Tag Archives: Gencon

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 Gencon Haul, Listed

Thanks to my beloved wife’s diligent librarianship, here’s the loot list from GenCon:

AD&D Monster Manual
Ars Magica: Trimore, the Covenant at Lucien’s Folly
Babylon 5: Armageddon: A call to arms
Babylon 5: Merchants, Traders & Raiders
Babylon 5: The Drakh
Babylon 5: Universe of Babylon 5 Traveller
Basic RolePlaying: The Chaosium Roleplaying System
Basic RolePlaying: The Chronicles of uture Earth
Basic RolePlaying: The Magic Book
BESM: The Black Rose Saga
BESM: The Rose Collection
Call of Chulhu: 1920s Miskatonic University, dire secrets & campus life
CAV: Journal of Recognition
Champions: Arcane Adversaries
Champions: Villains volume 2: villain teams
Champions: Villains, volume 3: solo villains
Champions: Villains: volume one Master Villains
Chimaera: Core Rule Book
Chivalry and Sorcery: Sourcebook
Chivalry and Sorcery: The Songsmith
Chivalry and Sorcery; Sourcebook 2
Collected Book of Experimental Might
Combat! A military action game
ConanL Hyboria’s Finest, Nobles, Scholars and Soldiers
Conspiracy X: Crypt to Zoology
Conspiracy X: Exodus
Conspiracy X: Shadows of the Mind
Conspiracy X: The hand Unseen
Cursed Empire: Dark Clouds of War
Cursed Empire: Knight Sourcebook
Cursed Empire: Slavers of Karg
Cursed Empire: Warrior-Priest Sourcebook
Cyberspace: Cyber Europe
D20 Aztecs, Empire of the Dying Sun
D20 Cities and Settlements
D20 Crime Scene Hong Kong
D20 Crime Scene: Sheriff’s Office
D20 Judge Dredd: Rookie’s Guide to Brit Cit
D20 Nile Empire: War in Heliopolis
D20 Orcfest
D20 Slaves of the Moon, essential guide to Lycanthropes
D20 Sovereign Stone: Campaign Sourcebook
D20 Streets of Silver: A Twin Crowns Adventuer’s Guide
D20 Underdark: Adventure Guide
D20 Violet Dawn: Denizens of Avadnu
D20 West
Dark Champions: Predators
Dead Reign, sourcebook one: Civilization cone
Dead Reign: Soucebook three: Endless Dead
Dead Reign: Sourcebook two: Dark Places
Doctor Who: Aliens and creatures
Dorastor: Land of Doom
Edge of Midnight: Gaunts and the Underworld
Edge of Midnight: Role Playing Game
Edge of Midnight: The Naked City
Edge of Midnight: Warlocks and Detectives
Fantasy Hero: Asian Bestiary volume 1
Fantasy Hero: Asian Bestiary volume 2
Gray Papers: Agone
Gurps: Conan, Beyond Thunder River
Gurps: Humanx
Gurps: Who’s Who 2
Gurps: Wild Cards: Aces Abroad
Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds VII: Cosmos Builder
Hackmaster: Player’s Handbook
Hamlet: a Game in Five Acts
Heaven & Earth: Game Master’s Guide
Heaven & Earth: Players Guide
Hero System: Advanced Player’s Guide II
James Bond Files: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Judge Dredd
Leagues of Adventure
Legend f the Five Rings: The Way of the Ratling
Marauder 2107
Marvel Superheros: Lands of De. Doom
Marvel: Heroic Roleplaying, Basic Game
Paranoia: Alpha Comples Nights 2
Paranoia: Big Book of Bots
Paranoia: Service, Service
Paranoia: The Thin Green Line
Paranoia: The Underplex
Paranoia: WMD
Path of Rage: City of Haven Sourcebook
Pathfinder: Ultimate Equipment
Pax Draconis
Rifts World Book 32: Lemuria
Rifts: Black Market
Role Aids:  Portal to Adventure, people, place and things
Role Aids: Fantastic Treasures II
Role Aids: Monsters of Myth and Legend II
Role Aids: Monsters of Myth and Legend III
Runequest: Glorantha, the Second Age
Runequest: Lankhmar Unleashed
Savage Worlds: Horror Companion
Savage Worlds: Ravaged Earth
Savage Worlds: Super Powers Companion
Shadow, Sword & Spell: Expert Core Rulebook
Star Fleet Battles: Captain’s Log #29
Star Hero: Worlds of the Empire
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (Beta)
Star Wars: Scum and Villainy
Star Wars: Shadows of the empire sourcebook
Starship Troopers: The Miniatures Game
Strikeforce: 2136: Strike manual
Strikeforce: 2136: Tech Manual
TORG: Kanawa Heavy Weapons
TORG: Ravagons
Universe: Primer
Way of War: Universal Miniatures System
Wild Talents: Superhero Roleplaying in a World Gone Mad
World of Species
Xcrawl: Emperor’s Cup 4700


Back From GenCon

And, as usual, I spent a lot of money, though not as much as you’d think. By the end of the con, Troll and Toad had an “Everything $1.00!” sale. The guy there told me “If you fill a box, you can get it for 25.00, flat.”


There was a lot of stuff there I’d paid $5.00 for at the start of the con I could have bought for <$1.00 on Sunday… but there was also a lot of stuff no longer there, so I don’t regret spending money early. (Among other things, picking up C&S Sourcebooks 1 and 2 for $5.00 each? Pretty sweet, if you ask me — mint condition, vintage 1980 or 1981 or so.)

In Which I Rip A Vault Door Off In The Name Of Stealth

I actually don’t get to game much at GenCon. At this one in particular, I was hyping my new book on Thursday, and shopping (and then passing out) on Friday, but I got a little gaming in. Saturday, I got to play the new Marvel Heroic Roleplay game. (Let’s see, Marvel has had four different game systems now, and DC has had three…)

My conclusion, based on a few hours of play, is that the system is likely to really appeal to a lot of gamers, and captures many of the key features of comic books as they are written very well in terms of mechanics. However, I don’t think it appeals to me as a system, because I’m weird and my tastes are odd. The dice pool mechanics are set up so that, overall, just about everyone is going to be roughly equally effective, though slightly better/worse in some areas. This really models comics accurately, where Captain America and Thor can share the stage, and no matter who the writer decides to have the hero fight, he will win. Daredevil vs. Galactus? Daredevil will win, somehow.

This is accomplished by a dice pool mechanic that gives you a bunch of dice of different sizes to roll, then lets you split them up into “success” and “effect”. So, if I’m a hero with a lot of combat skill, but not a particularly damaging attack (say, Daredevil), I might have a couple of D10 or D12 in various areas to represent my skill and agilty, but a D6 to represent my attack itself… but when I roll them all, I might end up with a really good D6 roll and a really crappy D12 roll, and, when all is said and done, what matters is the size of the Effect Die, not the value. So, if you roll a ‘1’ on your D12 or D10, you make that your Effect Die — and you build your Success die from which ever dice roll highest (you pick two, but you can spend plot points to add more).

Because a pool typically is a lot of dice, and it seems most heroes will have several D10s and D12s to play with, you end up with roughly equal outcomes. It also seems that less powerful heroes have more opportunities to earn extra dice from complications. Another thing that drives this is that each hero is rated for “Team”, “Buddy” and “Solo”. My character had a measly D6 in Team — so when she was acting with a group, she was substantially less effective than if she was off on her own (D10 Solo). Even though the session I was in was fairly short, I could see how the mechanics worked to enforce comic book genre tropes, including one that’s the bane of many other systems — splitting the party. In the Marvel Heroic Roleplay system, some characters should go rushing off on their own, while others shine if they’re surrounded by allies.

So, it’s probably one of the best simulations of comic book “reality” I’ve played. My tastes, though, run to more traditionally “simulationist” games, albeit with a genre filter. If the Hulk manages to land a punch on Daredevil, Daredevil should be red goop, and no matter how well Daredevil throws his billy club, it should never damage the Hulk. Now, in actual comics, the writers will contrive things: Daredevil keeps dodging the Hulk, and his attacks don’t target the Hulk directly, but, instead, knock down conveniently placed obstacles. Marvel Heroic’s system models this dynamic perfectly, as the highly abstract dice pool system strongly encourages players and GMs to flavor text to explain what just happened.

I prefer the idea of heroes and villains at various tiers of effectiveness, with rules that don’t try to enforce authorial fiat except in very broad ways (for example, it’s overall much harder to kill someone as opposed to just knocking them out). I like the idea that Daredevil is a “Street Level” hero and Thor is a “Cosmic” hero and that’s that. Such games don’t simulate actual comics perfectly; they simulate, instead, a world of comic book heroes. These aren’t the same thing; they’re different design goals and they appeal to different types of gamers. (The current DC Adventures RPG game from Green Ronin is much closer to this style.)

Anyway, to explain the headline of this section… we were the Young Avengers, none of whom I’d ever heard of. I was playing “Thor Girl”, who got XP and plot points when she acted like Thor. The rest of the players were (following Nick Fury’s advice) sneaking around like 1st level OD&D characters, coming up with complex plots and schemes to get in and out of our target building without being noticed. Eventually, we got to a giant metal vault door. They started trying to look for opening mechanisms, control panels, etc. I just grabbed the door, ripped it off its hinges, and tossed it backwards down the corridor. The conversation went something like this:

Other Player: “Nick Fury told us to be sneaky!”

Thor Girl: “Aye, verily, that clattering roar will surely deafen any guards! They’ll never hear us now!”

(According to my character sheet, Thor Girl considered stealth and subtlety to be “Loki’s way”, and she ain’t havin’ with none of that.)

More later. I’m likely to do a character build using the new Hackmaster 5e. Any game where the rules explicitly state that “If there is any ambiguity which the GM must interpret, he should usually take the interpretation least favorable to the PC” is my kind of old school! Viking hat FOREVER!