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Friday, 20 March 2009

More Bang For Your Buck...

The first thing that strikes you about the Buck Rogers Adventure Game is the total lack of spaceships.

This is because the game is based on the original 1930s comic strips which had Buck waking up in a 25th Century where the Earth was under the heel of foreign invaders - a Mongol horde known as The Han - who had swept in from the East crushing everyone in their path with their "advanced" technology (that is "advanced" as imagined from the point-of-view of the mid-1930s).

There is, of course, a resistance movement and this is what Buck joins as soon as he can, teaming up with Wilma Deering and Doctor Huer.

For want of a better pigeonhole this is a "post-apocalyptic" role-playing game, but with a very retro feel - there are anti-gravity jump belts, disintegrator guns and rocket cruisers but also biplanes, airships and cowboys - creating a unique background for a roleplaying game.

Ruleswise, The Buck Rogers Adventure Game is for people who think Savage Worlds is too slow and crunchy.

Published in 1993 as the first of TSR's High Adventures Cliffhangers range (presumably designed to attract new, younger gamers to the hobby but never developed any further than this game) it uses a very simple dice pool mechanic to resolve all issues.

Characters have four statistics - Strength, Aim, Brains and Health - graded OK, Good, Better or Best granting dice pools of two, three, four or five six-sided dice respectively.

Characters also have a number of skills (usually one for each ability and one extra) which add an extra die to their pool.

The idea is to roll your dice and score over a target number to succeed in a task (every dice that comes up a six allows an additional dice roll, with a cap of eight dice in total for any action check).

Combat is basically opposed rolls, with damage being of the "fail your Health roll and you're out" variety.

That's it in a nutshell - as you can see there are some similarities to Savage Worlds, but it is even more streamlined than that rules lite system. There's the added 'complication' of characters having a limited number of "action points" each round, but this, again, is a very minor piece of incidental book keeping and ties in to the fact that the system also uses gridded maps for movement, ranges etc (much like 4e Dungeons & Dragons these days).

The box set the game comes in includes the 32-page rule book, a 32-page guide to the world of the 25th Century and a 48-page adventure book with an entire campaign in. There are also two full-colour maps with stand-up counters, dice and small poker chips.

These chips are to indicate experience and are given as rewards for completing missions. They are spent (again, like Bennies in Savage Worlds) to increase the number of action points you have in a round, add extra dice to your pool when making a check or trading in to increase your skills and abilities.

The game has a nice optional rule, designed to encourage "team play", of a group of players creating an "experience bank" for their team of characters which they all contribute to and can withdraw from (to modify dice rolls only) when the party agrees.

Almost certainly viewed as oversimplistic when it came out - with very little fanfare (and on the back of TSR's other Buck Rogers RPG, which was much more in the spirit of space opera and cyberpunk) - the Buck Rogers Adventure Game was possibly ahead of its time.


It probably didn't help not having the background people might have been expecting, and sadly the game died as suddenly as it appeared, spawning only one supplement (War Against The Han), which I will review at a later date.

7 comments:

  1. Wow. I've never heard of this before and now I've got serious Buck Lust.

    Errrr.... that came out wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's a really near little system, but doesn't crop up on eBay that often. Well worth checking out though.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Neat - not near! That's predictive text on the iPod Touch for you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's certainly a beautiful, evocative cover. Only - Three moons? If the game takes place on Earth, I bet that's not explained in the background text!

    ReplyDelete
  5. You're right - I don't think it is!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sweet review! I came across it while moving randomly from blog to blog and am delighted you like it.

    The chips are a simplified descendant of the old Marvel Super Heroes Karma system.

    And yeah, three moons. This was a case where the "rule of cool" outweighed the reality. Buck and Wilma flying in the moonlight - what could be cooler? More moons!

    Jeff Grubb
    Designer, Buck Rogers Adventure Game

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks, Jeff. I'm honoured that you read my ramblings. Such a pity this line never went any further - just ahead of its time, I guess.

    ReplyDelete

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