Previous Games of Christmas: Alternity, Star Wars, Mage, Transhuman Space
H'okay folks, strap yourselves in for this one. This game right here is one of my all time, hands down, no holds barred, favorite games of all time. I know it is a little odd to do two games that use essentially the same system from the same company, but this game is so good it needed to be here. This is an example of a game that does nearly everything right, and that is impressive considering how much was going against it. It is the third game in a series of games, and it is the prequel to the two other games. It had to encompass the abilities from the previous games, and yet still have a completely different tone and feel. Coming into this game I was a fan of the two previous, but I was a little leery of it. But oh man, this game does everything right. So lets get to it, yeah? Get your rocket belt and your ray gun, grab your panama hat, ready your zeppelin and get ready for...
buy the game right now. You will not regret it.
The game starts off with a delightful conceit, its cover is in the design of the old pulp covers and it looks mysterious, dangerous, and full of adventure. The art inside is very sketchy and, again, fits the feel of the old pulps. It has a frenetic and energetic feel to everything. Its nice. The first half of the book has no mechanics and is just short stories and world building. The font looks like old fashioned typeface, and again it just screams pulp. The headings and titles are all solidly differentiated. The book also is clear and easy to read without getting into backgrounds that are too dark or too busy. The sidebars are well set out and easily understood. The only real issue I have with it is that sometimes it can be a little difficult to find what you are looking for in the moment.
The mechanics are basically the same as for Mage(see my previous review), save that the target number is set at seven for every roll. What you are no aiming for is the number of successes. This simple change really simplifies the game play. Also added to this game are a couple of small subsystems for inventing new things and improving existing things. They are fairly simple and if you do not wish to engage in them they are easy enough to set aside. Characters also get power based on what type of hero they wish to be, Stalwarts(people with superpowers), Mentalists(people with psychic abilities), or Daredevils(your average plucky hero with no powers. Each set of powers are self contained and interact with the rules in a way that makes a Stalwart feel very different in play from a daredevil or a mentalist, even if you focus on the same role in the game. It is a solid achievement.
Finally we get to the biggest change to the system. You get a number of special points that allow you to alter the game world. These points are not in character(though some in character powers use them), they are a meta fictional economy that allow you to take control of the story for a little bit. When you wish to change something you may spend these points to do so, the bigger and more obvious the change the more points it costs. For example, if you are pinned down by Thule Cultists in a Nepalese bar and you have no weapons or gear you could spend a point to say you had a knife in your boot.. It would two or three to say that a pistol or sub machine gun happened to be in a nearby cabinet, and it would cost maybe five or six points to say that the local authorities show up and attack the cultists because they are wanted in these parts. As you can see the use of these points is incredibly powerful and it really makes the game feel fun as the players can add whatever cool stuff they want to see. In a lot of ways I see this system as a precursor to fate points in Fate. Maybe I am imagining things though.
Oh my gosh, the setting. You guys, the SETTING! you wouldn't think it would be all that impressive as it is just real world history seen through a pulp lens, but it is just so good. It starts off with a short story by Warren Ellis. Yes that Warren Ellis. Its pretty good. There are also two stories by Greg Stoltze. Yes that Greg Stoltze. And if I am completely honest with myself, Greg's stories are quite a bit better and more in theme with the game than Warren's. That is not to say Warren Ellis' story was bad, far from it. It is a fun read. I just enjoy Greg Stoltze's stories a little better. Aside form the stories the game break down the secret societies and strange places in the world. Some of my favorites? Baron Zorbo and his balloon armada, he wants to move everyone into cities in the sky and leave the earth free to grow plants. To do this he needs crystals from the hollow earth, and fights a war with the intelligent people who dwell therein. Another lovely one is the plateau in South America where dinosaurs and all sorts of cool things exist, its basically Land of the Lost. Then there is Shamballa, and the Murder Society, ancient Egyptian cultists, an evil national geographic type organization, and so much more. It also introduces you to the Aeon Society, which it is assumed you will be a member of. It was formed a year prior and it seeks to find out all the hidden mysteries of the world and make the world a safer, better place.
Oh right I forgot the key thing. that's how into this setting I am I get bogged down in details. So a little while back their was this scientist inventor type guy, right? His name was Hammersmith. He built this device that supposedly tapped into Telluric energy, which is ill defined and super important. He invites all these people(including a bunch of folks who would later form the core of the Aeon Society), to see he cool telluric engine. Any way, it explodes and floods the world with telluric energy. Have you watched The Flash show? It was like the particle accellerator exploson in that, but in the twenties. So all over the world suddenly people and places start getting powers and all that. So that is the birth of super powers and psychic abilities, and maybe even the birth of the strange luck daredevils seem to exhibit. One of these guys who was there was Max. And Max was right in front of the device when it blew. He got unstuck in time and was now in the far future. He sees all sorts of problems and when he finally figures out how to get back to his own time, max sets up the Aeon Society to change the future and make it brighter. So that is the setting...basically. Though I think you should get the game and read it for yourself. It is a delight to read.