The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘rpgnet reviews’

Ex-RPGNet Reviews – Go Wild!

October 17th, 2013

Tagline: A strong card game, reinforcing this line of family-oriented card games which made a name for itself with Twitch.

Go Wild! - Wizards of the CoastLast year Wizards of the Coast released a series of four family-oriented card games (in the tradition of Uno and Skip-Bo): Twitch, Pivot, Alpha Blitz, and Go Wild!. After reading about it in an RPGNet review I picked up Twitch and quickly became completely addicted to its fast-pace play style. On the strength of Twitch I ended up buying the other three games in this abbreviated line and have been slowly playing my way through them (in addition to Twitch I have also reviewed Pivot here on RPGNet – a review of Alpha Blitz will pop up whenever I get around to playing it).

So far I have been heartily impressed, and the games have readily taken their place alongside other family favorites, such as the aforementioned Uno and Skip-Bo.

Go Wild! is a trick-based game (like Hearts or Spades) designed for 2-6 players. There are six suits of cards – five colors and the wild cards. Each player is dealt twelve cards, which forms their hand. The game is played in a series of rounds, each of which is made up of three tricks. You win a trick by more cards of a particular color — which is determined by whoever leads the trick — than anybody else.

At this point it sounds like a pretty tame, typical game. You might as well pick up a copy of Hoyle’s. But this is where the designers throw you a curveball: You score a variable number of points depending on which trick in the round you win, plus, if you win the first trick of the round, you become the Wild One. Here’s how it works:

If you win the first trick of the round, you score 1 point. In addition, you become the Wild One (there’s a card included that identifies the Wild One). On the second trick you score 2 points, and on the third you score 3.

Here’s the cool bit: Only the Wild One can use wild cards.

In other words, the strategy of the game is not just to win the most tricks – but to choose a specific strategy which allows you to win. Do you toss out as many cards as possible on the first trick of the round in order to secure the Wild One? Or do you gamble a little bit and hope to pick up more points by winning the later tricks?

The most important question to be asked of games like this, however, is: Does the concept actually work in execution? The answer here is: Yes. Absolutely. Go Wild! is an excellent game, exploring a new and interesting variation upon the old trick-based card game concepts. In that sense, Go Wild! continues the strong tradition I found in Twitch and Pivot. Not only are these fun games, but they are extremely innovative.

The only serious problem I had with Go Wild! was the rule for who got to lead the first trick of the game: The youngest player. Okay, fine. Works all right the first time. But when you play two or three games in a row, it becomes a little frustrating for the same guy to always have that advantage.

I was most impressed by the fact that the game proved itself to actually by playable by two players. Most games listing 2-X players are “playable by two players” only in the sense that the rules work – the entire dynamic of playing is skewed by the presence of only two players. Because of the complex tactical consideration of Go Wild!, however, two players can easily challenge one another.

Of the games in this line, Twitch is undoubtedly the best (it’s guaranteed to consume hours and hours of your free time). That being said, Go Wild! will definitely be placed on my To Be Played shelf, and not my Been There, Done That shelf.

Style: 4
Substance: 4

Author: Grezegorz Rejchtman
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cost: $6.95
Page Count: n/a
ISBN: 1-57530-601-8

Originally Posted: 1999/10/23

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

Tagline: A book which doesn’t quite seem to know what it’s trying to accomplish, but succeeds through a sheer mass where it may fail in style. Recommended.

Jovian Chronicles: Chaos Principle - Dream Pod 9This is the worst Dream Pod 9 product I own, with the exception of Video Fighter (see my review). It’s still better than the vast majority of the products on the market (a testament to Dream Pod 9’s outstanding strengths), but is critically flawed in several areas.

First off, the book is slightly schizophrenic. About fifteen minutes into reading it I suddenly realized I had no idea what the product methodology was supposed to be. What I mean is that, when you buy a roleplaying supplement, the supplement is supposed to do something – and that something should be very specific. Deities and Demi-Gods describes deities and demi-gods for AD&D. Berlin by Night describes the city of Berlin in the World of Darkness. And so forth.

But who sat down at Dream Pod 9 one day and said to themselves: “Let’s make a book with a bunch of information on the Jovian Confederation; some tidbits regarding the Martian War; an adventure/campaign set in and around the Jovian Centennial; a tactical campaign set around/on Mars; a bunch of vehicles designs for Mars, Jupiter, and CEGA; a mis-named “JPDS Campaign”; and a semi-update to the year 2213.”

I began to think, in short, that the word “chaos” had been well chosen.

The second major problem is that this is a book ahead of its time. Rule number one of the design of an effective roleplaying line is that, before you can take the line anywhere, you must first establish a baseline. Rule number two would be that, when you take the game line somewhere, make sure the GMs and players have all the info they need to go there with you. Chaos Principle provides a partial update to the year 2213 (from the year 2210, which is the baseline of the setting) – and therein lies the problem: A partial update. There are too many unanswered questions about what happened in the interim for me to successfully run a campaign here.

Finally, the book is the poster child for the serious editorial problems which plagued Dream Pod 9 during 1998 and early-1999. During this time frame the Pod was suffering from a combination of personnel changeover and rushed production schedules, resulting in poorly copyedited texts – typos and editorial marks, for example, were routinely left in the text. This book takes the award for the worst of the batch, however, with all the problems of other books, plus a page where the text which is supposed to be there has been wiped out by a mistaken cut-and-paste from another section of the book (the correct text for page 11 can be found on the Pod’s website and will be corrected in future printings). (It should be noted, also, that the Pod is now over these difficulties. Their last handful of products have been spotless in my experience.)

The upside is that this 128 page book is chock full of all sorts of different stuff. Perhaps the best analogy would be a grab bag. With a grab bag you have the disadvantage that there is no coherency to what you’ve purchased, but you have two advantages as well: First, that you get a wide variety of stuff. Second, that you might just find a gem or two inside.

UPDATE TO 2213

Chaos Principle is primarily described as an “Original Cinematic Adventure” (or OCA). This is a wordplay on “Original Video Animation” (or OVA), a term for anime which was designed to be sold direct-to-video. Typically an OVA is a stand-alone story, even if it uses characters from a series with a story arc (which, while being limited to Babylon 5 in this country, is fairly typical with Japanese anime).

So, as an OCA, Chaos Principle is designed to be an adventure book – describing a short campaign centered around the events of the Jovian Centennial celebration. I’ll be discussing that component of the book a little later on.

At a more basic level, however, the book is serving as a semi-update to 2213. An update because it provides details of events which happen between 2210 (when the core rulebook is set) and 2213, “semi” because it doesn’t do a very thorough job of it. Specifically: Information relating to the Jovian Confederation is given in great detail, while events elsewhere in the solar system are covered briefly if at all.

What you end up with is almost unusable except in the context of this single product. You know, for example, that General Thorsen (the Jovian commander responsible for the Odyssey) has escaped and then went to Venus to engage in some guerilla combat… but once Thorsen is outside the Confederation’s dominion suddenly you don’t know what happened next (specifically, what happened on Venus).

I understand the methodology behind this (this campaign is set in the Confederation, so you provide Confederation-related information), but it’s bad methodology. As I mentioned before, this book would have been much better off if it had been released two or three years from now – once we knew the Jovian Chronicles setting better and more support product had been provided. As it is, we’ve got this campaign out in 2213 (which you can run fairly effectively), but that’s all you have. I don’t know enough about the solar system of 2213 from this product in order to run a campaign there and, quite frankly, that time period is not going to be supported for some time to come yet (since now they need to backtrack and fill in all the holes in 2210).

JOVIAN CONFEDERATION SOURCEBOOK

Because there hasn’t been a Jovian Confederation sourcebook published yet, it’s not sufficient for Chaos Principle to simply provide an update – it’s going to have to provide you with some additional setting information in order to make the campaign playable.

My problem with this section is not its competency or its completeness. Wunji Lau does an excellent job of expanding our knowledge of the Confederation from the information found in the core rulebook. You get a societal overview, a look at some of the major colony cylinders, a little historical information, a look at some major organization, and an analysis of some major characters in the setting. All-in-all, an excellent resource – and anybody wanting to set a campaign in, around, or involving the Jovian Confederation should definitely pick up this book.

No, my problem is not competency. My problem is that someday the Pod is going to have to release a full-scale Jovian sourcebook. And when that happens it’s going to be exceptionally difficult to pull it off successfully. Why? Because you’re going to be in the unsavory position of making a tough choice: Do you duplicate the information found in Chaos Principle? Or do you attempt to present all-new information?

If you choose the former path, then you’ll have successfully produce a Jovian Confederation sourcebook which can stand on it’s own. You’ll be able to pick up that book, just as you should, and have the rock-solid foundation you need to run a Confederation campaign. But there are two problems. First, those of us who already own Chaos Principle will be buying repetitious material. Second, those who don’t already own Chaos Principle (they’re new to the line, for example), will end up with repetitious material when/if they do buy it. Either way, you’re lowering the overall informational value of the two products.

On the other hand, if you present all-new information in this hypothetical Jovian Confederation sourcebook, you have now created a dependency relationship between the two products. Now, in order to have a complete foundation for a Confederation campaign, you’re going to have to own both this sourcebook and Chaos Principle. You’d end up hurting the primary sourcebook by making it rely upon a secondary supplement.

Once again, these problems are created by the fact that the book is two or three years too early. If the book had been produced at some point after the release of a Confederation sourcebook than the writer could have simply assumed it as a prerequisite (and, therefore, sufficed himself with a simple update to the material found in it). Heck, with the extra space he could have then gone on to provide the additional update material in order to make any 2213 campaign feasible with the purchase of this book (see how it all hooks together?).

THE MARTIAN WAR

One of the things we learn from the update is that the cold war has suddenly decided to heat up. The Martian Free Republic (allies of the Jovian Confederation) have been implicated in the destruction of the orbital elevator during the events of the Odyssey. The Martian Federation (allies of CEGA), who controlled the elevator, are enraged by this knowledge. Tensions rise and finally break as the Federation declares war on the Free Republic. As things begin to spiral into chaos, both the Jovian Confederation and CEGA dispatch fleets to Mars.

Can you hear the ominous music playing in the background?

This is cool stuff. Things get weird, however, when the book presents a mini-tactical campaign focusing on three major battles (two on the surface, one in space). There’s nothing wrong with these scenarios, but why are they here?

Before reading the book I assumed that the tactical scenarios were somehow related to the roleplaying campaign (as was done with The New Breed campaign book for Heavy Gear). Such is not the case. The roleplaying campaign has absolutely no connection to the tactical campaign (indeed, the roleplaying campaign gets nowhere near Mars).

Obviously the book is trying to make it worthwhile for a tactical player to pick it up (since they would benefit from the update material). In the long run, however, it sticks out like a sore thumb – symptomatic of the misguided grab bag nature of the book.

(On a side note: I’m not too sure how I feel about the Battle of Kurtzenheim and the events which follow it. I won’t spoil it for you here, but there is a certain degree of anti-climax to it.)

THE JOVIAN CENTENNIAL

This is the core of the book – the Original Cinematic Adventure which is focused on the events taking place around the Jovian Centennial celebrations.

Dream Pod 9 does some fascinating things as designers – they always have a firm understanding of not only what methodology they’re using to design a product, but the impact that methodology has (which is why the failure for a clear methodology to present itself in this product is so odd). One of the ways in which this manifests itself is in the innovative manners in which they present campaign and adventure material (reference my reviews of The Paxton Gambit and The New Breed for more details).

Here they’re trying something a little different, but once again they seem to have a fairly good grasp of what the essential elements are – which allows them to play around with the other ones to their heart’s content.

First, you are given a variety of tools which let you get your players involved. Primarily, the book gives you four default characters (Ariana, Jared, Khoi, and Joseph). Think of these guys as the cast of your favorite television shows – they have vivid personalities, interrelationships, etc. The easiest thing to do is to have the players step into these character’s shoes and proceed.

They’re not content to simply let that be the only way, though. The book also provides three different sets of “hooks” to get you involved. The first set, the “Campaign Hooks”, are ways of pulling in non-standard PCs to the general campaign. The second set, “In Media Res”, assume that Ariana, Jared, Khoi, and Joseph are still present and carrying out their “default actions” (more on that in a moment) – the PCs get involved in the evolving campaign at different points in the middle of the action (which is what “in media res” means).

But it is with the third set of hooks – the “Adventure Hooks” that you begin to feel that things aren’t coming together quite right. These hooks suggest “alternate” campaigns which would only use the presented campaign material as a “backdrop” for the actions which the PCs are taking.

Which is a neat idea, in and of itself. It only falls apart later on, when you read past the campaign material, and hit some other stuff: Like “Secondary Effects” and “Adventure Seeds” – both of which have very similar goals. The way this should have been done would be to isolate all of this material together (preferably after the campaign material, because trying to discuss alternatives to material the GM hasn’t even read yet is pretty ineffective). This would provide a sort “united front” and make it easier for the GM to access the toolbox, so to speak.

Now, for the campaign itself. It is broken into four phases (“Introduction”, “Emergence”, “Action”, and “Climax”), each composed of various scenes. The cool part is that each scene is dynamic – with multiple entry and exit points. At this most basic organizational level, this format has a tremendous amount of potential. In the actual execution, however, things go a bit askew.

Each scene description is broken into two parts: A semi-narrative description of what happens and a set of “Adventure Suggestions”. Essentially, the semi-narrative (which reads like a scene outline) describes the default actions of the pre-established cast. In other words, if you just read through these you’d have an idea of what would happen if the PCs weren’t involved at all (or if the players weren’t controlling the actions of the primary cast members). The “Adventure Suggestions” section then outlines exactly how the situation should be handled in game terms.

If done properly, the dual nature of the scene descriptions (coupled with the dynamic scene connections) would end up providing the best of both worlds: An active, established storyline – from which the PCs can easily deviate. In the actual practice of the Chaos Principle, however, this doesn’t happen – to the point where, if you don’t generate completely original material, the PCs are going to be extremely railroaded at certain junctions.

Beyond this, there are several structurally questionable narrative choices: Such as having the default cast of four start out as two separated teams of two who have no knowledge of or connection to each other.

All that being said, the story itself is extremely engaging: A neo-nationalist group known as the Principii believe that they, and only they, can save the Jovian Confederation from its worst enemies. To do this they want to start a war with CEGA (a war which, obviously, the superior Confederation will easily win). With a senior CEGA official (Ignatius Chang) in the Confederation for the Centennial celebrations and warships on their way to Mars, the Principii see a rare opportunity: Assassinate Chang and you start a war. The PCs stumble onto the plot from different ends, meet up in the middle, and have everything come down to a climactic battle between experimental exo prototypes.

Once again, rock solid material. But the pieces just don’t fit quite the way they should.

ODDS AND ENDS

Let’s see… We’ve got an update, a sourcebook, a tactical campaign, and a roleplaying campaign. Isn’t that enough for one book?

Apparently not.

There is, for example, an extensive (30 page) technical supplement – detailing equipment, technical updates, new vehicles, etc. Also, there is a completely bizarre, three page, “sample campaign”. It is titled “JSPD Blue” (for Joshua’s Station Police Department) and deals with the ESWAT (Enhanced Special Weapons and Tactics – i.e., they use combat exo-suits and deal with extreme situations) team on Joshua’s Station. And there’s some other stuff spread throughout the book in a faintly haphazard manner.

CONCLUSION

Chaos Principle could be a truly excellent book, but somewhere along the line things just didn’t gel right. That being so, let me explain why I give the book the relatively high marks (double fours) that I do:

Style. Well, the book takes a hit for the handful of instances where material is unnecessarily spread out or laid out in an unintuitive fashion (for the most part, this isn’t true, though). It takes another hit for the typos and the misplaced text. But it gets a boost from the fact that, where the text isn’t compromised by poor editorial control, it is clear, concise, and informative. It gets another boost due to the (typically) outstanding artwork of Mr. Ghislain Barbe. It’s too strong to be below average (1 or 2), and too weak to be truly outstanding (5). So this leaves me with “average” (3) and “better than average” (4). For me the strengths outweigh the flaws, so it gets a four.

Substance. It takes a hit because of the scatter-shot approach of the material. It takes another hit because of the insufficient update material. It then takes a third hit from the flaws in the campaign material. With most companies, this trio of flaws would be enough to send the book spiraling to at least an average rating, if not worst. But the Pod succeeds at packing so much material in here that it nicely counteracts these negative aspects. In other words, it may be a grab bag – but it’s a really big grab bag. And the stuff in it is of above-average quality for the most part. So it slides by with a four.

Nonetheless: Probably the worst Pod product I’ve read. The fact that it still scores as highly as it does with me is an indication of the quality which the Pod normally produces.

And, at the end of the day, I have to strongly suggest that any fan of Jovian Chronicles pick this book up. There’s just too much territory covered in it, in various forms, for it to be lacking from your game shelf.

Style: 4
Substance: 4

Author: Wunji Lau
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Cost: $20.95
Page Count: 128
ISBN: 1-896776-24-8

Originally Posted: 1999/10/23

Hopefully the real conflict I was feeling in trying to rate this mish-mash of a product was clearly communicated in my conclusion. In retrospect, however, I feel that I was much too kind to it: The campaign material is a mangled mess that would require far too much work to actually bring to a gaming table; the rest of the material is a grab-bag of irrelevancy for anyone using the core 2210 time period for their campaign; and, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s really clear that this was the first warning sign that the Jovian Chronicles product line was about to implode into mediocrity and nonsense (something which I describe in more detail in the postscript to this review). I suspect that a more accurate rating of Substance would have been 3 (or possibly even a 2).

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

Tagline: As a general rule I dislike “companion” volumes. The Pod proves me wrong again. Is anybody really surprised?

Companion to Jovian Chronicles: Advanced Rules & Background - Dream Pod 9I’ve been reading Dream Pod 9 products since the summer of 1997, when I picked up a copy of the first edition of Heavy Gear. I have written more reviews of Dream Pod 9 products for RPGNet than any other publishing company (my first review here, in May of ’98, was for The Paxton Gambit, a Heavy Gear campaign supplement). The only reason for this is because I have probably read almost as much material put out by Dream Pod 9 as I have for much of the rest of the roleplaying industry combined over the past couple years. And the only reason that’s true is because no other company in this industry can claim the same pattern of constant, consistent success. There have been, in the decade during which I’ve been an active part of this hobby, only a handful of game lines whose products I have picked up without even bothering to glance through them – because I know there is a guarantee of quality from them (most of those lines don’t last on the list very long, either). Dream Pod 9, however, is the only company to get on that list.

I love this company. Their books have their flaws (they’ve only recently managed to get past a bad year or so in which all of their products were critically flawed by typos, and their prices have only recently begun to synch up with the rest of the industry), but those flaws are always outweighed by the immensely positive aspects of their books.

But there comes a point when you begin to set out challenges for yourself. “Nobody can be this good all the time,” you think. So you begin to go out of your way to find products you won’t like, just to prove that they aren’t completely infallible. You begin looking at the earliest stuff they produced, for example… and find that, although it’s not as good as the stuff they’re turning out now, it’s still great-to-excellent.

Those of you who have read some of my previous reviews of Pod products may have stumbled across the reviews I did of the Heavy Gear Character Compendium and the Jovian Chronicles GM Screen. In those reviews I discuss the intense dislike I have for the common methodology behind character compendiums and GM screens, and then go on to explain why the Pod succeeded where other’s had failed.

Which brings me to the Companion to Jovian Chronicles (henceforth, the Companion). Companion volumes, like character compendiums and GM screens, are generally products which I avoid like the bubonic plague at the height of a medieval summer. They generally fall into one of two traps:

The first type of companion is the “Whoops, Did We Forget That Vital Rule? Oh Well, We’ll Charge You Twenty Bucks For It!” variety. These companions have all the rules, background information, and other vital information which should have been in the core rulebook, but were left out (either deliberately to bilk the customer, through clumsiness, or through lack of playtesting).

The second type of companion is the “Everybody Else Is Doing It!” variety. Here the only comprehensible reason for the companion to exist is because the line editor sees that other companies have companions for their games and, therefore, his game Must Have One Too!(TM)

Ultimately both of these types of companions suffer from a crippling flaw: They’re just a mishmash of generally useless material (in the former case because the “vital material” only takes up a fraction of the space necessary to fill a book; in the latter because there’s really nothing to put there anyway except odds-and-ends). The book doesn’t really have any firm methodology, and has no real purpose for existing. It’s not adding value to the game line and, once you own it, you’re not really sure why you do.

Then, of course, there are the sub-species of “Player Companions” and “Game Master Companions”. They are their own, highly specialized, sins which serve to blight the shelves of my local gamestore.

So, as a general rule, I dislike companion volumes to games.

Is anybody going to be really surprised if I tell you that, with the Companion, the Pod has proven me wrong once again?

The important difference that sets this book apart from the rest is all in the subtitle: “Advanced Rules and Background”. Or, more specifically, the first word of the subtitle: Advanced.

Advanced in the sense that they’re supplementing their rule system – not patching holes.

Advanced in the sense that the background material they’re presenting is of a highly specialized nature (but extremely useful for those specific, advanced needs).

Advanced in the sense that everything in the book has a clear-cut purpose and utility. You don’t end up with a new set of sub-systems because it would be “really cool” to have them, but because there is a perceived need for them in (again) highly specialized circumstances.

In short, where your typical companion volume is out of focus, this one is tightly focused. It knows what it wants to do, and accomplishes it with laser-like accuracy.

CONTENT

History. The first section of the book is a detailed history of the Jovian Chronicles setting – starting in the late 20th century and going up to the latter months of 2210 (the default start date of the campaign). In the core rulebook this history was presented as an abbreviated one page timeline, while most of the setting material was presented in a planet-by-planet nature (detailing current events).

This fits right in with the “advanced” nature of this book. Current information, such as that found in the core rulebook, is immediately useful for GMs approaching a setting for the first time. As you delve deeper into the setting – as you begin to advance your play – it becomes necessary to understand not only what the world is like, but why the world is like that. In other words, background. History.

My one complaint with this section is the complaint which has plagued my other Jovian Chronicles reviews: Reuse of text. Specifically, one of my complaints regarding the core rulebook was that the Odyssey was not given enough information. The Odyssey was a major sequence of political and military events which took place just before the default start date and had massive impacts at every possible level of the campaign setting. Despite this, it was summarized in 3-4 paragraphs which failed to communicate clearly what exactly had happened.

My problem here? Those exact same 3-4 paragraphs are reused to describe the Odyssey. Frustration city.

Advanced Character Design. Next up we have a suite of advanced character creation tools. In your average companion volume this takes the form of a couple additional skills, maybe some blithe comments of pseudo-babble about how to create characters with real “meaning”.

Not so here. First, you get some genuinely useful comments about designing character personalities which are not only original, but also useful additions to the campaign. Mainly this is because they don’t just throw “happy thoughts” in your direction, but give you some real, solid building blocks to work with.

Next, they add an entire system of perks and flaws to the basic character creation system. Essentially you can spend skill points on perks, or pick up additional skill points with flaws. (Plus, if you recall from the core rulebook, unspent character points can be converted to skill points – so essentially you can tap both your point pools for this system in a sort of trickle down effect.)

After that we get some additional career packages (which are useful tools for GMs who need to quickly generate NPCs, or for players who want a quick-start method of getting the character they want). Then you round out the section with “Military Forces of the Solar System”, providing a one page summary of organization, military culture, ranks, and awards for the Jovian Armed Forces, Venusian Home Defense Force, CEGA Naval, CEGA Army, Martian Free Republic Rangers, and the Martian Federal Army.

Again, note the manner in which everything in the section is useful – but useful in a sense which doesn’t make you feel like the proper place for the material would have been in the main rulebook. It is the clear differentiation of this material as being for “advanced” use, rather than just hole plugging, that makes this an effective product.

Additional Background. Probably the weakest section of the book, the “Solar Nations” chapter provides additional information about each of the major powers in the setting (including a full color page for each). Basically the material expands the background information found in the core rulebook. The only real problem I have with it is that there isn’t enough expansion (only a total of two pages for each power) to really justify it’s existence. A basic understanding is provided by the core rulebook, and adding little drips and droplets doesn’t really improve things – only a sizable addition would do that (i.e., a complete sourcebook for the power). Nonetheless, there’s good, solid, original material to be found here. The most valuable bit being a page which clearly spells out the diplomatic relations between the powers as tensions begin to rise across the solar system.

Advanced Rules. The advanced rules present more detailed systems for handling some specific tasks within the Jovian Chronicles universe: Drug Addiction, Atmosphere, Diseases, Gravity (Falling, etc.), and Radiation. Also, additional tactical rules: Aircraft Manuevers, Firestarting, Hull-Down Positions, Remote Control, Spacecraft Manuevers (Gravity Whipping, Coasting, Hyperthrusting, etc.), Advanced Terrain (Bridges, Roads, Railroads, etc.), Space Environment (Planetary Rings, Radiation Belts, etc.), Weather and Hostile Conditions.

While running the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me say again the thing that makes this effective is that these are not necessary rules. But they are useful rules.

Vehicle Construction System. Finally you can round this book off with the acclaimed Silhouette VCS. This I is, essentially, Version 2 (the first version was found in the first edition of Heavy Gear; the third version is found in the second edition of the Heavy Gear Technical Manual) – but very little besides minor tinkering has been done to it.

The VCS is an effects-based system, which allows you to build pretty much anything you can imagine with great effectiveness. A few of the steps are math intensive, but nothing too serious. The system also features exploded sub-systems – at the most basic level you choose from a list of options; at more advanced levels you generate new options.

MISCELLANEOUS COMMENTS

A few things of minor importance which caught my interest: Take a gander at the dedication on page three. Any company which has enough humor to actually write, “Brough to you by the letter T” gets high marks in my book.

The color section is absolutely breathtaking. Ghislain Barbe is definitely somewhere in my Top 5 list for Best Illustrator in the Industry (and perhaps out of it). His technical skill is surpassed only, perhaps, by the imaginative scenes which he sets down on the paper – capturing both the reality and the spirit of the settings he works on.

That being said, I have to bring up my other repetitive complaint about the Jovian Chronicles product line (I mentioned recycled text above): Recycled art. There are several major pieces reused throughout this text, and many of them are either repeated from the GM screen here or from here to the GM screen. You can usually get away with some minor pieces, but we’re talking some pretty major pieces here (such as the fact that the image from the back of the GM screen puts in two distinct appearances here – once as one of the three panels on the front cover, and again on the interior as a chapter header).

Other nice touches: The recommended reading list of both fictional and non-fictional resources. I’ve made major in-roads on both lists and I must say that it is a fine selection of research texts (which helps explain why Dream Pod 9’s science is so good – they’ve put in the time to get it right).

The book also contains errata for the rulebook and the Mechanical Catalog (there’s about a dozen items total between the two).

CONCLUSION

If you’re running a serious Jovian Chronicles campaign than I can do nothing but heartily recommend this book. It is possessed of some mild flaws, but these are vastly overpowered by the wealth of useful material you will find here. Undoubtedly the best companion volume you’ll find for any game.

Style: 4
Substance: 5

Author: Marc A. Vezina (Phillippe Boulle, Elie Charest, Tyler Millson-Taylor)
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Cost: $24.95
Page Count: 152
ISBN: 1-896776-17-5

Originally Posted: 1999/10/23

If you’re tracking the dates these reviews were originally posted to RPGNet, you may notice a big gap between this review and the previous one. The reason for this was that I was starting my sophomore year of college. About a week after that previous review was posted, the University of Minnesota Theater Department held their auditions for the season and I was cast in every available show. (This was a marked contrast to the year before where I had struggled to locate the audition notices — which were almost literally filed under a sign saying “Beware of the Leopard” — and then been essentially laughed off the stage the first time I auditioned for one of the shows in the department. But that’s a story for another time.) In addition, my freelance writing career was beginning to take off.

Long story short, I was busy, busy, busy. I managed to slip this and a few other reviews inbetween shows in October, but then there would be another long break until early 2000.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

Jovian Chronicles: CEGA Fleet Blueprint File - Dream Pod 9

Tagline: A very strong package, suitable for framing or for reference.

The CEGA Fleet Blueprint Files are the second blueprint files Dream Pod 9 produced. The first were the Jovian Fleet Blueprint Files, which I am reviewing simultaneously.

Everything I said about the various strengths and weaknesses of the Jovian Fleet product are true here, with three exceptions:

1. The blueprints found in this file are a Bricriu-class corvette; a Tengu-class escort carrier; a Hachiman-class destroyer; an Uller-class missile cruiser; a Poseidon-class Battleship (General View and Cutaway); a Valhalla-class Station; and a Wyvern (exo-armor).

2. The repeated text from the core rulebook is found on the Tengu-class escort carrier.

3. Since there’s no main bridge mentioned here, that is not a strength for the product (it would actually be a weakness since that possesses no interest a second time around with minor changes). The Valhalla-class station blueprint performs admirably and is very well done.

A couple other notes:

1. Consistency between product formats is generally good. Here it is bizarrely bad. On the table of contents located on the cover of the envelope for the Jovian Fleet Blueprint File there are six general categories – with a paranthesisized comment noting the three different blueprints for the Valiant-class ship. This makes sense, since there are six ships being covered (with the Valiant-class ship getting three blueprints). Here in the CEGA Fleet Blueprint File, however, seven different ships are being covered (with the Poseidon-class ship getting two blueprints). Despite this the table of contents on the front of the envelope has only six categories… apparently a Valhalla-class station is somehow a part of a Poseidon-class battleship. Very poorly done.

2. The Uller-class background text has a fascinating plot hook thrown in.

Again, these blueprint files are strongly recommended if you’re a Pod-phile, a Chronicles-phile, or just like this type of product.

Style: 5
Substance: 4

Author: n/a
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Cost: $10.95
Page Count: n/a
ISBN: n/a

Originally Posted: 1999/08/24

 

Jovian Chronicles: Jovian Fleet Blueprint File - Dream Pod 9

Tagline: A beautiful product, suitable for framing or reference.

I’ve read a couple of reviews of these blueprint files previously, and they all have contained a similar comment: “This isn’t what I expected at all!”

Which is odd because, folks, there’s nothing to be surprised at here. The Jovian Fleet Blueprint File comes packaged in an 8.5” x 11” white envelope. On the front of the envelope is the title and a sort of “table of contents” – which tells you that there are eight 19” x 15” blueprints folded inside the envelope, and that these blueprints are of: A Javelin-class missile cruiser; a Thunderbolt-class cruiser; an Athena-class destroyer; a Godsfire-class supercarrier; a Pathfinder Alpha (exo-armor); and a Valiant-class Strike Carrier (Block II Design, Cutaway View, and the Main Bridge).

On either side of this table contents are eight miniature versions of the blueprints. You were wondering what these blueprints are? Look on the cover. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Each blueprint comes with some background text on the design, plus various specifications and explanatory passages. They are elegantly suitable for either framing or for reference to these crafts.

There are some weak points to these blueprints: First, the verbiage for the Pathfinder Alpha is copied straight out of the core rulebook. Uh, guys at the Pod? If I bought this, it’s a good bet I already own the core book.

Second, there were a couple of editorial errors. A product of this length just shouldn’t have any errors in it.

Finally, the ships are not too useful.

The particular strength of all this are the cut-aways for the Valiant-class strike carrier. It’s a useful reference for anyone using the mini-campaign in the core rulebook, and I also enjoyed the three-dimensional holographic bridge design shown and described on one of the blueprints.

In short: Take a look at the cover in the store. If it looks like the type of product you’re going to get some use out of, pick it up. If not, don’t. You’re not going to be missing anything.

Style: 5
Substance: 4

Author: n/a
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Cost: $9.95
Page Count: n/a
ISBN: n/a

Originally Posted: 1999/08/24

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

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