Monday, 23 December 2013

Farsight Blogger Game of the Year 2013

That has a nice ring to it - Farsight Blogger Game of the Year 2013 - but whatever you do, don't think that this is some official award I give out every year. I've just been going over the games I have reviewed and played this year and I thought I'd choose the one I was impressed with the most. It's all a bit of fun and gives my regular readers a chance to catch up on some reviews they may have missed.

I started the year with Kings of War, a fantasy wargame from Mantic Games. I said in my review; 'The book might not be brimming with intricate artwork and production values, and some people might find the setting somewhat uninspiring, but the game itself is excellent and fun to play, and that’s what counts. I can see myself playing this quite a lot over the next few months and it’s certainly helped expand my gaming social circle now that I’m meeting plenty of people who also play. The game already has a great community and the excellent fanzine ‘Ironwatch’, so there’s plenty of support both official and non-official.'

I played it for a short while but then other priorities took over. I haven't parted with my army and still intend to play it again in the future, but this is still a great game.

Then I had a blast at the Legend Core Rulebook, of which I said; 'Legend is a solid, dependable game with plenty of options – you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. It’s a well-produced book that somewhat lacks in presentation but more than makes up for in content. You may miss the bestiary, but the Monsters of Legend book will make up for that and, anyway, as it’s Runequest at it’s core it’s compatible with most editions, especially Runequest II, so you can lift monsters from those books if you have them. A good game built on a solid background, with easy rules, options and an OGL license to boot. I can recommend this book.'

The majority of use I ended up getting out of this book was using elements of it in a Middle-earth game using the Cthulhu: Dark Ages rules. It ended up being a great supplement.

Traveller Core RulebookNext up was the Mongoose Traveller rulebook. It was frustrating because I wanted to play this excellent game a lot more than I actually did. I concluded in my review; 'Traveller caters to all sci-fi genres and allows you to use the rules as you see fit, either going full-on use everything or drop certain aspects you don’t like. The options for character creation give you the chance to do everything randomly or choose your abilities, so that you can have complete control over your PC if that’s what you want. Mongoose have produced a quality game that many sci-fi gaming groups will get a lot of fun out of and it’s easy to see why Traveller has lasted for so long. This is a great book and I can highly recommend it.'

A great game and you can easily see why it has lasted for so long. I also reviewed the Judge Dredd book for this game and loved it.

I then changed tack a little and moved on to card games. I had a stab at Star Wars: The Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games and, while I enjoyed the game initially the replay value was lacking, even with the expansion packs. In my review I said; 'Star Wars: The Card Game is easy to learn, quick to set up and enjoyable to play. Each game is unique and the tactics you are able to employ are varied. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this game as well the gorgeously illustrated cards which would look amazing in anyone’s collection, much like the models that Fantasy Flight Games produced for their X-Wing miniatures game. There’s flexibility in deck building but then there’s always a level playing field. The core set will keep you going for a long time, but the game will need ongoing support to keep the game fresh and exciting.'

That last statement was certainly true. I had fun with it but ultimately we parted ways.

I then went back to roleplaying and got into Paizo Publishing products, primarily the Pathfinder Beginner Box. I said; 'If you’re an old hat at roleplaying - the Pathfinder game in particular - there’s nothing in here you’d need. Experienced gamers would find the Pathfinder Core Rulebook suited to their needs and wouldn’t have to get this, unless they had new gamers they wanted to bring into the hobby. But it’s not the experienced gamer this is aimed at. The selling point of this boxset is the fact that it is aimed at brand new gamers interested in getting into the hobby. For that fact alone it excels in its intention. If you’ve been gaming for a while then there’s not a lot in this boxset that you’ll find useful, unless you’ve never played Pathfinder before and feel a little daunted by the huge Core Rulebook. For new gamers, however, this is the perfect introductory game not only for the Pathfinder system but the roleplaying hobby in general, so for you it’s highly recommended.'

I loved this game and it was a serious contender for my Game of the Year. If (or when) I get back into Pathfinder again I'm going to use this boxset and then move on to the core rulebook, which is also a must for any D&D player.

I then had a short stab at Champions, which I was disappointed with but, to be truthful, did enjoy quite a lot. To quote my review; 'Where I feel Champions Complete lets me down is the sheer number of options available and even though it’d be easy to say ‘I won’t use that in my game’ the amount in character creation alone might make players think they’re being restricted and missing out on their perfect character if they’re told they can’t have certain things. The number of tables is daunting, there’s one on almost every page, and the handy index and the tables in the appendices make that easier but there seems to be a level of unnecessary complication attached to such a simple, easy gaming system. It says in the introduction that this is a lean, streamlined version of the Hero System Sixth Edition; that kind of surprises me, given the level of detail here. It makes me wonder just how comprehensive the Hero System Sixth Edition actually is. All told, Champions Complete is a good book, and the fact that you can use it as a set of core rules for any game you want, at any power level, is a great idea. Players of the Hero System Sixth Edition will definitely find this a great companion for their games. The simple presentation and the possibly overbearing amount of options available isn’t my kind of thing but it’s a solid game nonetheless.'

I never got a proper campaign going and that's a shame. Maybe in the new year I'll convince my group to have another go at this good little game.

If I was going to do a 'Most Beautiful Book' award then this would have run away with it. Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition is possibly the most wonderful core rulebook I have ever seen. My review said; 'Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition is a very rare thing in roleplaying rulebooks – it’s a wonderfully produced and illustrated book with an amazing setting and a great mechanic. There’s plenty of stuff in here to create plenty of games, and the details they give of life in the realm, the Bushido code, the ways of the Samurai and all the other information that fills out the setting with so much flavour… you could run all kinds of adventures and even set it in the real East Asia, if you wanted. It’s not an accurate guide on the true cultures of the time – it’s a fantasy roleplaying game, after all - but it’s a great jumping off point and I get the impression that the game mechanics would support an accurate historical game well. This is a beautiful book to look at, an entertaining book to read and a great game to play. You really can’t ask for much more than that. Very highly recommended.'

I have to get the right-minded gaming group together but I intend to run a full-on campaign of this game. This was also a serious contender for Game of the Year.

I then moved back to science fiction with Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game. I said in my review; 'My major problem with the boxset is that there are no rules for creating your own characters. The four characters supplied with the game are good and cover the basics of a mixed gaming group but after a while the players will no doubt want to play with something else, and create their own personalities. You can use new characters created from the main rulebook, including the Beta book, but there seems to be very little point. If the box had even included the basics of character creation, or a way to modify the pregenerated characters to suit a players preferences, then that would have added plenty of options immediately and extended the gameplay of the box. There’s nothing stopping gamers from adjusting the characters and their backgrounds, but having those very options or the character creation rules to hand would have been a bonus. The Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game is a very good introduction to the roleplaying hobby and Fantasy Flight Games’ newest RPG. It explains the rules clearly and, for old-school gamers like myself who like their dice numbered, it really helps with interpreting the symbols and their meaning. It also captures the feel and adventure of the Star wars universe really well, so even though I do feel as if the character creation rules should have been included to expand a gaming group’s options, I have no problem recommending this to new and experienced gamers alike.'

Sadly, this is another game that I have not used since my initial playtest. There was no longevity in this game and served merely as an introduction to the full Edge of the Empire rulebook. It's a great system and plays very well.

Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! Boxed SetAncient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! was a surprising pleasure. It took me back to my younger days when I was running simple Fighting Fantasy adventures, and I said in my review; 'There’s a lot of playability in this and even though it’s aimed at one-off dungeon bashes you could get a great campaign out of this as player characters can be quite well-rounded, not so much with the social skills but that could be remedied. There’s nothing stopping you from adding extra Pursuits to the list to reflect that. A great game with an excellent system, with ideas and options that could keep you going for quite a while. Highly recommended.'

I wanted to share this so I ran a competition for the book and had plenty of applicants and one happy winner. This is exactly what I wanted to see in an introductory fantasy roleplaying game and I'd like to see it do well.

 My next game EPOCH was a breath of fresh air after months of dice rolling. This card-based one-shot horror roleplaying game was a a great addition to my gaming year and made for some memorable group moments. In my review;  'EPOCH is an excellent game that suits its horror movie subject matter perfectly. It has an incredibly clever system and a unique approach to narrative in which the GM, the players and the cards that are dealt all influence the outcome of the game. This requires the group to think fast and be on their toes and for the GM to be able to react to sudden changes in the flow of the story, but the nature of a horror survival flick – a small group in a small location with few avenues of escape – certainly makes this much easier to control. Great fun and a great way to spend an evening with like-minded friends. Highly recommended.'

I recently received the adventure books 'Frontier of Fear' and 'war Stories', and I look forward to running them soon and reviewing them here. This was another game on my Game of the Year shortlist of winners.

My final game was Pelgrane Press's 13th Age. This D&D OGL game not only changed my approach to old-school gaming it changed my approach to gaming as a whole. In the rather lengthy conclusion in my review I said; 'First things first – I think this is a great game. It’s wonderfully presented, colourful, full of flavour and brimming with great ideas that can not only work for 13th Age game but pretty much any roleplaying game, D&D or otherwise. I like the Icons idea as they can add some seriously good depth to the game, and even though it’s only a small part of the game I really like the background skills as it adds even more depth to characters. The proof of the pudding is, though, the One Unique Thing that defines a character and makes them special. This can create all kinds of fantastic discussions around the table regarding the events that led up to the One Unique Thing and the possible repercussions. These conversations alone can spark the imagination and inspire GMs to come up with adventures, plots and courses of action they may not have otherwise even considered. Not only that but these One Unique Things can affect not only the adventure or the campaign but the world as a whole as the Icon relationships unfold, change and progress. It makes for some great roleplaying and allows interesting and creative collaboration between the GM and the players. Usually I’d steer my players away from creating a ‘special snowflake’ of a character. In many ways this game encourages it without compromising the game or the group.

I could see this system being used in any of the D&D settings; Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, any of them. If you want to use the One Unique Thing idea in your existing D&D campaign world I see nothing that stops you from doing that. You will no doubt benefit from the other ideas and changes in the book, as well, so it’s worthy getting even if you’ve got an established D&D game on the go using your favourite interpretation of the system. It’s not simply tied to the world of The Dragon Empire or the rules in the 13th Age book.

The system is D&D and, even with the tweaks and changes they’ve made, it is how we all know it. In fact, I like the changes they’ve made and would recommend this even without the Icons or the One Unique Thing implementations. It’s still a great game in it’s own right and I find the system much more playable with enough detail to make the game feel very rounded and full but not too much to make it feel overly complicated. There is a feeling, however, that this game has been designed with experienced players in mind. Whenever I read a new game I always come at it from the perspective of a first-time roleplayer, a person new to the RPG hobby, and I never got the feeling that this really caters for gamers who have never picked up a roleplaying game before. It’s written as if the reader is already familiar with RPGs and D&D in particular.

Another thing I liked was the little snippets of personal out-the-game information and examples supplied by Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo. They give you insights into how to use the new ideas, how they used them in their games, and lots of other stuff besides. It’s very handy and work well as examples as to how to implement certain rules into your game. It’s handy, informative and makes the game feel very personal.

I can very highly recommend 13th Age, both as a general OGL D&D game - as the changes and streamlining of the rules is very good - and the new Icon and One Unique Thing rules make for an incredibly well put together story-driven system that marries narrative games with old-school roleplaying goodness.'

In fact, I loved this game so much that after the initial playtest we decided to use this game for our ongoing campaign. I chose the setting of Forgotten Realms, using the original 1987 campaign setting boxset, as our gaming world and we've been playing it now for two months with every intention of continuing on into the new year. It tweaked a gaming system I enjoy and made it perfect for my gaming style, introduced the One Unique Thing element that has given my players a lot of fun and input and kept the things I liked about 3rd and 4th edition as well as add some new stuff to the mix.

And that pretty much sealed it for me. I played a lot of great games this year and they have all given me a lot of joy, but 13th Age has given me what I wanted when I needed it and my games have improved as a result, in playability, group involvement and sheer simple fun. That's all I ask for in a game.

Therefore, I have great pleasure in announcing that 13th Age is Farsight Blogger's 'Game of the Year' 2013.