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Sunday, 31 December 2017

Reviews from R'lyeh Post-Christmas Dozen 2017

Since 2001, Reviews from R’lyeh have contributed to a series of Christmas lists at Ogrecave.com—and at RPGaction before that, suggesting not necessarily the best board and roleplaying games of the preceding year, but the titles from the last twelve months that you might like to receive and give. Continuing the break with tradition—in that the following is just the one list and in that for reasons beyond its control, OgreCave.com is not running its own lists—Reviews from R’lyeh would once again like present its own list. Further, as is also traditional, Reviews from R’lyeh has not devolved into the need to cast about ‘Baleful Blandishments’ to all concerned or otherwise based upon the arbitrary organisation of days. So as Reviews from R’lyeh presents its annual (Post-)Christmas Dozen, I can only hope that the following list includes one of your favourites, or even better still, includes a game that you did not have and someone was happy to hide in gaudy paper and place under that dead tree for you. If not, then this is a list of what would have been good under that tree.


Starfinder Roleplaying Game
(Paizo) $59.99/£49.99
The biggest roleplaying game of GenCon 50 and the biggest roleplaying game of the year almost did not make the list because for half of the year it has been out of print! Back in print, Starfinder is the sequel to highly popular fantasy roleplaying game, Pathfinder. It pushes the setting of Golarian—the campaign world for Pathfinder—thousands of years into the future and into space, but in the process, loses the world of Golarion and all memory of how it was lost… Now as citizens of the Pact Worlds, the player characters can delve into mysteries—ancient and modern, explore new worlds, fight ancient threats from deep space, and more. The setting combines technology and magic, mixes old Races with new, and more in setting that is much more than just Dungeons & Dragons style roleplaying in space.

Century Spice Road
(Plan B Games) $39.99/£34.99
Simple and elegant mechanics are at the heart of Century Spice Road, the first in the trilogy of the Spice Road themed board games from Plan B Games. Players take the role of merchants dealing in spices, trading them up and down in order to make the right sales which will them the most monies (or Victory Points). This is done by playing cards and each player only has a limited few. Further, a player can only do one action per turn—play a card, add a new card to his hand, purchase a Victory Point card, or refresh his hand of cards. Essentially, Century Spice Road is a very slow deck building game, but with limited choices and actions it plays quickly and easily—for two players as well as five and for both family gamers and hobby board gamers too.

Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne
(The Tékumel Foundation) $38.95/£28.95
If you are going to go Old School, then really go Old School with this reprint of the second roleplaying game to be published. The linguistic and cultural creation of Professor M.A.R. Barker, this is as arcane and as baroque a roleplaying game as you would ever want, but at the same time it introduces players and referees to the strange and fascinating world of Tékumel. This is a science fantasy world based not on traditional Western fantasy and history, but on that of Meso-America, India, South-East Asia, and Egypt. This gives the roleplaying game a very different feel and flavour, unlike any other setting you can possibly imagine. Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne is genuinely unique in comparison to other roleplaying games, as much a ground-breaking design in its day as Dungeons & Dragons was the year before. If you are ‘fresh off the boat’ and new to Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne, this is the perfect place to start.

The Forest Dragon: A Card Adventure Game
(The Forest Dragon) $18.99/£14.50
From one year to the next, there are more and more board games released such that it is almost impossible to keep up with the exceptional ones, let alone the merely good ones. So you probably missed The Forest Dragon, a simple fantasy card game designed and drawn by a nine year old boy named Rory (plus illustrations from his younger brother, Ben). It is a game of testing your luck as you explore the forest, searching for treasure, and hoping to avoid any of the monsters that make the forest their home—including the dreaded Forest Dragon! Will you pick up Sticks or Berries, Golden Coins or the Crystal Compass, a Bow or a Friend, or encounter monster like the Sinister Cloaked Gentleman or the Cursed Crocodile Knight. If you do, do you have something in your backpack to face them bravely or will they send you fleeing from the forest, dropping everything you picked up? The Forest Dragon is a thoroughly simple, but thoroughly charming game that can be used to tell the story of your forest adventures as you play.

Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game
(Pugsteady/Onyx Path Publishing) $49.99/£37.99
The first of the anthropomorphic games on this year’s list is Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game, a Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying game set in a post-apocalypse fantasy world in which Man has long disappeared and the Dogs have inherited the Earth. This is fantasy with a canine cast in which the players take the roles of good Dogs, serving the Kingdom of Pugmire to make it and the world a better place, not just for all Dogs, but for Man returns, even if that means dealing with rogue members of the pack, the Cats of the Monarchies of Mau, and banditry of the Badgers and their brethren. This is a light implementation of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition which when combined with an engaging setting and a positive outlook makes Pugmire suitable for audiences of all ages and a good introductory roleplaying game. 

The Two-Headed Serpent: An Epic Action-Packed and Globe-Spanning Campaign for Pulp Cthulhu
(Chaosium, Inc.) $44.95/£33.99
The Two-Headed Serpent takes the classic Call of Cthulhu campaign of globe-trotting Lovecraftian investigative horror and turns it all the way up into the 1930s for a campaign of globe-trotting, fist-swinging, hipflask swigging action and horror when men were real men, women were real women, fiends were real fiendish, and scientists were men (and women) of Science!. This is the first campaign for the long-awaited Pulp Cthulhu: Two-Fisted Action and Adventure Against the Mythos and it makes no bones about putting the investigators right into the action and doing so for a Mythos-busting organisation. It is a radical set-up which will see the players thrill as their heroes uncover conspiracies, get involved in organised crime, encounter the dark secrets of a benevolent preacher, find themselves dodging dinosaurs deep in the jungle, sneaking into volcano lairs, experimenting with ancient advanced technology, engaging in a MacGuffin hunt in the ‘City of Joy’, possibly undergoing a transformative experience, racing across an old, old continent to save the world, and of course, cheating certain death.

Veins of the Earth
(Lamentations of the Flame Princess) $64.99/£49.99
Take your fantasy campaign into the darkest of realms where the Sun has never shone, where light is a rarity, where food and water are resources to be fought over, and where civilisations do not think like any of those to be found on the surface. Since 1978 and D1-2, Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, there has always been an Underdark, an underworld of tunnels and caverns far below the ordinary dungeon, leading down, deeper and down… With Veins of the Earth, that world, whether an ‘Underdark’, a dream world, a dimension of the dark, the Referee is given everything he needs to create as alien and as strange a world as he and his players have never imagined. Races are reimagined, rules cover the dangers of both exploration and survival in the near perpetual dark, a bestiary of creatures scratches its way into the light, a hundred caves are described as well as a whole cave system, and more… The Veins of the Earth are dark indeed.

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
(Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast) $49.99/£44.99
So in Betrayal in the House on the Hill, you explored the halls, rooms, and cellars of a haunted house, never knowing what you might encounter and never knowing if one of your number might betray you, forcing you to confront both the horrors and the person who betrayed you! Now that concept comes to Baldur’s Gate, the city in the Dungeons & Dragons setting of the Forgotten Realms. You are stalwart adventurers in the city, a city upon which Bhaal, god of assassination, murder, and violence has unleashed monster after monster. It is up to you to search the buildings, alleys, and catacombs of the city to put a stop to this infestation, but beware, one of your number might stab you in the back! Exactly why and how varies from game to game, but Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate includes fifty different situations or ‘haunts’ so that it can be played again and again. Of course, since this Dungeons & Dragons, always remember to never split the party—unless of course you are the betrayer. In which case, split the party and kill them!

Alas Vegas: Flashbacks, Blackjack and Payback
(Magnum Opus Press/Spaaace) $39.99/£44.99
One part a set of game mechanics built around the recovery of memory and character through flashbacks, one part a campaign to discover who you are waking up in a shallow grave outside of Vegas, Alas Vegas is a storytelling game which requires four Game Masters, the rules of Blackjack, and a Tarot deck. It is also a campaign in four distinct acts and ruminations upon gambling, grifting, Tarot cards, cocktails, and more. Plus, it includes three other campaigns involving memory loss and repentant paladins, time travel, and time travel as well as game about murdering Bugsy Siegel. Alas Vegas is a surprisingly light book, but packs a lot into its pages—and a very memorable lot it is too.

Cthulhu City
(Pelgrane Press) $34.95/£26.95
There can be no doubt that the Mythos has gained a tentacle-hold in the town of Arkham, the heart of Lovecraft Country, but what if it fell to the worshippers of the Mythos, the cults and covens whose lineages go all the way back to the Colonial Era and beyond…? Some when in the future or perhaps somewhere in dreaming, the greater Arkham conurbation is the USA’s newest and darkest metropolis. As the cults manoeuvre their way to a great ceremony that none of them can agree on, the populations of Arkham, Dunwich, Kingsport, and dozen or so former towns cower under the alien influence upon their lives. Yet they have learned to look away, to give mundane meaning to the madness that lurks just a glance away. Can the investigators determine the true nature of Great Arkham? Dare they look beyond the façade of the desperate ordinariness? Will they be able to restore a Lovecraft Country fractured by the Mythos in this dark and refreshingly different spin on Lovecraftian investigative horror?

Tails of Equestria – The Storytelling Game
(River Horse Games) $34.99/£24.99
The other anthropomorphic roleplaying game on this list is based on My Little Pony—popular with girls and bronies alike. In Tails of Equestria – The Storytelling Game you do not play the characters from My Little Pony—Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity, Spike the Dragon, Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and so on—but create your own and go on adventures just like they do. The book is bright and colourful, the rules easy to grasp, and the included adventure is fun. Even better, the rules are easy to teach and encourage acts of friendship, such that an experienced roleplayer can pick this up, read it through, understand the rules, and sit down to run it with those new to roleplaying or new to My Little Pony. Friendship is never more magic than with Tails of Equestria – The Storytelling Game.

Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was
(Modiphius Entertainment) $39.99/£34.99
To describe Tales from the Loop as the Stranger Things roleplaying game would be far from accurate, but it at least would acknowledge the television series’ influence. This roleplaying game of scientific investigative and emotional horror is set firmly in the 1980s with the players as young teenagers exploring the mysteries their surrounding landscapes dominated by a high energy research facility—The Loop—and its associated technology, which is inspired by the stunning artwork of Simon Stålenhag. The kids also have mundane lives, not nearly as fun, but just as difficult as their adventures and just as emotionally wrought, nicely counterbalancing the weirdness of those adventures. Both fantastic and mundane, Tales from the Loop is a genuinely engaging storytelling roleplaying game which will be all the more poignant if you were a teenager in the 1980s. 


Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay First Edition - Shadows Over Bögenhafen The Enemy Within Part 1
(Cubicle Seven Entertainment) $9.99/£7.40
Fans of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay got some great news in 2017. First, Grim & Perilous published ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG, the bloodier, grimmer and grittier retroclone of the classic tabletop role-playing game. Second, Cubicle Seven Entertainment not only announced the forthcoming publication of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition and Warhammer Age of Sigmar Roleplaying Game, the publisher also began to bring back the first edition books in PDF. There is no better place to start than Shadows Over Bögenhafen, the first part of The Enemy Within campaign, one of the best fantasy campaigns ever written. An epic confrontation against a demonic conspiracy starts here. This is Warhammer adventuring at its finest—grim, gritty, blood-spattered, and covered in shit (what, you did not think that was mud, did you?) and if one old book released anew in PDF deserved to be on any list, it is Shadows Over Bögenhafen.