Thursday, 18 November 2010

Pulp City Guide - Initial Impressions

Okay, before anything else, I have to declare an interest. I have helped to a degree with the development of the book and rules, and I am a fan of the game and minis, so I will naturally be biased; nonetheless I'll aim for at least a little objectivity, but of course my appreciation of the game will inevitably strongly colour my thoughts.

The Book
The Guide is laid out into three pretty distinct sections; the first section covering rules and Encounters/gaming; while the second section covers the background of the city and many its Supreme denizens; the third slim section allows for a Glossary (think condensed rules with page references) and Errata (outlining changes to some existing Supremes and Minions. The different sections have differing page borders to allow quick location of the relevant section.

The Rules
The rules are an evolution of the previous set, which had been available as a free download. Changes have been incorporated with the aim for better game-play, as well as opening up options (I especially like the Master Plans that kick in when a major win in a Starting roll is achieved). I'd advise experienced players to have a good read-through to familiarise themselves with the changes.

The core resolution mechanic remains the Opposed Roll; this is a dice roll with a single D6 adding a Trait against an opposing matched Trait plus D6; the roll can be modified with Power-Ups (adding D3), Trump Rolls (roll an extra D6, choose the best) and situational boosts. I like the mechanic because it is simple, but allows for specific effects including varied Damage, depending upon the associated Action. Generally between 1 and 3 dice are used per player for a given Action, and working out the results is generally pretty swift.

Each Supreme character has access to a range of general Universal Actions (stuff like Move*, Charge*, Strike etc) as well as their Exclusive Actions, and these are carried out in a given Activation. Supremes are restrained by having an AP Allowance - the limit of the number of AP (Action points) they can spend on Actions in a given Round, with costs of Actions varying according to usefulness.

In addition Supremes have Skills, Trump Trait Benefits and Team Powers, which help define them further.

Add to that various rules governing interaction with the environment, and the game allows for an immersive experience in which the whole battlefield can potentially be affected in some way or other.

The rules are rounded out by a chapter describing various Plots and Agendas (think sub-plots) which allow various unique combinations of victory conditions to be created.

Throughout the rules section there are many examples to illustrate key mechanics and situations.

The Fluff/Background
This section occupies about a quarter of the book, and describes the various locales around the city, as well as Supremes and prominent Teams. There is a lot that refers to well-established characters, but the observant reader will find some hints about future Supremes, Teams and story lines both within the text and through the art sprinkled liberally through the book.

The background takes a narrative approach, meaning the history of the city is seen in snatches of text, building the picture of the setting from these fragments.

It isn't overwhelming, and a nice touch in this section are the narrative story ideas associated with each discussion of a team or specific locale.

Glossary & Errata
The Glossary mostly offers a compendium of defined game terms, both offering condensed definitions (IE the rules) as well as page references. For players this should allow them to utilise this a primary reference source. some terms are not described in the Glossary, with page numbers only.

In addition, there is an Errata, which outlines changes to the individual rules cards for a number of Supremes and Minions. As a game evolves, Errata are inevitable - just look at any leading tabletop minis game for examples of such. Some changes are pretty simple or minor, whilst others are much more comprehensive.

Art & Design
The book is full-colour and glossy throughout; and there is a ton of art through the Guide, both line art as well as dramatic depictions of conflict using the minis of the range. This makes for colourful and varied layout, and the design is very striking in my view; much as modern comics use all types of panel layouts, so the Guide uses a varied approach to page layouts, and has a very visual approach rather than simply text-on-page. In addition, key concepts are often highlighted within text boxes.

The Upsides
I think the game is a strong one, and allows for pretty fast play - even large games can resolved in a couple of hours, while smaller games may take a little over one hour with experienced players.

The core resolution mechanic is a simple one that can be applied in a number of ways to specific Actions. Add in the game play ideas for potential one-off types of Encounters, and the mix and match Plots and Agendas, and players have lots of scenario options and ideas to draw on.

The Plots & Agendas offer a great template for gaming; if players want they can have a simple Slugfest!, but if they want more involved games then the other Plots and Agendas mean that games can be decide on a number of differing results other than simply grinding your opponent into dust.

I really like the design of the book, and think it is filled with lots of cool looking characters,some old, some new, and laid it is out in a clear way.

The Guide is definitely written to be user-friendly: with the Glossary; the text boxes; numerous examples of play; the design and layout choices. The decsion to go hardback was also a good call in my view - I simply prefer a hardback gaming rule-book to a softback unless they are 'pocket-sized'.

The background is rich and varied in scope; the influences can be sen from everything from supers, pulp, Wuxia, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, and so much more. I addition, I really enjoyed the 'easter eggs' sprinkled through the book; art or veiled references to future Supremes, Teams and story lines.

The permissive Team-building options, added with the plethora of choices of Supreme character-styles mean that there are a lot of choices available for players.

The Downsides
There are some discrepancies between examples and delineated rules (basically as a result of rule changes as the book was written); inexperienced players may need some guidance as to which version of which rule is actually the correct one.

The other thing I think is 'missing' is a map of the city. Pulp City is nominally on the West Coast of the USA, and a map is hardly essential, but given the locale is at the heart of the game a nice double page map would have been a nice touch in my view, especially as the page count would have allowed for this. A minor quibble at best, however.

These are small issues at best in my view, and don't mar my enjoyment of the book or the game.

I am pleased the book has been released, and happy for Maciej that he has achieved this phase of his plan for the game. I still have fun playing Pulp City, and look forwards to each game (I managed a couple more today!), and the book has possibly served to heighten my interest, if possible. I have waited a long time to have this in my hands and I have to say as an established fan, it has more than met my expectations.

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