item before taking 1 point of damage themselves. Like Monsters and Players, Armor and Shields come with Gems, these denoting durability instead of Health. They can be repaired and swapped but only one of each is equip-able, just like weapons.

If a Vampire card is drawn, a player is either Infected, or can use Repel cards to repel the vampire, thus staving off infection. An Infected player turns over their Class card to the Infected side. Infected players get a bonus to attacks (+3) but take damage during the Day phase if they choose to draw from the Day deck or can remain ‘slumbering’ and not receive a card. If an infected player draws a Vampire card while being infected and is unable to destroy them or to Repel them, their Hero is killed. If a player has a complete set of vampire Repel gear in their hand when they draw a Vamp Lord, they win the game.

Vampire Itchy-ouchy ItemsEpic Scale Games

Vampire Itchy-ouchy Items
Epic Scale Games

Verdict

The game is really enjoyable. It’s a light, semi-cooperative game that has all the hallmarks of a dungeon-crawl without the dungeon.

The Gem mechanic, which is used for all creatures, Hunter’s, Armor and Shields is very well thought out and easy to implement. It’s got a great visual and tactile sense of feedback during game-play with everyone at the table acknowledging your level and your current abilities. It has that immediate input as to where you are, resource-wise but is very simple to manage.

There is enough variety in the types of weapons and monsters and with bonus and special items so that choices don’t feel limited and you don’t feel you are milling through the deck.

Over the course of play the game definitely ramps up in favor of the players, with early rounds feeling particularly brutal unless players are fortunate enough to get the best weapons and armor due to the fact that creature cards are random and a 17+ monster can be especially hard versus an ill-equipped party. As the game goes on though, and more cards are drawn players have more resources to throw at the threats they face, however card hand-size management then becomes a key issue, with Repel cards competing for slots in your 8-max hand size with Buff cards and other helpful plays.

There are definitely investment trade-offs with the save-ups being geared towards finding a Vampire-lord and positioning yourself to land the killing blow against a creature that the entire party must face, which is where the competitiveness of the gameplay comes in.

The game, at first seems deceptively cooperative, until draw after draw of All-party creatures comes in, and players start factoring weapon damage and Loot mechanics to position themselves to land the killing blow on a creature. Here is one of the minor chinks in the game-play as it can become slightly frustrating when you draw a creature with great loot and realize that your pull is not going to help you in anyway because you won’t be able to land the killing blow simply by not being the last person to roll, or because your weapon is too underpowered. In this respect, the game tilts towards those with better gear easily racking up the booty off of All-party monsters, and thereby getting more and better gear, etc.

Random Item Drops from the Day DeckEpic Scale Games

Random Item Drops from the Day Deck
Epic Scale Games

The tipping balance is the randomness of the draws which also can be somewhat of a disheartening experience as some cards allow your best management to randomly cause you to loose items and gear. This is inherent in a card game and adds to the flavor, but the major drawback is that the winning condition of the game, drawing a Vampire Lord from the Night Deck, is completely random. Which makes winning, when everyone at the table has a full set of Repel cards, completely random, taking it down a notch for strategy. But, considering this is a light game that seems inherent to the design. Play can also drag once players are over-equipped and creatures are no longer a challenge making the game turn to a random, who-draws-a-vampire-Lord-first fest.

Lastly, the game has some minor issues with how card effects happen, and the order by which they happen, which is a typical Stack effect problem for light-games and is really more of an advanced Gamers take-away than anything else.

The artwork is good, with the three-dimensional-like visual giving you a CGI-like flavor. The card stock is glossy and appears durable enough and the box itself its well designed, slick and definitely market-ready.

It’s a solid, light-hearted card game that comes with great art.

Tweaks

Considering its light-hearted feel, the game functions as its meant to. It’s not a strategy heavy game, other than drawing and keeping Repel cards and there is not a lot you can do to invest in tactics.

Given its nature, the only adds would be ways in which to preempt Killing blow steals, other than the Rogue abilities and cards, and some way to ‘peek’ ahead into the Night deck so that you could control the win condition a little more and make it less random.

Otherwise the game functions great as is.

So when you get a chance, feel like staking some night-bumping vampers, pick up a copy of Hunters Guild and

Game forth!

Hunter's GuildEpic Scale Games

Hunter’s Guild
Epic Scale Games

 

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Game Review: Assault 19XX

Paul Roman Martinez’s beautifully illustrated Assault 19XX
Image Source: Adventurers 19XX WebStore

A while back I had the good fortune to interview a Kickstarter Zen master and Eisner nominated fellow by the name of Paul Roman Martinez. With over 100K in successful projects, Martinez publishes an online web-comic called Adventurers 19XX.

The plot follows a paranormally blessed group of heroes in the early part of the twentieth century called Adventurers 19XX as they battle equally gifted but nefariously inclined villains part of an organization called the Black Faun.

The comic is a fantastic mash-up of pulpish, steam-powered eclectic characters and influences. In its electronic pages, Aztec villains fight alongside the likes of Aleister Crowley and chemically vat-grown homunculi against talking bunnies and All-American southerners wielding Lucky Baseball Bats. Since I stumbled across it I have been devouring the chapters whenever I get the chance. It’s a comic that is right up my alley and I greatly suggest giving it a read.

One spawn of the comic is Martinez’s self-developed and crowd-funded 2-6 player game called Assault 19XX.

The Goal

Victory Progression Chart Image Source: Forever Geek

Victory Progression Chart
Image Source: Forever Geek

Assault 19XX is a turn-based card game where Players win by proceeding along a jumbo-sized Victory card track that has 13 Victory point slots with different effects as players reach each Victory level. First to 13 Victory points wins and players receive Victory points by damaging opponents during combat or through special card effects.

Set-up

Components (Basic game and included expansion)

24 Character Cards
122 Luck and Character Cards
48 Chapter Cards
2 scorecards
2 faction markers
6 colored health markers
1 six-sided die

Players are given one of the more than 20 jumbo-sized character cards representing characters from the Adventurers 19XX comic-verse. One player randomly determines whose faction each player is on, the good guys who are the Adventurers 19XX or the bad guys, the magically addicted Black Faun.

Players can either compete on teams, the preferred and implied method, or in a free for all style. Players are then given three random cards from their faction and allowed to select one to play for the game.

Once a player chooses a Character, unique Item and Luck cards specific to that character get handed out. A single Luck card and 4 Item cards are next dealt randomly to each player to form their hand and a health token is given out with starting health being Green on a five-panel geared health track at the base of the Character card. Play then proceeds clockwise starting with the player who originally determined the factions. Players are meant to sit in a staggered setup where team-mates are separated from each other by sitting next to enemies.

Game-Play

Assault 19XX Beautifully rendered cardsImage Source: Forever Geek

Assault 19XX Beautifully rendered cards
Image Source: Forever Geek

Each round players draw 1 Item card to their hand and may play any number of certain ‘instant’ yellow cards, or equip any number of equipment or ‘Luck’ cards to their character, provided they have available slots. Slots include a Group slot, a Head slot, Left and Right arm slots and two small Weapon slots

Item and Luck cards form two separate decks. Items cards are drawn once per turn but events like damaging an opponent, rolling a natural 1 or other cards allow players to draw more cards from either deck.

Players obtain Victory points either by attacking and successfully damaging an opponent or by special cards that give free Victory points or the like.

Attacking and defending is resolved by adding up values assigned to characters, including their stated Luck value, Attack value a random d6 roll and any instant cast or equipped Luck or equipment cards. This attack score is compared to a players defensive total, which is calculated the same way, but minus the d6 and includes their Defensive value instead of their Attack value.

Any time an opponent takes damage from an attack a Victory point is scored, and that player takes 1 point of damage and 1 point only. Special weapons can increase this damage, and other Item cards do direct damage but don’t award Victory points.

Based on the Victory cards, other cards are drawn depending on the slot level, with chapter cards giving other benefits as the game progresses.

Verdict

The Formidable Baron Jumbo-sized Character CardImage Source: Forever Geek

The Formidable Baron Jumbo-sized Character Card
Image Source: Forever Geek

The game play is at first enjoyable, as you play cards from your hand and immediately equip or use the best weapons or abilities you can.

The problem for the game is that there are no opportunity costs to not attacking or not using your best weapons or Items. There are no ‘save-up-for’ investments required and therefore no incentive to do anything other than attack or throw everything you have at an opponent, who will throw everything back. And with only 1 card draw per turn, you can easily exhaust your resources by round three.

The Luck based draw of Items also lends to one-sided outcomes, as a team who is better equipped will invariably become virtually impervious to attack, as I found in game-play; my team mate and I could not damage our opponents even with a perfect roll, so we ended up attacking simply for the chance to get a roll of 1 which is a clover and gives you an extra Luck card.

So once your opponents ramp up, there is little you can do to stop them.

The character abilities themselves also are vastly imbalanced, with some clearly overpowered while others barely effective.

However the artwork is excellent and the theme is top notch. The era accuracy with cards like the Browning Automatic Rifle and MG08 Machine gun and Wheel Tank are just generally cool cards both in terms of design and artwork. There are some odd choices however with a stop-light (Kibosh) that removes cards or the electric torch (flashlight) which adds to defense. But it was a great kick to play the characters from the comic and at the same time admire the art.

Tweaks

The Adventurers 19XXImage Copyright: PrM

The Adventurers 19XX
Image Copyright: PrM

Suggestions would be just an increase per turn of card draws and more ally-helping cards to make the game more cooperative. Static attack and defense values usually suffer from an over abundance of power in one player or team, like in Munchkin where players with better card draws can simply win by Luck alone. The overall mechanic is decent, there just needs some slight tweaking to make the game chug along more smoothly.

I would suggest the game simply for the artwork alone, and if you want to house-rule it to make it a bit more balanced, take out some of the cards from the Item and Luck decks along with some of the character cards to make the game a bit more even handed. Also just add maybe 1 or 2 to the per turn card draws and maybe even make Item equipments single or multiple use only, i.e. ammo, or even add a cost to equip them, such as discarding cards equal to their attack values before you can equip them.

With or without these minor tweaking you can definitely try Assault 19XX, enjoy it and

Game forth!

 

 

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Kickstarter Review & Interview (From the Czech Republic)- On The Coast of Dreams

cover_ENG

On the Coast of Dreams
A Graphic Novel currently funding on Kickstarter
Image Copyright: Michael Petrus

Barely over a month ago Kickstarter began operations in the Netherlands, allowing creators in another corner of the EU a chance to see their dreams turn to reality.

Before the Netherlands, Kickstarter first ventured into the U.K., then Canada followed by Australia and New Zealand. With each new expansion, the legions of creative minds that Kickstarter has sought to empower have leapt at the chance of reaching an audience with their unique talents and ideas.

One such creative team who pointed me towards their efforts hails from the Czech Republic, currently outside Kickstarter’s operational sphere. It is the teams first attempt at crowd-funding a project, but it is also the first graphic novel from their country to be offered on Kickstarter. ‘On the Coast of Dreams‘ is the title and it is currently in funding mode.

While their Kickstarter is a bit sparse on details, the graphic novel of this fledgling group of artists is promoted as being centered around a man who must journey into the mind of his daughter, tragically stuck in a coma. The tone and story-telling immediately reminded me of the European stories I’ve come across in pages of the world-famous Heavy Metal magazine.

OTCOD_3

The tense, emotional scenes from
On the Coast of Dreams
Image Copyright: Michael Petrus

The panels are chocked full of empty and tense emotional sequences, less action-oriented story-telling and geared much more towards evocative introspection. It’s a style of graphic story-telling that appeals to me in ways that garish super-heroes and thin plots typical of American comics generally don’t. It’s also a style I find can be hit or miss within the pages of Heavy Metal due to the shortness and sparseness of the stories themselves considering they have to be told in generally twenty pages or less. On the Coast of Dreams however is promoted to be coming in at roughly 90 pages so I can only assume that a thorough plot with well developed characters will be fully executed.

The artwork reminds me of a rougher Garrie Gastonny. Like Gastonny, you can see in the characters a pained, constant deliberation of action:

Garrie Gastonny's The Vault   An artistic style similar to  On the Coast of Dreams   Image Copyright: Image Comics

Garrie Gastonny’s The Vault
An artistic style similar to
On the Coast of Dreams
Image Copyright: Image Comics

After seeing only  a few pages of the comic, I have to admit that I am intrigued, both by the art and the story.

In one panel, an elephant with red markings is shown talking to the main character while in another,  a three-headed monstrous Buddha-looking guardian serves up an apparent warning to the protagonist of the novel.

Clearly from the limited images (which on the Kickstarter page itself could definitely stand to be enlarged) thus far revealed the story  is one that takes a hard and fast intellectual romp through all manner of cross-pollinated cultural iconography and blends myth with self-awareness. Its roots firmly extend from the classic Epic tale– Gilgamesh to Orpheus, a hero who journeys into a forbidden land on a quest to save his beloved.

What really makes this Kickstarter even more interesting though is its Czech-American collaboration.

With the creative minds of Viktor Šauer and Michael Petrus serving as writer and illustrator, the pair has enlisted the aid of an American project manager named Tomas Holub.

This global coordination appears to be required because apparently  in order to fund a Kickstarter project one needs to be physically present in one of the countries the site operates in– the U.K., the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand or in this project’s case, the U.S.

To work around this, creators can and do enlist the aid of foreign project managers, who in turn set up shop in their  native country, including handling all the legal matters inherent in a Kickstarter project, a strategy clearly followed in this case.

But apart from this legal setup, the creators of On the Coast of Dreams have a more primary concern, chiefly getting  their creation out and into the hands of the world at large.

In the pursuit of these dreams, they were gracious enough to share further details about their on-going campaign, and I had a cool opportunity to reach out across the Atlantic and get a feel for creators from the other side of the globe:

***

On the Coast of Dreams
Image Copyright: Michael Petrus

(1) Why a graphic novel? Why Kickstarter? What makes your graphic novel different over others on KS?

The answer is the urge and desire to create. Kickstarter is a great opportunity for indie authors and we resonate with this way of supporting.

Our graphic novel is the first Czech comics project on Kickstarter and on the same time is quite unique story about freeing your spiritual state from the materialistic world.

(2) What’s the price breakdown of your KS amount roughly?

Well the goal is quite high because of the several factors – if we reach the $9000 goal we will see just around 60% – 40% go off directly (KS and other fees, taxes, fee to our “project supervisor” in US) – thus we’ll have just around $6000 to print it ($3000) and ship it (that’s the big part – as we are shipping from the Czech Republic it’s very expensive – approx. $2500-3000) and we also have to produce the other rewards as t-shirts, posters etc.

(3) What other work have you guys done?

Other Work by Michal Petrus, artist behind
  On the Coast of Dreams

(4) How did you guys put together your KS team?

We were talking about our passion and people passing by were interested in helping us. Viktor and Michael works already together for several years and we are friends for more than a decade.

(5) What is the story about? Is it a personal story? How do you relate to the characters?

‘On the Coast of Dreams’ is an original fantasy story set in the fictional mysterious world, inspired by our dreams. It is about abandoning the material world that we live in and accepting other dimensions around us.

In the story we will follow a journey of a man, whose daughter is trapped in a coma and he has to travel into the world of dreams to get a chance to fight for her life.  In the world of dreams they call him “The Seeker”. He encounters a wide variety of individuals and intelligent entities. While some of them try to help him on his way, others want to destroy him. It is a story of hope, determination and an overcoming of personal limits.

It’s all fiction but on the other hand, we want to show people the possibility of astral travel and lucid dreaming which can happen in the real world too and then you’re limited just by your imagination.

On the Coast of Dreams
Image Copyright: Michael Petrus

(6) So you guys are from the Czech Republic, would you say this story is uniquely Czech? If so, how?

It depends on what do you mean “uniquely Czech”. I think we have this kind of different thinking about the story and visuals thanks to the development of not only Czech comics but also the Czech culture itself. On other hand it isn’t located in any specific location so it can work anywhere.

 (7) What artists/writers inspire your work?

Michael: Cary Nord and his Conan had its impact on how my art has changed during the last years and On the Coast of Dreams reflects it in a way.

Viktor: I can’t say that this work is inspired by some specific artists but for many years I am interested in fantasy, sci-fi and mystery stories so it’s probably mixture of all different kinds of genres.

(8) If you had 1 artist in the world come and critique your work who would it be and why?

Michael: Never thought about that. Mr. Bryan Talbot had a look at my work at one of the comics cons in the Czech Republic, maybe I would like to talk to him longer and deeper. He is the founder of the graphic novel after all.

Viktor: It’s quite difficult question for me as well but for me it would be really interesting to hear what Hayao Miyazaki would say. I really resonate with his work.

(9) What comics do you read regularly, what movies and games do you play regularly? Do you prefer European comics/American/Japanese or some other style of comics? What about music genres? Do you create to any tunes?

Michael: In fact, I don’t read comic books regularly. My comics reading is more studying the art. But I watch some TV shows like Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Vikings or Game of Thrones. I love post-apocalyptic or sci-fi movies I would go to see every new film of this genre in the cinema. And music? Something harder, melodic and something with lots of bass. I listen to music during drawing a lot. I can’t work with silence.

Viktor: I just read some graphic novels time to time but not much. I don’t have any specific preferences as long as it’s good story. Much more I read normal books as by now The Malazan Book of the Fallen.

I am big movie fan and I’ve seen really a lot of movies… but I am not so strong with TV shows and series. If I should name few pieces which I like in past couple of months it would be Her, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Dallas Buyers Club and The Great Beauty.

In music I love lot of different genres but during writing I usually listen to movie soundtracks and scores so I am not disturbed by the lyrics.

(10) Have you ever been out of your home country? Where?

Michael: There are some other countries?

Viktor: I love to travel and I’ve been lucky that I traveled quite a lot… like 40+ countries by now mostly in Europe, North America and South East Asia – I loved it there!

(11) What would you say your most inspiring moment in life thus far has been as it relates to your creativity?

Michael: When I connected my computer to internet for the first time.

Viktor: It was one summer when I read a few fantasy books like The Lord of the Rings, some volume of Harry Potter and The Riftwar Saga. In that time I realized that I would love to invent my worlds, lore and write my own stories. I was fifteen years old and since then I started to focus more on creative writing  in my free time.

(12) What future projects do you see for yourselves on the horizon?

We have several comics projects regarding our job in front of us but we would like to continue to create stories in the world of dreams we created for On the Coast of Dreams.

On the Coast of Dreams
Image Copyright: Michael Petrus

 ***

So there you have it, inside the minds of a few ambitious Kickstarter creators. Some interesting influences (had to look up Mr. Hayao Miyazaki myself) and some excellent movie picks (I recommend Blue is the Warmest Color especially).

It clearly goes without saying that in every corner of the world the creative beat marches on, and thanks to a remarkably industrious website, the sound of a couple Czech creators have spread beyond where their talents can reach, bringing with it an epic voyage of dreams and fulfillment– the very essence of Kickstarter and of creativity itself.

So when you get a chance, why not check out the On the Coast of Dreams Kickstarter for yourself and if you like what you see,

Pledge Forth!

Other Work by Michal Petrus, artist behind
On the Coast of Dreams

(I requested a version of the questions and answers in Czech from the creators just in case their translations didn’t do their responses justice. You can find this version below. Also as a disclaimer, I received no consideration for this review.)

1.Proč zrovna grafická novela? Proč Kickstarter? Čím se liší od ostatních grafických novel na Kickstarteru?

Odpovědí je potřeba a chuť tvořit. Kickstarter je skvělou příležitostí pro nezávislé autory a velice se nám líbí forma komunitního financování.

Naše grafická novela je první český komiks na Kickstarteru ale především jde o poměrně unikátní příběh o osvobození ducha z materiálního světa.

 2. Jaký je přibližný cenový plán vaší KS kampaně?

No cílová částka je docela vysoká je vysoká z několika důvodů – pokud se dostaneme na 9000 USD z cílové částky uvidíme jen asi 60% (40% spolknou poplatky Kickstarteru, transakce, daně, poplatek za zprostředkování v USA) – zbyde nám tedy jen něco kolem 6000 USD z čehož musíme zaplatit tisk (cca 3000 USD) a poštovné (to je velká část – poštovné z České republiky do světa je velmi drahé cca 2500-3000 USD) no a samozřejmě další náklady na odměny jako jsou trička, plakáty atd.

 3. Jaké další projekty máte za sebou?

 4. Jak jste dali dohromady Váš tým na Kickstarter?

Mluvili jsme o téhle naší vášni a to stačilo, aby nám další lidé nabídli pomoc. Viktor a Michael se znají a spolupracují už řadu let.

 5. O čem je Váš příběh? Je to něco osobního? Jaký je Váš vztah k postavám?

‘On the Coast of Dreams – Na Břehu Snů’ je originální fantasy příběh umístěný do fiktivního mysteriózního světa inspirovaného našimi sny. Vypráví o cestě za opuštěním materiálního světa, ve kterém žijeme, a přijetím jiných dimenzí, které nás obklopují.

V příběhu sledujeme putování muže, jehož dcera je uvězněna v kómatu a on se musí vydat do světa snů aby ji mohl zachránit. V onom světě snů jej nazývají “Hledač”. Setkává se tam mimo jiného i s celou řadou inteligentních bytostí. Zatímco některé se mu snaží pomoci, jiné se jej pokoušejí zničit. Je to příběh o naději, odhodlání a překonávání osobních limitů.

Jde kompletně o fikci, ale rádi bychom tím lidem představili pojem a možnosti astrálního cestování a lucidního snění, které se mohou stát i v opravdovém světě, kdy jste limitováni jen vlastní představivostí.

 6. Pocházíte z České republiky, řekli byste, že jde o specificky český příběh? Pokud ano, jak?

Záleží to na tom, co si přestavíte pod pojmem “specificky český”. Možná máme trochu jiný styl vyprávění a vizuálního ztvárnění nejen díky odlišnému vývoji českého komiksu, ale obecně české kultury. Na druhou stranu náš příběh není nijak spjat s konkrétním místem, takže by se mohl stát kdekoliv.

 7. Který umělec/spisovatel Vás inspiroval při práci?

Michael: Cary Nord a jeho Conan měl vliv na moji tvorbu a změny ve vizuálním stylu v posledních letech, takže se jistě odrazil i při tvorbě ‘On the Coast of Dreams – Na Břehu Snů’.

Viktor: Nemůžu říct, že by mě při psaní tohoto díla inspiroval nějaký konkrétní umělec nebo dílo. Mnoho let je mou zálibou fantasy a sci-fi literatura, takže jde pravděpodobně o směs všech možných vlivů z podobných žánrů.

 8.Pokud byste si mohli vybrat 1 umělce z celého světa, který by Vám řekl svůj názor na Vaše dílo, kdo by to byl a proč?

Michael: O tom jsem nikdy nepřemýšlel. Komiksový tvůrce Bryan Talbot se před lety zběžně díval na moji práci při jednom komiksovém festivalu v ČR, takže bych si s ním rád znovu a déle popovídal. Nakonec právě on je zakladatelem grafických novel.

Viktor: I pro mě to není snadné odpovědět, ale zajímalo by mě, co by na to řekl Hayao Miyazaki. Jeho tvorbu mám velice rád.

 9. Které komiksy čtete pravidelně, které filmy a hry máte rádi? Preferujete evropské/americké/japonské nebo jiné styly v komiksu? A co hudba? Tvoříte při ní?

Michael: Popravdě komiksy nečtu nijak pravidelně. Většinou studuji hlavně kresbu a vizuální ztvárnění.

Sleduji ale některého seriály jako Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Vikings or Game of Thrones. Miluji post-apokalyptické a sci-fi příběhy a pravdielně chodím na skoro všechny takové filmy do kina.

A hudba? Něco tvrdšího, melodického a pořádně vybasovaného. Většinou poslouchám právě při kreslení. Prakticky ani nedokáži v tichu tvořit.

Viktor: Z komiksů čtu čas od času grafické novely a nedá se říct, že bych preferoval nějaký konkrétní styl – záleží mi hlavně na dobrém příběhu. Mnohem více čtu normální knihy, právě teď sérii “Malazská kronika padlých”.

Jsem velký filmový fanda a viděl jsem jich opravdu dost… skoro vůbec ale nesleduji seriály. Z posledních měsíců si vzpomínám hlavně na filmy: Ona, Život Adel, Klub poslední naděje a Velká nádhera.

V hudbě poslouchám mnoho různých  žánrů, ale při psaní si pouštím především soundtracky a hudbu z filmů, kde mě při myšlení neruší slova.

 10. Byli jste někdy mimo Vaši zemi? Kde?

Michael: Ony jsou taky nějaké jiné země?

Viktor: Moc rád cestuji a měl jsem to štěstí, že jsem toho viděl už docela dost… 40+ zemí především v Evropě, Severní Americe a jihovýchodní Asii – tam to bylo obzvlášť skvělé!

 11. Co bylo Vaším nejvíce inspirativním zážitkem ve spojitosti s vaší tvorbou?

Michael: Když jsem poprvé připojil svůj počítač k internetu.

Viktor: Bylo to jednou v létě, když jsem přečetl několik fantasy knih jako třeba Pán prstenů, nějaký díl Harryho Pottera a Ságu trhlinové války. V tu dobu jsem si uvědomil, že bych rád vymýšlel příběhy z vlastních světů a psal  a o nich. Bylo mi patnáct a od té doby jsem se ve volném čase začal více věnovat kreativnímu psaní.

 12. Jaké další projekty máte v plánu v nejbližší době?

Máme před sebou několik projektů spjatých s naší prací, ale rádi bychom také pokračovali dalšími příběhy ze světa naší současné novely ‘On the Coast of Dreams – Na Břehu Snů’.

 

 

 

 

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Independent Game Designer Spotlight & Interview: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul Roman Martinez Indie Artist/Novelist and Game Designer Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul Roman Martinez
Indie Artist/Novelist and Game Designer
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Success on Kick-starter is an elusive beast.

With only 43% of all projects reaching their funding goals and Gaming projects even lower down the scale in terms of hitting their targets, some Project Creator’s have nonetheless figured out the secret elixir to success on the crowd-funding site.

One such alchemical master of the world of Kick-starter is Paul Roman Martinez.

Paul has launched not just one successful Kick-starter campaign but managed to spark the imagination of enough admirers to fund four completely unique and varied Kick-starter projects that have consistently bounded past the goal of each endeavor.

Starting in 2012 with the Graphic novel The Adventures of the 19XX: Montezuma 1934, Martinez began the first in his series of Kick-starter campaigns. The comic, a first printing of his successful web-series that he started in 2009, follows the exploits of a band of adventurers, explorers and scientists in the aftermath of the Great War as they try and change the course of history.

Adventurers of the 19xxIndie-pulp styled Web-comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventurers of the 19xx
Indie-pulp styled Web-comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Fused with a mix of pulp, magic, and history, The Adventures of 19xx is a world-spanning mash-up of influences as varied as Duck Tales, Aleister Crowley, Montezuma and Indiana Jones that captures the exuberant futuristic expectations of the world in the beginning of the early twentieth century with a heavy nod towards Steam-punk.

Adventurers Circa 19xxThe Heroes of PRM Web-comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventurers Circa 19xx
Some of the Eclectic Heroes of PRM Web-comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Following this initial success, Martinez delved further into the world of Kick-starter with another Graphic hardcover novel compilation of his Adventures 19XX web-series. Soaring far past his target funding, Martinez next moved into the world of game design with his Assault:19XX Game.

Assault 19xx GamePulp-styled game between the Black Faun Order and the Adventurers 19xxCopyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Assault 19xx Game
Pulp-styled game featuring a conflict between the ancient Order of the Black Faun and the heroic Adventurers 19xx.
Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Set in the world of his pulp comic Adventures 19XX series, the semi-cooperative tabletop game pits 2-6 players  on either the side of the good-guy 19XX Adventurers or as members of the ancient Order of the Black Faun who seek to start the next Great War through mystical means.

Martinez’s most recent Kick-starter campaign, a Bicycle playing card deck set in the thematic style that Paul has perfected over his career was successfully funded this past April and like his previous runs, demonstrates Paul’s ability to set achievable targets and spur enough interest to see that his goals are fully realized.

This continued success has allowed Paul the ability to speak with confident authority to other would-be Kick-starter aspirants. Whether talking about difficulties over Mailing, or his recently and already legendary 11 Things All Failed Kick Starter Projects Do Wrong post, Paul is definitely an artist with a pulse on the Kick-starter beat.

PRM Kick-starter AdviceImage Image Copyright: BleedingCool.com

PRM Kick-starter Advice
Image Copyright: BleedingCool.com

Yet even with all the projects he has going on, Martinez is ever the consummate respondent to backers, fans and Kick-starter aspirants. Taking some time away from his hectic schedule Paul was gracious enough to provide some insights into his inspirations and the processes that go into producing the awesome work that a Kick-starter champ has going for him:

(1) Do you consider yourself a gamer? If so what type?
I love games, but I hate labels. I don’t know why, I just can’t put a label on myself! But I do love games. Boardgames, video games, sports, death races, whatever.

(2) What lead you to being an artist?
Aaaakk! Another label! I don’t know if I consider myself an artist. I just spend too much time doing pre-press and searching for suppliers to feel like an artist. But I’ve always drawn. I still have my first drawing book I received in first grade. I never wanted to be an artist, I just couldn’t stop drawing. No matter how many times I tried, I always kept picking up a pencil and drawing.

(3) Was there a specific moment you considered a career in art?
I’m still considering a career in art, ha! Most people ask, “how can I break into comics or games?” But really the question is, how do you stay there? With every drawing I do I try and get better and develop my style. I will have a career in art as long as it keeps making people happy. As soon as it doesn’t, I will do something else!

(4) What led you to developing the Adventures 19XX series and is the era and motif your favorite genre?
A few years ago I finished college and I was considering getting a masters degree in graphic design. But I thought, what if I just came up with a master’s level project. I figured I could learn just as much and have a great portfolio to show for it. So the 19XX series just started as an experiment. I knew almost nothing about the period and I knew nothing about pulp stories. When I started doing research I didn’t even look at those early pulp comics. I wanted to read books and biographies from the 1930s and see what came out. I don’t think I have a favorite genre. Just like labels, I hate being confined to one thing!

Adventures 19xx Web-seriesPanel from the online comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventures 19xx Web-series
Panel from the online comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

(5) What other genres’ would you like to create in? Game in?
Sometimes I think of doing something strictly for kids. My book is fun and appropriate for younger people but to do something only for kids would free me up to do something truly positive and magical I think.

(6) Do you have a specific mythological setting/world that you most feel a kinship with, and why?
Right now I feel a strong kinship to the religious/lovecraftian/historic world my comic is set in. I’ve always been fascinated with world religions and how they interconnected thousands of years ago with a handful of prophets wandering around the Earth. And I’ve always loved the epic sense of scale that Lovecraft imparted with his tales of the older gods and the races before mankind.

(7) Are there any specific cultural histories of your own that you bring to the mix that you feel are different from the standard pulp comics out there?
There is an epic story that is unfolding in my book series that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. And part of it is simply that my books take place in a realistic chronological time. Each book takes place in a different year and the characters will actually age as the series progresses. And just like in life, some of the best loved characters won’t make it to the end of the series. Most comic books take great pains to make sure no one ever grows or changes. My whole goal is to watch these characters grow and change. Because to grow and change is life. And how can you truly capture life if nothing changes?

(8) What projects/styles do you currently follow? What emerging scenes most intrigue you from an artistic standpoint and a gamers?
I like this atmosphere in tabletop games that is leading to a lot of truly unique voices creating their own games. These are games that never would have made it to market 10 years ago. Games like mine! Even independent comics have always had a way to produce a few issues cheaply to see if a series was going to work. Now with Kickstarter, the truly independent board game maker now has that same chance. I am fascinated by the way all media forms can connect now. That’s why I have a tabletop game that ties in so closely with my series. I’m trying to create something new. I want to create an entire world and story that you read and play through. I know the big corporations have done this on a larger level with hundreds or thousands of employees and dozens of executives each adding input along the way and lawyers making sure all their IP is used properly. But I’m one person. I’m one person who has control over everything. I’ve drawn every single page of my comic, colored it, wrote it, and I produced the board game. I drew every single card, play tested the game, and found a factory to produce it. I don’t know of any other single person who has done so much in such a short time by themselves. And the result is a truly cohesive vision across all my books, games, shirts, prints, and whatever else that comes along.

Paul's Most Recent and Successful KickstarterAviator themed playing cardsCopyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul’s Most Recent and Successful Kickstarter
Aviator themed playing cards
Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

(9) Do you have any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I always have upcoming projects and I keep a list of projects that could potentially sidetrack me. I make a list so I can keep moving forward with the 19XX and come back to those ideas later.

But right now I just finished my Flight Deck aviation playing card project and I’m now throwing myself back into finishing the third graphic novel in the 19XX series. The book will be coming out at the same time I release an expansion for my game that will correspond to the book. When that happens the game really will become something more. A serialized story that you play through as a group. The story will become something you experience with your friends, not just read in your room by yourself. I can’t wait for that moment because it’s something I’ve pictured since the series first began in 2010. That’s when I will be able to look someone in the eye while handing them my book and say, “you have something really great here.”

***
So there you have it, some thoughts from the creative and trailblazing mind of a successful Kick-starter artist, novelist and designer.  Why not head over to his unique corner of the web, take a peek at his ongoing series The Adventures of the 19xx, pick up a copy of his Assault 19xx and,


Game Forth!

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Filed under Culture Talk

Game Review – Boss Monster

Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games, LLC

Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games, LLC

Like most things in the table-top world these days, Boss Monster, the card game put out by Brotherwise Games made its grand entrance to the world via Kickstarter.

Packaged in a slick box adorned with digitized artwork of a giant green-skinned bloated king, the games mascot known as King Croak, Boss Monster is a competitive four-player bash I had the good fortune to experience not long after its first edition got shipped out to primary Kickstarter backers.

What first catches your eye about the game is how its box is a tribute to classic Nintendo styled games from the eighties.

With the simplicity of a black background and a single crude display of gaming goodness along with the ubiquitous golden standard of approval, the box ported me back to my many hours spent jumping over mushrooms, slashing through dungeons and firing off blasts of energy trying to rescue princesses, save the world or simply get to the top of a very very tall ladder.

The 155 cards of the game continue with the motif of an eighties time warp, with pretty much blatant lampooning of traditional characters from games like Zelda, Metroid and Super Mario Brothers. But rather than limiting themselves solely to the world of console gaming, the creators of Boss Monster, Chris and Johnny O’Neal, also spruced up the look with elements from Dungeons and Dragons to create cards with table-top affections as well.

Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

Notice the Dungeon Master Room on the left…
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

The thing that really separates Boss Monster from other games however is its play mechanic.

Continuing with the console theme the goal is to build the ultimate side-scrolling dungeon. Players do this by placing Dungeon room cards each round in the play area in front of them, constructing lairs from left to right filled with either monsters or traps.

These monster or trap room cards contain damage points that adventurer cards are dealt when they are lured to a player’s lair.

Sample Monster RoomImage Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

Sample Monster Room
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

A common pool of these adventurer cards are placed face up each round, and when a players combined rewards listed across all their dungeon cards are totaled at the end of a round, denoted by icons for loot, magical power or holy relics, the player with the most of each type becomes a huge beacon for adventurers seeking specific fortunes and glory. Adventurer cards are then placed outside a players constructed lair at the end of the round.

Sample Hero card. Notice that he is drawn to lairs with magic (denoted by the book in the upper right corner) Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

Sample Hero card.
Notice that he is drawn to lairs with magic (denoted by the book
in the upper right corner)
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

These pesky little hapless interloping adventurers then proceed to ‘wander’ through a player or Boss’ dungeon cards and are flayed, burned, beaten or booby-trapped to death. Their deaths however add to the total score a player needs to win the game.

A Boss Monster Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

A Boss Monster
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

It’s quite a different theme, one that reverses the concept of the hero and villain most games are designed around.

It reminded me of mechanical elements of James Ernest’s Totally Renamed Spy Game (1996) where players again take on the role of arch-villains hoping to defeat (kill) as many heroes (spies) as possible to win. From a literary perspective it also reminded me of the opening scene in Joann Sfar’s Dungeon Volume 2, where Herbert the Duck’s father is opining about the loss of adventurers “dressed in their best armor, carrying all sorts of precious weapons and magical tailsmen” who are no longer visiting their dungeon and subsequently meeting their demises; i.e. revenues are dropping.

Image Copyright: NBM Publishing

Dungeon Volume 2
Image Copyright: NBM Publishing

So in this respect, Boss Monster follows a proud tradition of allowing players to compete as nefarious overlords turning on its head the traditional concept of saving the world, and prompts players to loot the bodies of those they are more than likely accustomed to portraying.

Overall the gameplay is great; it allows players the tactical satisfaction of designing different types of dungeons that maximize outright damage but that also ‘stack’ with spells and ‘dungeon upgrades’ that must be planned for over the course of several rounds.

What makes it really stand out mechanically to me though is that after all the low level heroes are defeated, the game suddenly goes into ‘epic’ mode and the wandering adventurers are suddenly beefed up in terms of attacks and life points. The game thus shifts from wanting to grab as much attention of these would-be adventurers to diverting them towards one of your opponents in the hopes that they destroy one of your competing Boss Monsters before they destroy you: Grow too fat and you start to attract the best heroes around.

Epic HeroNotice the higher hit points. You DO NOT want to take on these heroes. Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

Epic Hero
Notice the higher hit points. You DO NOT want to take on these heroes.
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

So overall the game is a strategic ‘dungeon-building’ blast. The artwork, along with the entire concept holds your attention from start to finish and it offers unique and intriguing gameplay that combines elements in a perfect balance of pace and strategy. The only drawbacks I saw were not getting in on the original Kickstarter roll-out and thereby gaining some of the promo cards

So when you get a chance, feel like having an eighties flash back (who wouldn’t?) why not head out, or on-line and grab a copy of Boss Monster and,

Game Forth!

Another hip-retro icon of the Eighties- The Cosby's! Image Copyright: NBC

Another hip-retro icon of the Eighties-
The Cosby’s!
Image Copyright: NBC

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Game Review : Story War

Copyright: Cantrip Games

Copyright: Cantrip Games

My Gremlin fires off his laser at you and you die!

No wait, my goblin is way too dexterous to get hit, and he fires off his laser at you and you die!

Please-my Gremlin’s way faster than your goblin and your laser, he dodges, fires again, and you die!

[Repeat, ad infinitum]

That about sums up the final round that my gaming group completed over the weekend for the Kickstarter funded, Story Wars. Its a tense, no-holds barred ostensible card-game that allows players the chance to use their creative talents towards nefarious and ultimately lethal ends in destroying their opponents at the table.

Put out by Cantrip Games which consists of the duo Brad O’ Farrell and Tom “Frezned” McLean and who are in theory based in my own backyard neighborhood of Astoria, New York, Story War is a game of geek story-telling. In it, players work off of three decks of cards composed of locations, creatures and equipment in the basic Kickstarter set. The equipment and creature cards form a players hand that replenishes each ’round’, and is overseen by another, non-competing player for the round who is a ‘judge’ for the current match-up who draws and places a location card.

This location card determines where the ‘battle’ between players, and their creatures and items, happen. Players play their creature(s) and item(s) and create stories how their creature(s) and item(s) kill/maim and ultimately destroy their opponents. These descriptions must match the mythological and fairy-tale oriented cards like the Philosopher Stone, a Gremlin, a Wishing Star or a Kraken that a player plays during the round. It’s a completely open-ended battle with the player who convinces the ‘judge’ with the best plausible and ‘coolest’ way they kill their opponent and also most believable way, winning the round. The game admittedly has its roots in Apples-to-Apples and other third-player decider mechanisms.

Image Copyright: Cantrip Games

Image Copyright: Cantrip Games

The crux of the game comes down to the levels of competitive testosterone imbued at the table that it is played at. As my group is generally rules aware but also incredibly great at role-play, the game quickly degenerated into mechanical lawyering the minutiae of what was displayed on the cards as applicable to the outcome of a fight, along with obvious traits of creatures and items that clearly could and couldn’t be applicable in the game; obviously for instance an invisibility ring is metal and is drawn to a magnet, even if a ghost is wearing it. Duh!

It’s a tricky game because it is so open-ended but boils down to being a basically competitive, argumentative procedural affair. Creature does X; Creature 2 does Y; repeat. It has appealing traits in that players combine stories into a unified whole similar to Once Upon A Time, but without the mechanical foundation of a game like Gloom that gives a fixed goal-post towards a win. With the right people its a great game. For Gamers? It’s an exercise in rules-lawyering.

Overall it’s a great concept, something that appeals to the story-teller in me, as well as the role-player– the chance to don a new character every round with new items. The cards themselves are illustrated in a campy anime-crossed style by Vondell Swain. Their appeal is surely a means to lean players towards a light-hearted feel, however, the combative nature of the game itself somewhat undercuts the approach.

Still, if you’re able to get a few folks together who like a competitive game, without being competitive about it, I suggest picking up a copy of Story War, and sitting down so you can,

Game Forth!

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