05 August 2008

3:16 Actual Play & Review

I played another game, with a much more satisfying pace, and plenty of time for the characters to interact with each other and the extras.

On the strength of that, here's a real review rather than just a mention of play.

3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars has you playing a group of space troopers. They've volunteered to join the force, with a mission of killing everything that might potentially threaten Terra at some point (i.e. all alien life).

The game is pretty simple, but hugely evocative. There's a little bit of tactical positioning in combat, with a nifty list of weapons to choose from. Character generation takes about five minutes (if you take time to explain everything as you go).

Play is mission based, with each mission requiring the troopers to cleanse a planet of hostile lifeforms. The GM gets a pool of tokens to allocate to the combat encounters (and sometimes spend on alien special abilities), which gives you some tactical play there too.

The real core of play, however, is the troopers' attitude to their job. This also gets fleshed out by the flashback mechanics - each trooper has a limited number of strength and weakness flashbacks. These can be used to get yourself out of difficulty in combat, but when you use one you have to explain your memory and thus illustrate how it helps you in the present situation. This is the real character generation, where your trooper's personality gets fleshed out.

Combat is also fairly lethal - I'd expect most campaigns to lose a few troopers along the way. This 'life is cheap' vibe runs through a lot of the game too (e.g. weapons don't have a damage rating, they have a 'kills per round' rating - and it goes up to d100).

The between mission character development allows people to improve, but aspects of this are arbitrary. The big one is levelling up - two troopers get to level up each time: the one who made the most kills goes first, then everyone rolls off to be the second.

For the GM, there's almost no prep - roll or pick from a few tables to generate the next planet and alien abilities, and off you go. Taking more time helps, but if necessary you can play with no time spent.

All that stuff ends up being a very tightly focused game, simple to play but (I expect, over campaign play) also the potential for some really good play about dealing with being in a stupid, terrible and endless war.

Regarding my second game, there's not too much to say. I spent a lot more time describing details of the setting, so the Force had more of a character to it, and the planets (we managed one long and one quick mission) were somewhat more thought out and consistent. I only had two players, as well, which added focus. Their adversity was tougher than my first games too - both missions I picked a high ability rating for the aliens, and this made a big difference to the sense of danger in combat. I'm also looking forward to running a game with my full group there, as the rest of them will have to play green replacements for the squad, which now has a pair of fairly battle hardened NCOs.

Speaking of which, I thoroughly recommend the technique of creating a squad to back the player characters, and brutally killing the extras off as you go. Even knowing that I was doing this arbitrarily for narrative effect, I got the sense that they really wanted to keep their guys alive.


Patrick W. Rollens said...

Excellent post! Sounds like a cool game. A bit limited in scope, but the flashback mechanic sounds innovative enough to keep players from getting bored. Does it play like a video game?

Unknown said...

Like a video game? Not so much. More like a war movie - wild dangerous action interspersed with routine bits and pieces.

The scope isn't as limited as it might seem, either, given that the tone of the game is up to the group, and could easily range from light-hearted alien killing to an Apocalypse Now-style meditation on the dark heart of human nature.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike, much appreciated.

My one fear in playing it is that I grow to like my PC too much, and then I don't have anything left to save him. My one hope, at that point, is that someone else will spend a Strength to save him.

Patrick W. Rollens said...

Interesting followup -- I demoed the game with John Harper at Gencon last weekend. Two of my buddies were service veterans, and I think they really grooved on the military mechanics (upgrading your gun, winning service medals, advancing in rank).

For me, the game didn't click until the final scene, when my squad managed to commandeer an alien starship and blast off into space. Until that point, it was a straightforward shoot-em-up. But once we got that spaceship, we all sort of realized that this game could become anything we wanted...like an episode of Firefly, for example.

The system was super cool, what with all the range increments and the wound mechanics and whatnot. Deadly, too, though none of the players died in my demo.