Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 in review and plans for the future

The year is almost over and for me, it was at least as crazy as the year before. Sitting back during the holidays, I can now take a look at how was the year for this blog.

Looking back at the end of year posts from 2012 and 2013, it is interesting to see that I got a little closer to the goal of having at least one new post per week, with a spike of activity around the middle of the year. While better than 2013, it is still around half of the posts during the first year of the blog. Nowadays I think one post per week is a more realistic goal, so I am sticking with it for the next year. Here are the other goals I am setting for Fantalonia 2015:

Moving to virtual tabletops
After many years of service, my inkjet printer has stopped working. I still have access to a monochrome laser printer, and I have seen great examples of black and white paper miniatures. However, I cannot find cheap toner for that printer, so my papercraft experiments will be limited.

At the same time, virtual tabletop (VTT) software like Tabletop Simulator, and good old MapTool keep getting better. So I have decided to try to make them my main platform for solo gaming in 2015 -- that includes dedicating time to make tokens and terrain for them.

Thorough, solo play-focused reviews
One expected effect of moving to VTTs is that I will be able to play more often. Therefore, I intend to make more thorough reviews of games from a solo player perspective, rather than the "first impressions" posts I have been writing. These will still take time so there will probably be only a few along the year.

More solo RPG sessions
After a few attempts at solo RPG gaming with Mythic or the 9 Questions, my posts moved back to miniature games almost exclusively. However, I had a great time with the Jenkins' Story campaign -- which ended up being closer to an RPG in play.

I also have lots of RPG systems that I am pretty sure I will not play with a group: as time passes (and we grow older), it is ever harder to find people with patience to try new game systems. Therefore, I will try to have more solo RPG sessions (with different systems) in 2015.

That's all for now, I hope everyone is having a good holiday season and wish a great 2015!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: 5150 Urban Renewal

Now that I have played a number of games with 5150 Urban Renewal (and New Hope City PI), I feel confident enough to write a review about it.

For those who do not know this game, a little explanation is necessary. 5150 Urban Renewal is the new edition of 5150 New Beginnings. This is a sci-fi miniatures game with noticeable RPG elements. By that I mean that there are provisions to help the players creating an overall story. While the rules can be used for one-off battles between small groups of figures, in my opinion most of its value comes from narrative play. For those who have already played 5150 New Beginnings, I suppose that the big question is: what has changed?

The biggest changes have been in the campaign system. In my opinion, the original New Beginnings was like a big toolbox for playing sci-fi narrative-oriented games, and it included a campaign system to help players getting started. On the other hand, Urban Renewal feels like a very detailed campaign system, which you may also tear apart to use only parts of it. So there is a change of focus, and a lot more cohesion between parts in this new edition. The goal of the campaign has also shifted from items to character improvement, and so the items system has been further simplified.

As the campaign system changed, so did characters. Previously, characters had a class, profession and motivation. The latter has been dropped, and a new system of social Circles has been added. The Science skill has also been removed, and now the People skill is quite possibly the most useful.

The rules for vehicles have been replaced with a comprehensive Public Transport system, that may also be used to simulate travel with a car. This also means that the rules for using a vehicle in an encounter are gone. The rules for buildings have also reverted to essentially the same found in Chain Reaction 3.1, instead of the more complex, floorplan-based ones found in the previous edition of New Beginnings. The chapter about media crews has also been removed. On the other hand, there are three new types of encounter: Confrontation, Gaming House and Deal, adding more options to the campaign.

In terms of writing and presentation, Urban Renewal is more organized and clear than the original New Beginnings. When that book was released in 2012, it showcased many of the newer rules for Two Hour Wargames products. Things like the new In Sight system, item system and building rules were presented but, at times, there was little "glue" between them. I think that this gave it the "toolbox" feel. In this new edition the parts seem to fit each other better.

In my opinion, 5150 Urban Renewal offers an interesting experience for solo players. It is possible to use the campaign system as is, in order to create various stories in the New Hope City setting. With some extra work, the campaign system may also be adjusted to fit other sci-fi settings. The streamlining and organization of the rules make it easier to learn and use, but it still has lots of information. Therefore, both new players and those upgrading from the first edition are advised to read the book carefully and make the "Stop!" box exercises.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dwarven Scouts

Today I played my first game of Warrior Heroes - Warbands. This is the Two Hour Wargames title that bridges the gap between Warrior Heroes and Rally Round the King. You control one or more units (of about 10 soldiers each) in the fantasy land of Talomir, and the book includes different ways of playing. There is a campaign system where you start as the leader of a single unit and try to rise in the ranks to become a warlord or king. Two other campaigns have you as a warlord, holding your territory between the borders of other nations, or defending from an invasion of evil forces. There are also rules for sieges (which are a part of the basic campaign.)

For my first game, I chose the simple "Scout" scenario, in which your leader must go through all sectors of the table to map out a region of enemy territory. I decided to play a dwarven unit, and rolled a group of nine dwarves with crossbows, plus my leader. The enemy would be orcs. I set up a board in MapTool, sketched some impassable mountains and wooded areas and spread the Possible Enemy Forces (PEFs) around. Narrative bits in italics, [game-related comments in brackets.]

Debrok was one of the four sons of a dwarven master smith, and that gave him some benefits that other young dwarves didn't have. Like leading his own unit of hunters, despite his lacking martial skills. However, Debrok was still stubborn and proud as any dwarf, and thus eager to prove himself. As rumors of orc raiding parties in the southeast border started to arise, he ordered his men to prepare for a scouting mission.

The group arrived at the Gordar mountain pass and started looking for signs of orc incursion. This would be an obvious route to reach some of the more distant (and less guarded) dwarven villages. As they approached the woods that grew across the pass, a group of orc archers tried to ambush them. Disorganized and using rough short bows, they were met with a shower of bolts from the dwarves, and quickly scattered.
[As my unit maneuvered around the wooded area, the first PEF was resolved as a single unit of seven orc archers. The orcs' smaller numbers and the dwarves' better armor (and some lucky rolls, too) resulted in a victory for the small guys, with the orcs routing in a couple of turns.]

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jenkins' Story - Epilogue

Viper was tired. She had spent the last week or so looking for clues to Jenkins' murder, but it felt like walking in circles. Some piece of the puzzle was missing, or someone wasn't talking the truth. She'd spend the next days getting in touch with her gang but today all she wanted was some sleep.

[After the failed investigation, I decided to play an adaptation of the Confrontation scenario with Viper being attacked in her apartment by the guy that killed Jenkins.]

As she filled a glass of water, Viper heard some scraping metal sounds. She put the glass down, prepared her pistol and looked at the door: someone was indeed fiddling with the locks.

[Right before the killer entered the apartment, I made a Rep unopposed challenge. If she succeeded, she would be suspicious and grab her weapon. Otherwise, she would be unarmed for the In Sight test.]

Viper took cover behind a table as the door opened. The same man who fought her and Jenkins appeared and fired a pistol. The shots buzzed past her head. She fired back and the man dropped to the floor. However, she was not sure if he was hit, and how badly.

[Both characters took the In Sight test. The killer fired first and scored an Obviously Dead result, luckily avoided by Viper's star power. She then fired, knocking the killer down.]

Not willing to take chances, Viper vaulted over the table and fired again, hitting the man in the chest. He groaned and dropped his pistol, lying with open arms on the floor.

[Viper won the initiative and fired again, scoring an Out of Fight result. That was enough to finish this fight.]

Viper could hear police sirens in the distance. Quickly, she searched the man's pockets. He did not have any ID card, but she recognized a name in his com-link call logs: Jean Sellers -- the waitress she questioned at the City Hall district.

[I decided to use the "Who Did It?" rules from New Hope City PI to find a connection between the murder and one of the persons of interest that showed up during the case.]

This was all very confusing to Viper. Jean didn't seem to have reasons (or resources) to hire a killer to take care of Jenkins. Anyway, those questions would have to wait. She left her apartment and slipped into the dark streets of Lower Polariston, before the police arrived.

This is the end of the Jenkins' Story campaign. The "Who Did It?" rules gave me another hook for a new adventure but, for now, I intend to let Viper rest. Maybe later I will start "Stories of Hope: Viper" or something like that.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jenkins' Story - Finale?

This is the conclusion of Viper's investigation on Jenkin's death.

Day 7:
Viper questioned a computer technician about Jenkins. He admitted buying some holovids but gave no useful information. She came back to Jenkins' former boss but had no success either.

Day 8:
Viper continued to follow some clues but found nothing. Whoever killed Jenkins had covered their tracks or left the city by now. She couldn't help feeling that something was not right; nothing she uncovered even explained why Jenkins was killed. "You have been causing problems to the wrong people..." she remembered the strong guy who knocked her out and possibly killed him.

I was not able to gather the eight clues that were needed to solve the case. Still, it was interesting (and challenging) to build the story around the investigation rolls. In this case I played it in a rather abstract way, using the tables to set up the NPCs and encounters. I could have set up a board and played a Chillin' encounter to meet each of them, instead. This investigation might have gone in different directions, as I met other characters (from the Possible Enemy Forces deployed on the table.)

One big hindrance to this investigation was the fact that Viper is a ganger, and thus belongs to the lowest social circle in New Hope City. This put her at a disadvantage every time she would question someone, because of the way Questioning rolls work. A detective would be in a better position for this task, as expected.

This is one of the types of investigation covered in New Hope City PI. It also includes ideas and tools to play vigilantes, who bring justice to criminals in their own terms, and something like the replicant hunters from Blade Runner.

Anyway, this is almost the end of the Jenkin's Story campaign... look for an epilogue soon.