Review : FTL Now

By Clash Bowley et al, Flying Mice LLC / Better Mousetrap Games, $10

FTL Now is the sequel to Cold Space. It takes a similar approach to science fiction, by providing a backdrop that is recent history written across space. So it's 1990-2006, but done with spaceships and lasers.

As before it's a good approach, and more so than it's prequel, grounds the player by giving them the familiar with a slight twist. For space opera of this kind this is a particularly useful technique, as it removes the barriers to entry by avoiding the need to read 120 pages of background just to get an idea of where you might fit in. So we have an interstellar world of today, with similar political problems, similar lifestyles and approaches. No having to explain that the Vl'hurg empire is a set of six factions, yadda, yadda, yadda....

Everything is writ large in the setting, including a 2001 terrorist attack on New York with a re-directed comet. This may not be to everybody's tastes, for some events may be too close to be fictionalised in such a way, for others this is a  useful framing technique.

At 220 pages, it's a healthy length for a PDF (hope you've got a cheap printer). However, if you've got any of Flying Mice's earlier products (Cold Space, Starcluster, Blood Games) then a great deal of the material is repeated. I do wonder if it would have been better as a supplement to Cold Space in this regard, as the two share a great deal. As it stands, the positives and negatives of the system are the same, old-school Traveler-influenced gaming. The addition of character templates, which take care of the first few steps of character creation for you, are a welcome way to speed up game preparation.

The artwork follows a similar style to Starcluster and Coldspace, being slightly abstracted computer paintings, where occasionally the source images are a little obvious. It's pretty much the Flying Mice house style, and gives their products a certain feel all their own. The PDF itself has a hyper-linked table of contents and index, so moving about is easy. There are occasional layout glitches, but nothing too serious.

My first gripe is that FTL Now needs an introduction. It dumps you quite un-ceremoniously in the first chapter, and I felt a bit of explanation of how it related to Cold Space would have been useful. I had to work out for myself that it was a continuation of the timeline, rather than a separate game with a similar schtick.

The game itself is very much geared to exploring the setting. The setting material is still a bit dry for my tastes, but an improvement on the equivalent Cold Space sections. There's more feel for the people than before and the progression between the two games gives the setting a “lived in” feel. However, there are still many sections detailing the length, width, height, gravity and so on of a space habitat, but few details on why I should want my character to visit it, or why it matters. It's a case of approaches, and if you like detail on the technical side it's got more than enough to keep you happy. To be fair, given the fact that the cultural side is effectively our own with space travel, there's less need to cover it.

While the game has extensive rules, I think it's really missing a “how this game is played” section. Reading it I'm conscious that it has a few gaps, where it assumes the reader knows what to do with the contents. While fine for a PDF download, where the purchaser can be expected to have a vague familiarity with RPGs in general, Coldspace found it's way into print, and I think if flying mice are going this direction it might be worth making the text more newbie friendly.

Overall: FTL Now provides more old school space opera at a bargain price, with a setting that's easy to explain and rules of a traditional bent. It has its wrinkles, but it's a great concept and a fun read.

Conpulsion 2006

I visited Edinburgh's Conpulsion in March, it's a great Con, full of fun games and fun people. It really helped me with my game in progress, Covenant. It helped me so much I had to plow lots of time into that game, rather than this report. Hopefully that's now remedied.

There's a group of folks who play Indie games, and they happen to live in Edinburgh. They came up with the excellent idea of running an “Indie Games Track” event at the convention. Because I love my Indie fix I agreed to go up and help out. After all, a set of hour long intro games is a great plan. Amazingly enough I'd been made a guest, which was really great, if a tad unexpected. The plan was to run my game of failing conspiracies, Covenant and one of my favourites, Inspectres.

We flew up on the Friday, at hideous O'clock in the morning. The logic was impeccable, cheap tickets at an early time allowed for quality mooching round the city pre-convention. Sadly combining this with several late nights did rather zonk me out for the rest of the weekend. Live and learn.

Fortunately caffeine is my friend.

Friday was spent largely mooching around Edinburgh doing the tourist thing. The Museum of Scotland had loads of the finds from places we'd visited in Orkney, so that was cool. The rooftop terrace in the rain was, with hindsight, a bad plan. We rounded the day off with the pre-convention party hosted by Malcolm and the excellent Contested Ground Studios folks. It was here that I was introduced to the true test of extreme RPG design: The 24-minute RPG challenge.

When you're a bit drunk, it's amazing how creative you can be. The world needs more games about monkey barmen.

Saturday morning, I arrived bright and early at the Teviot students' union. There I met up with the other folks involved in running in the Indie Games Track. We had a nice place in the bar with comfy sofas and our own banner (cunningly crafted by Gregor Hutton). A last minute search for a photocopier ensued as I made sure I had enough handouts. Planning? What's that?

As the first eager group of players turned up for Joe's Shadow of Yesterday game, I went to mooch around the dealer section. Plenty of neat stuff (including 3 copies of Nopress, which was satisfying), I managed to finally acquire a copy of Polaris (previous attempts having been eaten by the trans-Atlantic postage demon). I chatted a bit with the guys from Contested Ground Studios and Joe Prince(who's Swansong game of tarot-based story telling I'm still kicking myself for not picking up). Jon Hodgson was also in attendance and I chatted to him about freelancing and giving artists a fair deal. I also got to the see revised cover for Dust Devils, which is a nice double-take moment. The guy does some amazing art, check it out.

I ran my first game at 1pm, and got five very enthusiastic players. Covenantheld up quite well to the quick explain, get playing style, though one guy was a bit out on the edges. People had fun and the game was a nice mix of action and drama. It's interesting how powerful a well constructed hour long game can be. It forces creativity and leaves people wanting more, it's an ideal markerting approach.

After a quick lunch I wandered through to the game design and publishing seminars. Thanks should go to the Contested Ground folks for taking the time to organise and present on varied matters of design, finance and publishing approaches. What was nice is it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, just re-enforced it and provided alternate angles. Good stuff, shame it wasn't better attended.

I had a pleasant meal of Moroccan food in the evening.

I returned to the Con to watch the charity auction. Well done to all those folks who paid far over the odds for pieces of gaming-related tat in the name of a good cause. Commiserations to Malcolm, who agreed to run Wrathea-wratheu-however it's spelled. The true sacrifice, however, was made by the Team 8 guys, who foolishly auctioned running any game on demand, and ended up with infamously awful F.A.T.A.L. I adjourned to the bar with a group of folks from Edinburgh, and all was well again.

Sunday I was up early, but not particularly bright. Fortunately I found coffee and made my way to the convention. I managed to play the one hour demo of Polaris, which affirmed to me that it was worth the wait. It's a wonderful game of fairy-tale tragedy and works even in an hour.

My last hours at the convention involved standing in to run The Mountain Witch. Which I was unprepared for, since I stood in for Iain McAllister who'd not run it before. People seemed to enjoy it, though I could really have done with some poker chips to manage trust.

I wrapped up the Indie Games track by running Inspectres. It always delivers in the fun department as it has a simple concept, ghost hunting in a start-up company, and plays quickly. It was over in just over 45 minutes, and included a very badly repaired fire truck, a haunted apartment and a painting possessed by the ghost of a dead mobster.

After a swift pint to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Con, I made my way via bus to the airport.

There's nothing like a good crowd to make an event. Conpulsion has that crowd. My experiences there convinced me that it was well worth pursuing Covenant in book format. I recommend the trip to anybody, since you can always go with other folks and include the touristy thing too.

Covenant at GenCon Indy

Next week I'll be winging my way to the USA, making my way to the Mecca of gaming that is GenCon, Indianapolis.

I'll be hanging out at booth #1237, the "Forge Booth", where Covenant will be on sale for the price of $18. Come and grab me for a quick intro demo of Covenant or a chat about games in general. I'll be the slightly jetlagged guy with an English accent...

Ask a Question

Like it says above, use the comments option below to ask any questions you have about Covenant, its setting or game system.

Game Preview - Part 3

Covenant is now all done bar the shouting. I'm just awaiting the final proof copies before I put it live for sale on Special thanks go to Keith Senkowski, for working tirelessly on the layout.

So, given that layout is done, I can show you the various play sheets that are used in the game:

Each of these sheets contributes to the game in a slightly different way. The cell sheet is for the whole group, including the Director, and its content relates back to the earlier preview, Preparing for Play

The character sheet contains all that a player needs for their protagonist (rules included). Other characters are written in the crucible in the middle, to show how their agendas affect the protagonist. It's a great tool for helping set good scenes.

The antagonist sheet is for the Director to record details of antagonists created during the game. It's not a taxing job coming up with these, since the players provide suggestions on the important people part of the cell sheet and the crucible on their character sheet.