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Sharknado: Pre-Release Playtest Comments

A generic "west coast" city. The final game may include a second city map.

A generic “west coast” city. The final game may include a second “East Coast” city map.

EDIT: Kickstarter is now live!

One of the things I’ve found to be a lot of fun at GenCon is hot anime cosplayers spending all my money playtesting games! “Double Exposure” (which, IIRC, began long ago and far away as a group running LARPs in Piers Anthony’s “Phaze” setting) runs a regular hall-o-playtests, where a dozen or more games run on a two hour cycle: You get a ticket, you are given a number, when the guy whose microphone doesn’t work quite right says something that sounds like your number, you go up, and see which games have open slots for that session.

I show up, not knowing what to expect, and see there’s a Sharknado game.


Fortunately, I got in. And I had enough fun I found when they were running demos outside the playtest hall and signed up for one of those, too. So I have played two full games of the pre-Kickstarter version. The rules and design are in “late flux” stage; they’re refining, but the core seems pretty solid. Playtest components are placeholders (a single generic shark photo for the shark cards, instead of unique illustrations for each, etc.) but it’s pretty well along.

First, I asked if they had the license. You’d be surprised (if you know nothing about humanity) at how many people are very far along in the development of a game tied to an IP and who have no idea you need the IP holder’s permission. I’ve even met a few who think the IP holder is going to pay THEM for designing this awesome game to promote their property. (Perhaps I will design a game called “Too Stupid To Live”, something like CAH…)

Yes, they did. Good.

The game is a cooperative race against time. A sharknado is threatening the city, and the players (running various characters with different abilities and strengths) must stop it. There’s at least three scenarios (I played in two), and probably more. There’s difficulty scaling for each scenario, as well.

Sharknado - Mia

I found a laser chainsaw. Your argument is irrelevant.

The sharknado runs according to specific rules, governing its direction, how many sharks it spits out, and so on. During the playtest, one of the designers “ran” the sharknado, like a GM, but that’s not needed. It’s purely mechanical.

Players manage action tokens, reroll tokens, permanent and “single use” equipment, and wounds. If your current character dies (which happens often), you just pick a new one from the stack. Pity about all the cool gear you scavenged.

I found great armor and weapons... then I took a sharknado to the face. And legs. And arms.

I found great armor and weapons (after this picture was taken)… then I took a sharknado to the knee. And torso. And head. And arms.

There are some very nice balancing elements. Players in the same hex can cooperate, share gear, use special abilities (like healing) on each other… but if the sharknado enters that hex, all players in it die. Instantly. There are usually multiple goals to achieve to win a scenario… any one goal is easier if everyone works together, but this could mean there’s no time to reach other goal points on the map. So there’s motive to stick close, and motive to split up.

By design, Sharknado is highly random — the designer referred to it as “Ameritrash”, by contrast with the European style of low- or non- random games. In the two games I played, victories were won by complex application of resource management and careful timing of each player’s turn and actions (each player spends action points, but can do so in an interwoven fashion, with one player spending some points to move into a hex, another player handing him an item, and then spending more points to do something else), but each was won at the last possible turn, and a single die roll could have foiled it all.

It feels like one of the movies. It’s random, violent, bloody, ridiculous, and fun. I will be backing the Kickstarter when it goes live.

PS: Yes, I asked before taking the pictures. I also asked if posting the pictures in public fora would be OK.

The World Of Synnibarr

The World Of Synnibarr

World Of Synnibarr

First Edition Cover, Image From http://www.legrog.org/, because I’m too lazy to scan my own copy of the cover. Hope they don’t mind.

OK, first off, let me note I have a few weird psychological issues with the World of Synnibarr, because I bought my copy (the first edition of the game, with the lion man cover) at an SF con in the early 90s where I a)had a migraine, and b)had my girlfriend of the time decide to spend all her time traipsing around with other people. Yes, I still nurture my two-decade old psychological scars. I hold on to my trivial emotional traumas the way other people hold on to their grandmother’s good china. (If your china is made in New Jersey, why isn’t it new jersey? And how can you have eyeglasses made of plastic? Shouldn’t they be eyeplastics? And that airplane food…)

So. Synnibarr. I will attempt to put my personal issues behind me, and review this San-loss inducing book fairly. No, seriously. No matter what my weird cross-associations may be with things, this game is wonked. I’ve referred many times to things that teeter on the edge of awesome and awful… this doesn’t teeter. Hell, it didn’t even fall off. It never got out of the pit of Awful to begin with.

Or…. so it appears merely from flipping through it, then trying to reconcile what I’ve read with any notion of a sane and ordered universe, or at least, a universe which was not actively malign. I haven’t tried to make a character with it, yet. Let’s see how it goes. Who knows? It might be better than it seems. Odin knows, it couldn’t be worse.

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