Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Glen Frank (1985)

Summary

TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS is a science fiction game for two to four players depicting a hunt for the biggest game imaginable - dinosaurs. Each player controls one Hunter, who has traveled into the past in a time machine to try to win fame and fortune by becoming the most successful dinosaur killer.

My thoughts

Ah, the ‘80s. I was a kid watching Dungeons & Dragons on Saturday morning TV and playing video games on my Atari 2600. But some of my fondest memories were those rare visits to a bookstore in a college town near where I grew up. It kept all the respectable stuff up front, but in the back of the store was a room – a glorious room – stocked with pen-and-paper roleplaying games and other nerd manna. That’s where you would have found Tyrannosaurus Wrecks.

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks calls itself a board game but really it is a microgame – a genre that seems to have died out with the rise the modern video game. Microgames were games published in paperback booklets. They often came with punch-out cardboard pieces that substituted for the plastic pieces found in regular board games. Many were wargames, but in truth they covered a wide variety of genres. Their rules were complex and chaotic, with the authors usually more concerned about creating a roleplaying experience than delivering balanced gameplay.

As advertised, Tyrannosaurus Wrecks puts players in the shoes of time-traveling, big-game hunters out to bag dinosaurs. Scientific accuracy is the first thing to be thrown out the window as the game mixes a dinosaurs from a variety of eras into the same setting. Dinosaurs are placed on the playing board in different locations depending on the scenario. Hunters start at locations randomly determined by a roll of the die. Players have 20 turns to kill as many dinosaurs as they can and return to their time machines or risk being stranded in the past.

At its heart, the game is all about tables. Shoot a dinosaur, roll a die and compare the result to a table to see what happens. Move into a new space, roll a die and look up what happens on an event table. Start a turn, roll a die to see if the volcano erupts. As you can see, there is a lot of dice rolling in Tyrannosaurus Wrecks. In fact, at the start of every turn, you must roll a die for each and every dinosaur to determine what direction it moves. This is not a game for people with short attention spans or who do not like repetitive action.

I enjoy Tyrannosaurus Wrecks for what it is while recognizing that, from a gameplay perspective, it probably isn’t very good. This is a game you play just to see what crazy things will happen rather play to try to win. Maybe it's just the nostalgia speaking, but if you are in the mood for hunting dinosaurs, you can’t go wrong with Tyrannosaurus Wrecks.

Trivia
  • While the game is advertised for 2-4 players, it plays perfectly fine as a solitaire game. In fact, it may play best solo as there isn’t a lot of downtime between turns.
     
  • More information about the game can be found on its BoardGameGeek entry page.
     
  • As of this writing, the game is available as a print-and-play PDF file from RPGnow.com. It is also available on the publisher’s website.
Reviews
  • None

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Half-Past Danger by Stephen Mooney (2013)

Summary

Summer, 1943. Sargent Tommy “Irish” Flynn is leading a squad of U.S. soldiers through the jungles of a remote South Pacific isle when he stumbles upon a secret Nazi base. Before he gets a chance to report what he saw, his squad is attacked and decimated by a pair of T. rexes, with Flynn the only survivor. Fast forward two months: Flynn, now deeply haunted by his experience, is recruited by the U.S. Army and MI6 Agent Miss Huntington-Moss to return to the island, find out what the Nazis want with the dinosaurs, and stop them at any cost.

My thoughts

Half-Past Danger was a six-issue comic miniseries that was apparently a labor of love for its creator, Stephen Mooney, who provided the art and story. It’s an obvious homage to the pulps of yesteryear and to early comics such as The War That Time Forgot. Mooney’s passion for the subject shines through, particularly in the illustrations, which are excellent.

I wish I could say the same for Mooney’s storytelling abilities. The first issue provides a nice setup, but by the second issue Mooney is in too much of a hurry to get to the action. He spills the big secret of the island and devotes the remaining issues to a series of chases, each more implausible than the next. There also are a couple of plot twists that frankly don’t make a lot of sense. And, to be honest, he overuses T. rexes – I would have liked to have seen a wider variety of dinosaurs.

That said, I don’t want to come across as too negative because I enjoyed the comic despite its flaws. It’s fun, brainless entertainment, and the artwork alone is worth the price of admission. Half-Past Danger is worth picking up if you come across it.

Trivia
Reviews

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Guns of the Dragon by Tim Truman (1998-99)

Summary

Shanghai, 1927. China is divided by civil war. In an effort to unify the country, Chinese nationalists along with the U.S. Army recruit three obscure DC Comics heroes – Bat Lash, Enemy Ace, and Biff Bradley – to recover a pair of mythological swords. The catch? The swords are located on the long lost “Dragon Isle,” and the heroes must also bring back a dragon to convince the Chinese the legend is true. And if that wasn’t enough, it turns out the communists, Japanese and supervillain Vandal Savage also want the swords - and they’re willing to kill for them.

My thoughts

Guns of the Dragon was a four-part miniseries published in 1998 and 1999 by DC Comics. The idea came from writer and illustrator Tim Truman, who wanted to pen a pulp adventure in the spirit of Indiana Jones but using DC characters appropriate for the time period. He also decided to set most of the action on Dinosaur Island, a location that was featured prominently in the War that Time Forgot, a 1960s comic about World War II soldiers fighting dinosaurs on an isolated Pacific island.

As for miniseries itself, all the pieces are there for a good story, and the plot gets off to a decent start in the first issue. But once the characters reach the island things fall apart. The main problem is there are simply too many villains, and their competing storylines break up the action. The art is inconsistent – sometimes it is really good, other times it is simply serviceable. And for a comic that came out several years after Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs are a disappointment. They are drawn as lumbering, tail-dragging behemoths. I would have rather seen them portrayed as the active, agile creatures we know they were.

That said, Guns of the Dragon is an interesting piece of DC lore that fans of the comic universe may appreciate more than I did. Unfortunately, the miniseries has never been collected in a single volume. You will need to find the individual issues online or in a comic book store.

Trivia
  • Dinosaur Island would pop up sporadically in the DC universe in later comics, and the island itself became a villain in the miniseries DC: The New Frontier.
Reviews

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thrilling Expeditions: Valley of the Thunder Lizard by Richard A. Johnson (2008)

Cover blurb

Thrilling Expeditions: Valley of the Thunder Lizard allows players to play big game hunters in a lost valley populated with creatures from before the rise of man, or have their pirates going ashore on an island where Neanderthals battle Saurians, or time traveling tourists suddenly stranded in Earth’s distant past.

This title will add dinosaurs not only to the .45 Adventure system, but to Gloire and Fantastic Worlds. In addition, the book will provide a Big Game Archetype for each of the three game systems. This release will allow players who may enjoy more than one of our games, the chance to get one book to cover all three.

The Valley of the Thunder Lizard is the first of the Thrilling Expeditions series of supplements. These supplements will be heavy on scenarios with at least one multi-part scenario for each game system. These scenarios should provide you with plenty of ideas for your own games.

So grab your rifle and prepare for Thrilling Expeditions!

My thoughts

Valley of the Thunder Lizard is a supplement for three tabletop miniatures gaming systems by Rattrap Productions, all of which share the same basic mechanics. “Miniatures games?” you say. “You mean like Warhammer 40K?” Actually, no. Warhammer games usually involve dozens of miniatures scattered across a large tabletop. The beauty of Rattrap’s systems is they are designed to be played with only a few 28mm miniatures in an area that can be a small as 2x2 feet. Building large Warhammer armies is expensive. Rattrap’s systems are designed for gamers on a budget.

All three systems use 10-sided dice to resolve conflicts. When attacking, for example, both players roll dice and add any modifiers specific to their figures. The player with the highest number wins the roll. Each figure have seven skills tied to a specific body location. Skills include brains, speed and brawn. When a part of the body takes damage, the associated skill is usually reduced by one point, making it harder to pass any challenges using that skill.

As for the systems themselves, .45 Adventure covers the 1930s pulp action genre, like Indiana Jones or The Shadow; Gloire covers pirates; Fantastic Worlds covers 1930s space pulp serials like Flash Gordon.

Valley of the Thunder Lizards is a solid supplement for anyone who plays miniatures games. It comes with stats for a wide variety of prehistoric creatures along with rules modeling how different types of animals should behave. There are a fairly large number of multi-part scenarios, each specific to one of the three game systems, although they could easily be adapted to the system of your choice. There is no background about the lost world genre itself as the author assumes players already are familiar with it.

I’m glad I have Valley of the Thunder Lizard although I admittedly don’t use any of its core systems – they are a bit too heavy on record keeping for me, given you must track wound locations (although, to be fair, it is easier than it sounds). Still, the scenarios and the book itself can be scavenged for ideas no matter what system you use. One thing to note is that since the supplement came out, a second edition of .45 Adventure has been published that makes several changes to the rules, including the use of multiple dice. I’m not sure how easily Valley of the Thunder Lizard can be adapted to the new system.

Reviews
  • None