Author | spikexan

An avid reader and gamer, Todd picked up his habit for the latter with TSR's Marvel Super Heroes. Since opening that box set, he has ran hundreds of games, co-owned and operated a game store way too huge for his hometown to manage, earned a degree, and contributed writings to Abstract Nova and Eden Studios.

At this time, he works a day job between meaningful freelance assignments. He's more than likely checking his e-mail right this very second.

He currently lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky with his wife, son, daughter, and possibly the least graceful cat in the Western Hemisphere.

Fantasy Craft: Call to Arms Review

Posted on November 25, 2009 by

The Call to Arms line from Crafty Games delivers single player character types. The three I’ll look at today are the Gallant, Infernalist, and Monster Slayer (a good mix to say the least). Each of these PDFs are about six pages long, but only have three pages of usable material.

Pages one and two constitute the cover art and credits. Page six has the mandatory legalese. The question now becomes this: are three pages worth $1.75? Let’s find out!


The Cold Case of Robert Suydam RPG Review

Posted on November 18, 2009 by

Super Genius Games brings us another piece of Lovecraftian horror with After Lovecraft: The Horror at Red Hook. Lovecraft’s creations have been responsible for a tremendous amount of gaming material. The After Lovecraft project takes an innovative approach to Lovecraft’s work. This line transforms Lovecraft’s writing into in-game materials. Since many of Lovecraft’s tales come from the First Person perspective, they make wonderful “diaries.”

You can even download the source material at should you or your players need it (or you want to trick it out as an in-game prop). Because awesome people work at Super Genius Games you can also find a copy within the game as a handout.


eCollapse RPG Review

Posted on November 16, 2009 by

There are two ways to go about writing a super hero RPG. The first is to focus on the Heroes, such as with Marvel Super Heroes, DC Heroes, or Godlike. These games are interested in the setting and world view. They have rules, but aren’t really dictated by them. The second way is to study the philosophy of Super Heroics and then apply some mechanics to it. It is here that we find games like Capes, Truth and Justice, and eCollapse. Here we find ourselves asking questions like “what does it mean to be a hero” or “what kind of choices can I live with.” Both roads can lead to some excellent gaming, but I usually find myself playing the former and reading the latter.


Goblin Markets (Changeling) Review

Posted on November 13, 2009 by

In Unknown Armies, something called the Swap Meet exists. It was one of those mystical places where you buy the memory of the date you never had in exchange for the memory of watching your first child being born. While Goblin Markets doesn’t come across quite as harshly as the former example, the theme of the book is caveat emptor. The reason why I’m bringing up both games is to illustrate how wickedly cool and troublesome such a place can become. These places are hard to get into and so much more difficult to escape. Oh, you may leave the market easily enough. It’s just the choices made while midst the vendors that will haunt you. These places allow for once-in-a-lifetime meetings between characters, a look at what the characters really want, and enough subplots to seed an entire campaign.


Night Horrors (Werewolf & Vampire) RPG Review

Posted on October 21, 2009 by

White Wolf popularized a concept nearly twenty years ago. They revolutionized gaming by permitting players to take on the role of the monsters rather than those who slay various supernatural critters. They now offer a deeper layer through their Night Horrors line. See, even the boogeyman is scared of something or some things. This lines opens up the urban legends and myths of the monsters. These are the monsters underneath the monsters’ beds.

I’m reviewing two comp copies from White Wolf today since they have a great deal in common. Both weigh in at 163 pages. Both hold to the same concepts. Both seem to have been given the same amount of creative energy.


Shotgun Diaries RPG Review

Posted on October 19, 2009 by

It’s only eighteen pages. There is no artwork beyond some font variances. There are no graphs and no sidebars. You get no character sheet. There are some bullets, but that just seems sensible in a game about zombie survival (or is it Zombie survival?). Despite the utter lack of bells and whistles, it still costs five bucks (except mine was a free reviewer’s copy from Wicked Dead Brewing Company). You know what else?

It’s totally worth skipping out on a combo meal to snatch up this booklet.

Shotgun Diaries apparently started out as a birthday gift. As most things zombie-related, it got a bit out of hand.


Gaslight (Savage Worlds) Review

Posted on October 16, 2009 by

I’d wager that most people feel a kinship with one time period or another. Some love the Renaissance so deeply that they model their weddings around the era. For me, I’ve always held a deep appreciation for the Victorian Era. Despite the difficulty historians have attributing a date to it, I fall in line with the generalized trends and historical high points of that period. There is a rather rich environment of Victorian Era gaming; each seems to fill its own niche. Castle Falkenstein has little in common with Ghosts of Albion; however, both are fine games. One writing staple of the era is using ten words when one would do. Charles Dickens, a known abuser of this “sin,” could actually write around all the flowery language. I mention this because the title is a bit wordy and I’m going to refer to this game as Gaslight for the remainder of the review.


Rough Magicks (Trail of Cthulhu) Review

Posted on October 12, 2009 by

From the moment you see the cover to Rough Magicks, you know you have something a little demented in your hands. This supplement to Trail of Cthulhu defines magic for that game. You know magic? It’s that aspect to a Cthulhu game that simultaneously levels the playing field (or at least works towards that effect) and causes your character to consider a lengthy stay at the nearest sanitarium. This slight book comes from Kenneth Hite, so the demented disclaimer probably should get mentioned again.

The book’s layout is really tight, but a bit drab. The bulk of the text falls into a three column format, which works well for it. “Chapter” lead-ins are set aside nicely by invoking a certain Twenties style one might find on business cards from that period.


City in the Sand LARP Review

Posted on October 8, 2009 by

It’s been too long since I took part in Live Action Role-Playing. It was the mid-nineties at Egyptian Campaign in Carbondale, Illinois. The Southern Illinois University’s Student Center was the perfect setting for a session of the Masquerade. There were outdoor and indoor sets.

Hectic Narrators bounced all around in attempt to keep the action controlled. It was a great night, but I’m reasonably sure there wasn’t a story to speak of. Yeah, I recall a handful of werewolves being found dead outside the building. There was also something about the Prince being mad. To be honest, the game was an excuse for the largest number of gamers at the convention to cut loose and have fun. After reading City in the Sand, I have to wonder how much better that night would have been with a story underlying everything. I guess I should say a “good story that people were interested in” underlying everything. City in the Sand takes an interesting bit of cinema’s history and applies a little Vampire bite to it.


Eclipse Phase RPG Review

Posted on September 29, 2009 by

Eclipse Phase is a new sci-fi setting from Catalyst Labs, which immediately raises the question of why I’m reviewing it for a website dedicated towards horror. Between the fall of humanity and the chaos in rebuilding (where the story takes place) a great many horrors occur.

This is sci-fi with a thick black coat of ichor slapped onto it. While some game masters may be excited about the many, many thoughtful advances in this setting, other game masters will pounce upon the hints of Cthulhu and other horrors. When my review copy for this book came in, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The title of the book has an eclipse behind it that looks similar to the same artwork used on Heroes. I thought perhaps someone had taken the effort to make a game on that series. The truth is that an Eclipse just looks like an eclipse no matter how you draw it.


“Dark” FantasyCraft Review

Posted on September 25, 2009 by

As my legions of fans know, I’m not fond of fantasy games. I can’t quite define why elves and arrows or clerics and castles don’t appeal to me. Even fantasy settings with a hint of horror like Ravenloft don’t capture the essence of what I look for in a campaign. Ravenloft, however, is on the right track. Today, I’m looking at Fantasy Craft through a dark tint. With little effort, the options provided in this game can make an excellent fantasy or horror setting.

That said, this review will look a little differently as I try to include some seeds to make this setting a little more frightening. Fall is afoot and those shadows will be growing longer. Who isn’t ready for campfires and Halloween?


Dungeon Crawl Review

Posted on September 22, 2009 by

I’m not one for the dungeon crawl. Despite the fact I’ve been gaming since the mid-eighties, catacombs filled with creepy-crawlies that seem to have no apparent food supply just bores me to tears. One thing I do like though are the Choose Your Own Adventure books from days gone by. While Dungeon Crawl can be played with two or three people, it is intended as a solo-game. While it isn’t a new concept (TSR did it with the Marvel Super Heroes line with their title Thunder Over Jotunheim), it is a rather rare one. My allegiances are bitterly torn on this review, so watch out.

Before I go into my standard format, let me explain a little bit about what this game does. This game is part tile-based and part RPG. You take on the role of a character (Human Thief, Elf Sorcerer, or Dwarf Fighter) and stat your character out. They pretend that there are six character types, but differentiating between male and female Elf Sorcerer loses much of its argument when the following politically-correct sentence dictates that there are no benefits or penalties from playing males or females.


All Things Zombie Review

Posted on September 17, 2009 by

All Things Zombie comes from Two Hour Wargames. Wargaming is a very different hobby than role-playing, which I take part in most often. I’ve tried a few games over the years with minis. Some were true wargames like WarZone while others were toned-down versions like Savage Worlds or HeroClix. The deciding factor for these games to win me over was speed of play. I don’t want to check charts constantly when I’m playing a game. A character sheet and perhaps a index card-sized grouping of key rules is more than sufficient. I’ll allow for each player to work with their own screen because some games dictate that.

At the end of the day though, a game system better have something backing it up if it plans on being convoluted. I realize that some people want as much realism as possible in their miniature combat. I’m not writing this review for those people. I’m writing from the other side, the side where realism takes a backseat after a spell. I’ll elaborate more as I continue.


Flash Fire Mini-Reviews (Ready Made World of Darkness)

Posted on September 11, 2009 by

The Flash Fire Mini-Reviews are back with a set of reviews from Todd Cash. Todd is going to wrap up his the Ready-Made Characters series from White Wolf.

This is the third time I’ve approached character packages like these, so I won’t retread basic thoughts on these character packages (not much at least). If you’d like these details you can find them here and here. Each of these collections, which are fitted for specific settings (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, etc), run about five dollars (slight differences between titles in price seems mysterious).


Martians Board Game Review

Posted on August 27, 2009 by

Twilight Creations earns the distinction of being the first board game I review. I’ve been familiar with the company since Zombies, moved through When Darkness Comes, and looked forward to their Deadlands release (I didn’t get a chance to play a demo, but I did hover for a little bit while a quartet enjoyed a brief visit to the weird west. Today, I’m reviewing Martians.

Martians is a tile-based board game similar to Zombies. The game is intended for two to six players, ages thirteen and up. I should go ahead and point out that my five-year-old son, a board game enthusiast, wanted to try out this game. After reading the rules and deciding to go with the cooperative version, I told him he could try. Except for reading the cards, he quickly grasped the fundamental concepts of the game. He places little green men and tokens accurately; furthermore, he understood the turn sequence just as well as his dad (who had to sometimes look at the rules).


Day After Ragnarok Review

Posted on August 21, 2009 by

It’s a world where jetpack-toting heroes combat Fly-By-Nights (a combination of toad, bat, and gorilla). It’s a world where a 200-foot tall tidal wave decimated the North American East Coast. It’s a pulp setting full of Communists, Klansmen, Norse myth, and much more. It’s a world that comes from the twisted mind of Kenneth Hite, and it’s worth staking out. The Day After Ragnarok (DAR from here on out) is a new savage setting for Savage Worlds that takes place in a world where the line between World War II and Norse myth blur, permitting Jörmungander, the Midgard Serpent, entrance to our reality.

DAR’s layout proves Spartan. Cleanliness lends to divinity though in that the finished product looks smart. Instead of the usual two-column format, DAR primarily favors a single column. Neatly placed sidebars work to make an exception to this.


Witchfinder Cthulhu Live Review

Posted on August 20, 2009 by

Witchfinder, an adventure for Cthulhu Live 3rd Edition, is designed for a large group to explore some Nazi evil-doings. Stay with me as this is my first true LARP review, so my format may be a little different. This adventure is written for roughly thirty players; however, the writers do make concessions for larger or smaller groups. The PDF comes in several formats. For the purposes of this review, I worked from the grayscale option.

Witchfinder’s layout is really cool, even when toned down. Each page looks burnt and aged around the edges. For the pages of props (Morse Code transcripts), this style will look nice for players. The character sheet handouts also have this border, but are also inset with key information required for the game. The characters’ histories can be folded back or cut off after the information is gleaned. Also, icons for the various (there are quite a few) factions in the game highlight each character insert.


Block by Bloody Block RPG Review

Posted on August 7, 2009 by

White Wolf appears to be currently composed of scientists rather than writers. There is simply too much experimentation going on with these guys. They have released pre-generated characters for players who need that sort of thing. With Block by Bloody Block, they release pre-generated parts of a city. This isn’t a [insert city here] by Night book. No, these are the sections of any city, ready to be dropped into whatever city fancies your gaming group. The question becomes if the scientists are congratulating themselves over champagne or staring dumbfounded with charcoal-blackened faces and lab-coats.

The layout of this supplement remains true to the Hunter: the Vigil line (this game is intended for players of that game or the basic World of Darkness corebook).


The Keepers (Hunter: the Vigil) Review

Posted on August 5, 2009 by

The first time I reviewed one of White Wolf’s ready-made character collections (Slaughterhouse V), I wrote a bit about experimentation and the benefits of pre-made characters.

Now that I’m reviewing my second character collection–this time a group of Hunters–I’ll blur right past that noise. This collection shows that none of the White Wolf lines gets special treatment as the Hunter the Vigil supplement receives its own supplementary material. In this twenty-six page (no ads) PDF, a five-person group of relative strangers band together after a notas- dead-as-they-thought party girl ends up fusing their lives together.

The layout to the PDF is amazing. Sometimes I feel the borders in games are a little hit and miss; however, the borders to this character collection fit perfectly.


Strike Force 7 (Savaged Edition) Review

Posted on July 31, 2009 by

Super Genius Games unveils a little G. I. Joe spirit with Strike Force 7. This brief supplement (71 pages) introduces the game’s namesake as an international anti-terrorist organization. They combat terrorists both real (Al-Quida) and imagined (Skorpion). While it may seem like an odd choice for a Flames Rising review, you’ll find my speculation stretching beyond the confines of the book. First, let’s take a look at the material itself.

The layout of Strike Force 7 fits its genre as each interior page’s design mimics a dossier. Each exterior top or bottom corner has a cropped photo of three Strike Force 7 agents. I felt like this image could have been reserved for the chapter introductions as it becomes a little tiresome.


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