Wednesday, April 14, 2021


Some rambles for your Wednesday morning:

You're probably already aware of this, but I buy a lot of games. Board games, card games, role-playing games. You name it, I buy it. With the exception of collectible games, really. And, even then, I occasionally dip a toe in to see if it's any good.

Even through 2020, I still bought a fair number of games. And I read and re-read a ton of games.

Something I've become quite fond of in games is cross-compatibility, especially in the board game end of the hobby. It's not a new thing -  Dominion: Intrigue was a standalone expansion for Dominion in 2009. The three Hero: Immortal King games released in 2007.  I know there are earlier examples (Stoner Fluxx was released in 2003, and appears to be the first standalone expansion in that series). Magic: the Gathering's Ice Age set was released in 1997. If I remember correctly, it was the first standalone expansion for MtG.

Board game expansions (and standalones) are almost always 100% compatible with one another.  Once in a while, you'll see a set from a game that recommends that you don't play it with certain other sets. For example, The 7 Wonders (first edition) expansion Babel integrates poorly with Armada. Not because of a rules clash, but because players suddenly have a lot more to juggle on their turns. More experienced or advanced players can do it, but even then it's less fun.

Babel, by the way, seems to be the most divisive expansion to the game. It is a love-it-or-hate-it set because of the fundamental changes it makes to some of the strategy. 

Race for the Galaxy has a couple of expansions that are not cross-compatible, too. It's not unheard of, it's just unusual on the board game end of things.

Meanwhile, on the RPG end of things, people tend to expect that a "house" system will be cross-compatible. And, much like the board game end of the gaming hobby pool, it usually is. Mostly.

It probably goes back further, but the oldest example I have a significant amount of personal experience with is the old World of Darkness series of games, starting in the mid-Nineties. Vampire: the Masquerade, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Mage: the Ascension, Wraith: the Oblivion, and  Changeline: the Dreaming. These games were ... mostly compatible. But there were (for example) Werewolf powers that targeted an opponent's Rage. Which was all well and good when using it against other Werewolves, but Vampires didn't have Rage. Nor did Mages. Or any of the others.  And so groups tended to collect house rules on how to mix-and-match.

I've seen discussion back-and-forth on why they're not fully compatible, and the most compelling argument I've seen is that in-character mixed parties are not supposed to happen. Werewolves hate Vampires, for example. So the various "others" should be treated as monsters in games other than their own.

But then we get into newer and more modern games. I'm a huge fan of Cortex Plus (now Cortex Prime). But no two games of Cortex Plus have been cross-compatible - you can't take your Leverage Crew into Smallville or Firefly without a ton of work. It was the first time I've seen a house system that was still recognizably the same core system, but was so grossly incompatible.

Modiphius' house engine, the 2d20 system, is similarly not cross-compatible.  Your Starfleet ensign can't beam into the Mutant Chronicles universe, or visit Barsoom without a lot of conversion work.

At first, these incompatibilities between games really rankled me.  I wanted to see Leverage-style play in the 'Verse. I was curious what Magneto would do in my personal Smallville. 

But then I read more closely, and I saw how the various tweaks and adjustments flavored the game - and refocused it. Smallville wasn't about what most super-hero games was about - it was about the relationships between the characters. So not giving characters traditional attributes very much made sense for that setting.

Where I'd expected a GURPs-like, "Every book adds genre-specific player options" series of releases, the various Cortex Plus games each drilled in and hyperfocused on the core of what they were about.

The first few 2d20 games from Modiphius - Mutant Chronicles, 3rd Edition and Infinity are ... very crunchy. But they're also based on universes from miniature games. I'm honestly surprised they don't have conversion rules that allow you to use your character in the connected minis game. Later games, however, like John Carter of Mars and Star Trek Adventures are significantly less-crunchy. I won't say they're storygames - they're still very traditional in their build and their outlook - but they're definitely a step back from the first two.

Either way, where I was originally frustrated by the Cortex Plus engine, I now look forward to each new iteration.  Tales of Xadia, the Dragon Prince game due out later this year looks to be a lot of fun - and a solid engine for Cartoon Action.

I also dread each new Modiphius title less-and-less. I've been a fan of the Mutant Chronicles setting since forever ago, but their system clunked for me and (something I need to write about) - I think I'm basically done with horror-themed RPGs in general. I have all of the books they've released for it, but aside from a one-shot (that did not go well online), I don't think it's going to hit the table again in its current incarnation. But I've also loved Star Trek since I was a small child, and Star Trek Adventures is night-and-day from Mutant Chronicles, 3rd Edition. Where MC3 clunks, STA moves easily. But it still has too many moving pieces for online play, IMHO. I'm actively looking forward to Dune: Adventures in the Imperium

I hope your FLGS survived 2020, because there are some very good-looking things showing up in 2021. Even if they're not cross-compatible.

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