Play Host to Newborn Ghoulish Creatures in Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League Publishing

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Alien RPG-small

An official Alien role playing game is arriving in game stores next week, courtesy of Free League Publishing, the geniuses behind the brilliant Coriolis science fiction game, Mutant: Year Zero, and Forbidden Lands.

Any RPG that does justice to Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror masterpiece will have to have a dark and chilling aesthetic, and a cinematic play style. And for accuracy, probably a short (very short!) character life expectancy. Fortunately Alien: The Role Playing Game looks like it’s captured the look and feel of the franchise with real surety. Here’s Rachel Watts from her preview at PC Gamer last month.

Free League Publishing and 20th Century Fox have joined forces to create a tabletop RPG set in the harsh universe of the Alien films. It will drop players into the dark, merciless void of space, but this adaptation sounds far from empty.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game has two playable modes, cinematic and campaign. The cinematic option lets you play through a scenario similar to the events of the films in one session, and emphasises “high stakes and fast and brutal gameplay”, which doesn’t sound ominous at all. The campaign mode takes more of a Gloomhaven structure and lets players explore the Alien universe more freely over multiple game sessions.

The RPG comes in a chunky 392-page core rule book, which I think definitely leaves the definition of rulebook behind and goes straight into short novel territory. Free League Publishing have printed these rules in a hardback book and thrown in some cool illustrations… Alongside the core rule book, you’ll get a set of custom dice, a set of maps, and a GM Screen.

Can Free League Publishing get the all important feel of Alien right in an RPG? The rules follow their acclaimed Year Zero Engine, used in Tales from the Loop and Mutant: Year Zero, and they warn that “it’s unlikely your character will survive.” Sounds like they got the basics right to me.

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The Most Daring Burglary of Your Career: Age of Thieves

Sunday, December 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Age of Thieves Game-small

I attended Gen Con back in August, took comprehensive notes and hundred of photos of games I wanted, and then came home and gave up. I mean, seriously. So many games.

I’m starting to emerge from this cocoon of total capitulation, and making feeble efforts to sample recent board games again. A few weeks ago publisher Galakta had an online sale, and I bought a copy of Age of Thieves on Amazon for $28. After that I began to timidly look though some of my Gen Con photos, and pretty soon I was buying a Traveller card game and then the off-the-wall Degenesis RPG. I’m not looking for a medal or anything, but hey, it’s a start.

As for Age of Thieves, I’m pretty pleased with it. It’s a competitive game of thieves attempting a daring heist, and then an even more daring escape from a port city as the guards close in. It’s a unique premise, and the map and the art design are gorgeous. Here’s the description.

Age of Thieves is a fantasy board game of strategy and adventure set in Hadria, a port metropolis located on the northern fringes of a mighty Empire. Each player becomes a master thief about to commit the most daring burglary of his career. During the game players may use unique abilities of their thieves as well as various action cards, which represent maneuvers, alchemical potions or complicated devices inspired by visionary ideas of Renaissance inventors… The thief who will manage to escape through one of four city gates taking with him the Emperors’ Jewel or other valuable loot worth the most Victory Points (VP) will be the winner of the game. Anyone who will stay inside Hadria after the event deck is depleted will be caught and mercilessly thrown inside the city dungeon, their names erased from the annals of the omnipotent Guild.

Age of Thieves is a fairly simple 2-4 player game that lasts 1-2 hours, and is especially suitable for folks who prize imaginative settings. It was published by the Polish development house Galakta, who describe it as “a clockpunk game of strategy and adventure,” and that’s pretty much spot on.

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Build a Galactic Empire of Your Very Own in New Frontiers

Sunday, December 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Puerto Rico game-small New Frontiers game-small

Andreas Seyfarth’s Puerto Rico is one of the most acclaimed board games of the last two decades. I hear a lot about it — at conventions, from friends, and even from co-workers at the Catapult tech incubator where I work in Chicago. It’s a classic euro-game with a simple premise: It’s 50 years after Columbus’s first voyage to America, the age of Caribbean ascendancy, and players are colonial governors on the island of Puerto Rico. Taking the role that best suits them — prospector, governor, captain, trader, craftsman, builder — players manage their colonists, sell goods, erect buildings, nurture plantations, and more to bring a prosperous and thriving colony into being. Its simplicity is a big part of its success, and 17 years after its release Puerto Rico still ranks highly on BoardGameGeek’s All Time Game Rankings.

Its colony-building theme is one common to a lot of space-faring games, of course. Years ago game designer Tom Lehman created a card version of Puerto Rico that, after some tweaks, became the runaway hit Roll for the Galaxy. His latest project is New Frontiers, advertised as a Race for the Galaxy game, in which some folks still see strong roots in Puerto Rico. Here’s an excerpt from William Peteresen’s review, currently the top-ranked review at

With New Frontiers, Lehman has come full circle. For New Frontiers IS Puerto Rico with a sci-fi skin! If you’ve played Puerto Rico, or ANY of the Race for the Galaxy games, you can learn this game in about 5 minutes! Yep, it’s that simple and easy for any RFG fan! And it plays fast… For non Puerto Rico/RFG [gamers], New Frontiers is a fast action selection/engine-building game set in the far future! Each player is trying to build a space empire that will ultimately garner him/her the most VPs! Each turn, the acting player will choose one of six (seven in the advanced game) action tiles. These action tiles will allow all players to preform [sic] the chosen action (settle, produce, trade/consume, explore, develop), with the active player [getting] a bonus action and the privilege of doing the action first…

The game really is that simple, but it has A LOT of deep strategy and requires some far planning just like the original game, Puerto Rico. But I think New Frontiers is superior to that game because of the theme and because NF has MUCH more variety in terms of strategy… Strangely, New Frontiers is actually the easiest of the RFG games to learn (IMO) … Since nearly everything is also written on the action cards, development and planet tiles in both icon and [words].

New Frontiers has not yet achieved the heights of popularity of Puerto Rico or Roll for the Galaxy, but it appeals to the space-faring gamer in me more than those two titles. What gamer doesn’t dream of guiding a fledgling Galactic Empire to glory?

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Traveller Journeys into Deep Space with a New Kickstarter: An Interview with Martin Dougherty

Sunday, November 17th, 2019 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Traveller The Deepnight Revelation Campaign Box Set-small

Traveller RPG: The Deepnight Revelation Campaign Box Set

I’m a long time Traveller fan. It’s not just the simple but effective game system that’s been pretty much the same since its design, but the appeal of the sweeping hard science/space opera of the default setting, lovingly added to through the decades.

Of course you don’t have to use the Imperium as your setting, but a lot of people do, or use part of it, or use it with modifications. A new Kickstarter launched last week focused upon the exploration side of the Traveller universe. Many of the adventures and campaigns that have appeared for Traveller over the years have been focused upon small spaceship crews and their potential exploits, rather a lot like Firefly. This Kickstarter, though, is going to take a naval ship into areas unexplored by the Imperium, deep into the unknown. It looks splendid.

The man writing it is one of my very favorite adventure writers, Martin Dougherty, who never fails to entertain with clever and inventive scenarios that favor role-playing over rolls, and reward ingenuity. He was kind enough to take time away from writing the new campaign and answer some questions.

Howard: Before we really get started, what do you think is behind the appeal of Traveller, and the Imperium itself?

Martin: That’s a difficult question. I suspect it’s different for everyone. For me, I like the grounding in hard-ish science. I’ve never really got on with fantasy-in-space with swords the size of ironing boards and little actual science. The scale is attractive, too. For the most part it’s a bunch of resourceful people doing the best they can rather than superheroes. I know it’s fun to play someone incredibly far above the human norm sometimes, but I suspect a lot of us identify with the talented-but-ordinary protagonists of the typical Traveller game.

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Plot Hooks, Apocrypha, and WTF: Degenesis by Six More Vodka

Monday, November 11th, 2019 | Posted by eeknight


I’ve been meaning to write a review of Degenesis, the doorstop of a post-apocalyptic RPG from the “there has to be a story behind that name for your company” SIXMOREVODKA creative team for a while now. The main problem holding me back is that I haven’t played it yet with people, just dinked around testing things. Luckily, John’s editorial standards enjoy a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to old friends, and let ye who have not passed judgement on a game without playing it cast the first stone.

There’s another reason I feel safe recommending this beast. The art alone is worth the purchase of the slipcased two-volume edition of rules Katharsis and worldbook Primal Punk (Retailing at USD “If you have to ask you can’t afford it”). I’ve never seen a game with this level art throughout. Page after page of imagery usually reserved for a couple of splash pages in most game books.

What is this world? Refreshingly, it’s set in Europe and North Africa five hundred years after a 2073 meteor storm changed the face of the world (called the “Eshaton” but I think they meant “Eschaton”). Maybe the year is a hat tip to Fallout, I dunno, but Earth went through hundreds of years of cloudy hell and now there are a few hints of a Renaissance for a radically altered world. To make matters worse, the meteors brought with them a spore-like form of life called “Primer” that is radically altering flora, fauna, and us. Humans who have been taken over by the Primer (the process is generally called Sepsis) eventually become Psychonauts or Abberants, two names for the same deadly syndrome. Some of the spores carrying the primer have been deactivated or neutralized for use in drugs called Burn, because if thousands of years of human history have proved anything, it’s that people will try to get high by any means necessary. A final existential confrontation of homo sapiens vs homo degenesis is building.

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Gaming at the End Times: Degenesis

Saturday, November 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Degenesis English in the Blood Cloister-small

Sample page from Degenesis: In the Blood adventure book

Gen Con 2019 was a journey of discovery for me. Well, more like a long painful marathon where discovery whacked me in the head with a club every few feet.

Over the course of three days I walked the floor of the massive Exhibit Hall, taking a picture with my iPhone every time I came across a booth I found interesting. I took hundreds of photos every one of those three days, and I doubt I could write up every one the interesting games I came across if I devoted the rest of my life to it. But I can talk about the highlights. So yeah. Let’s do that.

Gen Con this year seemed to be all about the board games. Titles like Raccoon Tycoon from Forbidden Games, mechanical monster game The Boldest from Stronghold Games, and the forest warfare simulator Root by Leder Games all captured my attention, but after trudging past five hundred new board games, I got kind of numb to them. New role playing releases were thinner on the ground, but the ones I did come across were very high quality, and perhaps none more so than Degenesis from Berlin development shop Six More Vodka.

Degenesis is set in a devastated Europe and North Africa, 500 years after a major asteroid impact completely reset human civilization. An alien something buried in the asteroid has begun to infect terrestrial flora and fauna, giving rise to horrific mutations. New cultures have emerged and given birth to 13 powerful cults that partner, war, and trade with each other. So far half a dozen core books and sourcebooks have been released, and they are gorgeously illustrated and beautiful in design and production.

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Exploring Pathfinder‘s Age of Lost Omens

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

LostOmensWorldGuideWith the release of Pathfinder Second Edition at GenCon in August, Paizo set out to once again re-capture fire in a bottle. They’d done it once before, a decade ago, when they took the ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e, slapped it together with a ton of house rule modifications and other changes, and then rebranded it as the Pathfinder RPG. Here they were taking that very same Pathfinder RPG, which had itself grown wildly successful, and trying to create a new and compelling variant of that.

Having played a handful of the Pathfinder Second Edition games now, I’m finding quite a lot to like about it the system. But one of the things that drew me so powerfully to Pathfinder First Edition was when I got my hands on the Inner Sea World Guide. While the rules were great, the dynamic nature of the setting, with the rich diversity of nations and storytelling options, was what really engrossed me.

And clearly I’m not alone, because one of the first releases that Paizo planned to follow-up the release of Pathfinder Second Edition was the Lost Omens World Guide (Paizo, Amazon). The default setting for Pathfinder (both editions) is the Age of Lost Omens on the world of Golarian, and thus the name of the guide. This re-introduces the core of the Pathfinder setting, while at the same time introducing a quick infusion of new character creation and advancement options to supplement the basic rules.

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Vintage Bits: Star Saga, an Innovative Hybrid Sci-Fi Computer RPG Series

Monday, November 4th, 2019 | Posted by Ernst Krogtoft

Star Saga Masterplay-small

While numerous computer games and genres have been inspired by board games and books, ranging from chess to more complex strategy games and even J.R.R Tolkien, the computer roleplaying game widely has its origins in pen-and-paper tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons.

By the late ’70s and early ’80s Dungeons & Dragons had become a cultural phenomenon, and heavily influenced the earliest computer games. Computer roleplaying games, CRPG’S, derive much of their terminology, settings and game mechanics from this classic tabletop game. Typically this includes a central character (or party) which the player assumes the role of, taking responsibility for their actions within the narrative.

The character typically has to be victorious by completing different quests while exploring the world, solving puzzles, and engaging in combat – all while a game master (or dungeon master) controls all aspects of the game and its storyline.

From the earliest mainframe CRPG games to the huge success of the genre on personal computers up through the ’80s, games had almost exclusively been limited to the small phosphorous screen – maybe with a little aid from notes or drawn-out maps.

The Star Saga adventure roleplaying series created by Masterplay in the late ’80s would turn this upside down and put almost the entire game back on the table, only using the computer as game master to do the more tedious and cumbersome aspect of “bookkeeping” throughout the game.

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The Game is Afoot: Beyond Baker Street by Z-Man Games

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Beyond Baker Street-small Beyond Baker Street-back-small

Art by Atha Kannani

When I play board games, I tend towards the big ones. I’m fond of games that take time and patience, and have a little depth to the rules. My recent favorites are Legends of Andor (yeah!) and the Pathfinder board game Rise of the Runelords, mostly because I have a fondness for titles that recreate an RPG experience.

But I don’t have time to actually play games at that scale much any more, so recently I’ve been tending towards smaller games, and especially those with an interesting storyline. Over the summer I bought Beyond Baker Street, and I’ve been rather taken with the simplicity of its rules set.

Beyond Baker Street is a cooperative mystery game for 2-4 players, which takes about 30 minutes. Players attempt to solve mysteries by gathering clues to find and eliminate suspects and uncover motives, and must work together, meaning they win or lose as a group. And it’s easy to lose — they’re in a race against time to crack the mystery before Sherlock Holmes.

The game has a fun mechanic. It’s chiefly a card game; everyone is dealt a hand, but the twist is that players hold their hands so that everyone can see their cards except them (this is apparently similar to the game Hanabi, which I’m unfamiliar with.) The game is afoot, Watson!

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New Treasures: The Monsters Know What They’re Doing by Keith Ammann

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Monsters Know What They're Doing-small The Monsters Know What They're Doing-back-small

Cover by Lily Pressland

I’m enjoying watching role-playing seep into popular culture. It’s happening in casual and insidious ways. Like with self-help books for Dungeon Masters, a section in the bookstore that I couldn’t even imagine when I was gaming in the basement with my friends 30 years ago. Every time I see a book like Keith Ammann’s The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, I grin a little. Okay, more than a little.

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing makes for some light and entertaining reading.It’s essentially an alphabetical listing of over a hundred different giants, undead, humanoids, NPCs, and other monster types, with a 2-4 pages essay on combat tactics and “villainous battle plans” for each. Much of it is drawn from Ammann’s popular blog The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, and it’s an insightful and lively read throughout.

Personally I might have liked more in-depth pieces on fewer monsters. These essays are useful, but not in the ways I found the Third Edition Savage Species book useful. That one looked at how monsters could level up, acquire spells, familiars and special weapons and spells, and was a fantastic resource for creating that unique Orc shaman or kitted-out Kobold prince. To be honest, I don’t know how much I’d actually use The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, but it sure made fun reading. Here’s the description.

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