All of the review categories except the Title are rated with a letter grade. A+ is the highest, F is the lowest.
Title: Name, Company, Author, Year, Price, ISBN.
Brief Description: What is the game about?
Environment: The Environment is where you play. How well is it constructed? What sort of opportunities and potential does it suggest?
System: The Rules. How they work, and usually how they don't.
Art: Quality, quantity, style.
Independence: Can you play with just the basic game? Do you need to invest in supplements?
Support: When you get into supplements, how good are they? Are any more useful than others?
Overall: A final overall impression.
LEGEND OF THE FIVE RINGS RPG
John Wick, AEG, 1997, $30.00 US (Hardcover), ISBN 188795300-0
Based on the L5R CCG, but don't let that throw you. Set in the mythical but very Japanese-ish world of Rokugan, L5R pits Samurai and magic-wielding Shugenja against mythical monsters and human foes.
Enough of the pitch. I don't play the CCG and I'm not about to start, but I enjoyed L5R anyway. It stands well on its own, references to the card game are kept at a minimum, and there's just enough about it that is different from classical Japan to keep you on your toes.
Environment: B. There's a lot to do, with monsters and political battles at every turn, and if all else fails, you can always go on an expedition into the Shadowlands.
System: B. The system is internally consistent and everything is done the same way. Easy to learn, and more or less realistic. (The rules for Iaijutsu duels are particularly nice, and deadly.) The rules might be a little on the light side for some tastes. Also includes rules for letting your characters take part in major battles, which aren't too difficult to use.
Art: B. Good, overall. Includes several nicely done colour plates depicting Clan Samurai and Shugenja. The interior B&W art is generally good. The map included with this game takes the cake for Most Useless Map Ever. Split across two pages, you miss what's along the spine, and the style makes it difficult to determine which coloured lines are roads, Clan borders, or doodles. Also, important places are marked with numbers which are hard to read and scattered about the map without too much concern for legibility.
Independence: B. The game makes references to things that are going to be included in future supplements. Could be run without any of them, but the GM is going to need to become inventive pretty quickly.
Support: No idea. The first supplement, Way of the Dragon, just came out and I haven't got it yet.
Overall: A. Although nothing about it is particularily exceptional,
the game as a whole is a quality act which impressed me. Good value for
the money. I was particularily impressed with the Clans, allowing what looks
at first like boring character selection (mage or warrior) into a choice
which helps to develop your character into a unique individual (Crane
Samurai are different enough from Crab Samurai to be practically different
Whole bunch of people, FASA, 1992, $25.00 US, ISBN 1-55560-180-4
The world has Awakened. Set in 2053, the Sixth World is our future, with cybernetic augmentation, the global computer Matrix, and Corporations running the show.
The twist is that the Earth has always existed in alternating periods of magic and mundanity, and ever since 2011, Magic has been on the rise. Humans expressed into Elves, Dwarves, Orks and Trolls. Spellcasting and conjuring spirits are facts of life. Dragons and other paranormal critters wander the land (and run for political office). Shadowrun is quite unlike anything else on the market.
Environment: A. Extreme. Shadowrun is bounded only by the limits of your imagination. From Shadowrunners doing dirty work for the Corps to Corporate hit squads, DocWagon (TM) emergency medical response crews, special forces or spies, down to magical groups protecting the Earth from plunder and abuse, Shadowrun is what you make of it.
System: A. Many people dislike the Shadowrun combat system, and it can be intimidating at first glance. However, when you figure it out, you'll note that everything is done the same way, and runs so smoothly and realistically that you won't believe it.
Art: B. Some of the art in Shadowrun is very good; others aren't. The colour map of North America is a prime example of what maps should be.
Independence: A+. I ran three campaigns over two years with nothing but the basic SRII book, and never broke a sweat.
Support: A. When you decide to buy sourcebooks, the Grimoire (Magic etc) is a good first choice. Shadowtech and the world book of where you want to Run is also a good idea. Beyond that, whatever takes your fancy. Shadowrun supplements are all very well written, informative, and packed with data. I have yet to buy a Shadowrun sourcebook and feel afterward that I could have gotten better value for my money.
Overall: A+. One of the best games on the market.
Greg Gorden designed it, other credits cover the page. FASA, 1994, $25.00 US, ISBN 1-55560-220-7
Earthdawn is FASA's Fantasy game. Set in the distant past of Shadowrun (both are set on Earth; Earthdawn is set in the midst of the last great Age of Magic), Earthdawn takes place after the Scourge, a time when Horrors ravaged the world and civilization hid in underground Kaers. Much has been lost, and it is the job of the players to write their own legends, rediscovering their world and becoming Heroes.
If you are a fan of Shadowrun, you'll note that Earthdawn is filled with inside jokes, and things to make you scratch your head and re-read a section of that Shadowrun supplement, which sort of makes wierd sense now....
Environment: A. I was quite impressed. Earthdawn is definetally different from any other Fantasy RPG out there, which is saying something, considering how many there are to choose from.
System: C. I wasn't too impressed. Earthdawn uses attribute ratings, numbers equivalent to attribute ratings, and dice totals equivalent to attribute ratings, with numerous tables and complex math. It seems to me that the entire process could have been done better. The magic system is also quite complex, but it is nice in that everything works for a reason. Very logical.
Art: B. Pretty much the standard FASA fare of some very good and some not so good. The fold-out map in the back is up to FASA's usual high standards. (btw, Barsaive is actually a strech of land around the Crimea and the Caspian Sea.)
Independence: C. There is very little about the world of Earthdawn in the basic book. If the GM wants to run an ED campaign with only this book, he'd better be ready to make most of the world data up himself.
Support: No idea. Don't own any.
Overall: B. Interesting spin on fantasy, and overall a very good
game, limited only by its overly complex rules system. I would also suggest
that, if a 2nd Edition is written, more world data should be included.
Kevin Siembieda, Palladium Books, 1990, $24.95 US, ISBN 0916211-50-9
Mankind reached a Golden Age before a brief nuclear exchange triggered the reactivation of the dormant ley line nexus which covered the Earth. Magic had always been with us, but for millennia had lain silent. Now it returned with fury, destroying the civilizations of man and changing the Earth forever.
In Rifts, players are heroes of a dark age, where the civilizations of man are few and far between. Earth is now an inderdimensional nexus, connected to everywhere and everywhen, and home to magic of unprecidented power. Demons and monsters stalk our world, and man is low on the food chain. Post apocalypse meets magic meets technology; Rifts is everything, its potential limited only by your imagination.
Environment: A+. Rifts can literally be whatever you want. The setting is open-ended. The world is a big place, and the entire megaverse is just a step through a Rift away.
System: B. Rifts uses the standard Palladium system. This is good in that it means that any other Palladium game is effectively source material for Rifts; this is bad in that the Palladium system is easy to use, but unrealistic, particularily in the areas of automatic weapons fire and character death. Many web pages, mine included, attempt to heal these problems.
Art: A. With people like Kevin Long, Ramon Perez and Vince Martin doing B&W, and the likes of Parkinson and Brom doing covers, Palladium has long dominated the field of RPG art.
Independence: B. Rifts can be played quite well by itself, but sooner or later you're going to want to turn to sourcebooks.
Support: B in general; specific ratings range from D to A+. Rifts support material is highly varying, sometimes contradictory, often Munchkin, and it builds on what came before, so if you have World Books 3 and 4, you might well see references to things that appeared in books 1 and 2.
I like Rifts, so here's the brief supplement outline:
Overall: Rifts is a fun game with lots of room for expansion.
It's also supported by piles and piles of internet goodies, like
Target Games, 1997, $40.00 or so Canadian.
Chronopia is the Fantasy wargame by the people who brought you Warzone. My experience with Warzone is limited to a memorable four hour burst during Royalcon last year here in Kingston, Ontario, so to be quite frank I had no idea what to expect except for what could be derived from newsgroup discussion and Target Games' website, www.target.se. What I found is a well designed game with excellent atmosphere, and a gauntlet dropped at the feet of reigning champion Warhammer.
Whereas Warhammer is set in an almost generic, formulaic fantasy world, Chronopia is set in a world of death, destruction and chaos. A long and convoluted history is provided, filled with death and gore. The plot centres around the One King, who died so as to be reborn to save his people from enslavement and to thwart a coming darkness, whose appearance in the end was caused by the One King's efforts to stop it.
The five races included in this book are well thought out and well characterized, and anything but what you'd expect. There is the Firstborn, basically humans with various Knights, Judges and time-twisting Chronomancers in their armies; the Devout, originally Firstborn who worship the Dark One and fight with armies of Demons and Risen (read: Undead); the Elves, who are almost Roman in their love of bloodsport and political intrigue, particularily the kind involving poison, and whose armies include Lotus Eater sorcerors; the Dwarves, who fight alongside Blood Totems (giant demonic critters) and seem rather barbarous and nasty (some of the Clans include Dark Tusk and Horned Ones; not your typical Warhammer dwarves here); and the Blackbloods, including Orcs, Ogres, Goblins and Trolls, who rule a vast and highly civilized (arguably more so than the Dwarves) Empire which looks like a mixture of Arabic and Mongol civlizations.
Environment: The various civilizations in Chronopia are fighting for survival. Everyone here has a good reason to want everyone else dead; rather unlike Warhammer, there is usually no need to look very far for a reason for yet another military engagement in Chronopia.
System: Similar to the Warzone system. Chronopia's combat system runs smoothly, although Warhammer players will notice that characters don't do as well against units as they do in Citadel's game, and that there is little room to personalize a unit's weapon and equipment mix. Personally, I think this is a good thing. Spells are purchased, not drawn randomly, and Chronopia abandons the rather silly Warhammer notion of thirty men being a regiment; all units are what Warhammer might treat as Skirmishers, and typical unit sizes range from five to twelve.
Art: In abundance. Most of the book is full colour and the quality of illustration is extremely high. The art director apparently decided to go for the Warhammer style of ridiculously large weapons and heavy armour; apparently, in Chronopia, steel weighs about one twentieth what it does on Earth, elsewise nobody in this book would be able to move. That point aside, the art is very well done by a variety of skilled artists.
Independence: Each of the five races have sufficient units to keep everyone going for a while. However, there are no war machines, although the rules are in place for them and it would seem likely that they will be included in further supplements. Also, mounted troops are rare. It seems obvious that the individual players will want to acquire the supplement for their race when they arrive, but there's certainly enough to keep you happy in the meanwhile.
Support: No idea. The game just came out.
Overall: A grim new rival for Warhammer. Although there are
several errors in grammar and spelling and the text could have used
some editing, the setting is compelling and highly individualistic, and
quite unlike anything else you've ever seen. If you don't play Warhammer,
Chronopia is guaranteed to be cheaper and easier to get into, and if you
do, you'll probably enjoy the break from bland fantasy settings and arguments
over munchkin magical artifacts for individual characters who are able to
massacre hundreds of opponents in close combat. Overall, I give this game