The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘rpgnet reviews’

Tagline: A great bargain for a wealth of material, and a wonderful little taste of history.

Dragon Magazine ArchiveAllow me to salivate.

The Dragon Magazine Archive collects, on five CD-ROMs, the first two hundred and fifty issues of Dragon Magazine, as well as all seven issues of The Strategic Review (the house organ which Tactical Studies Rules published prior to Dragon). It thus collects more than twenty years worth of material – thousands and thousands of pages of the finest roleplaying material ever set to paper.

For forty bucks. (Some places are selling it for as much as $70 – don’t let ‘em fool you. Amazon.com is selling it, here, for $28.)

So, like I said: Allow to salivate.

Elsewhere on RPGNet I have written a lengthy “100 Issue Retrospective” which covered the magazine from Issue #162 (the first issue of Dragon I ever owned) through to #262 (the most recent at the time I wrote the retrospective). In it I discussed at quite some length the merits and history of The Dragon, and I heartily encourage you to take a look at that for more background information concerning the magazine.

To summarize my feelings, I consider Dragon Magazine to be one of the most significant icons in the roleplaying industry – and certainly one of the most enduring. I remember well removing the subscription card from my red-boxed Basic Set of D&D (hands up everyone who was introduced to roleplaying through that nostalgia-ridden product), mailed it in, and waited with eager anticipation for my first issue to arrive in the mail. When it did, I felt instantly connected to a larger world of roleplayers.

Because so many roleplayers are introduced into the industry through some form of Dungeons & Dragons, and because it is a natural progression to purchase a subscription to Dragon (particularly in the years when TSR was advertising the magazine in the introductory sets of their games), I imagine this is feeling which I share with many others. To a very real extent, Dragon (like D&D itself) serves as a major portal into the hobby of gaming.

Thus the Dragon Magazine Archive, in addition to providing you with an amazing wealth of material, lets you take a peek into what was passing through this gateway in years past. For years when you were in the hobby (particularly the early years), it’s a nostalgia trip of immense proportions. For the years when you weren’t, it’s a glimpse into an “arcane past” which is fascinating and invigorating.

But, lest we forget and assume there is nothing here but nostalgia, let us remember that within this archive you will find thousands of articles and reviews and columns. You simply cannot find a better bargain, in terms of a dollar-to-content ratio, then you will find in this package.

FAVORITE BITS

Despite owning the Archive since my birthday (about four months now), I’ve been able to do little more than skim through the thinnest layer of material – most of it concentrated in the earliest years of the magazine. As a small sampling, let me point out some of my favorite bits:

Strategic Review #1: After a lengthy discussion of spears in man-to-man combat, Gary Gygax writes: “Coming Next Issue . . . POLE ARMS, and Their Relationship to CHAINMAIL.”

Maybe I’m just warped, but I found this intrinsically amusing. (If you have no idea why it would be, you’re just too young.)

Other notable “before they were famous” moments including one of the earliest discussions of the dual-axis alignment system (complete with the diagrams that would later crop up in first edition). My favorite, though, is the article of random dungeon design (for solo play) which would later serve as the basis for one of the most famous sections of the 1st edition DMG.

One of the first things most people will take a look at when they get their hands on the Archive is the very issue of Dragon – and with good cause. It is a major milestone, and I have met old hands who divide the entire history of roleplaying (at least during the first couple of decades) into “before Dragon” and “after Dragon”.

The very first words of the editorial content of The Dragon are: “This issue marks a major step for TSR Hobbies, Inc. With it, we have bid farewell to the safe, secure world of the house organ, and have entered the arena of competitive magazine publishing.”

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so unintentionally hilarious in my life.

Perhaps the most valuable resource I found in the Archive were the early Tékumel articles – articles which are otherwise very difficult to obtain. While they wouldn’t fully justify the cost of the Archive, except for the true Tékumel fanatic, they come awfully close. Easily worth $10-15 to anyone with the slightest interest in Tékumel, which doesn’t leave a lot of the purchase price left to make up with everything else. (I have posted a review of Tékumel elsewhere on RPGNet.)

Any summary of the Archive would not be complete without perhaps the most noteworthy inclusion:

Wormy!

SnarfQuest and Yamara, the other two comics of serious note in Dragon’s history, in my opinion, have been published in collections, but Wormy never has (because it’s creator simply disappeared). (I believe the Yamara collection is still in print from Steve Jackson Games; while a new (and more complete) SnarfQuest collection is on its way from Dynasty Publishing – which will also be publishing new(!) SnarfQuest strips in their Games Unplugged magazines. But I digress.)

Wormy is one of the most memorable icons of the gaming industry, and has long been unavailable in any form. Now, at last, it is possible to read the strip in its entirety at an affordable price. If the Tékumel articles almost make the Archive worth the price all by themselves, then Wormy definitely has the cover charge under control.

PROBLEM PARTS

Every single problem with the Archive can be summed up in one word: Interface.

The interface, quite frankly, sucks. It’s not just bad, it’s atrocious. The pages take too long to turn, the general controls are unintuitive to the point of stupidity and are sluggish to respond. The provided Table of Contents for several issues is screwed up (although you can always just look at the magazine’s contents page and work from there).

For a product like this, printing is of the utmost importance – but here the problems seem to multiply. I routinely had the printer simply print blank pages. And, unless you set the printing to grayscale, the program will print the black ink by using your color cartridge to print all the colors in the spectrum (a massive waste of expensive ink). Plus, they don’t have the page numbers of the digital document match up with the page numbers of the actual magazine (because they don’t take the simple step of not counting the cover and inside cover as pages).

Worse yet, though, this monstrous program takes up 40MB of RAM! It slows any attempt to multitask down to a crawl.

Bah.

Fortunately, all of the magazines are presented in Adobe Acrobat format and thus, with their free viewer, you can access them directly and without any problems – bypassing the clunky interface entirely. (Although you may still occasionally use the program for the search engine it employs – which quickly and efficiently searches through the entire collection.) There’s still no way to bypass the faulty page numbering (because that’s embedded in the document format), but at least in the Acrobat Reader the digital page numbers are displayed right on the screen – so that you won’t be reduced to guessing how large the off-set is for this particular issue.

CONCLUSION

The Dragon Magazine Archive is a fantastic bargain. Don’t pass it up.

Style: 3
Substance: 5

Author: Various
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast / TSR, Inc.
Cost: $40.00
Page Count: Unfathomable
ISBN: 0-7869-1448-3

Originally Posted: 2000/03/21

“Worse yet, though, this monstrous program takes up 40MB of RAM!” … speaking of things rendered hilarious through the benefit of hindsight.

The Dragon Magazine Archive remains one of the best bargains in the history of gaming. And that remains true even though it’s currently priced at $155 on Amazon.

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

Tagline: A really great card game, although with fewer twists than we’ve come to expect from Master Garfield.

THE CONCEPT

The Great Dalmuti - Richard Garfield - Wizards of the Coast“’One day I will ride a horse like that,’ said the child to the woman as they watched the noble procession. ‘Yes dearie.’ ‘And I will have a palace, and lots of cake.’ ‘Maybe,’ she said, remembering the marble-lined halls of her youth. ‘But today let’s just to try to finish planting to the stream.’ The only place that peasant and princess change places faster than in a fairy tale is in The Great Dalmuti!

Life isn’t fair… and neither is The Great Dalmuti!

According to the introduction of the little multi-lingual instruction pamphlet of The Great Dalmuti (English, Spanish, German, and French rules are all presented in one), Richard Garfield first encountered the rules for this game while attending graduate school. As he says: “I had never seen a game like it before; it rewarded the player in the lead and penalized the player who was falling behind. The game was played for no other purpose than to play. There was no winner or loser at the end; there was only the longest-lasting ‘Dalmuti’, and the ‘peon’, the player most talented at grovelling.”

THE RULES

There are twelve ranks of cards. The ranks symbolize various levels in a fantasy society – with the Great Dalmuti at Rank 1; the Baronesses at Rank 4; Peasants at Rank 12; etc. The rank also doubles as the card’s effectiveness (with lower numbers being more effective) and as the number of cards of that type in the deck (thus there is one Great Dalmuti in the deck, four Baronesses, twelve Peasants, and so on ). There are also two Jesters, who are assigned Rank 13 – but can also act as wild cards when played in conjunction with other cards.

At the beginning of the game everyone draws a random card, which assigns their rank: The player with the highest card is the Great Dalmuti; the second highest becomes the Lesser Dalmuti; the lowest becomes the Greater Peon; and the second lowest becomes the Lesser Peon. Everyone in between becomes a Merchant (of varying ranks depending on where their cards fell).

Here’s the really cute part of the game: You have to change the seating arrangment according to your rank. The Great Dalmuti can stay where he is, but everyone else needs to array themselves out to his right, until you finally return to the Greater Peon to the Great Dalmuti’s left.

All the cards are dealt at this point (by the Greater Peon) and the goal is simple: Get rid of all your cards. Before play begins, though, is a stage of taxation – in which the Greater Peon gives his best two cards to the Greater Dalmuti in exchange for two of his cards (which the Dalmuti selects), and the Lesser Peon gives one of his cards to the Lesser Dalmuti in exchange for one of his cards.

The Greater Dalmuti then leads the first round by playing one or more cards of the same rank. Play proceeds to his right (through the Lesser Dalmuti to the Greater Peon) with each player being able to play either more cards of the same rank which was last played, or a set of cards in a higher rank. The round proceeds until no one can (or will – you’re not forced to play just because you can), and then whoever played last wins the round and leads the next.

The first player to run out of cards becomes the Great Dalmuti in the next round; the second player out becomes the Lesser Dalmuti; and so on until you reach the last player (who becomes the Greater Peon).

There are some other flairs (for example the ability to call a Revolution and an optional scoring system), but that’s the gist of the game.

SUMMARY

You may be asking yourself why you should buy this game. After all, I’ve told you almost all the rules; Garfield didn’t invent it; and you can play it with a regular deck of cards.

Well, quite frankly, because the deck of cards which is being furnished to you is really great – and cheaper than buying the several decks of cards which you would need to in order to assemble the specialized deck needed to play.

Win-win.

Which, of course, leads to the obvious question: Is the game worth playing?

Absolutely. The bigger the group, the more fun it is. It’s open-ended, while remaining competitive, and the interactions (both socially and strategically) which the dynamics of the rules lead to are really entertaining.

Garfield says one thing in the instruction manual that really captures, I think, why he has had such incredible success in designing (and, in this case, presenting) card games that capture the minds and hearts of their players: “If you’ve enjoyed The Great Dalmuti and don’t usually play regular card games, give them a try. For me there are more hours of amusement in a single deck of cards than in all the world’s movies combined. And I love the movies.”

Amen.

Style: 4
Substance: 4

Author: Richard Garfield
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cost: $7.95
Page Count: n/a
ISBN: 1-880992-57-4

Originally Posted: 2000/03/12

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

Tagline: The best character sheets done for any game, ever. Period.

WHAT IS THIS?

Sailor Moon - Sailor Scout Character DiaryThis is a review of three associated products for Guardians of Order’s Sailor Moon Role-Playing Game (which I’ve reviewed elsewhere): The Knight Character Diary, the Dark Warrior Character Diary, and Sailor Scout Character Diary.

Essentially these are character sheets from a company that dreams really big (each 56 page pamphlet is for use with a single character). Each diary contains a 14-page character sheet, forty diary pages, a title page which you can personalize, and a dozen or so pictures (appropriate for each type of character) which you can use for your character portrait.

HOW GOOD IS IT?

Very, very good – surprisingly enough.

Personally, I don’t buy character sheets. The last time I bought a packet of character sheets was back in 6th grade, when I was an avid AD&D player and those of us in the group who could afford to splurge on store-bought character sheets (instead of writing it out on notebook paper) became possessed of a certain prestige.

In point of fact, I didn’t buy these – they came in the form of reviewer comp copies from GoO. But if I was playing in a Sailor Moon campaign I’d be sorely tempted to break my habit now that I’ve seen these.

For starters, the 14-page character sheet is absolutely wonderful. Often when you see extended character sheets like this all that’s really contained on them are lots of lines which are supposedly dedicated to “character history”. There are certain elements of that here (a page dedicated to it, but laid out rather nicely in segmented portions of your history – “Silver Millenium” and “Earth Childhood” in the Sailor Scout diary, for example), but by-and-large the extended sheet consists largely of closely targeted questions meant not only to spur your creativity, but also to facilitate ease of reference.

What this reminds me most of is another memory from my avid AD&D days (it’s nostalgia time). Back then I participated heavily on the FidoNet AD&D echo (like a Usenet newsgroup, but propagated at a much slower speed between individual BBS message boards). While there I happened to pick up something called the “Personal Code”, which was designed by a wonderful young woman named Alesia Chamness. It was a Sailor Moon - Knight Character Diaryreplacement for AD&D’s alignment system which encouraged the individual player to develop his character through a series of targeted questions. It was useful for defining your character in writing, for spurring creativity, and for developing your existing ideas. Really great stuff, and highly reminiscent of what you’re getting in this diaries.

The diary itself is done really nicely. The left-hand pages are plain white with a border which is evocative of the character type in question (a rose is in each corner of the border in the Knight Character Diary, for example). The facing pages, on the right side, takes advantage of the rich wealth of artwork which is available to GoO for this game line (in the form of animation stills) – the entire page is taken up by a grey-muted image (again, appropriate to the character type). Because they’re muted images you can easily write over these, and they end up providing a fantastic feel to the entire product. You’re not just buying a book of blank pages, you’re buying something that really ends up enhancing the recording of your character’s life and exploits.

Finally, the stock pictures at the end (which are designed to be xeroxed, cut out, colored, and pasted onto the title page which leads the book) are useful for the artistically-disinclined.

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE?

Sailor Moon - Dark Warrior Character DiaryNot much. I’d probably drop the price down to $4.95, rather than $5.95. Crossing the $5 barrier to $6 makes these books seem just a little too pricey to me. On the other hand, I’m sure that GoO has priced these where they have because that’s where they can make a profit.

As for the actual content of the pieces, the only I’d change – or rather, expand – are the stock photos. I feel rather limited by the fact that the only picture they have are of the characters from the animated series itself. It’s really bad in the Knight Character Diary, because all you’re basically getting are a variety of pictures of Tuxedo Mask. Again, though, I don’t see any way for GoO to have done anything differently – they’re constrained by the artwork which is available to them.

IS IT WORTH IT?

If you’re the type who buys character sheets as a matter of course, then I would say definitely yes. The price may seem a little steep at first – but, trust me, you’re getting your money’s worth.

If you don’t typically buy character sheets, then there’s a goodly chance you aren’t going to break the habit with these. On the other hand, I’d suggest taking a peek at them next time you’re in the store. They just might surprise you.

Style: 5
Substance: 4

Author: Karen McLarney
Company/Publisher: Guardians of Order
Cost: $5.95
Page Count: 56
ISBN: n/a

Originally Posted: 2000/03/12

What I said about not buying character sheets was nothing but truth: When I first started roleplaying, I photocopied the sample sheet off the back of the BECMI basic manual (which produced the double-sided 8.5 x 11 character sheet 2-up on a single sheet) and got so used to using it that when I bought a pack of the official sheets they seemed weird to me. I don’t think I’ve ever actually paid for an official character sheet ever again.

Of course, in the digital era that doesn’t mean as much as it used to: Although I don’t buy them, I have used a variety of official sheets over the years. And a really great character sheet — like the Sailor Moon Character Diaries — really can transform a game. Most recently, the character sheets for Numenera and The Strange are like that: The former through sheer beauty and utility; the latter through the excessively clever method it uses for handling characters shifting between alternate realities.

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

Tagline: Two words: Bizarre. No wait, that’s only one word. Uhhh… Okay: Really bizarre. How’s that? Good? Good. Great. Okay.

CONCEPT

Government-Funded Robot Assassins From HellGovernment-Funded Robot Assassins from Hell – Mission One: Kill All Evil Game Designers (henceforth, for obvious reasons, referred to merely as Government-Funded Robot Assassins) is a card game dating back to 1995.

Basically it combines a tongue-in-cheek presentation of “government-funded robot assassins from hell” with a satiric look at the gaming industry. Hence you get cards like:

Steve Jackson. He has his own game company! Creator of gaming chaos, this man is wanted by not only the Pentagon, but also the Secret Service! KILL HIM NOW!

And:

Favorable Review. Everyone loves it! It could be because the game is good or maybe the designer slipped the reviewer some cold, hard cash.

(Note: Any game designers wishing to slip me cold hard cash should contact me via e-mail to obtain my snail mail address. I have no scruples. None at all. Honest.)

THE RULES

You win the game by earning a hundred points. Points are earned by carrying out a successful assassination – your targets being various game designers (each of whom are worth varying amounts).

Basically each player starts with a Plain Bot (a really basic model of robot assassin) and a hand of seven cards. You roll 4d6 to determine who plays first (why 4d6? I don’t know). Each player then draws a card and places a target on the table. Then he plays a card (which modifies the score of either his robot or a target, depending on the type of card). Everyone does the same thing.

When play returns to the first player he may now place a second card and then he needs to attack his target (the card he played back on his first turn). To carry out the assassination attempt he adds up his Assassinate score (his ‘bot plus its modifiers) and adds 4d6. If the total is higher than the defense of his target, then the target is dead and the player collects the points. Play out a new target.

Repeat until someone wins.

SUMMARY

I ended up picking up Government-Funded Robot Assassins because I was ordering a number of products from Propaganda Publishing and my eye caught the title (which is very catchy, you have to admit). Since it was only six bucks I added it to my figurative cart. I’m very disappointed by it.

Basically I would sum the game up by its major problems:

First, the production values are very low. Hand-scribbled lettering in the graphics, which are generally low quality anyway. The game as a whole shows up as a set of cardstock pages (the cards, which you have to cut up yourself) folded into a large sheet of xeroxed instructions. This isn’t too bad, overall, since the whole product is basically one large in-joke – so you’re hardly going to expect laminated perfection — but it’s still a knock.

Second, the game – by it’s very nature – ends up being very topical. And the topic is now half a decade old. To put that in perspective, realize that Magic: The Gathering was new, TSR was still independent, and SHADIS still existed. It’s not a knock against the game as it was originally conceived, but it is a knock against purchasing it today.

Third, the rules are presented in a rather sloppy manner in a couple of places. A far larger problem with the rules, however, is that they just aren’t that effective or fun. Your average assassination almost always succeeds, particularly once you start building your robot up (you can move your assassinate score up, but not down – while you are able to modify defensive scores in both directions).

Finally, the jokes were never that funny to begin with. I picked a couple of the more humorous ones, above, but most of them are just yawners. For example:

Wizards of the Coast. The publishers of a hot new card game. Though they have money, they aren’t exactly in the same league as TSR. If they survive Magic, look out!

(Okay, that’s a little funny now — in an ironic sort of way.)

At the end of the day, this just isn’t worth your time or your money. It has a note of pleasant nostalgia to it for “old timers”, like myself, who happened to be kicking around when the events discussed on these cards were unfolding. But that’s not reason enough to pick it up.

Style: 2
Substance: 2

Author: Philip J. Reed, Jr.
Company/Publisher: Propaganda Publishing
Cost: $6.00
Page Count: n/a
ISBN: n/a

Originally Posted: 2000/03/12

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

Ex-RPGNet Reviews – Dice Wars

January 24th, 2015

Tagline: “Have you ever wondered what your dice when you’re not using them?” You’re about to find out – whether you want to or not.

A couple of days ago an interesting e-mail cropped up in my mailbox: Seth Ben-Ezra, lead designer and publisher of Dark Omen Games, was inviting me to review their new game — Dice Wars — which was freely available from their website. Well, hell, who am I to say no to those who seek me out? Besides which he was groveling (no, really, he told me he was groveling), and I just hate to see that in a grown man. So I popped over and took a look.

CONCEPT

“Have you ever wondered what your dice when you’re not using them?” You’re about to find out – whether you want to or not.

Basically once you’ve got a taste for the game’s concept the rest will quickly become obvious: Your dice are alive. They form societal units based on their die sizes and types (“a black die probably won’t get along with a sparkly pink die, for what should be obvious reasons”). There’s a fairly well-developed and semi-extensive (given the short nature of the rules) section on die-type personalities: “The four-siders are the craziest of all dice…” “The d10s are the shock troops of dice wars. Many defenses have crumbled before formations of d10s…” “d8s, as a rule, suffer from an inferiority complex…” And so forth. My favorite is the section on “Monstrosities”: “Legend speaks of other dice. Dice that have been mutated beyond recognition. Old dice whisper stories of dice with 16 sides, 30 sides, and even 100 sides.”

Every so often, though, the dice are seized by “the Rage” – capable of sending an entire dice bag into a complete frenzy of violence.

That’s when you have…. Dice Wars!

THE RULES

The game consists of a set of rules (available in HTML, MS Word, and Acrobat) and a “Battlemap” (available as a set of GIF files and a PDF).

The game itself is scenario-based – you set the dice up for combat based on pre-designed scenarios. Many of the scenarios contain victory conditions. Unfortunately, this leads us to my first set of major critiques of the game.

First, there are only two scenarios include: “All Out War” and “Saving Private Ryan”. The former being a basic combat scenario, the other being a “rescue the captive die” scenario in which some special rules are presented for that. Just some basic, and fairly obvious, variants (“capture the flag”, “battle of the monstrosities”, etc.) leap to mind with ease. This wouldn’t be such a problem except for the fact that no coherent rules are given for the creation of new scenarios.

Second, the rules state: “Additionally, regardless of the scenario, one victory condition always applies. If you lose all of the dice that you assigned to the battlefield, you lose.” Personally, as many of you know, I like to keep as much flexibility as possible. When someone lays down a “thou shalt not” like this my first response is: “Oh yeah, what about situation X?” In which situation X would be a plausible scenario in which such a victory condition would not apply. For example, the capture of an enemy die as your victory condition – kill all the enemy and you lose. Keep your options open.

Third, I downloaded the PDF versions of the rules. Each scenario is supposed to be accompanied with a diagram of how to lay your dice out on the BattleMap – unfortunately this diagram is missing.

Moving on: Each scenario gives an army size for each side, which is then created from the forces in your dice bag. For example, in a 100-sided game you’d take a selection of dice which totaled 100-sides between (five d20s; one d20 and eight d10s; etc.). You then your “general staff” (a concept which is never explained) to determine initiative in placement – whoever wins places one of their dice, then the other, and so on until all dice are placed. Depending on the scenario you may then select a “Fearless Leader”, a die which has certain positive combat effects (but also causes you to lose initiative on the next turn if it ever dies).

To begin the actual game you again roll your “general staff” (still don’t know what it is) to determine “activation initiative”. The player who wins “activates” (an arcane wargame term which means “move”) one die – the fewer sides a die has, the farther it can move on a given term. Once a piece has been activated, you should place an activation counter under it so that you don’t accidentally move it again on this turn. Activation then alternates, just like placement.

Once all your dice have moved, combat takes place between any enemy groups which have found themselves in the same space. Basically it works like this: The “attacker” (a concept which is not clearly defined, but I assume means the person moving into a square which was occupied first by the other player) pair off dice into sub-grouping called melees – in other words, he pairs up some of his dice with the dice of the other player. For example, the attacker might pair his d10 up against the defender’s d6; his d20 and d6 up against the defender’s d10.

At this point you then roll each melee (adding multiple scores together) – whoever has the higher score wins, and the other dice are removed from play. (Note: At the end of a round there may still be dice from both sides left alive in the square. You stop after a single round of combat resolution.)

It shouldn’t take more than a couple seconds for you to start seeing the problems: While there are some rules limiting exactly how the attacker can distribute the dice (the player who has fewer dice has melee groups of only one die each, and the other player cannot have three dice in a melee group until all of his groups have two dice in them), this is still hugely unfair to the defender – who, actually, should logically be able to determine what formations his or her defenders are in.

The simplest fix for this unbalance is to simply give group assignation chores to whoever has more dice. Given the rules concerning even dice distribution this makes sense – since whoever has fewer dice will never have any choices about melee groups, anyway.

Or, for a slightly more complicated fix: If the space was occupied by a single player’s dice for a whole turn before being attacked by the other side (in other words, at least some of your dice have been standing in the space by themselves without any enemy dice present), then they get to set up whatever defensive groups they want (whether that’s one big group or lots of little groups is up to them. Then the attacker defines his attack groups (if you want to make defense a lot easier, you can let the standing defender have the ability to define lop-sided combat groups, while forcing the attacker to evenly distribute his forces – in order to represent that ability for the defender to prepare defenses, while the attacker is acting while on the move). If, on the other hand, both sides moved into the space for the first time on this turn (or are continuing a combat from a previous round in which this was true) then the rules of my simple fix (side with more dice defines evenly-distributed melee groups) apply.

To wrap things up, you can also have artillery units – which are placed in special spaces around the edges of the BattleMap. To fire artillery you roll all of the dice in the artillery pool, and then count the spaces directly in front of the artillery based on the number you roll. For example, if you rolled 1, 3, and 4 (on three artillery dice) you would count out 1, 3, and 4 spaces from your artillery – a single die is removed from every one of those spaces (whether friendly or not). There’s some additional rules on how to determine which side loses a die if the space contains troops of both sides.

SUMMARY

I’m not going to lie to you: There are quite a few problems here.

First off, the overall package suffers from an unprofessional lay-out and presentation. Details are missing, there are several broken links off of the web-pages, and the language used in the rulebook often descends into a far too casual voice (replete with unamusing attempts at humor).

Second, the rules are too cluttered (for lack of a better word). At its heart Dice Wars is a very simple, Cheapass-esque, game. But the rules often use terms which are better left to the realm of Advanced Squad Leader (“activation” being a key example). The failure to honor the KISS principle, in combo with some generally unclear language (much of which has been cleaned up in my short presentation of the rules above – particularly in the area of combat resolution), makes it so that you have to decipher the game in order to enjoy it.

Third, the rules simply aren’t flexible enough. Or, to be more precise, they aren’t as flexible as they easily could be.

Fourth, the BattleMap is too damn small – it’s useful for some squad-level stuff, but you just don’t have enough maneuverability. I’d suggest using a chessboard which is oversized enough to fit multiple dice into each square. It’ll be more fun and you won’t have to cut-and-paste.

Finally, and perhaps most damning, the rules don’t deliver on some of the neat concepts discussed in the promo material at the beginning of the game. I’d have especially liked to have seen more detailed rules on the Monstrosities, and for the “powers” of different types of dice (gems, solids, etc.).

But, at the end of the day: Should you check this one out? Well, if you were paying any significant amount of money (even at, say, a Cheapass level) for the package I’d say no. But it is a freebie. With some minor modifications and decipherment (most of which I’ve implied or done here in this review) the game becomes the simple, quick, fun playing experience I think it’s ultimately meant to be. In particular I’d highly recommend it for quick play while you’re waiting around for that perpetually late member of your gaming group to show up – you’ve already got the dice just sitting there, the rules are easy to remember, and the board is easy to improvise.

Style: 3
Substance: 2

Author: Seth and Crystal Ben-Ezra
Company/Publisher: Dark Omen Games
Cost: Free!
Page Count: n/a
ISBN: n/a

Originally Posted: 2000/03/12

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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