Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: 3:16, Carnage Amongst the Stars

Okay, so I had heard about this game some time ago and was unsure whether it was something I'd really enjoy.  3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars by Gregor Hutton was billed as a military science fiction game where you go on missions to exterminate all creatures which could possibly be a threat to humanity.  It sounded at bit beer-and-pretzels, more an "off night" game than a foundation for a campaign.  But I'm still on the hunt for good stuff to play so I grabbed a copy and jumped in.

First off I love the art.  It's very cool that the author, Gregor Hutton, is also the artist for the black-and-white interior artwork.  I'm not sure it fit my initial take on the atmosphere of the rules, but then I could easily just spend some time with it and mold a game more in tune with the art.  The full-color cover by Paul Bourne is excellent.

The game is one in which you do actually play the members of a military unit, the 3:16th Expeditionary Force.  The 3:16 may be a biblical chapter reference to John 3:16, but perhaps it's from Austin 3:16, "I'm gonna whoop your ass!"  The unit's mission, and your character's, is to travel the universe and eliminate all possible threats to Earth.  That means combat.  Lots and lots of combat.

3:16 is an indie game and thus is very different from the mainstream role-playing games one becomes used to playing.  Most of the rules are very abstract.  For instance, the player characters don't have any personal attributes.  Nope, no Strength, Moxie, Speed, etc. here.  And there are only two skills, which one can assume include the influence of any underlying atttibutes: Fighting Ability (FA) and Non Fighting Ability (NFA).  Really.  That's it.  Just the two skills for everything.  Shockingly simple.  But then, why not?  It certainly makes it easier to focus on play rather than constantly re-checking your character sheet.

Ah yes, you do also add Strengths and Weaknesses to your characters (if they live long enough).  The players come up with these on their own.  I like that a lot.  It's how you personalize the character and make it yours.  Eventually you can acquire up to five of each, although the Weaknesses must eventually included Hatred for Home.  Adding this Weakness seems to be sort of a big deal, but it's never fully described.  I take it that Hatred for Home is a bit of philosophy that members of such a unit of military murder hoboes would eventually come to loathe themselves and the planet for whom they commit mass murder.

Another simplification comes in the area of equipment.  You're a member of a military unit aboard a military ship which only stops at planets in order to exterminate all potentially hostile life forms.  Thus you really only have military gear provided and no need of money to buy anything. Gaining higher ranks allows access to some bigger stuff, but that's about it.

Game play is all about combat actions, but these are handled in a very abstract fashion.  All weapons have three ranges, doing a different number of "kills" at a given range.  You determine the starting range and fight by rolling under your FA.  If you make your FA roll, then you roll for the number of "kills" as noted on your weapon statistics.  The aim is to get the highest number of kills on the mission and highest overall total.  PCs can suffer "kills" (wounds) but you're dead on the third one.  Armor can be sacrificed to negate one "kill" on you, but only once per planet--no field repairs here.  I like the way this is all handled.  It is so simple that you could even have each player command a small squad and simulate more than just one squad of PCs in action.

Speaking of units, one likely outcome of being the most successful person in the squad is the possibility of promotion.  You may also be able to raise your FA and NFA, and your weapon "kills" at given ranges.  It is also possible to be demoted or, of course, killed.  If your character is killed you start again as a "replacement" to the unit.  No need here to struggle for some plot device to plausibly add a new character to the party.

The section for GMs is excellent.  This is particularly important given that 3:16 handles things in such an abstract way.  The GM section covers planetary types, types of aliens, and offers lists of names for planets and troopers.  All of those elements are very simple in keeping with the overall design of the game.  I found the descriptions of combat particularly helpful.  As someone who started gaming as a wargamer rather than a role-player I had to really adjust my thinking in order to grasp a military game which is very tactical, yet totally abstract.

I did have a few questions about the rules though.  Given that the game centers around tactical combat, how do you handle games where there is a huge gap in rank between PCs?  If you have a colonel, a lieutenant, and four grunt troopers, do the two officers land on the planet as well?  I guess they'd have to.  There's also the question of why the unit bothers to kill off alien creatures which are non-intelligent and incapable of making a spoon much less a starship to take them to Earth.  Here and there the game hints that the whole point of the unit is really to serve as a dumping ground for criminal, maladjusted, and malcontented citizens.  They don't fit into the pleasant utopia of future Terra and the "adventure" of military campaigning is a great way to literally ship them all off somewhere.

So, I can confidently recommend this game to anyone interested in some military science-fiction gaming using simple rules.  Just be ready to work with the abstractions and relatively narrow scope.

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