Saturday, March 16, 2013

Custom Gloom Card Box Part 2

Finished my box up today and have the photos to show (almost) start to finish.  I say almost because I did not take photos of the box before I got the wood burner out.  So I took the before photo from the Hobby Lobby website (same box because I bought it from Hobby Lobby).  The photo from their online store shows 3 boxes.  The one I bought is the middle box, with these dimensions:

Medium: 6" x 4 3/8" x 3 1/2"

Another note about the boxes on the Hobby Lobby website - they state they cannot break the boxes up.  This might be an online only issue, because they did not have the boxes in sets at the store, you could only buy them individually.

So the first step I took was to make a template of the Gloom logo.  If you are not familiar with the game, I will provide a review in the upcoming week or so.  The game is published by Atlas Games and has had 2 incarnations - regular Gloom with 3 expansions and Cthulhu Gloom with 1 expansion.  All of the card sets are compatible with each other, you just need to have one of the core boxes. 

I printed this image out on card stock, then used a swivel pen knife to cut out the letters.  My template wasn't perfect, but this wasn't going for perfection.  I wanted the unique antique sort of look - something you might find in the attic.  After I cut out the letters, I set the template to the side and took the hardware off the box.

The box without hardware and with the template resting on top.

With the box disassembled, I used a template to sketch the Gloom logo on the box top.

Next it was time to break out the wood burner.  I considered just painting the logo, but that didn't feel right.  Burning, yes, burning the box felt right for Gloom.

Wood burner gets HOT!  While the wood burner was warming up, I took measurements of the interior of the box and made a pattern to cut out my felt sections (2 sections, 1 for top, 1 for bottom, but used the same template for both).

I prefit the felt after I cut it out.  There was a little lip at the top that I knew I would have to trim, so the first shot with the pattern worked as planned.

Just a note here, if I were going to make another one of these, I would try cutting these out in sections.  The single felt piece looks good, but there were some issues when laying it in with the glue.  Speaking of which, I used the Elmer's Spray Adhesive, and I do not plan to use it for anything like this again.  The can puts out a LOT of spray, kicking a lot of adhesive in the air.  Also, I think brushing the adhesive on would be better if I made another.

Now that is jumping ahead a bit, so back to where we are.  The wood burner got to the right temperature (we have a multi temp wood burner) and I took my first foray into using a wood burner.  I used a practice piece of wood first, just to see how it worked.  I proceeded to burn the Gloom logo into the box lid.

I was pretty happy with how this turned out.  And with the logo burned in, it was time to start the staining process.  I went with 2 coats for the exterior and 1 coat for the interior using Minwax Tudor Satin polyshade.  This is the same stuff some people use for sealing and shading miniatures (also the same reason I have it).

After the stain had dried for a bit over 24 hours, I took a very fine sandpaper and went over the exterior of the box.  If you feel the stain when it dries, you get little bumps and rough places.  Going over lightly with very fine sandpaper gets rid of these and gives the box a smooth finish.  Then a damp paper towel to get any of the sanded stain cleaned up.

Next up was lining the interior with felt.  Yeah, back to that spray adhesive.  Never again for something like this.  I could see some use if I were interested in trapping flies or spiders, but hobby projects?  No thank you.  So the first step is to tape off the box.  I used a wide 2-3" painter's tape and taped off both top and bottom at the same time.

This worked well as it provided a good lip for using spray adhesive.  I didn't take photos of the steps where I applied the felt due to the whole adhesive thing.  I applied the adhesive, let it dry for 24 hours, then trimmed the felt.  The last step was putting the hardware back on, which took all of 5 minutes.  Here is how everything turned out.

I've got room for maybe 1 more expansion if they release it.  I would have liked to have a larger box, but this was the largest they had in stock at Hobby Lobby.  But the lessons I've learned through this project will help me out if I need to expand it.

I think my next project of this nature might be etching an acrylic box for my Netrunner cards.  But I'll have to do some thinking on that first.

Also, thanks to my wonderful wife for her assistance during portions of this project.  She was an invaluable help!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Custom Gloom Card Box Part 1

I stumbled across a thread on a couple of weeks back, wherein a poster was asking for input regarding the Gloom family of card games.  Another posted the link to the Tabletop web show where Wil Wheaton and crew played Gloom.  I was enamored with it instantly and needed to add it to my gaming collection.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, the whole stable of Gloom and Cthulhu Gloom reside in my possession.  But there are just too many cards to keep them in the original boxes, so what to do what to do.  After a couple of trips to the local Hobby Lobby, I have a pine wood box that fits the cards quite well, some cranberry colored felt to line the box, and project "Custom Gloom Card Box" is a go!

Tonight I disassembled the box and hardware, then took the wood burner and burned the Gloom logo onto the top of the box.  So far, it looks pretty good.  I hope to have time to post the in-progress photos tomorrow.  I already have some Minwax Ebony stain, which is the steps that will start tomorrow.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Saw this on another blog today and decided to take the quiz while waiting for a report to generate at work.  Looks about right:

You Scored as Butt-Kicker
You like a streightforward combat character. After a long day at the office, you want to clobber foes and once more prove your superiority over all who would challenge you.
Method Actor
Power Gamer
Casual Gamer

Thursday, March 7, 2013

RPG review - The Ultimate Vehicle

The Ultimate Vehicle

Game Type:  Roleplaying Game
Author:  Bob Greenwade & Steve Long
Publisher:  DOJ dba Hero Games
Medium:  8.5” x 11” paperback, 230 pages
Price:  $24.99

The Ultimate Vehicle is Hero Games fourth printed publication in the Ultimate line-up, though it is the second for Hero 5th Edition.  The first foray was The Ultimate Martial Artist for Hero 4th Edition.  The second publication was The Ultimate Mentalist, again for Hero 4th Edition.  Third was The Ultimate Super-Mage, a pdf only sourcebook, and once again, written for Hero 4th Edition.  I loved the books for Hero 4th Edition, still actually having my copies on my bookshelf (even the copy of The Ultimate Super-Mage I printed on my home printer).  When Hero 5th Edition came out, I eagerly anticipated the return of the Ultimate books.  After the publication of The Ultimate Martial Artist for Hero 5th Edition, I was ecstatic.  The martial arts and combat system for Hero has always been one of my favorite bits, so the return of The Ultimate Martial Artist was a godsend.  When I heard the next book in the Ultimate line-up was going to be The Ultimate Vehicle (hereafter referred to as UV), I was baffled.  Why do a book on vehicles when so many areas could use it more?
After getting into UV, my understanding was broadened as to why.  The 4th Edition books focused more on the super-hero genre, largely due to the fact that the driving genre behind Hero 4th Edition was Champions, the superhero setting.  While Champions is still a large factor for Hero 5th Edition, the current approach to the game appears to be trying to reach a broader spectrum.  And this is one area where UV shines.
So what is The Ultimate Vehicle?  Is it a guide to building vehicles in Hero 5th Edition in any genre?  Yes, and more.  The Ultimate Vehicle gives you rules, guidelines, and concepts for building vehicles that range from bicycles to living spaceships, from jets to cars, from boats to Mechs.  In addition to the guidelines for construction, The Ultimate Vehicle also gives additional rules for dog-fighting and car chases.  While the book does include new rules, these rules are designed to fit in with the standard Hero 5Th Edition rules.  They integrate, rather than separate into a different rules set.
Chapter 1 is a 28 page discussion of general vehicle creation rules for Hero.  The discussion covers whether or not a vehicle is a vehicle or a character, what kinds of skills, characteristics, talents, powers, power advantages and power limitations.   The chapter discusses some disadvantages for vehicles as well.  Included is an expanded size table covers all the way up to monstrosity-sized vehicles.  All in all, this is a very crunchy chapter.
Chapters 2 through 6 cover different types of vehicles over a total of 76 pages.  Chapter 2 covers ground vehicles, 3 is water vehicles, 4 is air vehicles, 5 is space vehicles, and 6 is mechs.  Each chapter begins with a discussion of different types of locomotion used for the vehicles, along with factors of real world physics and other vehicle basics.  The discussion includes different components of the vehicles, such as engines & engine types, rudders, sails, wheels, and so forth.  Each chapter ends with a sampling of vehicles for that ground type.
Here is a brief idea of what kinds of vehicles are given in the samples for each chapter.  Chapter 2 gives write-ups for 16 vehicles, ranging from ancient chariots to modern-day sports cars to sci-fi cybertanks.  Chapter 3 gives write-ups for 10 watercraft, ranging from a rowboat to an aircraft carrier to a nuclear submarine.  Chapter 4 gives write-ups for 12 aircraft, ranging from a flying carpet to an Apache attack helicopter to a flying powered armor suit.  Chapter 5 gives write-ups for 8 space vehicles, ranging from a space yacht to a military space cruiser to a time machine.  Chapter 6 gives write-ups for 4 different mechs; a small sleek mech, to an animal mech, to a transforming mech, to a combining mech.
Chapter 7, in a fashion similar to the Until Powers Database, provides 52 pages of discussion on vehicle equipment along with pre-made equipment write-ups for vehicles.  The chapter begins with a general discussion on vehicle equipment.  The meat of the chapter is the equipment, which is broken down into sections and subsections, with each subsection giving a discussion of the particular type of item.  The major sections are weapons, defenses, movement systems, personnel systems, power systems, sensors/communications, and miscellaneous equipment.
To get an idea of what kind of equipment is provided, here are some samples of the subsections from the major sections of Chapter 7.  Weapons discusses beam weapons, anti-personnel weapons, bombs, cannons, electronic warfare, guns, incendiary weapons, mech weapons, rockets, torpedoes, and more.  Defenses discusses armor, disguise systems, electronic counter-measures, force fields, point defense systems, security systems (including a brig), smoke, stealth, protections for individual subsystems, and more.  Movement systems covers things such as autopilot systems, improved fuels, offroad suspensions, and more.  Personnel systems include life support, medical, gravity, teleporters (transporters anyone), and more.  Power systems discuss external power sources (such as carts being pulled by horses), using END reserves, and other real-world and sci-fi or fantasy power supplies.  Sensors/Communications discusses various sensor-related systems such as 360 degree sensors, bug sweepers (to detect homing devices), computers, radar, probes, global positioning systems, sonar, and more.  Items covered in miscellaneous equipment are things such as ejection seats, laboratories, signaling devices, elevators, and more.
Chapter 8, covering combat and other activities, is the second longest chapter in the book at 48 pages.  This chapter provides some new rules which integrate into the existing Hero 5th Edition rules.  There is much discussion given to showing how vehicles are handled in the existing rules, only adding new rules to provide additional nuances and flavor.  Essentially, combat treats the vehicles as characters, with the limitations that vehicles have.  An example of a new rule is the character damage table, a tool used to add a cinematic feel to a game, adding a risk of minimal injury to a character to help emulate the risks of being in a vehicle during combat.
There are quite a few pages in Chapter 8 dedicated to hit location and damage effect tables. Not every vehicle type gets a damage effect table, but they all get a hit location table.  Some types get more than one.  The hit location tables provided are for aircraft, cars, boats, buses, motorcycles, helicopters, mechs, naval ships, starships, submarines, and tanks.  Each of these has a different hit location table.  Damage effects on vehicle powers, such as movement rates and such, is also discussed.  Rules for chases are given as well.  While these are designed primarily for vehicle chases, they could also be used for non-vehicular chases.  One bit from the chase section that will make it into many other games I run are the random event, the random road generator table, and the random hazard/obstacle table.  Further discussion includes such things as non-mapped vehicular combat, stunts, and dog-fighting.
Chapter 9 is the shortest chapter weighing in at 8 pages. This chapter discusses creating characters based around vehicles, in regard to skills, talents, perquisites, and even buying a vehicle. While this chapter is only 8 pages, it is also the one which is most pertinent to the players of a Hero System game.
Hero Games continues the tradition they are setting in their new releases with a thorough Table of Contents and an extensive Index in the back.  Since the rebirth of Hero Games, they have truly been outdoing the rest of the industry with their reference sections.
Overall, the art is average.  This is, of course, extremely subjective.  What is not subjective is that the art throughout the book is pertinent to the discussion at hand.  While I am not a fan of some of the pieces, they do fit in with the section being discussed at hand.
Though I really like this book, there are a few small issues I have.  First is a clumsy cludging together of a concept and a word in the ground, air, and water craft sections.  The section titles are [type] Vehicle Everyvehicle Equipment.  While this is a play on the concept of Everyman skills, the phrasing of Air Vehicle Everyvehicle Equipment is awkward.  The second issue is the references to other sourcebooks.  For example, in Chapter 1, in the discussion of living vehicles, you are referred to a section in Star Hero or the Bestiary for rules on large characters.  This information was printed in two other books, so it would seem that reprinting it here would not be a problem.  Since I have both other books, this isn’t a problem for me, but it could be for others.  Again, these are small issues.
I really like this book, but feel it is more of a GM book than something players would use.  This is not intended as a negative statement against the book.  The book feels like it is geared more toward a heroic level game rather than a superheroic game.  In my experience, the equipment in heroic level games is normally built by the GM rather than players.   As such, if you are a player in a heroic level game, definitely check with your GM about whether you are allowed to scratch build the vehicles for your characters.  However, I feel it is a great tool for a GM if you plan to have much vehicular activity in your games.

Playability: **** (very easy to pull in and use in a game)
Game Mechanics: ***** (does not introduce new mechanics, but uses Hero mechanics well)
Character Creation & Advancement: *** (creation focuses on vehicles, but covers it well)
Presentation: **** (entertaining to read, well laid-out, excellent reference sections)

Originally written 6/26/2003

Boardgame review - Steam Tunnel

Steam Tunnel

Game Type:  Card Game for 2-5 players
Designer:  James Ernest
Publisher:  Cheapass Games
Medium:  black and white card-stock
Price:  $4.00

            Steam Tunnel is a member of  the Hip Pocket Game line from Cheapass Games.  Designed to be inexpensive games that are easily portable, this game succeeds in that aspect.  For your $4.00, you get 48 cards and a rulebook that is smaller than an 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper folded in quarters.  The decoration on the cards is sparse, consisting of a tunnels on one side with a gray background on the back.  The tunnel side has  a glossy finish and the gray side is cardstock.
The goal of Steam Tunnel is to capture as many tunnels as possible.  There are 4 cards that are start points for tunnels.  These are played face up.  The remaining cards are played face down in a 6 by 6 grid.  The start cards are placed in the 2nd row 2nd column position from each corner.  You play the game by flipping a card, then placing a token to ‘capture’ a portion of a revealed tunnel.  The restriction here is that you cannot capture part of a completed tunnel.
When all cards have been turned, you tally up points.  Each start position has a number in it.  You determine who controls a tunnel by the number of tokens a player has in the tunnel.  The person with the most controls the tunnel.  A tie is a tie, in which case points for the tunnel are split.  You add up the number of points in the start position(s), multiply this by the number of sections in the tunnel, and that is the value of the tunnel.  It is easy for one tunnel to win the game if it is extremely long with multiple start positions.
However, the game is not without problems.  Due to the way turns work, in a 2 or 4 player game, the 2nd or 4th player, respectively, starts off with a disadvantage.  Since you cannot place a token in a closed tunnel, but you flip a card at the start of your turn, the 2nd or 4th player ends up not getting to place a token in their final turn.
Worse than this skewing of advantage, tallying the tunnels and points at the end of the round is a headache.  While not difficult, you do need to keep track of which start positions have already been accounted for.  I used a token to cover any start positions that connected to each other so tunnels were not counted multiple times.  All in all, this part made the game less fun that it could be.  Plus, the multiplication means the game isn’t for young children.
            The question of whether the game is worth $4.00 is up to you, but I would much rather spend the money to pick up one of the other Cheapass Games.

Playability: **
Game Mechanics: **
Presentation: **

Originally written 3/17/2003

RPG review - Star Hero

Star Hero

Game Type:  Roleplaying Game
Author:  James Cambias & Steve Long
Publisher:  DOJ dba Hero Games
Medium:  8.5” x 11” paperback, 322 pages (plus 4 additional pages for notes)
Price:  $29.99

            Star Hero is the latest offering from Hero Games.  It is a journey back to the science fiction genre for the multi-genre game, Hero System Fifth Edition.  This is the second time Star Hero has been released, but this edition is not a rehash of the previous edition.  This edition has more than twice the pages of the previous edition, and well more than twice the information to assist a game master in running a Star Hero game.
            So what is the purpose of this book?  This book is designed to be used as a tool for the game master wishing to run a Star Hero game.  While the book will be a great assist for the game master, it is also useful for the players.  The discussion of different genre of science fiction can help a player get their mind around the campaign the game master is running.  The discussion of powers, equipment, vehicles, skills, disadvantages, races, and other factors can also help spur the ideas of the players and the game master.
            As the other Hero Games releases since the release of Hero System Fifth Edition, the book hosts a good table of contents and an excellent index.  Between these two sections are an introduction, twelve chapters, and an extensive bibliography.  Over one hundred sources are cited in the bibliography.
            Chapter One despite being the shortest chapter in the book, is chock full of information.  This chapter discusses different genres of science fiction, ranging from apocalyptic games to utopias.  The book gives a brief discourse on the typical ideas behind the campaigns in the genre, as well as providing guidance on the what kind of  power levels the characters are typically built on in the genre.  In addition to the genres, this chapter also discusses different elements which appear in science fiction, though not all appear in the same campaigns.  Ranging from aliens to the concept of travel and exploration, further ideas are touched upon to help the game master decide what fits in his campaign, referring to later chapters in the book for more details on handling these tropes in Star Hero.  Also discussed is the inclusion of meta-genres such as mystery, comedy, and romance.  Chapter One rounds out with a discussion of crossing genres, such as a Champions Star Hero campaign, or a Fantasy Star Hero campaign.
            Chapter Two is the one many players will spend time pouring over, examining all of the crunchy bits of character creation goodness.  The chapter provides many different packages, including racial, professional, cultural, environmental, and size/weight.  There are enough of these to fill the first seventeen pages of the chapter.  Chapter Two goes on to discuss stats and skills, including a martial art called “Energy Blade Fencing,” also known as light saber dueling.  The chapter also covers uses of perks, talents, powers, advantages, and disadvantages.
            Chapters Three, Four, and Five all discuss the setting of Star Hero.  Not a particular campaign setting, but the universe itself.  Chapter Three covers galaxies and stars, including some good scientific information to lend credibility to your campaign creations if you don’t have an astronomy background.  Chapter Four goes over planetary systems, providing enough material to create somewhat realistically plausible planets.  The chapter rounds out discusses other stellar bodies such as asteroids, comets, space stations, and Dyson Spheres.  Chapter Five takes a narrower focus and looks at our solar system.  Facts about the planets and other features in our solar system are discussed, providing more detail to allow a non-interstellar game.
            Chapter Six moves the focus back toward the game master, though if players are allowed more free reign in character creation, this is certainly a very usable chapter by them.  This chapter covers civilizations, both alien and future.  The chapter also discusses creating alien species and civilizations, ranging from how to build alien features to building package deals.  Further discussion covers the systems behind the scenes in the alien civilizations, such as forms of government, economics, and culture.
            Chapter Seven is about technology in science fiction.  The chapter opens with a discourse on tech levels, providing the game master with an idea on how to create his own scale of tech levels without dictating a set scale for Star Hero.  The chapter goes on to discuss different weapon and defense systems, including building them in Hero System Fifth Edition terms.  Included in the weapons is the light saber, to go along with the light saber dueling martial art in Chapter Two.  A wide variety of weapons and defenses are discussed and provided.  But the chapter doesn’t just focus on combat; the chapter goes on to cover other areas of technology such as computers, cyberspace, robots, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and others.  One of the more useful bits of the chapter comes in the last two pages, where tips are provided for the game master on how to determine the ‘in-game’ price of items.
            Chapter Eight moves into the realm of vehicles.  The chapter discusses in great length the design and building of vehicles, focusing initially on spacecraft.  Weapons systems, defense systems, and a many other considerations in spacecraft design are discussed.  The chapter moves on to cover ground based vehicles, mecha, and space stations.  Next is a space combat system in Hero System Fifth Edition terms, including options for realistic and dramatic movement of ships.  Chapter Eight rounds out the following example vehicles: three spacecraft, one mech, and two space stations.
Chapter Nine considers the concepts of time travel and the ways to work it into campaigns.  The chapter helps the game master consider the types of time travel, as well as the implications of time travel.  Discussion is also given to campaigns based around time travel.
Chapter Ten is all about the mind, psionics that is.  From the initial considerations of how powerful should psionics be, to the ramifications of a psionics society, this chapter covers it.  Various powers that are attributed to psionics are discussed, as well as setting psionics in frameworks.  Psionic campaigns and different campaign types for psionics are also covered.  The chapter rounds out with an example campaign setting for psionics in a Terran Empire, providing a good framework for considerations on including psionics in your own campaign.
Chapter Eleven is primarily the game master chapter, simply because it is about creating and running a Star Hero campaign.  While the other chapters provide a wide basis of information and tools, this chapter helps the game master bring all of it into a cohesive ball.  Further discussion is given to the subgenres, themes, and setting.  Guidance on plotting out storylines is given, along with a random plot generator for the times when writer’s block is manifesting.  Tips are given on handling potential issues in the game, as well as using a character’s disadvantages to enhance and bring life to the game.  The chapter also gives more detail on the effects of the environment in Star Hero.  Ranging from gravity levels and how it affects encumbrance to the effects of vacuum on living tissue, the potential hazards of a Star Hero game are discussed.  The chapter winds up with a discussion on villains and nonplayer characters.  Plot hooks and motivation templates are provided to help bring the secondary cast of the game to life.
Chapter Twelve is the least generic of the chapters, but that is because it provides a group of heroes and villains as an example.  The setting is the Terran Empire, which is in a sourcebook that has yet to be released.  Five heroes are provided as well as five villains.  The chapter rounds out with a few generic nonplayer characters: a doctor, a merchant, a scientist, and a security officer.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the art.  The cover is the first thing you will notice about this book, and the cover art is one of the best roleplaying game covers I have seen.  Jason Engle did a masterful job in capturing the scope of Star Hero in a single image.  The interior art ranges from good to excellent, with very few pieces that are below good.  The art inside captures different feels of science fiction, from pulpy sci-fi to high tech cyberspace.  The art is complementary to the material being presented, without being intrusive.
Overall, this book is an excellent resource for a Hero System game master considering running a science fiction game; or a modern to near future game as well.  While I initially thought this book was going to be strictly for the game master, I also saw a lot of usefulness for the player as well.  This book will help both the player and the game master flesh out their characters and setting.  This resource does not dictate how the setting is or works, but helps the game master and determine this on his own, with the assistance of a supporting hand.

Playability: **** (provides many different examples that may be lifted straight from the book)
Game Mechanics: ***** (uses Hero System mechanics extremely well)
Character Creation & Advancement: ***** (very well thought out guidelines, useful for both game master and player)
Setting: ** (there is not a default setting provided, with only small amounts mentioned, but the equipment could all be considered setting material)
Presentation: **** (this is a beautiful book, and enjoyable read, and an excellent resource)

Originally written 12/24/2002

Card game review - Light Speed

Light Speed

Game Type:  Card Game for 2-4 players
Designer:  Tom Jolly and James Ernest
Publisher:  Cheapass Games
Medium:  cardstock with color on one side
Price:  $5.00

Light Speed is a real-time card game of space combat.  The premise is simple, the game play is simple, and the game is almost too much fun.  The players each have 10 ships.  Each of these 10 ships are different, but each player has an identical set with the exception of the color.  In addition to the 40 ships, there are 2 asteroid cards.  The cards are on cardstock with the ships being printed in color with a glossy finish, while the back of the card is gray cardstock without a finish.  The rules come on a page slightly smaller than an 8 ½” by 11” page, folded in quarters and printed front and back.

Each ship card has the following details:  a number in the top left corner, the name of the ship beside the number, a number of health dots in the lower left corner, and a number of laser shots firing from the ship in a specific direction.  Some ships also have shields, which are represented by red lines on the border of the card.  The laser shots come in three colors, representing 3 different power levels of shots.  The colors are distinct, so there should be no confusion on which is which.

The goal is to score points by mining and destroying other ships.  You lose points by destroying your own ships.  And it is very easy to shoot your own ships.  One of my playtesters continually ended up in the negatives because he kept shooting his own ships by accident.  If the game were not real-time, you probably wouldn’t shoot your own ships, but a lot of the flavor of the game would be lost as well.

You play the game by shuffling your 10 ships face down.  You do not see which ship is next, so it is random and a surprise for you.  Once all the players are ready, someone says “Go” and the race begins.  Everyone places their ships at the same time, at whatever speed they want.  Some people will slap their ships down haphazardly just to get them all out.  Others will go the methodical route, but end up with fewer ships on the board.  The first person to place their last ship says “Stop”, and the remaining players can drop whatever ship is in hand wherever it is, or they can not play it.

Then you proceed to the scoring round.  The different laser colors do 1, 2, or 3 points of damage.  You start with the lowest number ship, and trace the lasers from it.  The first card the laser crosses, be it ship or asteroid, will be hit by the laser.  If the asteroid is hit, the ship counts as mining the asteroid for points equal to the damage of the laser.  If the laser hits a ship, it does a number of damage points to the ship.  Once all of the ships for the lowest value have fired, you removed destroyed ships and proceed to the next lowest ship value.  Continue this to the highest ship value on the board.  Higher value ships tend to be stronger, but might not be around if they get shot by smaller ships before their turn.  Whoever does the most damage points to a ship collects the ship for points.  Then you tally up points from mining and ship destroying to determine who wins the round.

All in all, this game is a blast to play.  It is simple, quick, and fun.  The ease of the rules makes it a game children can play as well.  Just be sure they don’t eat whatever you use as damage tokens.  This game is a great game to get out and play while waiting for the rest of the group to show up, or in those times where you don’t have anything scheduled, or anytime you just want to play a quick, fun game.  I highly recommend this game, and for the price, you cannot go wrong.

Playability: ***** (great fun to play and easy to pick up and get going)
Game Mechanics: ***** (very easy to learn and simple to play)
Presentation: ***** (simple, efficient, and very well done)

Originally written 3/17/2003

Software review - Hero Designer

Hero Designer

Game Type:  Hero System character creation software
Author:  Dan Simon (creator), Steven S. Long and Dan Simon (concept), Rod Currie (documentation), Gary Denney (CW/MC export filter)
Publisher:  DOJ dba Hero Games
Medium:  CD or electronic download
Price:  $39.99 or $34.99 for the electronic download

When people discuss Hero System, the character creation system is often cited as one of the best elements of the game.  However, the ability to create any type of character you want is a double-edged sword; people often complain about the complexity of character creation.  With the coming of Hero Designer, that bulk of that complaint is no longer valid.  Hero Designer allows you to build characters for the Hero System in any genre, with the calculations automated by the program.
Hero Designer is a java-based character creation tool for Hero System.  The program is available for Windows, Linux, and Solaris operating systems.  When installed, the program takes up 70 megabytes of disk space.  The program was tested on a Pentium III 800 MHz with 256 MB RAM running Windows XP Professional.  The documentation indicates the minimum system requirements are:

Pentium II 200 MHz (or equivalent) Processor
Windows 95,98,ME,2000,NT,XP/Linux/Solaris
128 MB RAM
75 MB Hard Drive space available

Given the media, the program does not come with a paper manual.  However, there is an electronic manual in PDF format.  This documentation comprises 19 MB of the required hard drive space.  When printed, the documentation is 40 pages, with very minimal art outside of the cover page.  If you skip printing the cover page, the rest of the file does not become an ink sink.
The manual is well-written and explains the functions of the program clearly.  If you have a question on how to do something with the program, you should be able to find the answer here.  I have not had a question that was not covered by the manual.  The manual also covers how to customize the data files if you want to use the program for your specific campaign, where variables might be different from a standard Hero System campaign.
While the manual is excellent support, it almost isn’t necessary.  The interface for the software is so user-friendly that you can just start creating your character as soon as you install it.  The interface includes 5 drop down menus, including File, Prefabs, Active Characters, Tools, and Help.  File is the standard menu that allows you to load, save, and create new characters, but also allows you to set the general guidelines for the character you are creating (such as incompetent normal, standard, powerful hero, cosmically powerful superhero, and more).  You can also choose templates for vehicles, bases, computers, automatons, and AIs.  I’ll touch on the prefab menu shortly.  The Active Characters menu allows you to move back and forth between multiple characters you have open at the same time.  Tools allows you to check for updates and additional support if you have an internet connection.  Help allows you to view the documentation or go to the Hero Designer support forums.
The prefab menu ties to one of the nicest parts of Hero Designer.  The menu allows you to load or unload prefabs.  But what are prefabs?  If there is a power or skill set you plan to use often, say for a group of agents or mercenaries, you can save those powers or skills to a prefab.  Then, when you want to use them in the future, load the prefab and just select the appropriate power or skill from the prefab window.  This is a great tool, especially if you don’t want to go through creating equipment every time you give it to the character.
Beyond the menus, character creation is handled on different tabs.  The tabs are:  Basic Info, Background, Characteristics, Skills, Perks, Talents, Martial Arts, Powers, Disadvantages, and Equipment.  You click on the tab you want to work on and it opens in the same window.  Depending on the template loaded, some of these may not be available.
Basic Info allows the base points, maximum disadvantage points, and experience earned can be modified.  Hero Designer keeps track of total disadvantage points used, experience spent, unspent experience and total points spent.  Also on this tab are sections where you can fill out character name, alternate IDs, campaign name, genre, player, GM, as well as assign a jpg image for the character.
The Background tab allows you to modify the height, weight, eye color, and hair color of the character.  There are also fields for history, personality/motivation, a quote, powers/tactics, campaign use, and appearance.  If you are creating a base, vehicle, computer, or AI, the background tab is not available as an option.
The Characteristics tab is where you assign the numeric values to the different stats.  The stats change depending on whether you are creating a vehicle, base, character, computer, or AI.  On this page, each characteristic has a field for the current value, with an arrow to either side.  You can either type the value in the field, or use the up and down arrows to change the values to what you want.  As you make the changes, Hero Designer updates the cost, the total (in case some are increased by powers), skill roll values, and any secondary traits or effects.
The remainder of the tabs, Skills, Perks, Talents, Martial Arts, Powers, Disadvantages, and Equipment all function the same.  They open a list of options from which you choose whatever is appropriate to the character you are creating.  The list opens on the right; the selections you choose appear in a frame on the left side of the window.  When you select an option, a new window opens allowing you to configure the option (for example, setting damage levels for powers) as well as apply modifiers to the power.  If you decide to change a power after you select it, you can select it in the left frame and choose edit.  All the while, Hero Designer is keeping track of the point totals being expended for both the item in question, as well as the character as a whole.
But what if I want a skill that doesn’t appear on the list in Hero Designer?  In that case, open a text editor and edit a character template.  Yes, the program allows you to customize lists and items available.  Before getting into this, I would recommend making a backup copy of the template you plan to change.  I also recommend opening the manual and reading up on customizing the program before you start.  Suffice to say, my programming knowledge is limited to some Basic learned over 10 years ago and some standard HTML tagging, and I have not had issues in making changes I wanted.
After your character is complete, you have several options of character sheets.  Unfortunately, Hero Designer does not allow you to print directly from the program.  This was intentional.  The intent is to export the character to an HTML file where it may be printed.  There are several HTML character sheets available, ranging from a very basic character sheet to the standard character sheet in the book to a version for posting the character on the Hero Games message boards.  There is also a plain text version without frills.
The final thing to note is the support that is being given to the software.  The program has received several updates, including some to decrease how much memory the program uses (on my system right now, it is using 90 MBs) as well as bug fixes and such.  Beyond that, however, Hero Games has provided prefabs for equipment, gear, and everyman skills.  Additional free support includes updates on and new export formats.  Hero Games plans to further support the program by selling add-on packs of characters and monsters from Hero System supplements.  The first of these is available, and covers all of the creatures and templates in the Hero System Bestiary.  That is a lot of data entry saved and the cost is minimal, only $6.99.
Overall, this program is a great tool for players and gamemasters of a Hero System game.  Being able to fine-tune characters, the ability to build characters with ease, along with the time savings of using the program all add up to make this an excellent purchase.

Playability: ***** (the software is very user friendly and quite easy to use)
Game Mechanics: ***** (uses Hero System mechanics as they are written)
Character Creation & Advancement: ***** (if you want to build or advance characters for a Hero game, this is the easiest way to do it)

Originally written 01/18/2003

Card game review - Give me the Brain! Special Edition

Give me the Brain! Special Edition

Game Type:  Card Game for 3-8 players
Designer:  James Ernest (art by Brian Snoddy)
Publisher:  Cheapass Games
Medium:  full color glossy cards
Price:  $14.95

Give me the Brain! Special Edition is, as the name suggests, a re-release of the original Give me the Brain!.  However, this is not just a re-release of the original game.  In the latest incarnation, Give me the Brain! Special Edition has been spruced up with full color cards, new artwork, new cards, and glossy plastic-coated cards.  The box includes 112 full-color, coated playing cards and a 1 page rule book (2 pages if you count front and back).  The cards come in a nice full color box with a zombie grinning at you from the front.  All that is needed to play is players and 1 six-sided die.
The artwork on the cards is funny and well done.  Cartoon zombies abound on the cards, along with some other critters.  I enjoyed just flipping through the cards to see what the next card had in store.  The cards also have funny quotes or titles, such as “Look!  A Monkey!” or “Are You Still Serving Breakfast?  ‘Uh, you mean like, today, or in general’”.  My players had a fun time just seeing what cards they drew.
Alright, so the game is pretty, but is it fun?  Yes, the game is a blast to play.  You, as an employee at “Friedey’s, the Fast Food Restaurant of the Damned”, would like to go home.  To leave, you need to complete all of the jobs you are assigned, which are cards in your hand.  Some of the jobs will require the brain to complete, of which only one brain is shared among the lot of you and the other employees (players).  In essence, the goal of the game is to reduce your hand of cards to zero.  The hand starts at seven, but it is quite easy to build that up.
The cards in your hand are either bid cards or job cards (with job cards also including objects).  Bid cards are only used when someone drops the brain, so these can be kind of trick to get rid of at times.  Fortunately, you can discard them and draw new cards instead of playing cards when your turn comes around, except you have to draw one extra (or, you could just draw the extra card if you do not play a card).  Job cards are rated by the number of ‘hands’ they take, not to be confused with your card hand.  You can play jobs that take up to two ‘hands’ per turn.  Some jobs require one hand and some jobs require two hands.  This is easily distinguished by the number of ‘hands’ required being drawn on the cards.  The crossing of hand of cards and hands required to do a job is the most complex part of the rules.
Now why do I need a six-sided die?  There are a couple of reasons for that.  First, it represents the brain, which is passed to players as the game plays on.  Second, it is used to make skill rolls, a number based on the difficulty of the job being performed (this is on the job card).
There are a couple of downsides to the game.  First, you do need three players.  In the initial playtest, I played it with another player and a dummy-hand (which was actually played by one of my cats).  There are decisions to be made that we randomized, but would actually be more enjoyable if a player were deciding them.  Playing with a dummy hand removes some of the strategy in the game.  Another downside is that, because of the way turns work, it is possible that you will not get the opportunity to play a job card before a game is over, especially if you are playing in a large group.  The second session of playtesting had seven players playing, and there were a few games where people did not have the opportunity to play.  The reason for this is that, when a player drops the brain (which happens if they do not roll equal to or higher than the target number on the job card), a new bidding round starts.  Whoever wins the bidding round gets the brain, and the turns start from there.  Of these two issues, I feel that the three player minimum is the worse of the two, but your mileage may vary.
So, is it worth buying the game if you already have the original edition?  Yes, it is.  This new version includes cards you do not have.  The cards are coated cards, meaning longevity over non-coated paper cards.  This alone will be worth the price, especially since your old cards are already worn if you played the game much.

Playability: *** (it is playable as a 2 player game with 1 dummy hand, but really needs at least 3 players for the game to shine)
Game Mechanics: ***** (very easy to learn and simple to play)
Presentation: ***** (well laid out instructions and some of the cards are hilarious)

Originally written 3/17/2003

RPG review - Champions Universe

Champions Universe

Game Type:  Roleplaying Game
Author:  Steve Long & Darren Watts
Publisher:  DOJ dba Hero Games
Medium:  8.5” x 11” paperback, 160 pages
Price:  $21.99

            One of the most important questions about a game supplement is “What is the goal of this book?”  Champions Universe addresses this question on the first page of the Introduction.  The goal of this book is to provide both new and experienced GMs with a setting for their Hero 5th Edition superhero game.  If the GM does not use the standard Champions universe, he is encouraged to use as much or as little of the material in this book as a supplement to his own campaign.  This leaves the question; does Champions Universe provide a workable setting or workable elements to be used in your own setting?
            Champions Universe is divided into six chapters, with each chapter having subsections that are well delineated by headers.  The book has a comprehensive Table of Contents that breaks down the chapters, subsections, and further subsections.  A comprehensive Index is also included in the back of the book.  Between the Table of Contents and Index, there is no problem finding the section you want to reference.
            Chapter One discusses heroes from their first costumed appearance in the Champions Universe (in 1797) up to the 21st century.  A brief history is given, touching on several different eras, from the first hero during the Revolutionary War, to an esteemed Victorian England detective, to the heroes arising in the early 20th century Pulp Era.  The book continues with World War I and II, and then moves on to the more recent decades of the past 50 years.  Included in this section are 3 character write-ups, each from a different era.  Chapter One ends with a timeline of the Champions Universe that runs from circa 2 million BC to 2002.
            Chapter Two is the shortest chapter in the book.  This chapter gives the ‘campaign write-up’ for the Champions Universe setting.  The standard characteristic ranges are defined, along with the different types and sources of powers.  The demographics of the superhuman population, including differing power levels, are also discussed.  While this is a short chapter, it is a good example of how to define the base parameters of a campaign, answering many questions that eventually come up.
            Chapter Three is one of the meatier chapters for players to read.  This chapter discusses superhumans and how the world has reacted to their existence.  Primarily focusing on the United States of America, other nations are given a bit of treatment here as well.  Several organizations that exist due to the existence of superhumans are explained, including reasons for their formation and current outlook on superhumans.  Many organizations that exist outside of the realm of superhumans are discussed, including their attitudes toward superhumans.
            Chapter Three also delves into the legalities of the superheroes actions, providing a synopsis of police procedures to enhance your game.  The impact of superheroes on the media and technology is discussed.  Subcultures that are affected by the existence of superhumans are also investigated, whether they are a direct by-product of the existence of superhumans, or merely existing subcultures that feel the effect.  All in all, chapter three provides an excellent look into a world where superhumans exist, as well as providing plenty of character and plot hooks.
            Chapter Four takes a different look at the world from that of Chapter Three.  Whereas chapter three looked at concepts and ideas, chapter four moves to locations.  The chapter begins by looking at a few locations across each of the continents, giving a brief summary of existing superhumans and other major figures in the area.  After touching on countries across the continents, this chapter moves on into more detailed descriptions of a few of the cities in the United States of America.  Three cities, Millennium City, Vibora Bay, and Haynesville, Kansas, are all described.  Millennium City and Vibora Bay get a bit more description, but they are larger cities.  Haynesville is significant due to being the origination point of a famous WWI superhero, as well as being an area where superhuman powers were initially studied.
            Chapter Four also discusses other areas on Earth, such as Atlantis, the Antarctic city of Arcadia, Lemuria, and Monster Island.  Atlantis is described more than the other locations, providing a detailed history and current outlook.  The other locations are given a brief discussion, but enough detail that they could be used as a location in a game.  The chapter ends with brief dialogues on alien life and other dimensions.  While not long, these two subsections give a good description of their respective subjects, including threats that exist and plot hooks to use.
            Chapter Five takes a more in-depth look at major characters and organizations in the Champions Universe.  The threat levels of different villains are discussed, giving a good glimpse into the motivations of these potentially earth-shattering villains.  Unfortunately, character write-ups for the villains are not included.  The chapter then goes on to discuss three ‘good guy’ organizations: L’Institut Thoth, The Trismegistus Council, and Until.  The history and disposition of the organizations are touched upon, with Until receiving the most attention.  One nice inclusion is the write-up of an Until Urban Agent.
            After the ‘good guy’ organizations, Chapter Five gives the same treatment to seven villainous organizations.  The groups discussed are Argent, The Circle of the Scarlet Moon, DEMON, Eurostar, The Institute for Human Advancement, PSI, and VIPER.  This section touches on the groups’ motivations and history, as well as current outlook.  However, there are no character write-ups provided here.
            Chapter Six is the longest chapter in the book, totaling in at 42 pages.  But there is definitely a reason for it.  While the rest of the book is a good primer on the Champions Universe for the players of a game, this chapter should be reserved for the GM’s eyes only.  Chapter six opens with a few brief possible specific campaign settings, ranging from non-superhuman police to a school for ‘gifted’ youth.
            But the real meat of Chapter Six comes under the subsection “The GM’s Vault”.  This section gives details and plot hooks that players of a campaign shouldn’t know, including plot twists to common knowledge.  The way this information is presented is very well defined and organized.  The information is presented in the order it is presented in the earlier chapters.  You are given the page number, the subject discussed, and the additional information.  This additional information ranges from character write-ups to surprising plot twists, to affirmation of rumors.  I don’t want to divulge any spoilers here lest a player is reading this review.  Suffice to say, this section provides a wealth of information and tools for the GM to utilize.  Chapter Six ends with a short adventure that serves as an introduction to a villain that the heroes can battle time and again over a long-running campaign.
            My impression of the book is positive.  The setting information was not a chore to read, it was well organized, entertaining, and informative.  The book provides a lot of information and takes a good look at how superhumans would affect a world, as well as how the world would react to the existence of superheroes and villains.  The way the material is presented, with the GM’s section separated at the back, really makes it handy for the GM.  He can let the players read the appropriate sections without giving away secrets on the same page.
            The character write-ups that are included in the book are all well done, though no ‘big name’ characters are included.  The Until Agent, Viper Agent, DEMON Brother, and Minuteman Robot are the more well known concepts that are written up.  Other write-ups are there to fill in additional information about parts of the setting, as well as to provide antagonists and allies when using the section.
            The art ranges from gritty realistic to black and white four color comic book style.  I think that most of the art is good, with a small portion being less appealing, but this is a matter of personal taste.  One thing that isn’t arguable is that the art is used well.  It is placed in appropriate areas where it actually fits what is being discussed.  You do not see a picture and wonder why it is on that page after you read the section around it.
            One thing that might be a surprise in a setting book is the low number of maps.  There are only a few maps, and those are not the most useful ‘in-game’ maps.  The maps that are included consist of continents with the countries lined in and the map of the Hero Universe.  This is literally a map of the Hero Universe, indicating the regions where different alien races reside in comparison to the Galactic Core and the location of the Earth.  Appropriately enough, the Earth is not part of the Galactic Core.
I really only have two negative comments about this book.  First, it would be nice to be able to let a player take the book home without worrying that they will look at the GM section.  In an ideal world, the GM section would be a separate booklet that comes packaged with either the GM screen or along with the Champions Universe book.  Of course this would entail extra cost and other potential issues, so I’ll just rely on player-GM trust.
Second, the book references Champions in a couple of places.  Champions is the superhero genre book for Hero 5th Edition.  Now these occurrences are minimal and easily worked around by extrapolating from the context.  For example, Hot Sleep chambers are one area where Champions is referenced.  From the context of the section, you can determine that Hot Sleep chambers are specially designed prisons that neutralize a villain being held in them, most likely by keeping them unconscious.  Even if that is not exactly what they are, I still have enough to go on to create my own version.
In answer to the question, “Does Champions Universe provide a workable setting or workable elements to be used in your own setting?”  I respond with a solid “Yes”.  Given the low amount of actual Hero 5th Edition rules versus the amount of setting material and discussion, it would be very simple to take the setting, either in whole or in part, and include it in your own game, whether you are playing Hero 5th Edition, Silver Age Sentinels, Blood of Heroes, or any other superhero roleplaying game.  Champions Universe is an excellent resource to add depth to any superhero campaign.

Playability: **** (easily used as is or as a plug-in to an existing campaign)
Game Mechanics: ***** (does not introduce new mechanics, but uses Hero mechanics well)
Character Creation & Advancement: *** (plenty of character plot hooks and options presented)
Setting: **** (one of the better treatments on superheroes existing in the world)
Presentation: ***** (entertaining to read, well laid-out, excellent reference sections)

originally written 11/12/2002