If you ever wanted a game where your pink meeple, armed with a crowbar and an assault rifle, could ride a motorcycle through the walls of a shopping mall killing zombies... then your name is probably Scott Almes, designer of Tiny Epic Zombies by Gamelyn Games. Tiny Epic Zombies is a 1-5 player game that takes about 30-45 minutes, mostly depending on how proficient you are with the setup. The premise is simple - you are survivors of the zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall, trying to achieve specific objectives before being overrun.
I'm a long-time fan of the Tiny Epic series of games - each of them comes in a small box with great components and each has its own distinct style of gameplay, from worker placement to 4X to head-to-head combat. The complexity of the games varies quite a bit, and I'd probably put Tiny Epic Zombies somewhere in the middle - it will take most gamers a few plays to get the hang of it.
The game has five different play modes. In addition to a solo version, there are two basic variables - cooperative or competitive play for the humans, and whether or not the zombies are controlled by a player. The main difference between competitive and co-op is whether each player is trying to achieve objectives independently or whether the players are working together to complete them. Adding a zombie player makes the game significantly more difficult for the humans - not only are the zombies attacking more strategically, but they can deploy special powers when one of the humans is "overrun", meaning a zombie is placed into the same room of the mall with a human.
Human players are managing three resources - individual health and ammunition, and a barricade at the center of the mall that must stand to protect non-player survivors - if it falls and all the survivors die, the zombies win.
Each turn consists of a human turn and a zombie turn. On the human turn, the player must move his or her meeple three times. Each time the player moves, she can kill one zombie, and can also potentially interact with items or rooms in the various stores of the mall. One constraint, however, is that most interactions require that the three rooms of the store be completely clear of zombies, which can be a tall order.
Once the human has finished his turn, he flips over a "Search" card indicating what he found on his travels. This card is placed in the same store as the meeple, and has a color code indicating which stores the zombies are invading. In some cases, these cards are useful equipment; in others, they are nasty surprises like explosions or extra zombies. The zombie player now deals the human a new card from her hand, and then places zombies based on the color coding of the search card, at a rate of one zombie per room of the store. If zombies reach the center courtyard, they damage the barricade. Play then moves to the next player. Once the zombie player has no more Search cards, the humans each get one more turn and then the game ends in victory for the zombie player - unless the humans can complete their objectives.
There's a certain Pandemic-like vibe to the game, with players needing to decide whether to fight zombies to protect the barricades (and each other) or to pursue objectives such as guiding army units into the mall or discovering the cause of the zombie outbreak. The time pressure of the supply deck is also a very real constraint on the game, both forcing hard choices on the players and ensuring that the game does not drag on forever.
My main critique of Tiny Epic Zombies is that the flow of the game takes a little while to master. Inserting the zombie turn after each human turn can be hard to remember even with a zombie player, let alone without. With practice, though, I can see this game becoming a lot of fun. Replayability is great because of the changing layout possibilities of the mall and the different objectives available. If you like fighting zombies, I'd give this game a go.
Recently, the Wild Die podcast reviewed the Children of the Apocalypse setting book. I thoroughly enjoyed the review (presented below), and thought that the Wild Die crew had some great ideas for adventures. The result is the new Pay-What-You-Want adventure Disks of Chaos, which follows the adventures of Sir Dave ("It's pronounced dah-VEY") Bearington as he attempts to secure these powerful artifacts (actually ancient DVDs) against the opposition of the heroes. Enjoy!
If you like the idea of the Secret Avengers and love conspiracy theories, Titan Effect (by Knight Errant Media) might be the Savage setting for you! Titan Effect is a modern-era covert operations setting with superpowered agents throwing down for control of the future of humanity. I backed the Kickstarter and received the final setting PDF recently, so let's dive in:
The PDF is 140 pages at 7"x10" (graphic novel format). It begins with a grayscale comic that sets the scene of Afghani fighters with AK-47s trying and failing to fight off werebeasts. From there, the book provides a solid overview of the world, including the presence of psychic powers and bio-engineered super soldiers, as well as the various covert factions contending behind the scenes for power. PCs by default are members of SPEAR, an independent covert ops agency that fights to prevent chaos and preserve peace. Rival agencies include the Olympians, a sinister cabal of eugenicists and their corporate/military arm, ARES Corporation; The Directorate, a group of Russian psychics trying to restore the Soviet Union; TYPHON, a post-human terror group; and the Order of the Holy Mystery, a secret and ancient branch of the Roman Catholic Church.
Character creation is fairly standard for Savage Worlds, but does require use of the Super Powers companion. One thing I would have liked to have seen was an option to play a non-powered character - this could be similar to the MARS backgrounds in Savage RIFTS where non-supers start with more experience to compensate. PCs have certain mandatory skills from basic training, and the setting provides several new Hindrances and Edges. One of my favorite of the latter is CQB (for Close Quarters Battle), which allows use of submachineguns, assault rifles, and shotguns in close combat. This Edge fits thematically with the idea of special ops teams breaching enemy strongholds and moving in fast and hard a la the SAS or Delta Force. In the Skills section, Titan Effect uses the Athletics and Thievery skill combination from the Pinnacle Flash Gordon setting.
The setting also provides some new Powers for use with the Super Powers Companion rules, as well as a revised method for equipment selection based on the characters' seniority in SPEAR. The latter is an excellent method for representing a combination of a powerful sponsoring organization and realistic resource constraints. Multiple new weapons are provided in the gear section, maybe more than are strictly necessary, as many differ only in small ways from each other; however, the Tom-Clancey-esque flavor of the setting probably attracts players who would care about the minutia of firearms. Some nice espionage gear and modern armor rounds out the gear section.
Titan Effect uses several setting rules from both the Core Book and the Super Powers companion; making the companion mandatory isn't an issue for me, but may be for some players. The Setting Rules also include some basic rules for hacking and demolitions, as well as a "Psychic Surge" rule allowing characters to trade Fatigue for improvements to their superpowers. Certain powers that don't fit the theme of the setting (like Super Sorcery) are banned, and the remainder are grouped into four families - characters can only take powers from one family (or two with an Edge).
In the GM section, the book includes a more detailed alternate history of the world and a breakdown of the structure and personnel of SPEAR. Each rival organization also gets a lengthy background section, including details of how they relate to the others. This section taps into a LOT of conspiracy theories, so if you know who the Trilateral Commission, Opus Dei, and the Bilderburg group are, you'll have fun with this alternative take on them. The GM section also includes optional rules for things like psychic dampers that have the potential to be game-breaking, and therefore should definitely be used in moderation and for maximum effect.
A lengthy part of the GM section covers the various steps of a SPEAR mission, from briefing through kitting out to debriefing afterwards. Along with this description comes a really nice mission generator and a set of story hooks that should allow any GM with a modicum of experience to put together an adventure in short order.
The "Watch List" provides a bestiary of opponents both mundane and superhuman, with most of the key players in the various factions detailed out with statistics. One thing that I would like to have seen was more "middle manager" level characters in the rival groups, since those characters are more appropriate opponents for less-experienced PCs. The description of the key characters in the Watch List is excellent.
One thing that unfortunately didn't make the Kickstarter cut for Titan Effect is a Plot Point campaign, although there are certainly plenty of hooks that could form the basis for a long term story. Overall, I can definitely see the appeal of Titan Effect, and hope that Knight Errant comes out with more supporting material over the next few years.
In addition to the character building rules, the book provides a gazetteer for Star City, a metropolis created by a "space god" in the 1950s off the shore of Connecticut. Star City provides the setting for many (but not all) of the Savage Tales and Plot Point Campaign adventures.
The campaign itself has a nice mix of different types of adventures, as well as a thru-line plot about building up to a massive rebellion and some fun twists and turns along the way. A "mission generator" provides the ability to create adventures on the fly or to link to the various Savage Tales provided.
The idea of playing supervillains has definite appeal for many players; however, there's a set of moral quandaries provided in the course of the campaign that seems intended to push the villains towards redemption. I could easily see this going sideways, with players sticking to their villainous origins throughout - if half the table turns good and the other half remains evil, running the campaign from there could be a major challenge.
My only other concern is theoretical - some of the missions are extremely challenging, and I could easily see high character fatality rates and TPKs from many of them, although I have not playtested them to confirm this. If I'm right, some groups would be turned off by the need to generate new characters on a regular basis.
Overall, I like Necessary Evil's storyline and setting, but I'm not sure I'd run it with either of my groups - the challenge level in particular might be frustrating for my less-experienced table, and the more-experienced one would almost certainly be in PvP mode before the end of the campaign.