A Time for Heroes: The Not-so-Secret Premise Behind World of Aetaltis

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

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I’ve been pretty excited about Marc Tassin’s Aetaltis for years, and I’m thrilled that his Kickstarter has launched at last. Once you hear his take on heroes, you’re likely to be interested yourself. Take it away, Marc!

The world needs heroes. This is the simple premise upon which I built the World of Aetaltis. Especially today, at this moment in history, we need reminders that with the will, the desire, and the determination, one person truly can make a difference. And I don’t mean at the super-heroic level, where larger-than-life protagonists save the entire world with their daring. I mean right here, right now, where one small act of courage can change even a single life for the better.

That is why I chose to launch a new heroic fantasy setting at a time when anti-heroes rule and shades of dystopia permeate every story. Because I don’t think we’re tired of heroes. In fact, we need them now more than ever.

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The Games of Gen Con 2019

Saturday, August 17th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

WarChickenIslandThe summer conventions are winding down, as school starts back up. I have previously mentioned games I discovered at Origins Game Fair earlier this summer, and our intrepid leader John O’Neill has hinted at some of his own exploits in the wilds of Gen Con. John and I usually run into each other when we’re both at the same convention, but Gen Con is massive enough that it’s no surprise our ships didn’t cross paths, particularly since I’m usually busy enough moving through the exhibit hall and participating in demo games that I rarely make it these days to many of the Writer’s Symposium activities … held in an entirely different hotel, as Gen Con has spread tendrils, Cthulhu-like, throughout all of downtown Indianapolis.

This year I’d like to begin my discussion of Gen Con gaming discoveries on the weird end of the spectrum, with War for Chicken Island. This successful Kickstarter funded with over $160,000 and is slated for an October 2019 release. They had a prototype at the Draco Studios booth, but weren’t running complete demos, so I can’t speak to the game play. But this is a game where you fight for control of an island of chickens, using miniatures of crazy battle-ready chickens. I don’t need a full demo to know that I’m interested.

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Support the Hyperborea: Otherworldly Tales Kickstarter

Sunday, August 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill


It’s hard to believe that I reviewed Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea right here seven long years ago. Since then it’s produced a revised and updated Second Edition, and become one of the most beloved independent RPGs on the market. I’m not the only one to fall in love with the system; Gabe Dybing interviewed creator Jeffrey Talanian for us back in 2016, and here’s what Howard Andrew Jones said on his blog in 2017:

The new Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is a thing of beauty, a work of art. I spent thirty minutes last night just flipping through and soaking up all the artwork. If it’s not THE go-to sword-and-sorcery rpg at this point, it’s tied for first place. It just oozes the right vibe.

Now Jeff’s gaming company North Wind Adventures has launched a brand new Kickstarter to fund two new adventures, The Lost Treasure of Atlantis and The Sea-Wolf’s Daughter. Here’s what Jeff tells us about them.

Dear fellow Black Gate enthusiasts and fans of Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft: Do you like swords-and-sorcery and weird-fantasy role-playing game adventures? Well, North Wind Adventures, makers of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, have two new adventure modules coming out soon! Find out all the details here.

The campaign has already more than doubled its goal of $9,000, with seven days to go. It’s not too late to get on board — pledge right here, and check out all the recent goodies from North Wind Adventures in my 2018 Gencon report.

All Aboard! Building the Great Railroads with Railway Empire

Monday, August 5th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Click for full-size image

Click for full-size image

While I prefer fantasy games, and sometimes, shooters, I’m also a fan of strategy and simulations (sims). As is the case for many folks, SimCity was one of the first I really dove into. Now, you might have read my post on a show I really, really, liked: Hell on Wheels. It was a hard boiled, fictional take on the building of the Trans-Continental RailRoad. You should go read it now, if you haven’t already. I said, NOW! 😊

A game that took up a lot of my time, when I wasn’t swinging a sword and hunting down dragons, was Railroad Tycoon, developed by the legendary Sid Meier. It’s been a while now, and I can’t recall if it was Tycoon 1, or it’s follow-up, Railroad Tycoon 2, which I sunk most of my time into. But regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed laying out routes and successfully completing scenarios. Even in open-ended RPGs, I’m very much a ‘check the box’ kind of player.

I didn’t play Railroad Tycoon 3, so I was done with railroad sims for over a decade. Then, a few months ago, I discovered Railway Empire, which came out in early 2018. And I found the love I had for railroad sims, rekindled. It’s from Kalypso, the folks behind the enjoyable and successful Tropico series. I played a couple of the earlier versions of that franchise, and I really liked being the dictator of a banana republic.

(I REALLY suggest you click on the images to see the details in this post. It helps sell the game)

The game is set in America, between 1830 and 1930, with a couple different play modes. The Campaign Mode has required goals to accomplish by specific dates, with additional optional goals. If you fail to accomplish any mandatory goals, you fail. Succeed, and you can move on to the next Campaign scenario. They do not build on each other. The Campaign itself is not interconnected. You ‘start over’ for each one. Which is fine, I guess. You jump back and forth in time. A connected campaign isn’t as important in a railroad sim, as it is in an RPG.

The Free Mode is more open world, with goals to accomplish by certain dates, but you don’t fail the entire thing if you miss one (or all!) of them. You can decide what order to tackle them in. Or, you can ignore them all together and just play. You still use money to buy resources. In Sandbox Mode, there’s no money and no restrictions. You just play however you want, however long you want to.

The map is divided into regions in which the Campaign scenarios take place. For example, in the third or fourth one, you start out in the South near the end of the Civil War. And the first scenario (which is the tutorial) takes you across the Great Plains. Downloadable content has added France, Germany, Great Britain and Ireland, Crossing the Andes, Mexico, and the Great Lakes.

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Lost in the Halls at Gen Con 2019

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I’m here on site at Gen Con for the first time in…. wow, I don’t even remember. Fifteen years, at least. Last time I visited Gen Con it was in Milwaukee, if that’s any clue. It now fills (and substantially overfills) the spacious halls of the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, where tens of thousands of gamers meet friends, play games, try out new games, play the legendary NASCRAG tournament, and wander through the jaw-dropping Exhibit Hall.

I’m here for the first time in over a decade because I was invited to speak at the Writers Symposium, on topics like Submitting Short Fiction, What Happens to a Story After You Submit it, and Does Advertising Work? I’ve been very impressed at how well organized the Symposium is — it’s run like an excellent mini-convention just for writers, inside a much larger enterprise. And it’s attracted some top-notch speakers, including Howard Andrew Jones, Bradley P. Beaulieu — whose talk on Tension on Every Page was really terrific — the charming Anna Smith Spark, Black Gate blogger Clarence Young, writer and interviewer Seth Lindberg, Tor.com editor Diana Pho, and many, many others.

Of course, we’re here in the name of games, and games new and old were everywhere. The enormous Exhibit Hall (pictured above) was filled with hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of game companies showing off their wares. I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time in the Hall as I wanted — and you could spend weeks in there, believe me — but I did find countless treasures, many in the generously stocked Goodman Games booth at the far end. Over the next few weeks I’ll share the details here. But in the meantime, I have to run to my next panel, Reviews and Reviewers: How to Find Them, How to Keep Them. Wish me luck!

The Games of Origins Game Fair

Monday, July 29th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Shadowrun Sixth World Box-smallMy first science fiction convention was 2001’s Eeriecon III, in Niagara Falls, NY. This was a literary convention, where almost all of my time was spent lapping up the wisdom of authors and scientists, discussing worldbuilding, sociology, magical systems, story structure and narrative, and all manner of other things of interest to writers, both old pros and aspiring novices.

These days, I make less of those literary conventions, and have migrated more into gaming conventions with the family. Less intellectual stimulation, perhaps, but it’s a much more active environment, with more to do. And though the intellectual discussions are perhaps not as rigorous (rule lawyering aside), there is no shortage of mental stimulation … let alone sensory stimulation … at these gaming conventions.

The most recent of these gaming conventions I attended was the mid-June Origins Game Fair, in Columbus, OH. This was my second year making that convention, and I’ve got to say that I somewhat prefer it to the more overwhelming GenCon. There is a bit less spectacle, a bit less overt consumption (you can, for example, actually walk through the exhibit room without colliding into people … usually), and more of an emphasis on just playing fun games.

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What Skyrim Can Teach Us About World-Building

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

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Good morning, Readers!

No one who knows me is surprised when I say I love video games. I’ve written about them previously for this very site. I think it’s hard to overstate just how much I adore video games (specifically narrative-focused games). The one game that got me to buy my first console and actually dive head-first into gaming was Bethesda Studio’s epic addition to their Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim.

This open world game lets you go anywhere, and do pretty much anything. Best of all, it has dragons (which you can kill and steal their souls to fortify your own powers [insert evil laugh]). Loving video games, but without a PC (my home computer is a Mac) or a console, I resorted to watching other folks have fun with them on YouTube. I stumbled across a Let’s Play of Skyrim, and after three episodes, I knew I had to play it for myself. I saved like a madwoman, bought myself a console, and Skyrim.

And I was never heard from again (not really.  I did not ignore my responsibilities… but it was close!).

Skyrim proved to be everything I had been promised. It was epic in scope, the combat was fun, the dragons were amazing, and it let you play however you would like.

For the record, I always play in first person, and my build is always a bosmer (wood elf), whose strengths lie in archery and sneaking. There’s something ridiculously satisfying about sniping fools from the shadows with a good bow.

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Torg Eternity: The Aysle Sourcebook Interview

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Torg EternityAbout a year ago I reviewed Torg Eternity, the reboot from Ulisses Spiele of the Torg tabletop role-playing game. I loved the original, one of the most wildly imaginative settings I’ve ever seen, and found the new version kept the best parts of the old Torg while making the mechanics smoother (I wrote up a session here). The game imagines our world attacked by other realities, each based on a different genre of fiction, which invade by making parts of our world operate according to their rules — increasing or decreasing the level of technology, adding magic or psionics or manifestations of the gods, and subtly encouraging people to behave in ways appropriate to their genre.

Now dinosaurs wander the jungles and mysterious ruins of the North American coasts. A cyberpunk theocracy’s taken over France. India faces colonial gothic horror. Splatterpunk technodemons in Russia have spawned a wasteland north of Moscow haunted by scavengers and monstrosity. East Asia sees zombies and bleeding-edge technology enveloped in espionage schemes. A maniacal pulp-era supervillain’s launched a New Nile Empire based in Egypt, opposed by masked Mystery Men. And in England and Scandinavia, wizards and elves and dragons are caught in a war between Light and Dark.

In the last year, two wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns have launched sourcebooks covering specific realms: first the lost-world realm of the Living Land, then the pulp reality of the Nile Empire. Now a third campaign has begun, for the sourcebook covering the fantasy realm of Aysle. I interviewed the Torg Eternity design team about the new book, how it approaches the fantasy genre, and what gamers can expect.

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FTL: Faster Than Light

Sunday, June 30th, 2019 | Posted by Ernst Krogtoft

FTL Games Dungeon Master

In the grand scheme of computer gaming history, where significant people, games, and companies from bygone eras still to this day earn fame and fortune, FTL might really be one of the ’80s gamings unsung heroes – with its short lifespan, and the way it faded into the dusty corners of history after only a handful of releases.

Though it may seem like the story of FTL is almost entirely the story of Dungeon Master, an earlier game, originally for the Apple II, showed the level which FTL was able to perform on.


FTL Games (Faster Than Light) was started by Wayne Holder in 1982 as a games development division under his software company Software Heaven. Holder had been developing software tools to help assist writers fr some time, but a conversation in 1982 with an old friend from college, Bruce Webster, would be the spark that ignited FTL. Webster was a dedicated player and amateur game designer. He’d written columns for both The Space Gamer and Computer Gaming World and owned a large number of sci-fi/role-playing board games.

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Become a Time Traveling Detective in Tragedy Looper from Z-Man Games

Monday, June 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I don’t know about you, but a lot of the video games I play are Japanese in origin, from Final Fantasy to Ys to Resident Evil. That’s not the case with board games, of course. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to name a single board I own that was originally published in Japan. At least, that was the case until I bought Tragedy Looper and its expansions.

Tragedy Looper was originally published in Japan as 惨劇RoopeR in 2011; the first English version was released by Z-Man Games in 2014. If you’re familiar with the “time loop” mystery genre made popular by films like Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Before I Fall, and Source Code, the intriguing premise of Time Looper will make immediate sense. While it’s not a role playing game, it’s complex enough to require a Mastermind who sets the game up and unfolds events for the players.

At its core Tragedy Looper is a deduction game played on four location boards by one mastermind and up to three protagonists. After the programmed tragedies occur, players can travel back in time, restarting the scenario from the beginning in an attempt to find out precisely what happened, who the culprit was, and what their secret motive was. Each scenario features a set number of characters and character roles (eg: murderer, conspiracy theorist, victim). The players win if they ultimately manage to shield key individuals from tragedy; if they fail, the mastermind triumphs.

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