Friday, 1 May 2015

Game Review: Pulp Alley

At the outset I'd like to say that I really enjoyed Pulp Alley. I suppose I could be super-critical of the layout and whatnot of the rules, but they're better than most, and I appreciate the key-working and general flow of general-to-specific, which can be difficult in games when the meaning of the general isn't always apparent until the context, purpose, and organization is made explicit in often ponderous detail. Which, I think, is why I liked the game because unlike many games that first attempt to simulate a world and then try to wrap games around that way of simulating the world, the rules for Pulp Alley seem to be about playing a game and letting your imagination fill in the details, which is something I've come to appreciate.

Of course, it helped that my regular gaming buddy has both an extensive collection of Playmobil toys that he puts on hex bases and that are fantastic for pulp and adventure gaming in general for a vast range of options (terrain, vehicles, etc), so that the 3'x3' board looked like a desert oasis by broken terrain of rocks, some 3D printed tents to form a camp, and palm trees for the oasis. The major plot point (MPP) was a set of golden keys, with another plot point (PP) being a piece of complex machinery, a second was a tool perhaps operated by the machine, and some cable, perhaps for attaching one to another, and finally a bottle which was presumably responsible for my league's archeological tools being scattered around what I figured must have been a dig-site. Coming to after what we imagined might have been a drunken night, the league of Pulp Girl and Company were assailed by an undead Priest of Set and a collection of mummies and ghouls (the ghouls, I think, had guns, which resulted in a debilitating head wound to one of Pulp Girl's henchmen), and a single swarm of scorpions, which finished off the dog, Naga, and James the muscle.

In particular what I liked what how the Initiative was handled, in that the player with the Initiative got to call the player activating, and then the player called activated a model, which makes multi-player games, or even non-player NPC forces simple to work into the turn sequence. So it's neat that the Initiative allows the player possessing it to dictate whose turn it is, which is my only gripe about the 'turn sequence' as that's actually players taking turns activating until all models have been activated, with less than twenty models on the 3'x3' board. Then the Initiative could be seized by winning a fight (attacking and hurting an opponent without being hurt in return), or solving a plot point, which made for an interesting way of having the game flow back and forth reminiscent of Blood Bowl but without the annoyance of models sitting around doing nothing because a single failure with one of the first models prevented anything else from being activated. Again, it focused on stuff that was relevant to both the game and the story being told (or experienced, really).

The notion of rolling difference dice for 4+s worried me for a second as I had seen something similar using just D6s which hadn't worked for me at all, but instead of using modifiers dice were used, with D6s, D8s, D10s, and D12s being the range of dice being used, and always on a 4+. Things like combat were worked out by rolling the number and type of dice from the appropriate skills, with mooks rolling D6s, mid-levels rolling D8s, and protagonist/antagonist types rolling D10s and D12s. Then you added up your 4+, and making the right number of 4+s was the threshold for success (and not enough being the threshold for failure). You could either fight back in combat (with a -1 dice for the next reaction to an attack) or shoot back if the model could shoot, or dodge (if the model could dodge: Mummies can't!). Shifting +1/-1 dice for various things was neat, and bonuses and penalties for various, card-driven events. Health handled as a series of increasingly difficult saves was interesting too. The fact that each turn the models could recover was nice too, except for those models too extra-y to recover...

Each player also had a hand of cards, where they gained one for each turn, with the game lasting ~6 turns unless you drew the card that extended the game. These cards had clear conditions when they could be played for various effects, bonuses and penalties. As well they could be played before a player attempted to solve a plot point, as a peril, meaning that players had to manage models capable of both avoiding perils and solving plot points to pick them up (being essentially the objectives of the game, as well as conferring bonuses on models that solved plot points), which meant the leader models doing the heavy lifting rather than merely being combat-machines. One card I used, for example, was a Stumble to reduce a mummy's move from 6" to 3" so it couldn't gang up on my leader, Pulp Girl. Later, as my leader attempt to pick up a plot point she was afflicted by Bleeding by my opponent's leader, who could inflict perils instead of attacking or shooting (as befits a Priest of Set), and fumbled the plot point! I had it previously, but then a ghoul went all Day of the Dead on the guy that had picked it up, and his health went down from there.

Probably not doing it justice here, but I enjoyed a quick-playing game that made sense (when we doubted something and looked it up we usually had the rules interpretation correct), and basically did everything we needed it to do to flesh out a pulp adventure. I'm pretty excited to try out a campaign, since I'm pretty sure we could knock out 3-4 games in a night for some real-time progression.

It's definitely worth a try!

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