What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Castles & Crusades Players Handbook - 7th Print Edition

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Star Siege

Following the success of Castles & Crusades, Troll Lord Game made the decision to branch out in other directions. Star Siege: Event Horizon represents the first in a new line of 'Siege Engine Games' showcasing the versatility of core mechanic used in C&C. This new game offers to tackle a completely different genre than the one we are accustomed to seeing from TLG. We leave behind a realm of classic sword and sorcery to enter the many dimensions of science fiction. For many, 'sci-fi' represents a very broad genre that suits the tastes of many people. From Flash Gordon, to Star Trek, to things like Bladerunner, science fiction can be anything from an entertaining diversion to a complex commentary on the human condition. With the many popular movies and books exploring this genre, the decision to publish this game was an obvious one.

What makes this game a bit more unusual is the approach taken with this project. Star Siege is released as a boxed-set and everything you need to play is included in the one box. To be clear – this box set could easily fit the needs of a group that might just want to try something different. Included in the box set are 1 copy of the Operations Manual (the GM's guide), 4 copies of the Field Manual (the Player's guide), a sample setting called Victory 2442, and 4 double-sized reference sheets printed on laminated cardboard. These reference sheets are called 'broadsides' and contain some of the more common charts used for creating various things for the game. On top of all that, a couple of twenty-sided dice are thrown in the box for good measure.

Operations Manual

This book contains a lot of information to digest and, unfortunately does not include an index or table of contents. Though the organization of the book is well done, the best thing to do with the book is to read it cover to cover. Once done, don't put it to far away since you'll likely end up reading it again.

The Operations Manual begins with some preliminary material about running a game, the Siege Engine, and how to use it effectively. Like C&C, understanding this game mechanic is the key to playing this game and this is very clearly explained. Another nice feature about the rulebooks are the occasional boxed texts scattered throughout them. These are included to highlight a particular rule or provide certain explanations. New rules are also introduced in the game and some of these can even be adapted in other games if one was so inclined. There are other sections in the book that many would associate with science fiction and they cover such things such as mutations, psionic abilities, and cybernetics. However, the larger part of the book is rightly devoted to building and creating everything that you might need for the game such as equipment, aliens, and even planets. All of the material in the book is serviceable and there is little superfluous content. That said, a game master seeking to run an in-depth campaign using this rule set is best advised to carefully read this particular manual and try to build and create using the guidelines it contains.

Field Manual

When looking through this manual in particular, it becomes clear that Star Siege makes many departures from the formula established in Castles & Crusades. Where as C&C focuses on a class-based system based on various fantasy archetypes, Star Siege does not. Instead, it adopts more of a skill-based approach for character creation. You still have a variety of different races to choose from but the notion of character classes are gone. Instead of selecting a class, the player chooses from a list of skill bundles in order to achieve the character concept or profession desired. The system of traditional level-based advancement and the notion of hit points are also gone. Hit points are simply replaced by a Wound and a Stress Track. Naturally, Star Siege is not the first RPG to make use of some of these game concepts but the game manages to remain simple enough when it comes to generating a character. Because of this approach, you are left potentially with something of a looser framework which can be both a strength and a weakness. The book, though relatively short, adequately covers character creation and covers the basics of play keeping to a rules-light philosophy. A small selection of weapons and gear as well as a sampling of special abilities is provided at the end of the book.

Victory 2442

To help give Star Siege the sense that it is truly a complete package, the inclusion of this book provides a brief campaign setting to use. The book is the shortest in terms of page count when compared to the other two books in the set but it serves its purpose. With it, there is little to prevent those who wish to jump right in and start playing from actually doing so. The setting gives details on three factions (or species) and a history detailing the conflicts between them. Additional notes are also provided concerning technology, rule modifications, to running a campaign. A variety of star crafts used in the setting are found at the end of the book and these provide excellent models if you decide to build other vehicles and technologies. At the very least, Victory 2442 is an excellent example of a setting if one wishes to go about creating their own.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Star Siege provides excellent value for your gaming dollar considering one set could easily accommodate a gaming group. It provides an excellent alternative to Castles & Crusades system but keeps the same streamlined mechanic for skill and task resolution. New rules are also supplied and these can be used with a minimum of fuss in either game. However, while the rulebooks are written in a very concise manner, some of the material may be a bit too concise. There are sections that could have easily been expanded upon with greater detail or more examples. Where as this might not be an issue with an experienced gamer, this could just as easily be a problem for a newcomer. For some, the lack of selection for equipment, abilities, or powers might also be an issue. Even the inclusion of a few templates to help build more complex equipment would have certainly made a difference. But is any of this really necessary or does the lack of these things diminish the value of the set? Not in the slightest! If you're looking for a science-fiction themed roleplaying game and you don't mind doing a bit of work to make this game your own, Star Siege is a good addition to your shelf.

[Originally written for Domesday - Vol.4.  Star Siege was published by Troll Lord Games in 2008 and written by Josh Chewning.]

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