Thursday, September 1, 2016

RPG Review: TROPES Zombie Edition

Zombies! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
Disclosure:  Links throughout this review (and the banner above) include my DriveThruRPG.com affiliate identification. I receive token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Tropes Zombie Edition & Supplements were provided free of charge, for the purpose of this review.

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/144518/TROPES-Zombie-Edition-PRINT?affiliate_id=815972
Tropes Zombie Edition

TROPES Zombie Edition

By: Peter C. Spahn
Published By: Small Niche Games
Scouted By: J.L. Duncan

The following is a review of three products: “TROPES Zombie Edition,” “TROPES: Zombie Edition Companion!” And “TROPES: Zombie Edition Flight of the Zombie.” Hereafter, TROPES Zombie Edition shall be abbreviated as TZE. As of this review, all of these products are available at Driverthrurpg.com as a “MEGA STARTER BUNDLE,” in PDF format. Or you can select titles individually and pick your poison, be it PDF or Softcover (8.5”x 11”).
The publisher was kind enough to provide the download links for the (artless) version of the TZE (MB), as well as the full color (art) version of the TZE Companion and TZE Flight of Zombie (one shot scenario). I have wanted to crack my knuckles at writing a game review for some time. So, let us begin…
Kickstarter has created an interesting platform as well as increased the awareness of small Indy game publishers. However, though I’m aware my opinion is in the minority, it did not flood the market with bad games. The market was already flooded with such and well before Kickstarter was an itch in the gaming market’s pants. Some of us gamers remember this fact. Sorry, “bad games,” the truth hurts.
What Kickstarter did was make an easier platform for these “bad games,” to become available (I'm looking at you: Everything is Dolphins. Not sure if this is my version of a disclaimer (and yes I’m aware-I’m splitting hairs) or just a flat out rant about Kickstarter before I slide into a game review, but… 
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/144519/TZE003-TROPES-Zombie-Edition-Companion?affiliate_id=815972
Tropes Zombie Edition Companion
For some reason the people I’ve talked to recently seem to have an irrational belief that the games available on Kickstarter should be of “higher quality.” Personally, I found this has as much more to do with the artsy video campaigns posted by the publisher; or therein the real problem, which is a game that is just flat, less-wonderful than its advertising. There have been a lot of games/products that fall into this category, but not all… Kickstarter is a platform, not a publisher…
So, many game publishers create their own problems in overselling, while under delivering the quality of their game. So how did TZE do?
I found TZE to be a game which is exactly what it says it is. This in of itself is an accomplishment, and the game even says it better than I could so let’s quote it…

The opening line from the product page:
“Ever wanted to play a game that explores the deep personal horror of the zombie apocalypse? Where the choices you make in times of crisis define who you are? Where zombies are only a backdrop and humans are responsible for the true evils in the world?

Well, go find another game! This game is about killing zombies, so you can forget all that touchy feely crap!”
I really like this game. Tropes Zombie Edition is a rules light system, designed to support action packed-zombie slaying, one shot scenarios. I’d be hard pressed to find an RPG that introduces a new system in such a simple and effective manner. The game is well written and there’s a good amount of game substance which is more than adequate for the Zombie Master (the Game Master/Referee) to develop their own one shot scenarios.

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/147557/TZE002-TZE-Flight-of-the-Zombie?affiliate_id=815972
Flight of The Zombie
Getting started there’s a good chance that even non gamers will have all the materials needed: writing utensils-check, a bowl (a bowl?-interesting)-check and some D6s-duh!?! At least three D6 are recommended for each player and should it so happen that you are a desperate non-gamer, I guess those anguished stained, dirty and neglected Yahtzee dice are finally going to be put to good use. Don’t worry closet case-Yahtzee aficionados, I feel you.

Before the game starts, the ZM will most likely have printed out a few player character sheets which can be copied or printed from the mainbook as needed. Also, a map for the location of the scenario is required and performs the duty of the game board. The map of “Flight of the Zombie,” is a jumbo plane, but a ZM creating their own scenario might take home a local zoo or stadium map, that is after paying for them of course, if they are not complimentary. Alternatively, as suggested in TZE, the ZM should easily be able to find a something with a relevant image search on their computer.
The game begins with the ZM describing the location that the characters reside at the time of the outbreak as well as the real world timeframe the game should involve. A one to four hour game is recommended. Start to finish, “Flight of the Zombie,” was recommended at an hour, though including character creation our game ran a little over two. Players are then tasked with each creating three characters on the sheets provided by the ZM, with a lot of personal freedom as to who these characters can be. When finished, each character sheet is folded and placed into a bowl at the center of the table. Players then draw one character out and gameplay begins with the ZM narrating a brief introduction as to what the characters are doing at the moment the outbreak begins.

I enjoyed the bowl. I would say “we” enjoyed the bowl, however a couple of my players didn’t appreciate the characters they drew on the first pull-they warmed up eventually. We termed it the “The bowl of fate.” If a bit of random knuckle headed fun is what one shots are all about, then the bowl of fate, provides.  
Character Generation is quick. Each character has only three abilities Muscle Agility and Wits. Points for abilities are distributed and an interesting feature of the game is that not all characters have the same amount points to distribute among these abilities. Each player creates one character with seven points, one with six and one with five. The players pick a background, for which there is a table provided to give options and ideas for those wanting to create something unique. The chosen background might impact skills and task resolution, throughout game play, which may award a bonus chance of success (roll an additional D6) given the situation. Skills are not chosen but the ZM and player will negotiate this on the fly concerning a specific task the character desires to achieve, this helps keep character creation simple. Last, players write a three sentence description of their character(s)-and write down gear they may have.

Gameplay concerning Tasks and Combat (sections) utilize a D6 mechanic. Success or failure is determined by the difficulty of the task, with a modifier table provided for the ZM (but players can negotiate) to determine which ability score task falls under be it: Muscle, Agility, or Wits. The modifier table, matching ability to task, is well outlined and pretty clear. There are also a number of optional “crunchier” rules and short examples provided throughout the TZE MB, which provide a useful picture of how gameplay should proceed with tasks.
The combat section could have been expanded a bit more or at least as well as the task section, though tasks and combat are in essence the same mechanic so I understand why the combat section wasn’t as outlined. There is also an interesting mechanic: Action Points, which award characters when they achieve a critical success (rolling a six on a D6). Action Points can be used at the player’s discretion to increase a single die roll or avoid damage from an attacking zombie, during or beyond the encounter in which they were earned. Character mortality is delivered at a high rate and players need all the help they can get.

So what didn’t I like? Well… I didn’t like the art. Art is highly subjective (just like reviews-ehh?) so I’ll simply say it just wasn’t my cup of coffee. One exception, the map of the plane, “Flight of the Zombie,” was exceedingly well done. Some of the art through the TZE Companion is serviceable-but my criticism of this product is that some of the Zombie types don’t fit… Yet? I’m assuming those types are potential precursors for future scenarios...
Movement rules and who goes, what-when-how, is a bit wonky. Either that or my player group and I are a bit wonky…  However, as written it works and is adequate.

Beyond gameplay, the books are laid out in that familiar (old school) double column style. Sections are well defined with a black bold headings and white letters. These books are well written. I’m half temped to go back through right this moment and try and find some sort of spelling or grammar error. Suffice it to say, two full readings and one successful playtest later; I didn’t find any. The author’s tone is casual with good humor sprinkled in.
For game that generated a little less than 1k internet bucks on Kickstarter, I felt that a lot of people had missed the zombie plane on this one and I do recommend spendin g the extra bucks for the published scenario, “Flight of the Zombie.” My gaming group and I had a lot of fun with it. Luckily, if zombie games are your thing, Small Niche Games has small following of OSR products that you might consider giving a look.

Disclosure Notes: This review is property of Kenzer and Company, republished here with expressed permission. Complementary copies were provided by the creator for the purposes of the review to appear in Knights of the Dinner Table magazine, published my Kenzer and Company.