Tuesday 23 June 2009

Unplugged Gaming Reviews

Slasher Flick: The Horror Role-Playing Game
RPG Core Rulebook
Available now from Spectrum Games

Good quality horror RPG games are few and far between. So few and far between, in fact, that there is only one: Call of Cthulhu. Until now, that is. Small press games company Spectrum Games has released their latest RPG Slasher Flick, with a view to emulating the low-rent and high-gore slasher movies of the eighties. If you've seen Friday The 13th, Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, then you know what we're talking about here. If you haven't, then get the fuck off of this website.

Slasher Flick is an excellent simulation of a slasher movie. The crux around which the simulation works as a game is so simple it's ludicrous - the game rewards players for doing stupid stuff. If they hear a strange noise, sure...they can load up on guns and head out relatively safe; but heading off on their own to investigate, unarmed, and saying goodbye to their friends with a reassuring "I'll be right back." - that nets some serious "Genre Points", which can be spent later in the game to trigger some massive powers/abilities.

The first chapter of the rulebook is the traditional "What is Roleplaying?" bumpf, how to read dice notations, how a game works and so on. It's competently done, but there's nothing new here for anyone who's role-played before.

Chapter Two comprises a detailed segment on what slasher movies are (including a very amusing list of tropes and cliches), and a collection of recommended slasher movies. I can't say I'd recommend exactly the same ones, but that's by-the-by.

The third chapter is the meat of the system, and the system is a very simple one. All characters stats are ranked as either "Good", "Normal" or "Poor". To make a skill check, players take four dice, and try and roll at least one matching pair. "Good" rolls a d6, "Normal" a d8 and "Poor" a d10. Extra dice are added or subtracted from the roll to account for skills and unusual circumstances. In theory, this sounds extremely challenging, but in practice, it actually works out very well. Try rolling a handful of dice. You'll be surprised how often you do roll a matching pair.

When a player is faced with the Voorhesian villain of the game (Is Voorheesian a word? I think it should be.), the game switches into the closest that the base rulebook has in terms of a combat system. The player and Killer then take turns free-forming a scene, with dice-rolls to determine the loss or gain of "Survival Points". If the player gets his survival score to eight, he survives to run and scream another day, but if it drops to negative numbers, he's Krueger Poodoo.

Not all is lost, though, as all the players have more than one character under their control. Their "Primary" character (the guy/girl you just know survives to the end, and "Secondary" characters (guys/girls who just can't hold off on the illicit drugs and sex for 85 fucking minutes).

During playtesting, it seemed that more experienced gamers, players of Marvel SuperHeroes and Call of Cthulhu, had some difficulty getting over the twist of playing dumb. The concept of playing to put their characters in danger seems so totally at odds with all previous gaming experience that it took some time to drum it in. The novice gamer (and first-time role-player) in playtest, however, reacted instinctively to it, grabbing several genre points early in the game. My advice: sell this to your group as a slasher-flick game, and not a role-playing game. That sends the wrong signals to experienced gamers.

However, that said, the game is a bloody good laugh. Players love playing cliched characters, making them do stupid stuff, and running off like slasher movie retards. With they right group, everyone can be in stitches before the end of character creation.

The character generation system is very simple, and takes about twenty minutes to generate a full cast of six characters. Similarly the GM system for creating the "Killer" character is very free-flowing and easy to use. Ideas for original characters should pour forth with no difficulty, and the ability to "transcribe" licensed movie characters from Freddy Krueger to The Leprechaun is a matter of minutes work.

On the down side, the multiple character concept can be a little confusing. Most players aren't in the habit of role-playing in the third person, and as GM (Director) it can get a little confusing when the players are speaking in character and not making it clear which character they are portraying at any given time.

The only true drawback to the system is the limited re-play value it offers. The genre by its very nature, is repetitive, linear and kind-of dumb; and that's not something that gamers particularly look for in a role-playing game. For the price you should certainly pick it up, but it's unlikely to become a regular feature on your gaming table.

Good, and worth picking up at the cost, but unlikely to see much table time do to the limited mileage. - 8/10

The Slasher Flick core-rulebook is available now from www.rpgnow.com priced $7.99 (£4.99), or, you can buy the rulebook as a bundle with the "Deleted Scenes" sourcebook and "Horror Island" adventure for $12.97 (£7.99).

Scenario Book for All Things Zombie
Two Hour Wargames

Hot on the heels of their new and updated version of their wargame All Things Zombie, Two Hour Wargames have released a 66-page compilation of scenarios, and expansion material.

The scenarios within are, generally speaking, very interesting. The first centres around a pair of policemen called to investigate a domestic disturbance on the night of the zombie outbreak. This game breaks down quite successfully into a nice little dungeon crawl, and the new class of "Police" is a welcome addition to the original choices. Armed with small pistols and a shotgun in the back of the cruiser, this class has the extra restriction of not being able to harm others without reason, and the extra close-combat ability to arrest people.

The true meat of the game, however, lies in laying all the scenarios in sequence, watching your policeman, office worker or soldier transform from the average man off the street, stood staring at his first zombie, into a hardened veteran, setting up home in the survival outpost of "Nowhere Nevada". This is the closest wargaming has come to a narrative, and this achievement should be recognised.

Fans of the game will find this expansion a necessary purchase, as it shows you just what can be done with the system. It does, however, suffer from the same flaws as its master set. The whole thing is rather unwieldy, and is unlikely to win the game any new supporters. - 8/10

Haven is available now from www.rpgnow.com priced $15.00 (£9.25).

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