By Clash Bowley and co, Flying Mice, $10 PDF

One of the nice things about reviewing is that you can watch companies evolve. I reviewed Flying Mice's Starcluster a while ago, and commented on how the production values were a bit lacking. Since then they've obviously put in some time improving layout skills, since Blood Games is a much nicer manual. The cover art in particular is nicely evocative.

Blood Games is an Occult Horror RPG. Now this is a popular market, with the likes of White Wolf dominating and Eden Studios following close behind, it's a hard market to stand out in. Does Blood Games stand out enough to survive? Let's see.

Weighing in at 188 pages, Blood Games covers a fair amount of material. It takes its basic system from Starcluster, but the rules more clearly explained and there are plenty of tweaks for the setting. The essential premise is a party-based monster hunters game, where some of the hunters have funky powers. It's set in the modern world, one that's not too different from our own, bar the monsters of course.

It starts with some fiction. I'm generally not a fan of opening fiction, and whilst it isn't too bad, it didn't enthuse me to play the game. Following on we get some background material, about how magic exists but was pushed back by Nullity (a belief in science). Nothing too revolutionary (shades of Mage), but it helps frame the concept of the game's heroes being fighters against dark forces, living on the edge of society.

As a PDF product, Blood Games makes a few suppositions about the reader, so don't expect  explanations of what an RPG is or how you play. It launches into concepts without introducing them, making it occasionally an annoying read as you try and grasp what you missed.

The intro gives a brief overview of the character types available, and how they might mesh. Players can take the role of Hunters (like Buffy's Slayers), Templars (Religous fighters), Cambions (which aren't explained at this point, so could be anything), normal humans or turned (marginally good-guy) vampires. There's also some mention of Shamen, Exorcists, Magi and Witches. Plenty of options here for findign your niche.

Next we get character creation. Decide the age of your character, roll (or points buy) some statistsics, and choose if you're a special character or a normal human. Then we get to run our character through schooling, college and careers randomly gaining (or choosing) skills. The process is quite involved, possibly more than it needs be. It's nowhere near as streamlined as Burning Wheel's careers system, for example. The results should give you a solid character who's ready for action.

Following character generation we get a summary of the path characters (those with funky powers), and how they modify the basic character you created. Hunters get boosted stats, a special luck triat and the ability to do cool wire-fu style stunts. Gambions get some vampire-like bonuses, but aren't full vampires, though they can head that way if they aren't strong willed. Witches, Exorcists, shamen and Magi get some magics to play with. Each has their own style, with its own game rules. The Magi follow a fairly hermetic style and can call upon angels, witches have an rustic / new-age witch approach. Exorcists get a grimoire based magic and shamen get a totem based spirit magic. Normal humans get some nice little quirks if they've been monster hunting and believed what they saw. Vampires aren't really covered in this section, but get a huge chunk later in the PDF, complete with historic character generation.

The system for bloodgames is skill based. You have skills, which are percentile based, higher stats modify the appropriate skills. If you have a high skill you get rerolls. Overall, this seems to result in a high handling time on some actions, but less of a dufus factor (your skilled character doesn't fail often). Combat wise, minute long rounds are broken down into 120 initiative phases. You can trade initiative/to hit/damage around. Damage goes to a constitution stat, which is split into four wound categories with differing levels of penalty. Nothing too revolutionary, but it works, I'd prefer something a bit more elegant personally.

Blood games has a large section on religions, with system bonuses for various religious practices. A nice idea, but one that's bound to raise some hackles or possibly giggles from your players. The inclusion adds a different style to the game, which can be no bad thing.

There's a nice catalogue of sample creatures, including the standard zombies,werewolves, demons and so on. Plenty of stuff here for player-characters to do battle with. Sadly there aren't any sample characters, which I think would have been a benefit.

The GM section is a bit slim, and focuses on bringing the player character team together (it's very focused on team-bsed play), and on alternate play styles. The alternate play styles suggested are interesting (generational play and flashbacks), but there's not much meat on how to go about running them, just suggestions that you do.

Overall: Bloodgames has a style very similar to many 1980s games. Number crunching,  rules exceptions and percentile skills put me in mind of Palladium, the careers system is much like Traveller. As a monster hunt game it 's a fun romp, and the focus on religious types, mystics and other characters should give it a slightly different feel to something like Buffy or Hunter: The Reckoning. The rules system isn't quite to my tastes though, and those used to this genre will find many things naggingly familiar.