I went to SCARAB last week, and was able to play a round of the Living Card Game “Hull Breach” by NSB Games, Inc (‘Not So Broken‘ in case you were wondering). Grognard that I am, it took me a long time to get accept the idea of playing a card game, thinking that it bore too much proximity to Magic the Gathering for my taste. However, I’ve started to enjoy a number of what folks call “Living Card Games” which are not collectible. While expansions may be available in a living card game, they are fixed expansions with predetermined cards, and are available to anyone equally without the need to buy numerous ‘boosters’. I’m explaining this here because some people may not give a card game a chance for fear of that element of many games we are aware of.
Hull Breach was run for me by a fun husband-wife team at SCARAB after showing up too late for my preregistered slot. I love picking up a new thing at a Con, as I mentioned months ago in my previous article, and the idea of things blowing up in space was too attractive to not try for my slot of dead time. Hull Breach did not disappoint.
The Setting is rich, which is the game’s strongest asset. 25th Century, space is the new war ground of the corporations vying for dominance in interstellar trade. Xeros Orbital Shipyards, Anaheim Manufacturing, and Bank of the Galaxy are the three corps that come in “Corporate Wars”, a full game. The other box set, Loyalty and Vigilance, houses three additional factions, which I would summarize as the Brown Coats, the Imperial Navy, and the Galactic IRS. I’ll let you know what they are really called when I pick up that set, but that’s the long and short of it.
The Cards in this game are well laid out, with everything available at a glance in a very intuitive way. Costs or assets are color coded with up and down arrows reflecting their cost or production value. A series of icons along the bottom of each card that are generally very uniform show you the firepower and armor of each unit, along with the unit’s carrying capacity if it is capable of housing marines, ships or drones.
Game play begins with a setting up phase where each faction builds their space station and defenses. Each faction manufactures resources at differing rates, and station additions can add to that total. Initial ships are deployed and minimal defenses erected, and play begins.
The strategy in Hull Breach is to build your forces up for an epic onslaught during the Engagement phase. Multiplayer games may differ, but in a two player game, it would seem that throwing everything at the enemy is a fairly sound strategy as combat continues until one side or the other is defeated or withdraws. In a multi-player game, leaving some ships at home becomes a bit more of a necessity, as the other players can take advantage of your recent struggles to set upon your unprotected base.
Combat, once engaged, is resolved by rolling multiple d10’s with a target number based on the defender’s armor rating, plus any special abilities. After a successful assault, enemy ships can be boarded for marine v. marine combat, and the ship commandeered. That occupied ship has the potential to revert back to enemy hands if you are foolish enough to remove your garrison (or if it is unfortunate enough to be killed in the line of duty). The end result of the boarding action, however, is a snowball effect as ships turn to your side in the war against the enemy faction.
I had a lot of fun with Hull Breach, and picked up a copy. The retail price tag is a little hefty at just over $35.00, but the production value is pretty high (see the photos of the interior). Each box comes with a book of short fiction, three decks of cards, 10d10, two bags of tokens, and a small well bound little rulebook.
Game play is interesting, fast moving, and allows for enough strategy to make things fun without slowing down overall play. Many cards in the game allow you to search through your deck often, which certainly is fine, but eliminates some elements of luck of the draw, which may appeal to some and less to others, and can take time. If you’re unfamiliar with the game and the cards in your deck, it will require more time to play, but I think we finished our two player game in 20 minutes (with a win for me, by the way), so it was far from burdensome. Discovering it was one of the highlights of the convention, for me.
Living Card games draw the most value from deck building, and NSB Games plans on supporting the game with additional expansions. While corporate cards are color coded to be separate from non-corporate cards, I would like to see additional expansions be unique to various factions to help to refine the flavor of that particular faction. In living card games like Fantasy Flight’s Netrunner, factions have to build from their own decks, but may use other cards on a limited basis through the use of influence, creating a very specific world feel and play style that is closely tied to the faction itself. Hull Breach, I feel, could benefit from the same time of restrictions, or perhaps by tying the advantage of each card to the faction playing it. I think think the author’s of the Hull Breach setting are proud of what they’ve put together, and they should be. as the factions really appealed to me. Building on that is the way to go as more products go forward. Hull Breach is a fun, fast, easy to play game that has great potential. Keep an eye on this one, and see if your FLGS can’t get you a copy. You’ll be glad you did.
I wanted to be just as impressed with this screen as I have been with the DMG and PHB, but it turns out 5e is not on a consistent hit streak like Fantasy Flight. This was a bit of a missed opportunity. A good DM screen can kickstart imagination, as well as being a useful reference for charts so we spend less time digging in books.
Let’s get to the good stuff, first. The horizontal format is excellent. This allows the DM to section off one end of the table with plenty of real estate for maps, notes, books, modules, dice and whatever else, while still being able to see the players and the map (if you use one). It also provides for the awesome panoramic artwork of an iconic dragon battle, with about every major PC archetype represented. Interesingly, 4 out of 5 are ladies, but there is not a lot of variety in skin-tone. The kobold minions rushing in to the fray make it one cohesive battle, unlike previous screens that try to cram a ton of monsters or battles on to one screen. On the informational side of the screen, the conditions are front and center, which is very helpful. Just to the right are other helpful little charts like cover, light, setting DCs, and what skills are associated with what abilities.
On to the not so good. There is quite a bit of wasted space, and strange chart selection. My first thought was that maybe 5e just doesn’t have as many arcane charts as older editions. But as I review both the PHB and more importantly the DMG, that really isn’t the case. The far left panel is dedicated to NPC creation, which, while somewhat helpful, is not something I would generally refer to on the fly. Included is a random name generator, which is my favorite chart on the panel. Even this seems incomplete, however. The chart is d20 if you want to randomize, and has a beginning, middle, and end of a name. However the beginning is missing 4 entries, and the ending is missing 1. There are 26 letters in the alphabet, I know there aren’t going to be a lot of names that start of X or Z but why leave out C and G? Just C alone you could add Co-, Ca-, Chi- as beginnings; pretty much inexcusable.
The far right panel has some other odd choices. Travel pace chart maybe useful, but encounter distance depending on terrain? Is that a thing? Also there is a chart called Damage by Level and Severity which from the numbers looks like it refers to traps, but doesn’t really specify. Then we get down to the REALLY questionable choices: tables called Something Happens! and Quick Finds. Not only do they have nothing to do with the mechanics of 5e, the choices are uninspired and pretty much useless. 18 on something happens is “The sun comes out.” 11 is “Someone gets angry.” Really? Quick finds includes such gems as 3 “Food or Drink.” and 9 “Monster Parts.” What does that even mean?! The last third of it is repeated Tarrasque art from the DMG.
Ok, so some very odd choices were made, what would be better? It would be one thing if this game just didn’t have any charts that would be helpful on a screen, or they were too lengthy too include in a reasonable amount of space. There are a ton of charts I would have included instead. The criteria for this would be that the chart exists in the DMG or PHB, and is small, but helpful, and kind of obscure to look up like: Salable Magic Items, and Selling a Magic Item (p. 130 DMG), Potion Miscibility and Scroll Mishaps (p. 140 DMG), Saving Throws (p.238 DMG), conversation reactions (p.245), Object AC and HP (p.246-247 DMG), and Improvising Damage (p.249 DMG). There are many more.
Final rant: the cover of the screen is a poster for Adventurer’s League. In itself, that is okay, but it uses the Acererak art from the cover of the DMG and just says We Want YOU at your nearest game store. It seems to almost be a reference to Uncle Sam recruitment posters with it’s red, white and blue border, but then just has DungeonsandDragons.com at the bottom. Wht not dnd.wizards.com/playevents/organized-play or a URL to the store locator? It just seems like more wasted space. That being said, AL does need DMs, and how DM experience is handled when you run AL is a whole other blog post.
The worst part is, a lot of the heavy lifting was already done by Lance Larsen. Before the DMG was even out, he compiled some of the more confusing concepts and things looked up most often in to one handy sheet. If you haven’t downloaded it already, I would highly suggest it. Conclusion: you should probably make your own screen. The art for this one is great, but the substance is not.
I recently had the pleasure of playing a game of Shadow of the Demon Lord with the creator of the game, Robert Schwalb. He is planning on kickstarting that system in March, and we were talking about RPG kickstarters and stretch goals and I mentioned how pleased I was with the box set from Goodman Games. He responded, “Yeah sure, but then it’s shrink-wrapped there on the shelf and everybody wants to know, what’s in the box?”
Well I can do you this service for those curious about the first box from Goodman Games. I still haven’t explored every piece of it to the very last detail, but it is too awesome not to write about. I recently received my DCCRPG Chained Coffin Mini-Campaign setting box set from one of the recent kickstarters. Really there isn’t much “mini” about it. The actual module itself, which would likely serve as the climax of the campaign is a whopping 40 pages! It is filled with awesome content from Michael Curtis, and art from Doug Kovacs, Stefan Poag, and Mike Wilson. Also included is a 2nd level bonus adventure by Steve Bean: The Rat King’s River of Death, which is just 6 pages out of the 40. I was one of the few that ponied up for the blindingly awesome gold-foil cover edition of the module, and I’m glad I did since the regular art for the module is used on the box itself.
The main impetus for launching the Chained Coffin as a kickstarter was to see if there was enough interest to justify the expense of producing a high quality code wheel for one of the final puzzles in the module. The kickstarter really picked up steam, and the stretch goals got more and more elaborate, until finally there was enough material to turn it into a box set campaign setting in which a party could spend months adventuring! The puzzle wheel itself is printed on cardstock, and all three wheels are printed on the same material. The back features the art used on the silver and gold covers. Towards the back of the module, past several awesome full page handout illustrations are 5 alternate uses for the wheel: Multiplanar Amulet, Talisman of Monstrous Summonings, Orrery of Fortuitous Evocation, Construct Activation Code, and Catastrophe Timer. Just the titles alone get my creative juices flowing! Each has a paragraph description with some details about how they can be implemented.
Unlike the Purple Planet stretch goals that were written by a small team of writers, every book in this set is by Michael Curtis. There is an 11 x 17 map of the Shudder Mountains, complete with hex grid and several notable locations. Many of which are detailed by the Almanac, others are left up to the GM’s designs.
The Almanac of the Shudder Mountains weighs in at 12 pages (if you include the cover) but those pages are put to great use. I would suggest reading this first to get the background and feel of the setting. As I make my home in the very region this setting is based upon, it feels very close and accessible, as I can stare out my window and see a ridge of very old mountains. Much like Gary Gygax using the midwest as inspiration for some areas of Greyhawk, this feels like adventuring in my own backyard. The almanac details a brief history of the mountains, as well as an overview of the shudders as they currently are. The next section goes in to places of interest in the mountains. It details various geographical sites and some descriptions and rumors about them, as well as towns and villages, each with their own description and adventure seeds. Finally there are a few secret places and mysterious ruin descriptions. Easily enough to adventure for many sessions. The second part of the almanac is about the people of the Shudders, as well as life in the mountains, customs and superstitions, and the option to either include or exclude the demi-human classes of elf, dwarf, and halfling for the purposes of having a human-only campaign consistent with the source material the setting is based upon.
Next is the Chained Coffin Companion, another 16 pages (including the awesome Kovacs cover), detailing the magic of the Shudders and the awesome magical chaos of Spoils. I won’t go in to too much detail to avoid… err… Spoil-ers, but they exist in locations that may have had some magical importance at one time, but due to cataclysmic events detailed in the almanac, have become twisted. They are also used as a source for brewing witch liqour, which has it’s own awesome table of possible effects. The Companion also gives more background into relgion, curses, and folk magic. It also details some magical songs, and mentions if you allow some flavor of optional bard class, they may be able to learn a song per level. There are few magic items particular to the region: hex signs, snake sticks (with a tie-in to Tower Out of Time), and witch liqour. The last section provides details for a new patron: Modeca, The second of the three (Ol’ Blackcloak), as well as some unique creatures and additional random encounters. Many of the encounters feature the new creatures, but some reference more traditional baddies in the core rule book.
The last two books in the box are adventures! A 0-level funnel Sour Spring Hollow, and a 3rd level adventure The Woeful Caves of Yander Mountain (which sounds like a bluegrass song). Both have Kovacs maps on the back, and cover to cover are only 8 pages long. Once again, these additional books are more quality than quantity, but once you add them all up, you could spend years adventuring in the Shudder Mountains. The funnel involves a wedding, and witch liqour, so you know that is going to be a heck of a way to start a campaign, and the 3rd level adventure would be a typical cave delve, if not for the twisted setting in which the cave exists.
This box set provides all the tools to build an awesome campaign, and creates a vibrant, breathing, almost pulsing setting unlike any other RPG setting I’ve read. Now you know what’s in the box. It starts at $39.99 MSRP. What are you waiting for? My name has been on the dotted line of old Blackcloak’s contract for months! See you in the mountains!
In some ways, I wish Fantasy Flight would make some kind of misstep, so these reviews would sound less like a broken record. Alas, the latest FFG Star Wars Age of Rebellion sourcebook for Aces ‘Stay on Target‘ is fantastic. It makes great use of the standard 96 pages allotted, and is an awesome resource for both players and GMs. This review is going to be fairly extensive, so if this is all you have time for: this book is a must-buy for Age of Rebellion fans.
The book is broken down into three parts, the first, Behind the Stick, focuses on the PC side of things with new Ace-specific backgrounds, specializations, new species, talents, motivations, and a couple of signature abilities. Very similar to what we’ve seen in other career sourcebooks, but if it ain’t broke… This book introduces the Beast Rider, Hotshot, and Rigger specializations to the existing Ace specializations of Driver, Gunner, and Pilot.
The Beast Rider is probably the furthest departure from my preconceptions of an Ace in the book. At first glance it seems like it would be too specific and situational to be effective unless you were running a wilderness campaign. However, the Ace’s core skills of Astrogation, Cool, Gunnery, Mechanics, Perception, Piloting (Planetary), Piloting (Space) and Ranged (Light) allows you to fill the roll of a traditional wheelman, while supplementing that role with outdoorsy talents and skills like Athletics, Knowledge (Xenology), Perception, and Survival. That makes for a really well-rounded character, especially suited to smaller parties. Not to mention having a massive beast in your cargo hold instead of a landspeeder for getting around planets is just awesome.
The Hotshot is a much more traditional archetype when considering the role of an Ace. To the typical skills all Aces have access to, hotshots can double up in Cool, Piloting (Planetary and Space) and start with a rank in Coordination if they like. Coordination is a fairly rare skill, and can come in really handy out of the cockpit. Almost all the hotshot talents are firmly in the pilot seat, and as a result, they are fantastic at being specialists behind the controls of any craft. Hotshots thrive on taking risks, and pushing both their ships and themselves beyond normal limits.
The rigger is a very compelling blend of a mechanical innovator, who isn’t afraid to find the parts he needs from unsavory sources. Much like the Outlaw Tech, but for ships rather than gear, Riggers get the typical Ace skill options, as well as the option to choose to ranks from Gunnery, Knowledge (Underworld), Mechanics, and Resilience. They benefit from working on their “signature vehicle” and have lots of cool talents about customizing vehicles, as well as black market contacts. This is a really valuable addition to any party, as most games I have run you always need a mechanic, and you always need somebody who can find parts and equipment. This is probably my favorite of the three.
New playable races introduced in this book are the short, bat-like Chadra-Fan, the many wrinkled masters of the outdoors Dressellian, and the six-limbed Area 51 looking Xexto. Chadra-Fans start with a 3 in agility and intellect, as well as a rank in mechanics; Perfect for the rigger. Dressellians seem similarly purpose-built to be beast riders. They start with a rank in survival and upgrade checks involving advanced technology due to being primitive. Xextos get a free maneuver each turn, but are still bound by the 2 maneuvers per round rule. That could really save a lot of strain and help out in combat, either space or ground.
The second section, Cleared for Launch, details some pilot and beast rider specific equipment, as well as a lot of ships and vehicles. The weapons include a couple of beast-taming melee weapons, and a few interesting blaster. The armor section has a really cool armored flight suit that can be used in space in emergencies. The gear is a little bit sparse but does include a few astromech droids, and later in the book details how to use them as NPCs as well as additional maneuvers and options for PC astromechs in a fighter with an Ace.
This section really shines once we get to vehicles. It includes land vehicles with flak cannon anti-aircraft stats, a very fast and rare two-seater speeder, and a 1-L Light repulsor tank. Air vehicles include a very fast two person airspeeder, a racing swoop, and the big bomber featured on the cover: the PTB-625. This fairly massive silhouette 4 relic from the clone wars has plenty of armament and crew positions to allow the whole party a chance to soften Imperial installations and infrastructure. I just hope you have a good fighter escort or a better gunner.
Starships include stats for the E-wing starfighter, the H-60 bomber (precursor to the B-wing), the ugly duckling H-wing, the very cool looking R-41 starchaser, and R-60 T-wing interceptor, the Heavy95 upgraded headhunter (shown here with awesome P-40 warhawk paintjob), V-wing interceptor, and a whole page of new and specialty TIEs (Hunter, Interdictor, Aggresor, and the cloaking Phantom). Also included are three battleships, the Ton-Falk escort carrier, the quasar fire-class escort carrier, and the massive Silhouette 8 secutor-class battlecarrier.
After the vehicles there are a few modifications for ships, including adding an astromech socket, a gravity mine launcher, hardened circuits, physical countermeasures, and a slave circuit to allow remote control and activation of ships systems including weapons!
The third section ‘Dangerous Sorties’ is geared towards the GM. Interestingly the first section deals with integrating Aces not only from the Rebellion military, but Aces from the civil side of government as well as privateers, with a letter of marque from the Alliance. The Astromech section is really cool, because not only does it give you specific actions you can take as an Astromech PC like Watch Your Back and Target Lock, it provides rules for running an Astromech NPC if your Ace is in a fighter with an astromech, but there is no droid in the party.
This section also details some great adventure ideas using different aspects of the Ace’s skill set, as well as advice about what other PCs can be doing during space combat. Later, it goes into dogfight terrain ideas like asteroid or debris fields, and nebulas, with some great tables of suggestions on how to spend advantage, threat, triumphs and despairs for those particular terrains. I really like that they included despair results for both successful and unsuccessful checks, as those mixed result rolls can be the most difficult to come up with the narrative. There is also a table for large space battles, as a capital ship clash is much more likely in Age than it is in Edge.
The next part is on beast riding rules, as well as a fairly extensive catalog of potential mounts. The book wraps up with a section on Ace mission ideas, and also addresses that while the career may be called Ace, to become an Ace in a particular organization it may require a certain number of confirmed kills, and having an allied or enemy rival Ace could provide some awesome roleplaying opportunities.
This book is excellent. While I’m still waiting for a Bounty Hunter sourcebook for Edge of the Empire, awesome releases like this will keep me busy until then!