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

Monday, 29 May 2017

A Symbaroum Duology

The pattern for the first few releases for the Swedish near-Dark Ages fantasy RPG, Symbaroum has been to include two scenarios in each book. For example, The Copper Crown contained two scenarios to complete a trilogy begun in the Symbaroum Core Rulebook, whilst Adventure Pack 1, which came packaged with the Symbaroum: Gamemaster Screen contained two single scenarios that could be slotted in an ongoing campaign. Published by Järnringen and distributed by Modiphius Entertainment, this trend continues with Adventure Pack 2 in presenting two scenarios. Their joint theme is the danger of digging too deeply and too greedily into the black soil of the past under Davokar’s canopy. In both scenarios this will unleash terrible secrets.

The first scenario is ‘The Fever of the Hunt’ which takes place at the  excavation site of Salindra’s Hope, a great muddy mound alone in the forest atop which stands a walled encampment. The local barbarian tribe has declared the region taboo and the only way in or out is by river, so the Game Master could easily run ‘The Curse of the River Goddess’ from Adventure Pack 1 before the player characters arrive at the frontier dig-site. Several reasons are suggested as to why they are making the journey. Most obviously they are treasure hunters themselves, but other options include being agents of the Iron Pact tasked to determine the threat the site represents, being hired to rescue a young noble with dreams of finding a great treasure, and being sent to find a fugitive.

The scenario is heavily plotted out with a series of events that start just before the player characters arrive. Now these events are what will happen if the player characters do nothing and allow the plot and the motivations of the NPCs to run their course. This is likely to have dire consequences for the surrounding region…  If on the other hand, the player characters do intervene, they have the chance to forestall these consequences and the scenario presents various potential outcomes. Ultimately what they may have to contend with is a fresh outbreak in a centuries old conflict, one they are unlikely to survive should they get caught up between the two combatants. Surviving this muddled, muddy situation will take good roleplaying rather than negotiation skills and then there are the all of the lesser entities—the treasure hunters, the interdicting barbarians, the oddly acting Ogre bailiff, and so on—to deal with. Although relatively short, this scenario has the capacity to build to an epic climax.

The second scenario is ‘The Bell Tolls for Kastor’, which takes place in the town of Kastor, the alternative launching point to Thistle Hold for expeditions into the Davokar Forest. It is also the exit point too. This is because expeditions from the town are unregulated. The default reason for the player characters coming to the walled town is a message from an old friend or lover of the player characters—one fault with the scenario is this option is suggested several times rather than other reasons being given. As they arrive, the player characters find the town in uproar, several members of its council dead and extra guards on duty in the town after the new mayor has declared a state of emergency. Unfortunately, the player character’s contact is numbered among the dead.

‘The Bell Tolls for Kastor’ is a murder mystery of a sort, but one in which the player characters will have to resort to subterfuge to solve. It is a complex mystery involving the undead, rival cults, goblin bands, a giant monster, and a strange artefact—the bell itself. Unlike ‘The Fever of the Hunt’, this scenario is less event and plot driven, and though it has ending, how the player characters get there is dependent upon their investigations. Like ‘The Fever of the Hunt’ though, this scenario also involves a dangerous creature from the past, and again, it can be reasoned with as much as it can be fought. ‘The Bell Tolls for Kastor’ is said to take place after the events of ‘The Fever of the Hunt’ as several NPCs from the first scenario appear in the second, but not immediately after. That said, with some adjustment the scenario could be set up to do so.

Adventure Pack 2 comes with more than just the two adventures. Of course ‘The Bell Tolls for Kastor’ includes a description of town which can be used beyond its inclusion and there is a wealth of NPCs—several of them quite powerful—some of whom may make an appearance after the adventures have been played through. An appendix also adds new rules, including traits such as Bloodlust and Mirage, a new feature called Rituals, and descriptions of two artefacts, one of which, the Bell of Kastor, has the ability to soak up Corruption—a boon to any spell caster. Of course, it has limitations, one of which may become all too obvious if the scenario goes badly for the player characters. Notably, the appendix and thus Adventure Pack 2, references the Player’s Handbook. This includes material such as boons and burdens, ritual ceremonies, and so on. As yet, this book has not yet appeared in an English language edition. One other aspect of Symbaroum first made mention of here, is that of Dwarves as a race. They appear as NPCs, but given that there is yet no background on them, they do feel out of context in Symbaroum as currently presented.

Physically, Adventure Pack 2 is nicely presented. The artwork is both fantastic and oppressive, setting the mood for both scenarios and potentially working as visual aides for the Game Master. Where Adventure Pack 2 is disappointing is in the writing, or rather the translation and localisation. Neither are as clean as they could be and the book feels a little rushed in places. Certainly a closer edit would not have gone amiss.

Adventure Pack 2 presents two good scenarios that explore their theme of greed and curiosity very well. These are dark, gritty affairs that the Game Master will want to have for his Symbaroum campaign.


Modiphius Entertainment will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Pandemic Over Arkham

Although there had been cooperative games before, some even dating as far back as 1989 as in the Aliens boardgame or even 1974 with the Eascape from Colditz boardgame, it is oft forgotten how groundbreaking Pandemic was when it was first released in 2008. Although its subject matter was grim—four scientists from the Center for Disease Control attempting to find cures to four epidemics before they wiped out mankind—it was an accessible subject matter, and to most people, the play of the game against the game itself was novel as well as challenging. The rules were also instantly accessible, so that you could open the box, read through and do the setup in minutes before starting play. Once you played, you knew that you had to go back and play again, if only to beat the game itself, because essentially, playing Pandemic was like playing a puzzle. So it was in June, 2008 when playing Pandemic for the first time, it having gone on sale that weekend at UK Games Expo. Since then, it has become a mainstay of the hobby, only receiving attention anew when Z-Man Games published Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 in 2015. Back in 2009 though, a friend commented that the diseases in Pandemic—red, blue, black, and yellow—might not represent diseases at all, but rather they could be cultists devoted to one of the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos. So the yellow disease cubes could be members of the Cult of the Yellow Sign, the black cubes members of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh, and so on. In 2016, the interpretation of the disease cubes in Pandemic became a reality with the publication of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu.

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is a cooperative game in which stalwart Investigators work to thwart the summoning of the Great Old Ones in the Lovecraft Country towns of Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport. They must race to find the clues necessary to close the Gates in each of these towns all the while cultists gather and summon Shoggoths—things from an elder age—that will inexorably move towards the Gates and once there summon an Old One whose influence over this section of New England will only further hamper the efforts of the Investigators. Not only do the Investigators have to contend with the difficulty of piecing the clues together to close the Gates and nefarious cultists determined to summon their eldritch masters, there is the chance that they will be sent mad by their very efforts. 

If too many Great Old Ones are summoned and Cthulhu is woken from his slumber, then the Investigators lose. If they are overwhelmed by cultists—that is, when the supply of cultists runs out—then the Investigators lose. If they are overwhelmed by shoggoths—that is, when the supply of shoggoths runs out—then the Investigators lose. If they fail to gather the clues in time—that is, when the supply of Clue cards runs out—then the Investigators lose. If they all go insane, then the Investigators lose. If they seal all four Gates before they run out of Clue cards, then the Investigators win. 

So five ways to lose, one way to win.

Designed to be played by between two and four players, aged fourteen and up, the design of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is a mix of Pandemic and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, the old and the new, the latter being the new theme. Though that said, that theme owes much to Arkham Horror with the need to shut several gates to prevent the intrusion of the Old Ones. It is played out on a map of four connected towns in Lovecraft Country—Arkham (green), Dunwich (yellow), Innsmouth (purple), and Kingsport (red). Each town consists of five locations, plus a Gate. One location in each town is marked with a Bus Station, though Arkham has two. Above the map is a line of spaces for Old One cards, each one representing an Old One who will be awakened when a Shoggoth passes through an open Gate and bring its baleful influence to bear upon Lovecraft Country and the Investigators. For example, the awakening of Hastur heralds the appearance of another Shoggoth and the movement of all Shoggoths closer to open Gates, whilst Yig makes Gates closer to seal. At the end of the line of six spaces for these Old One cards is the space for Cthulhu himself. When he is summoned, then the game is over. Under each space is a number, indicating how many Summoning cards are turned over at the end of each turn. This number increases as more Old Ones appear, escalating the game’s difficulty as play proceeds.

The map also has spaces for the Summoning cards and the Player cards. Both decks contain cards corresponding to locations on the map. The Summoning cards are used to determine where the Cultists will appear and spread their influence on the map as well as if any Shoggoths on the map will move towards an open Gate. The Player cards represent clues. If an Investigator can collect five of one colour and go to the Gate in the corresponding town, he can seal the Gate. Seeded into the Player deck are two other types of card. The first are Relic cards, which grant the Investigators a temporary advantage. For example, the Seal of Leng allows the Investigators to block and cancel the effect of an Old One for the rest of the game, whilst the Book of Shadow lets an Investigator look at and rearrange the top four cards of the Player deck. The latter mirrors the effect of the Forecast card from Pandemic, but the use of Relic cards forces a player to roll the Sanity die to determine if his Investigator loses Sanity. The second type of card is the Evil Stirs card, which works much like the Infection card from Pandemic. In effect, it increases the difficulty of the game, making the player roll the Sanity die for his Investigator, reveal a new Old One, make a new Shoggoth appear in a random location on the map, and the Cultists regroup—the cards in the Summoning card discard pile are shuffled and added back onto the top of the Summoning deck. This means that the same locations are open to Cultist influence again and again...

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu comes with seven Investigators—Detective, Doctor, Driver, Hunter, Magician, Occultist, and Reporter, each with their own special ability. These abilities are a mix those new in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu and those adapted from Pandemic. So for example, the Detective needs four Clue cards to seal a Gate rather than five, much like the Scientist in Pandemic, and the Doctor can do five actions per turn rather than four, much like the Generalist in the Pandemic. Whereas, the Driver moves an extra location with a Walk action and ignores Ithaqua’s effect, which is new to the Pandemic family of games. Each Investigator comes with its own card that explains his or her abilities and this card is double-sided. The front is done in full colour, whereas the back is monochrome and details the Investigator’s abilitis after he has lost his Sanity. For example, the Doctor goes from five actions per turn when sane to four actions per turn when insane. Some card effects enable an Investigator to regain lost Sanity, whilst an insane Investigator who successfully seals a Gate fully recovers his Sanity.

Lastly, it should be noted that instead of wooden cubes and pawns—since replaced by plastic—being to represent the diseases and CDC members as in Pandemic, this game uses fully sculpted plastic figures. Those for Cultists and Shoggoths are anonymous, but those for the Investigators are individually sculpted figures which match the illustrations on the Investigator cards. These are nicely detailed figures and greatly add to the period feel of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu.

At the start of the game, six Old One cards are randomly selected and placed in their slots on the board. Each player chooses his Investigator and is given the matching Investigator card, four Sanity tokens, and a reference card. All of the Investigators start play at the Train Station in Arkham. Cultists as well as one Shoggoth are seeded in six locations drawn from the Summoning deck. These cards also from the Summoning discard pile. Relic cards are added to the Player deck and then each player receives two or more cards from the deck as his starting hand. The number varies according to the number of players. The fewer the number of players, the more cards a player is given. Lastly, the Player deck is seeded with the Evil Stirs cards.

On his turn a player has four actions and can get his Investigator to do the following. Walk to an adjacent location; while at a Bus Station, ‘Take the Bus’ by discarding a Clue card to move to any location in the town on the Clue card or discarding a Clue card that matches the town the Investigator is in to move to any other location in the town; or move through one Gate to another. He can also give a Clue card to another Investigator or take a Clue card from another Investigator as long as the Clue card matches the town they are in. He can also defeat a Cultist or Shoggoth and remove it from the board, though defeating a Shoggoth takes three actions. The later also earns him a Relic card. Lastly, he can seal a Gate by discarding five Clue cards of the same colour as the Gate on the Gate’s location. Notably, using a Gate or a Relic card, encountering and/or fighting a Shoggoth, or revealing an Evil Stirs card, all result in the player needing to roll the Sanity die. This may lose the Investigator one or two Sanity or attract the attention of some Cultists. 

From one turn to the next what the players will be trying to do is keep from being overwhelmed by Cultists and stop any Shoggoths reaching open Gates. They will also be trying to reach the same towns so that their Investigators can exchange Clue cards and so have enough to close the Gates. At the end of each turn, they will receive two more cards from the Player deck—these can be more Clue cards, Relic cards, or Evil Stirs cards. This means that they may not be useful. Also at the end of the turn, a number of Summoning cards will be drawn, these indicating where new Cultists will appear  and occasionally, that any Shoggoths in play should move.

This all sounds easy enough, but the Evil Stirs cards are an ever constant and imminent threat, promising to complicate things, always ensuring that Cultists are constantly recruiting from the same location over and over again—just like the Infection card causes cities in Pandemic to be infected again and again with diseases. In both cases because the Evil Stirs or Infection card empties the discard pile and returns it to the top of the Summoning/Infection deck respectively. Of course, in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, the Evil Stirs card brings with it the appearance of Shoggoths, ready to move towards the nearest open Gate. 

Just like Pandemic, the order in which the cards appear—from both the Player deck and Summoning deck—can also hamper or aid the play of the game, which is as should be. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu makes the play of the game easier, but more challenging. Easier by placing fewer limitations on movement and the exchange of Clue cards, but more challenging by forcing the players to regulate two factors which left unchecked will ensure their defeat—the number of Cultists and Shoggoths—rather than the one as Pandemic. Then even more challenging by imposing situational difficulties upon the players with the effect of the Old One cards revealed when a Shoggoth is allowed to go through a Gate.

Physically, the presentation of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu matches the theme. It feels and looks fustier, mustier, just a little ornate, and not at all like the killer elegance of Pandemic. Many of the well done components support the game’s replayability. There is not just the replaying again to beat the game and prevent Cthulhu from being summoned, but also the replaying of the game to beat it at a higher difficulty, which can be adjusted. The increased number of Investigator roles to choose from and the number of Old One cards provides more choice when setting up and playing the game as replayability.

So in looking at Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, the question is, is it still a Pandemic game? To which the answer is yes. The core mechanics of Pandemic are central to the mechanics of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu and anyone coming from the one to the other will adapt with. In fact, the core mechanics of Pandemic remain obviously visible such that the Lovecraftian theme of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu does feel somewhat pasted over the top of them. Yet, that theme also allows the elegant brutalism of the Pandemic mechanics to be pushed and extended, making Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu more challenging and ultimately, more uncaring. Perfect then, for a Pandemic game.


Z-Man Games will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

In Sorcerous Service

Ur-Turuk is the oldest and largest of mankind’s cities. Located in Turukstan, it stands on the Gulf of Tharita and is home to a great ziggurat temple to the god Enu, father of the sun and lord of fire, as well as a Vahnam—an association of Sorcerers and their retinues. The primary concern of each Sorcerer is improving his magic, which requires the recovery of ancient Alulim artefacts—the Alulim being giant Ancients who harnessed magic and enslaved mankind long ago—and then deconstructing them to extract the magic. The recovery requires research and then expeditions to travel out beyond Turukstan, but the extraction takes time and solitude, so the Vahnam needs to be protected from outside influences. This is the task of each retinue, who in serving and protecting their sorcerous masters will get involved in city politics and manipulate Ur-Turuk’s various factions, not just the city government and the city guard, but the priesthoods including the Line of Enu, the Temple of the Red God, the Cult of the Blind Serpent, and the Cult of Nissa, as well as the trade guild, the Brotherhood of Coin, the beggars’ guild, the Dust, and various underworld factions, such as the Vanishing Hand and the Black Face.

Sorcerers can cast great magics. They can summon and create things of nature and the elements as well as demons and ghosts. They can also destroy them and shape them, but they cannot use magic to transmute one substance into another, nor can spells be cast to learn things. So a Sorcerer is unable to cast a spell that would determine a cause of death, decode an encrypted scroll, or overhear a conversation from afar. In each case, an expert on the spot would be required—a physician, a scholar, a thief, and so on—to learn such information. Further, the effects of magic are not permanent. A magically constructed wall will collapse or fade, magical food will satiate the appetite and nothing more, and magical healing will only temporarily stave off the effects of wounds and damage. Should a warrior suffer too many wounds and receive magical healing, then when that healing fades, the wounds will return and he will be ripped apart! In such cases, it best to proper, non-magical healing lest a warrior’s wounds should overcome him.

This is the set-up for Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk, a roleplaying game of magic and politics inspired by ancient Persia published by Arion Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Mechanically, it uses the d6 System first seen in 1987’s Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game from West End Games, but structurally it uses the ‘troupe style’ of play pioneered by Ars Magica, currently published by Atlas Games. What this means is that each player controls a Sorcerer; a Major character—perhaps a master swordsman, a high priest, an oracle, an assassin, a noble, and so on; and three Minor characters—a Soldier, a Servant, and a Specialist. Characters are defined by six attributes—Might, Agility, Wits, Charm, Toughness, and Perception—and various skills from the forty-five available. Sorcerers also possess magical skills. Characters also have Perks and Complications.

Character creation gets more complex the more important a character is in a Sorcerer’s retinue. The creation of Minor characters involves a mix of rolls, picking templates, and freely assigning dice to attributes and skills. Guidelines are included if the the GM or his players want a bit more freedom than the methods included for Minor characters. The sample Minor characters have used the standard method. So the soldier in our retinue is an ex-scout who has grumpily been assigned to guard duty where he commands a team of men. He is known for his wary and weary eye, as well as his temper when his men fail him or the Vahnam. The Servant is a Cook, an ex-pickpocket who sought another trade lest her thievery lead to her execution. She is renowned for her advice as much as her readiness to defend her kitchen domain. The Musician likes the limelight and always plays a solo when performing. Unfortunately his eye for company after the performances often lands him in trouble and he knows when to get out of the way.

Souran, Soldier, Old Guard
Might 2D+2
Mêlée Weapons 1D, Block 1D
Agility 2D+1
Missile Weapons 2D, Parry +1
Wits 2D
Tactics +1
Charm 2D
Command +1
Toughness 2D
Survival +1
Perception 3D
Assess Other +1, Awareness +1

Perks: Warrior, Toughness, Danger Sense
Complications: Sense of Honour, Angry, Slow Reactions

Weapons: Shamshir (+2D), Crossbow (4d+1)
Leather armour (+2 Protection, -1 Agility)

Hatefeh, Servant, Cook
Might 2D
Mêlée Weapons +1, Brawling 1D
Agility 2D+1
Craft (Cooking) 2D+2, Larceny +1, Stealth +1
Wits 2D+1
Charm 1D+2
Streetwise 1D
Toughness 2D+1
Perception 2D
Awareness +1

Perks: Common Sense
Complications: Obese

Megabiz, Specialist, Musician
Might 1D
Agility 2D
Dodge +1
Wits 3D
Lore (Music) +2, Language +1
Charm 4D
Music 2D, Performance 1D, Seduce 1D+1
Toughness 2D
Stamina +1
Perception 2D
Awareness +1

Perks: Attractive (Minor), Educated (Minor)
Complications: Showman (Minor), Personality Flaw (Promiscuous) (Minor)

Creating a Major character is more involved, but more freeform. Several roles are given, suggesting which attributes to favour and which skills, perks, and complications to select. Termeh has served the Temple of Enu for decades now, having the gift of being able to read into the flames. She is old now and her powers are waning, but still powerful. She has rivals who would unseat her and are currently feuding with her for her influence over the chief priest. She also serves as an advisor to her daughter, Zarif Rastegari, who is a Sorcerer in the city’s Vahnam.

Termeh, Major Character, Oracle & Priest of Enu
Might 2D
Agility 2D
Wits 3D+1
Religion 1D+1
Charm 4D
Command +1, Persuade +2, Diplomacy +2, Performance 1D
Toughness 2D
Self-Control 1D
Perception 2D+2
Second Sight 2D

Holy Power 1D+2

Perks: High Priest (Major), Burning Faith (Major)
Complications: Ancient (Major), Feud (Major)

Creating a Sorcerer is even more freeform, a player needing to assign more dice to his Sorcerer’s attributes, skills, and magical skills. Notably, a Sorcerer has access to Sorcerous Perks and Complications that Major or Minor characters do not, though Minor Magic is available as a Perk that allow a Major character to possess some magic. Zarif Rastegari is a scholar and Earth and Body Sorcerer who is fascinated with the pure nature of magic. She has inherited some of her mother’s second sight, but not yet harnessed it with spirit-related magic. Her magic must be worked through a ruby that she wears on a necklace and she is better at summoning and shaping with her magic than she is destroying.

Zarif Rastegari, Sorcerer
Might 2D
Agility 3D
Dodge 1D
Wits 4D
Research 2D, Lore 1D, History +1
Charm 2D
Barter +1
Toughness 2D
Self-Control +2
Perception 3D
Awareness 1D, Second Sight +2

Perks: Sorcery (Major), Iron Will (Major), Educated (Minor), Scholar (Major)
Complications: Sense of Honour (Minor), Squeamish (Major), Magical Focus (Major)

Mind, Light 2, Nature, Spirit, Magic 3, Body 2, Fire, Air, Water, Earth 2

Summon 2, Destroy 1, Shape 2

Lastly the players need to decide upon the nature of their Vahnam. This is the home and headquarters of the sorcerers and their retinues. It is built using a pool of points that increases the greater the number of Sorcerers and their retinues who make it their home, but it is quite a tight budget, so the players will need to make some careful choices in how they design their character’s home.

Zarif Rastegari shares her Vahnam with another Sorcerer and his retinue. It is located in Ur-Turuk’s residential district, home to merchants and craftsmen, and is a relatively small townhouse built around a central courtyard in which stands a well from which can be drawn pure water. The Sorcerers and their retinues live comfortably in the house as well as eating well. Indeed, it is renowned for its kitchen and the banquets which are beginning to attract guests from across the city. The highest room in the building is used by Zarif Rastegari as an observatory by both her and her mother. The Sorcerers plan to build a library, but the building itself will expanding and that will involve purchasing land from their neighbours.

Residential District
Wealth (Comfortable) 4D+1
Security 3D+1
Observatory, Superior Kitchen, Well
The Line of Enu (Friendly)
The Cult of the Blind Serpent (Unfriendly)

Mechanically, the player characters are rolling handfuls of dice to beat a target, ranging from Very Easy (5) and Easy (10) to Very Difficult (25) and Heroic (30). These dice can be in any of the six attributes, the forty-five skills, and the thirteen magical skills, typically combinations of an attribute and a skill. An average NPC will have two dice in each of the attributes, some of the skills, and perhaps a few more dice in the skills he is good at or that represent his occupation. Major NPCs and of course, the player characters, will have a lot more dice in their attributes and skills, and thus more dice to roll. In addition, attributes and skills can have pips, either +1 or 2. When two or more dice are rolled, one of them is the Wild Die. When the result of this die is a one, it deducts the highest die from the total rolled, whereas rolls of six on the Wild Die enable it to be rolled again and the total added. As long as sixes keep being rolled on the Wild Die, it can be rolled again and again. 
For example, Souran is going about his rounds late at night at the Vahnam. Unfortunately, someone has sent Black Face assassins—they cover their faces in ash—to murder Termeh, the Priestess of Enu. Souran has the Danger Sense Perk and cannot be surprised, but in the dark, the GM rules that his player must roll to see where the assassins are going. Souran’s player adds his Perception 3D and Awareness +1, so has to roll 3D+1 against a Moderate (15) difficulty. Souran’s player rolls 4, 6, and 5 on the Wild die, which with the addition of the +1, gives a total of 16 and a success. Souran takes up his crossbow and goes in search of the assassins.
 The system is simple and fast. It also allows for automatic successes if a player has enough dice—up to a target of Moderate (15)—and for multiple actions, simply deducting dice for each of the actions that a player might want to do. In addition, some characters possess Hero Points, which can be used to escape the current trap or danger, to maximise the results on the dice roll, or to acquire a clue or assistance for the adventure. Combat is handled by opposed rolls between attacks and Reactions—Dodge, Block with a shield, or Parry with a weapon—followed by damage rolls to overcome the target’s armour and Toughness. Combat does take into account the effect of the excess on the attack roll, so a strike might grant a bonus to the damage roll or reduce the opponent’s armour, smash the opponent’s shield or disarm him, cleave a limb or simply kill him, and so on. Various combat options are covered, including the specific effects of various arms and armour, and in general, combat is short and brutal. 
For example, Souran comes upon the first assassin. Both Souran’s player and the GM as the assassin roll for initiative. Souran has Agility 2D+1 and the Assassin Agility 3D. Souran has 10 and the Assassin 7—Souran goes first and snap fires his crossbow. His player will roll Agility 2D+1, Missile Weapons 2D, and +1 for Souran’s Warrior Perk, a total of 4D+2. The GM will roll the Assassin’s Agility 3D as he tries to dodge, but with a penalty of -1 for armour. The GM rolls 5, 5, and 5, for a total of 14 with the effect of the Assassin’s armour. Souran’s player rolls 5, 5, 5, and 6 on the Wild Die. Then rolls another 6, followed by a 3. To this total of 30 is added +2, for a total of 32. This exceeds the Assassin’s Reaction roll by 17, so Souran’s excess can be turned into the Assassin being disarmed as the crossbow bolt strikes his wrist. The damage roll for the crossbow is 4D+1, whilst the Assassin is wearing leather armour, so has a +2 bonus to his Toughness 2D. The GM rolls 2 and 5, which with the armour bonus gives a result of 9. Souran’s player rolls 4, 5, 6, and 2, which with the +1, gives a result of 18. This is an Excess of 9 more than the roll for the Assassin, indicating that he has been incapacitated—the bolt pierces the Assassin’s wrist, ripping tendons and blood vessels, causing the interloper to cry out in pain and drop his blade as blood pumps from the wound. The other Assassins are alerted to Souran’s attack, but so are the rest of the guards.
 Of course magic lies at the heart of Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk and its approach is to make it fast and flexible. A player  has the freedom to decide the effect, range, duration, number of targets, and so on before making the casting roll for his Sorcerer. Effects can include inflicting damage, boosting the target’s attributes or boosting the effect of an object, restoring a target or object, and summoning a creature. So a Sorcerer might want to blast an enemy with fire, enhance the Strength attribute or Brawling skill of a wrestler, boost a fire into conflagration, and summon a Pegasus to escape or a demon with which to make a bargain. Once these are decided upon, the player makes an appropriate casting roll, a combination of a Control skill—Summon, Destroy, or Shape, and an Element—Mind, Light, Nature, Spirit, Magic, Body, Fire, Air, Water, or Earth. The rules explore each of the thirty combinations. 
So for example, Zarif Rastegari is searching some caves having heard that an ancient Alulim artefact might be found within its depths. Rather than have her companions light torches, the Sorcerer decides draw forth some light. Her player decides that the spell will be Fatiguing (+0), have a range of Self (+0), a duration of one hour (+6), and a ten foot radius (+13). This gives a Target Number of 19 against which Zarif Rastegari’s player must roll a combination of Summon 2 and Light 2 or 4D. 
Once the Target Number is set, all the player needs to do is make the Casting roll. If the roll is successful, the spell succeeds. Otherwise it fails, but on a roll of all ones, a catastrophic spell failure occurs, which means that the Sorcerer might lose his ability to cast magic, knocked out or stunned, or even rip him apart! In general, the more dice rolled in the Casting roll, the worse the catastrophic spell failure occurs is likely to be. Spells can also be combined, so that a Sorcerer can build spell effects. So a Sorcerer not only summon water to impress a tribal chieftain with a Summon + Water Casting roll, but then a Shape + Water Casting roll in order to shape into a fountain or direct its flow. The rules for magic include high magic areas, minor magics and sorcery, limited magic, as well as using spells defensively.

Overall, the magic and sorcery mechanics in Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk are simple and straightforward, but their freeform nature and the freedom they grant in how spells are cast and the effects they have, is not a little daunting. The guidance included helps, but anyone coming to the roleplaying game after playing in fantasy settings where there are set spell lists will still need to make some adjustments and that may impede playing time.

Magic is not the only source of power in Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk. There is also faith. Mechanically, this is represented by a religious character’s Holy Power, essentially a skill possessed by the priesthood by each faith. It is used—or invoked—to add a bonus to other skills rather than as a set of miracles a la the clerical spells of Dungeons & Dragons. If used to so enhance a skill and the skill roll fails, the priest loses his Holy Power until such times as he regain it through prayer and devotion. What this means is that sorcery is very much favoured in Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk and as a result Holy Power is more a sense of personal faith upon the part of any priest rather than drawn from any faith in a deity. This seems to undercut the influence and power of the various faiths and priesthoods in the city of Ur-Turuk and perhaps this aspect could be developed further in supplements for the roleplaying game?

Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk also includes a bestiary and an examination of ancient Alulim artefacts and how a Sorcerer deconstructs them in order draw forth their magic into himself and so improve his magical abilities. This is the only way in which a Sorcerer can improve his magic, though he can improve his mundane skills just the members of his retinue can. Although Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk does not include a scenario, it does include an outline of the opening chapters of a campaign and a discussion of what a Sorcerer and his retinue does on an ongoing basis. The core focus of the game is the conducting of research into the existence and location of Alulim artefacts, mounting an expedition to recover the artefact, and then studying the recovered artefact before breaking it down to extract its magic. This will involve one or more of the Sorcerers, but only the one Sorcerer can study and extract magic from an artefact and this takes a whole season. Major and Minor characters in a Sorcerer’s retinue will aid him in this task, providing support and protection, but whilst this is their primary role, they can also have their own adventures and their own stories. 

Since this is Troupe style play, both the GM and the players can scale up and down their Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk campaign, telling and roleplaying smaller tales with the Minor characters, larger and more heroic stories with the Major characters, and then grander epics with the Sorcerers. So the Minor characters might be involved in small tales in and around the Vahnam; the Major characters in going out and interacting with the city of Ur-Turuk, advising the Sorcerers, and then accompanying them on their expeditions; and the Sorcerers in research, expeditions, and working on artefacts as well as the politics and life of Ur-Turuk. Since each player has three Minor and three Major characters to choose from—and he is expected to switch back and forth between them—he will not only always have a character to bring into the current storyline and situation, he will also be constantly called upon to exercise his roleplaying skill.

Unfortunately, Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk does not feel quite complete. True, it includes everything that the GM needs to run the game and that the players need to play the game, but the setting itself feels underdeveloped. Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk is meant to be inspired by ancient Persia and that does not quite come across. It feels Middle Eastern rather than specifically Persian. Further, whilst there is a reasonable amount of background on the city of Ur-Turuk, certainly enough for the GM to work with in the initial stages of his campaign, beyond its walls, there is virtually nothing given, which is an issue since this is where the Sorcerers and their retinues are going to be going on expeditions.

Physically, Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk is a well presented, full colour hardback. It feels as if it could be better organised—there is a lot of information in terms of the mechanics and the background to get through before the reader gets to the mechanics for character generation. The artwork varies in quality, some of it very good and nicely capturing the exoticism of the setting, much of it good, but some of it somewhat scrappy in quality. Overall, it is handsome book.

Mechanically and conceptually, Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk does not feel like an original roleplaying game. The d6 System is a tried and tested set of mechanics and Troupe-style play is a tried and tested campaign set-up and so will be familiar to many. The combination is more than effective though, the d6 System being simple and fast, the combat mechanics adding a brutality to the game, whilst the Troupe-style play adds roleplaying opportunities aplenty. Both sit well in the interesting setting of Ur-Turuk where a campaign can start, but not really go beyond the city walls. Ultimately, Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk promises much, but its setting really needs to be fleshed out and further developed if it is going deliver the full potential of Troupe-style play.


Arion Games will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Leagues of London

Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! is Triple Ace Games’ RPG of globetrotting action, adventure, and mystery set during the 1890s. In this ‘Mauve’ decade, it brings together the greatest heroes and villains of the era—Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson, Allan Quatermain, Phileas Fogg, Abraham van Helsing, and more—with the player characters and flings them to the four corners of the world to explore the unknown, make great discoveries, and uncover dark mysteries. Like All For One: Régime Diabolique, also published by Triple Ace Games, Leagues of Adventures uses the Ubiquity System first seen in Exile Studio’s Hollow Earth Expedition. The result was an RPG of pulp action in a mannered age and like all RPGs published by Triple Ace Games is ably supported with a raft of supplements and adventures.

More recently the publisher has taken the Victorian Era set RPG into the realms of gloom and fear with Leagues of Gothic Horror and will follow this up by infusing it with a sense of cosmic dread with Leagues of Cthulhu. In between time, a number of other supplements have been released. Some of these explore various aspects of Leagues of Gothic Horror, but Globetrotters’ Guide to London takes the game to heart of the empire, the city of London. This is no surprise given the Anglophile emphasis in Leagues of Adventure, and after all, the player characters—or Globetrotters—need a base to set out from. Then again, there are adventures to be had in the capital too!

In presenting the city, Globetrotters’ Guide to London provides reference material aplenty, but in easily digestible form, making it easy to bring to the gaming table. The level of detail is designed to be anything other than overwhelming and in the main, this it succeeds at. So it briskly details everything you might need to know about London in just a few pages. This includes accommodation and lodgings, climate, crime and policing, death, entertainment, and so on. It is a good primer to the capital, but does not skimp on the detail where necessary, whether this is a listing of criminal slang, cab fares, or social customs following a death. Indeed, this level of detail continues throughout the book, highlighting certain aspects about life in London that can be included as colour or pertinent to the plot as necessary.

The supplement does include rules for creating and playing steam or clockwork powered anthropomorphic automata. In game terms, an Automaton globetrottter has to have the Ally 2 advantage to be treated as a Human, but otherwise is treated as a normal character. Two Flaws, Automaton and Inconspicuous are suggested as being suitable for Automata globetrotters, but a player is mostly free to design his character how he wants. In terms of play, the primary issue is how the Automaton is healed, or rather, repaired, should it be damaged—as if that should ever happen! To this, the supplement adds four new Leagues for the Globetrotters to join—the Automaton Club, the Detective Club, the Masked Avengers, and the Temperance Society.

The meat of the supplement is divided between two lengthy chapters. The first of these, ‘A Brief Tour’, details some one-hundred-and-twenty locations in the centre of London as of 1898. These range from the Aerated Bread Company Ltd. and the Admiralty to Westminster Abbey and the Zoological Gardens, taking in along the way, particular museums, hospitals, theatres, restaurants, colleges, shops, and more. More generic institutions and features are covered as well, including the River Thames, the sewers, workhouses, and rookeries. The outré are included alongside the ordinary, such as the Bartitsu Club—here more successful than in reality, and Croydon Field—London’s airship landing site. This mix, of the outré with the ordinary, continues with the ‘Denizens’ chapter, which describes and details some thirty-eight noted personages of the period. So they include Richard D’Oyly Carte, Arthur Conan Doyle, James George Frazer, Flinders Petrie, Inspector Edmund Reid, and Oscar Wilde as well as Thomas Carnacki, Professor Arthur Cavor, Phineas Fogg, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Arthur J. Raffles, and Doctor John Watson. Notably, Arthur Conan Doyle becomes Holmes and Watson’s chronicler, as well as that of Professor George Challenger, whereas H.G. Wells becomes an inventor and scientific expert who investigated the Martian invasion of 1883. All of these have full game stats and provide a useful array of NPCs for the Globetrotters to encounter and interact with. If there is an issue with these NPCs it is that just four of them are women, barely a tenth, and although it must have been challenging to find suitable women to include, this paucity is disappointing. Nevertheless, the write-ups of both locations and denizens are both useful and well done, being also supported by lists of various dignitaries—ambassadors, government officials, military men, museum staff, newspaper editors, and so on, which add both further verisimilitude and serve as useful reference without the GM needing to look them up himself.

Besides some quick write-ups for various Henchmen and stock characters, Globetrotters’ Guide to London gives six new archetypes. These are the Automaton, the Fixated Detective, the Masked Avenger: Spring-Heeled Jock, the Nanny, the Police Surgeon, and the Theatre Manager. The Automaton makes use of the new rules included earlier in the supplement; the Masked Avenger: Spring-Heeled Jock is actually a vigilante-scotsman, so including a thoroughly groan-inducing word joke; and arguably, the Police Surgeon and the Theatre Manager are there for anyone—including the author—who wants to play or include in his campaign, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot from the ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ episode of Classic Doctor Who and their subsequent audio adventures from Big Finish.

Rounding out the Globetrotters’ Guide to London is a discussion of running adventures in the heart of the empire and how different they are to those in a standard game of Leagues of Adventure. This highlights how the Globetrotters cannot ignore the law in London and how their skills, contacts, and other resources come into play whilst in the city. For the GM it suggests how he should play up the environment and bring in the city’s many locations described earlier in the book. The book comes to a close with eighteen adventure seeds. These are a good mix of ideas ready for the GM to fully develop, though a third of them are marked as being designed for use with Leagues of Gothic Horror.

Physically, Globetrotters’ Guide to London is a slim book, illustrated in black and white. The supplement is slim enough to not really need an index and is well written and readable. The map of the centre of London is decent, though the artwork is not the best to have graced Triple Ace Games’ titles.

Globetrotters’ Guide to London is not the complete guide to London, but it is comprehensive enough to have just everything a GM might need to bring the fantastic, literary world of Leagues of Adventure to life. Indeed, a GM or Keeper could easily ignore the fantastic elements in the book that are particular to Leagues of Adventure and use Globetrotters’ Guide to London as a reference work his own ‘Mauve Age’ set campaign—including Cthulhu by Gaslight. Overall, Globetrotters’ Guide to London is a useful and accessible reference for the game, whether the campaign is staying in or leaving London for adventure.


Triple Ace Games will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Your TV, Your Way

Most games about television are really about a particular show or series and in the past, they have invariably been little more than a tie-in with a series, more a marketing exercise than a good game. In an age of modern game design this has changed, with television themed games not only being tie-ins, but also being designed to fit the themes and events of their shows. A great example of this is Fantasy Flight Games’ BattleStar Galactica, which emulated humanity fleeing from a war with a cyborg enemy and searching for the Earth whilst also being betrayed by cyborg infiltrators. Other games about television put you in charge, deciding upon what programmes to buy and when to broadcast them, and this is what The Networks: A tabletop strategy game for 1-5 TV executives is all about. The aim is to take “TV from Public Access to Prime Time”.

Published by Formal Ferret Games following a successful KickStarter campaign and launched at UK Games Expo 2016, The Networks is designed for between one and five players—both solo and advanced variants are included, aged thirteen and up, and takes between an hour and ninety minutes to play. It is a card drafting game in which each player is an executive in charge of programming at a television network. Each network has three important prime time slots—10pm, 9pm, and 8pm—that the executive has to fill with hit Shows that will attract Viewers and Advertising. By combining the right Stars with the right Show and selling the right Advertising space, an executive will make more money to buy and create better Shows and so attract more Viewers. Unfortunately, both Shows and Stars age, and whilst their popularity may grow in the short term, in the long run, they will lose Viewers and so will end up being cancelled. Thus an executive will need to find a replacement Show. In the meantime, the cancelled Show goes into the network’s vault and syndication where it can continue getting Viewers… The executive who attracts the most Viewers after five seasons is the winner.

At the heart of each executive’s network is a Player Board. There are five of these, for each executive and network—ICS, MooTV, U62, VCK, and PKW. Each Player Board has slots down one side for 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm, plus slots for the Green Room, Reruns, and Archives down the other. Each Player Board has a track its network’s Viewers, a reference guide to the actions an executive can do on his turn, and an explanation of the bonuses a network can accrue for developing multiple Shows of one genre.

At the heart of The Networks are the television Shows. Each is a represented by a Show card that has quite a bit of information on it. Not just the title of the Show, but also its genre (Action, Drama, Reality, Sci-Fi, Sitcom, or Sports), the prefered slot for when they should be broadcast (8pm, 9pm, and 10pm), the cost to develop it and maintain it, whether or not it needs a Star and/or an Advert attached, and how many Viewers it attracts when it goes into Reruns. Down one side there are four numbered rows, representing how many Viewers the Show will attract as it ages.

So for example, the Show ‘Doctor What’ requires $5 million to develop and is a Sci-Fi series that it best broadcast at 8pm. It requires a Star to develop and can have another Star or an Advert added to it on a later turn. Its upkeep costs are $2 million and during its first season will attract seven Viewers—or just five if not broadcast at 8pm, before going on to attract ten, seven, and one Viewer over subsequent Seasons as the Show ages. When it goes into Reruns, it will continue attracting five Viewers.

The Show cards are supported by the Star and Ad cards. Each Star card has a name as well as a Signing cost, an Upkeep cost, and the Star’s Conditions. Down each side of the card are four numbered rows which match the rows on the Show card, indicating how many Viewers the Star will attract to the Show. One set of rows is the good side, the other is the bad side. If the executive matches the Star with the right Show and fulfills the Star’s conditions, the good side is used; if not, the Star card is flipped and the bad side is used. Each Advert has a Landing bonus, the amount of money gained for picking it up and an Income it will generate when attached to a Show per Season. Like each Star, an Advert can have Conditions. Get this right and an executive can use its good side, earning the network the stated income, but get it wrong and the Advert is flipped to its bad side, reducing the network’s income.

At the start of a game, each Network has a terrible lineup in terms of Shows, Stars, and Adverts. For example, the three initial Shows broadcast by MooTV are ‘What’s In My Pockets?’, ‘Wide World of Forks’, and ‘You Too Can Play the Recorder!’. The only Advert it runs is ‘Shaggy’s Rugs and Carpeting’ and its only Star is a ‘Moonlighting Travel Agent’. This will of course change as the Seasons progress as each network develops Shows, the Show cards being divided in Season 1, Season 2/3, and Season 4/5 Shows, and adds Stars and Adverts.

The fourth card type is the Network card. These help build a network and give it an advantage or special power. They can be quite simple, for example, ‘Audition’ lets an executive draw and keep a Star for free, whilst ‘Infomercial’ awards him $5 million. Other Network cards are more complex, such as ‘Executive Producer’ lets an executive improve his position in the turn order, but must pay $1 million to each executive he passes in order, or ‘Syndication’, which grants a Viewers bonus to each Show a network has in Reruns.

Lastly, the Scoring Track sits in the middle of the table where it keeps track of the Season number, the Turn Order, and the number of Viewers for each network. It actually comes in three parts. The left-hand and middle sections are always used, but a different right-hand section is used based on the number of executives and networks. This right-hand section shows the start-up funds for each network—varying according to turn order, how much money an executive and network gains when they end their Season, and the number of Show, Star, Advert, and Network cards to add at game start. This will actually change after the first Season as the right-hand section will be flipped over to show the number of Show, Star, Advert, and Network cards to add at the start of each Season and how much money or how many Viewers an executive and network gains when they end their Season.

Set up is relatively easy. Each executive receives his Player Board and starting cards, the Scoring Track is set up according to the number of executives and networks, and the starting Show, Star, Advert, and Network cards are laid out. Some cards may need to be removed if there are only two or three executives and networks. These cards are clearly marked, as are the Interactive Network cards and the Advanced Network cards. The inclusion of these is optional, but are used in the advanced version of the game where there is more interaction between networks.

Each Season consists of several turns, the number determined by how many things each executive wants to do and how much money he has to spend on Shows and Stars. An executive can take as many actions he wants, though there is an advantage in an executive ending his networks action and Season early. The earlier he does end his Season, the more money or Viewers he will gain with the ‘Drop and Budget’ action.

On an executive’s turn, he has several actions to choose from. He can ‘Develop a Show’, purchasing from the current season and slotting it into his current programming. Some Shows require a Star and/or an Advert to be successfully developed. Alternatively, the Show can be sent straight into Reruns. He can ‘Sign a Star’ and hire Star to add to a Show that he later develops using the ‘Develop a Show’ action . The Star sits in the Green Room until attached. He can ‘Land an Ad’, giving him some money immediately and then an income once attached to a Show. The Advert sits in the Green Room until attached. He can ‘Attach a Star/Ad to a Show’, adding a Star and/or an Advert from his Green Room to a Show. This allows an executive to replace Stars and Adverts already attached to an existing Show. He can ‘Take a Network Card’, a card that will give him an additional special ability.

Lastly, an executive can ‘Drop and Budget’. This means he drops out of the current season or round and can take no more actions. An executive usually does this because he has run out of money and can do more to improve his network’s programmed schedule or because he does not want to do any more to improve his network’s programmed schedule. When he does this, an executive places his turn order disc on the highest available space on the Drop & Budget track, selecting either the money or the Viewers indicated on that space. The higher the available space on the Drop & Budget track, the greater money or Viewers to be gained. 

Once every executive has taken the ‘Drop and Budget’ action, the current season comes to an end. Each executive determines his income from Advertising and pays the maintenance costs of his Stars. (If an executive cannot pay these expenses, they are paid for in terms of Viewers.) Then the number of Viewers each network is attracting, primarily from its current lineup of programmes, but also from Reruns, is determined. Lastly each Show that an executive has in his schedule ages, indicated by dropping down a row on the Show card. This will change how many Viewers the Show will attract in the next season.

Lastly, any Shows, Stars, and Adverts not picked up during the season that has just ended are discarded and new ones drawn for the new season. The executive who network has the least number of Viewers becomes the new Starting player and the new season begins.

Once five seasons have been played through, including the aging of Shows and the determination of the number of Viewers each network has, there is a sixth and final aging of Shows and determination of the number of Viewers each network has, these being added to each executive’s final score. The executive and network with the highest score is the winner.

To do all of this each executive needs to maximise his network’s income as well as its number of Viewers. Although having the most Viewers is ultimately the key to winning the game, income is needed because each network not only needs to maintain the upkeep on both its Shows and its Stars, it need to have the money to replace those Shows when they age and eventually go into Reruns. So there is a balance to be maintained throughout the game. 

Physically, The Networks is on the whole, a very nice product. The various boards and money are all done on thick card, everything is in rich colours, and it all looks very attractive. That said, the cartoon-style artwork could be said to be a bit scrappy and whilst they have a nice finish, the cards do feel a bit thin. Overall though, what stands out about The Networks is the effort put into the graphic design which makes everything visually clear and simple. The rulebook is also very cleanly laid out and well written.

In contemporary terms, the theme of The Networks looks a little outmoded. After all, broadcast television is not quite as big as it once was, given the prevalence of streaming services and watching episodes in bulk rather than week by week. That said, the theme of The Networks is perfectly realised. In controlling your network you do feel you are programming your lineup of shows and working to get the right Stars with the right Shows and attract Adverts to get the income to pay for the Shows that attract Viewers. This is helped by the clever titles of the Shows, Stars, and Adverts which parody popular television series of the last few decades. So players will recognise Shows such as ‘Doctor What’, ‘Breaking Worse’, ‘Found’, ‘How I Left Your Father’, ‘NCISICBMOMGOMG: Scranton’; ‘Always Dies in Everything’, ‘Fierce Drag Queen’, ‘Adorable Hipster’; ‘Aztec Chocolate Bars’, ‘Blast Radius Pure Sugar Cereal’, ‘McTaco’s’; and so on. In fact, there is a lot of fun to be had in spotting these references and then going on to program them in your network’s lineup for the current Season and beyond. (That said, these Shows do date the game a bit, but this does not detract from the game play.)

The Networks does look more complex than it is and really, with a play through or two of it under your belt it plays quickly enough, though the advanced rules will increase both game length and complexity slightly. If it needs anything, it is perhaps more Shows and Stars, certainly during the first Season where the choices do limited and there is not quite enough variety. Perhaps this could be addressed with ‘Season Packs’ for the game? In terms of the complexity though, The Networks is a mid-weight game, putting it roughly on a par with games like Glory to Rome or BattleStar Galactica. It is probably not suitable for players who have little gaming experience under their belts, but the theme at least makes up for some of that.

If you were looking for a game where you wanted to be a network television executive and program its lineup the way you wanted it to be—within budget of course—then The Networks is the game for you. The Networks is a great combination of theme and design, giving you control over the television you always wanted.


Formal Ferret Games will be at UK Games Expo with The Networks: Executives, the first expansion for The Networks. UK Games Expo will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Hacking Convicts & Cthulhu

The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu combines two of the more interesting titles to come out for roleplaying Lovecraftian investigative horror. The first is of course The Cthulhu Hack, the elegant, stripped back player-facing roleplaying game based on The Black Hack. The second is Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia which presented a new society and new horrors against a backdrop of isolation and corruption in a convict colony. The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu brings the two together, providing an introduction to the setting of Great Britain’s first steps on the far continent and supporting them with the light mechanics of The Black Hack.

Published by Just Crunch Games, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu layers the background elements over the mechanics of The Cthulhu Hack. So it uses the same five Classes as The Cthulhu Hack—Adventurer, Bruiser, Philanthropist, Ruffian, and Scholar. Then a player selects from a Role, essentially what the Investigator does in the New South Wales penal colony, the options being Convict, New South Wales Corps officer, Free Settler, or Government Official. This determines starting equipment. Each Investigator also needs an Occupation, whatever he did before coming to Australia and if a Convict, an Offence, whatever it was that got him transported. There are more social benefits to these background details, but there are likely to be circumstances where the Keeper will award an Investigator an Advantage or Disadvantage die, depending upon the circumstances.

Our sample Convict is Henry Bacon, a big man capable of handing out a battering. Greed and a fondness of gin got him involved in crime and he became a fearsome gang member. He did kill a man, a rival gang member, but witnesses all swore that he was provoked and that it was self-defense, so Bacon did not go to the scaffold. He was sentenced to transportation for life instead.

Henry Bacon
First Level Bruiser
Role: Convict
Crime: Murder
Occupation: Bricklayer
STR 16 DEX 13 CON 11
INT 13 WIS 11 CHA 09

Hit Points: 12
Sanity Die: d8
Attack Damage: 1d8/1d6 (Unarmed/Improvising)
Lamplight/Rum: d4/d4
Uniform, bandana, six letters from home, shiv, empty flask

Mechanically, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu makes three changes. The first is to have all attributes rolled on 2D6+4 rather than three six-sided dice. This is reflect the harsher life and conditions in the colony. The other is to change the names of the Flashlights and Smokes—the first the resource used to discover clues, the second the resource used to purchase things or bribe people—to Lamplight and Rum. The reason for the change from Flashlights to Lamplight is obvious, but that of Smokes to Rum less so. The change is because Rum was a unit of currency in the early years of the colony.

The third change is to add rules for Shock. This gives an alternative effect to failing a roll of the Sanity Die, a short, sharp shock lasting a moment or a few rounds while an Investigator suffers the shakes, dives into cover, faints, screams, and so on. This allows the players to better handle their Investigators’ Sanity Dice as a resource, so that they are not depleted too early on in a scenario.

What The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu does not do is provide the means to create Aboriginal Investigators as does Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia. The author explains that this is because this would add further tension to a playing group in an already tense situation. Guidelines are given for equipment in the colony, for blackpowder weapons and indigenous weapons—the latter surprising given the lack of Aboriginal Investigators. Also listed are possible written sources of information that might be sources of written information for the Investigators and a number of Mythos entities indigenous to Australia to supplement those given in The Cthulhu Hack. This is accompanied by a short discussion of the Mythos down under. 

Rounding out The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is ‘Longships and Short Fuses’, an adventure outline set at mine where the treatment of the convicts has led to its superintendent being recalled to Sydney. After he has left, a tunnel collapses in the mine revealing a centuries old burial containing a Viking longship. Three options are given as what is going on at the mining site and these are decent enough. It is just that encountering an entombed Viking longship on the coast of Australia of all places, is more than likely to stretch the credulity of the players, let alone the fact that they will have to portray their Investigators not necessarily knowing all that much, if anything at all, about the Vikings. 

Physically, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is reasonably laid out and lightly illustrated. As written, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is just about serviceable as an introduction to the setting of Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia, but no more and no less. If there is an issue with the supplement, it could have better highlighted the corruption rampant in the colony during the period of this setting. Arguably Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia overemphasised it just a little too much, but The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu does not emphasis it enough. If there is a second issue with the supplement, it is the nature of the scenario, which is faintly ridiculous.

Ultimately, to get the most out of The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu, the Keeper will need the fuller information and background to the setting found in Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia. Thus The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu provides a serviceable method to run the Convicts & Cthulhu setting using The Cthulhu Hack rules.


Just Crunch Games will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.