I am a big Star Trek fan, and have been for most of my life. I watched the TV shows, watched the movies, played the video games, and read the books. One of my favorite Christmas gifts was a stuffed tribble that I still have. The one thing missing from my nerdy collection of Star Trek gear was a tabletop RPG. I knew that one existed, made by Last Unicorn Games, but by the time I started getting interested in tabletop games, that game was already difficult to find. Even if I had been able to find it, that specific game also had a reputation of being nigh unplayable. I was still willing to give it a shot anyway until two years ago. That’s when I saw a pre-order for the new Star Trek Adventures game by Modiphius Entertainment go up.
I fell in love with the game, sight unseen. Not only did it seem like exactly what I was looking for, the special five hundred dollar collector’s edition came in a giant Borg cube box. Clearly, these people knew who they were marketing to. I kept my sanity and did not buy the Borg cube special edition, but I did buy the PDFs eventually, and started running a game. And while it didn’t meet my initial wild hopes for the game, it’s more than adequate as a Star Trek game and a very good game on it’s own.
At its most basic, the mechanics of Star Trek Adventures is a dice pool system. Before each challenge, the GM (game master) decides which combination of Attributes (Control, Daring, Presence, Fitness, Insight, or Reason) and Discipline (Command, Conn, Security, Engineering, Science, or Medicine) you have to roll and the difficulty of the task. To succeed, you must roll d20s (twenty sided dice) under your Attribute+Discipline and have more or equal successes to the difficulty. For example, let’s say you are trying to fly a shuttle through an asteroid belt. The GM says that would require a Control+Conn roll at a difficulty of 1. Looking at your stats, you see that your Control 10, and your Conn is four. Added together, that is 14. You would roll two twenty sided dice, trying to get at least one roll under 14.
Now, there will be times where the difficulty is higher than the number of dice you roll to start with. The difficulty might be four, and you only ever start by rolling two d20s. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to increase the number of dice you can use and the number of successes you can get. One of the first things you can do is have specific Focus. Focuses represent fields where your character has studied or has an edge in a certain skill, and they make it so that whenever you roll under your Discipline, you get two successes. Going back to our previous example, if your character had the Focus of Small Craft, they would get a bonus to their successes if they were flying a shuttle and rolled under their Conn score of four.
Another way you help improve your odds is by buying more dice using Momentum. Momentum is a pool shared between all the players and allows them to buy more dice, re-roll dice, and create situations more favorable to the players. There are a limited number of ways to refill the Momentum pool, and not all of them will always be available. One option that is always open to players though is giving the GM Threat. Threat acts as a Momentum pool for the NPCs, allowing the GM to ramp up certain challenges, or create difficulties where none existed before.
This push and pull between the Momentum and Threat pools can create very interesting situations, as the players sometimes have to budget their Momentum for maximum effectiveness. The GM meanwhile can always make the situation more perilous as long as he has Threat. These pools help really nail the sort of rising tension that you get in episodes of Star Trek.
Another element that the game takes from the TV show and brings into the playing experience is the idea of the extended task. In Star Trek they are always racing to fix the engines, discover a cure for a disease, remove mines from the hull of the ship, etc. Extended tasks are also a good way to help keep the entire crew on their toes. Thanks to the omnipresent communicator, there is no real danger in splitting the party and having them all attempt different tasks at the same time. Extended tasks help put everyone on a time limit and keep the game going.
Of course, none of this really matters a great deal if you don’t have a ship to travel the galaxy in. Fortunately, Star Trek Adventures has that covered as well. To build a ship, first the party must select a base frame. These can range from the well known like the Galaxy class or the Constitution class, to the more obscure like the Akira class. After selecting a frame, the players can then choose a mission profile for their ship, as well as different refits and talents for their ship. This allows for a good variety of customization and lets players really feel like this this their ship and not one taken from a movie or television show.
As I’ve hinted at in the previous section, one of the best things about this game is how much attention it pays to making the experience seem like Star Trek. Even the book itself has the LCARS computer aesthetic from The Next Generation. Once you get into the rules, you’ll see that all the examples come from specific episodes of Star Trek. I went back and checked a few times and could even find the exact scene that they were referencing. Small details like that add to the immersion aspect of the game.
Another way the game adds to the immersion is in its character and stat generation. The primary method of character generation is through the Lifepath system, which allows players to pick their species, home planet, relationship with parents, and the general arc of their Starfleet career. This allows characters to have very natural and believable backstories, and the stats generated are very well rounded. In Star Trek Adventures, characters need to be well rounded, as they never know what sort of roll the GM may call on them to make.
Another trait that sets this game apart from others for the better is the ability to switch the attributes you use during your roll. To do so, all you need to do is tell the GM what attribute and discipline combination you want to use, and why it would apply to this situation. If the GM approves, you can make the roll. Going by our previous example, you could use the Control+Conn roll. However, if your Daring is higher than your Control, you could ask the GM if you could fly the ship manually. If they agree, you now have a much better roll chance. Very few RPGs allow you to change what dice you get to roll on the fly like that.
Now, perhaps your character gets injured or has to remain on board the ship because they need to perform some task. Not to worry, as one of the other great things about this game is the ‘supporting characters’. Supporting characters bridge the gap between non-playable character and full PC. They have their own stats and fill roles that the PCs can’t quite handle. Supporting characters can also level up, increasing their abilities, and turning them from (in Star Trek terms) red shirts to mauve shirts. In some cases they could even become full fledged characters of their own. This gives the player the ability to always be doing something in game rather than sitting around and waiting.
As much as there is to praise about this game, there are several flaws in it. The most obvious flaw is what attracted me to the game in the first place: the incredibly strong connections to Star Trek. While other Trekkies like me will understand the book quickly, people unfamiliar with the setting will be scratching their heads. This becomes particularly evident in a few of the pre-published adventures, where some plot elements and characters that I consider common knowledge were in fact obscure trivia to most non-fans of the franchise. I had to stop and explain to some players what certain things were or how certain concepts worked. The rulebook itself didn’t help, as it assumed the reader would already know what a self-sealing stem bolt was.
Furthermore, even looking for those concepts in the core rulebook is at times a herculean task. There are rules for mechanics, but the explanation of what those mechanics do or how they impact gameplay doesn’t come till over a hundred pages later. The biggest example of this occurs when Extended tasks are first mentioned on page 91, but their full explanation and breakdown aren’t covered until you reach the GM section, on page 282. In addition to having rules scattered across the book, the first three chapters are just lore and world building. The history of the Federation, Starfleet’s goals, the history of Starfleet…it goes on like that for over seventy pages. I’m no stranger to RPGs frontloading their lore but generally speaking, you want to have at least a basic explanation of how character creation works and what the basic dice roll is within the first thirty pages.
Perhaps the game’s worst example of confusing rules and too much fluff is the section on ‘social combat’. The social combat section comes before the the rules on actual combat and is about five pages long. These pages describe the different actions you can take in ‘social combat’ and what the results of them might be. However, there is no description of how the social combat actually works mechanically. Reading through a second and third time, I realized that there actually weren’t any rules for ‘social combat’. It is five pages of disguised fluff. Good fluff, but fluff nonetheless. The fact that it takes two or three re-reads to realize this is not a point in this game’s favor.
The Final Frontier
In spite of the confusing rules and poorly organized books, Star Trek Adventures is still worth playing. Once you get past the initial hurdle, it’s quite a fun game. The Momentum and Threat pools are fun mechanics to use and play with. The Lifepath system is one of the most fun character creators I’ve used in a while, and the supporting characters make sure that no one is ever bored during game play. But most of all, Star Trek Adventures is a good licensed Star Trek game. Modiphius Entertainment continues to support the game with more books and a ‘living campaign’ that promises to keep updating. All in all, I highly recommend this game to anyone who wants to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Images Courtesy of Modiphius Entertainment
Let’s Unpack This: Chickapig
Mutant pigs, cow poop, and Dave Matthews? I’m honestly as confused as you are.
The game, originating from Chickapig LLC, is currently available from online retailers, with the version in this video selling at a limited special holiday price of $22.00.
*Thanks to Chickapig LLC for the images and material for this review.
Image courtesy of Chickapig LLC
The Outer Worlds Announced as Obsidian’s Latest
Ever wanted a Borderlands/Fallout: New Vegas hybrid? Miss speech checks and genuine role-playing in your big-budget RPGs? Are you mad about the Fallout 76 debacle and looking for something to scratch the itch Bethesda has failed for years to get at? The Outer Worlds looks like the game for you. And for me. Oh hell yes is it for me.
It certainly helps that Obsidian is making it.
A new single-player sci-fi RPG (with a dash of Borderlands-style Western influence), The Outer Worlds sees the player lost in transit on a colonist ship heading for the edge of the galaxy. You wake up decades later on the planet Halcyon, which is in control of a corporation. From there, you will encounter various competing factions and chart the course of the story based on your actions.
I know that sounds like typical PR talk, but this is Obsidian. Fallout: New Vegas had the same setup, and based on your actions could lead to one of 4 major factions winning in the end, with the fate of numerous other minor factions at your control as well. If any company knows this style of game, Obsidian does. Really the only question left for me regards Obsidian’s spotty history of buggy games at launch. So long as The Outer Worlds isn’t completely broken, I think I’ll manage.
Add in the dash of Borderlands humor and aesthetic, and I am beyond hyped. The Outer Worlds will release on PC, the Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4. It’s currently scheduled for release sometime next year.
Video and Images Courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment
Pokemon Moon, a different take
Majority of pokemon games have shown us that even though we are completing the same goal, we still want to continue on this journey. Every Pokemon game in my opinion never felt boring or similar to the previous games. Game Freak takes the same formula time and time again, but they improve upon the story and game play. This formula has worked for a long time, but the biggest change to this system was with the release of Black/White 2. For the first time we had a Pokemon game that had a sequel. For a long time we had games that were separated from each other so that each one felt like a fresh start.
Now the big questions is, why did they decide to do this? Other games do this and succeed, but Pokemon never did this before. My guess is that there were unanswered questions at the end of the game. The bigger question is why not just make a bigger game? The fans would love a longer Pokemon game to get themselves into and draw them to anticipate another game of the like. Maybe Game Freak decided to make more money by splitting a game in half since dlc isn’t something they can add to their game. I say that, but they can make it easier for you to acquire shiny Pokemon and the like, but for their sake, I hope they never do that.
Those were just, what ifs, things that may or may not have happened. I can’t even tell you if that is true since I didn’t even finish Black. I can tell you that Moon/Sun is the game where they truly took a risk. They decided to take the game in a completely different location, change the gyms into a different type of battle and also change the race of the character we were used to seeing. I think that was the biggest thing that surprised me when I first learned about this game and it still surprises me that the character isn’t white or Japanese. Just by the looks of the sprites, it never occurred to me that the character would be Japanese even though the game was made in Japan. I always thought the character would be white, but now I realize that they were just Asian with the old anime art styles.
I think the reasoning that I thought this is because I never really thought of Pokemon as an anime or anime game. There aren’t a ton of animes that have aired as long as Pokemon and even if they had, they weren’t in the limelight on American television. Only two that I know of that have shown on major networks are Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. Anime games give a certain feel to it and it usually follows a certain timeline in the anime, so it is best not to watch the anime if you don’t want anything spoiled for you. Pokemon has a different storyline from the show so that you didn’t have to relive the episode again. It is smart to think that the people buying the games, are the same people that are watching the show. It isn’t true for every show, but Pokemon has been running for a very long time and it doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon.
Moon feels great because you don’t have your Pokemon learn hm moves this time around. Pokemon with the moves are given to you so that you can train your Pokemon with any moves you see fit. It is the only game where I didn’t actually catch as much Pokemon because I didn’t need a filler Pokemon to learn the hm move. That was a big thing to me because I lost interest in those Pokemon because they were good for getting me places, but not good in a fight. Moon seemed too fast to me because once you beat all the Kahunas, you were already at end game. You did have another goal while on your way to the final four, but it didn’t give you any character development. Let me rephrase that, you didn’t get any character development for your character, but you got it for all the other characters around you. Then again, Pokemon never really felt like a game that gave you great character development for your own character.
Moon was strong with changing the gym system and giving us a villain that we could actually relate to. In my eyes, it revolutionized Pokemon games in the near future. I was happy with the game, but it left me wanting more, like there was something taken from it for another game. Maybe that game will be called Super Moon/Sun. Another game that gives you more story and some additional Pokemon and legendaries as well. If I didn’t know better, I would think that this was Game Freaks way of having dlc. This is just my own opinion, so please tell me what you think about Pokemon and what the future will hold for the game series.