My reviews are set in the context of the group I game with.
We're in our late 30's or 40's, with families. The players have plenty of
experience in older games like 1st edition D&D,
Champions, and Traveler. The players also have very little interest in learning
new settings and rule systems. For that reason the games I choose to introduce
have to be almost immediately accessible and need settings that are instantly
recognized. As examples of successful games they have tolerated or enjoyed Agon and Witch Hunter, primarily the latter.
That being said I purchased 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars and ran a
The game book itself is a nice piece of work. The cover is
quite stunning and the interior features stylized b&w
art that suits the theme of space combat. The rules were well written and
edited and the information was presented in an orderly fashion. The theme of 3:16 is space combat. Specifically the
characters are troopers sent into space to eradicate all alien life. Success in
the game is measured by how many aliens you can kill. Our playtest
would reveal whether that was enough to entertain grown men, and whether the game play held any surprising depth.
3:16 uses a
simple character generation system. Characters have two attributes,
"fighting ability" and "non-fighting ability." These are
derived via a points based method- the total of the two must equal ten at the
beginning of the game. Characters are then assigned a "reputation,"
which is a shorthand to guide how you role play. Finally the characters are
assigned military ranks by the GM. Along with one's rank you receive
appropriate science fiction weapons and gear and the game begins.
As one might gather the two character attributes are used
whenever the character wishes to succeed at a combat or non-combat related
task. Success occurs if you roll a ten sided die and score equal to or lower
than your ability in question. Experienced players may find it odd or funny or
both that non-fighting ability governs everything from driving a car to
navigating a starship.
The second major game mechanic is the use of
"flashbacks." At any time during the game a player may choose to use
a flashback. At this point they reveal some experience from the character's
past which is germane to the present situation. For example, our players were
in the water being attacked by hoards of intelligent space sharks. One player
used a flashback to reveal that he grew up near the water and had experimented
with using energy rifles to cause huge bursts of steam and heat. Once you
reveal a flashback you can automatically "win" that encounter. In the above example that player immediately killed all the sharks
and the encounter ended. The game includes a twist on this rule- you may
describe your flashback as a weakness instead of a strength-
in that case you escape and survive but in an inglorious fashion, and without
aiding your comrades who still have to fight on. Flashbacks are awarded
sparingly. Players start with two but only acquire more with repeated play.
The final major rule is related to combat. Briefly, the
player's weapons are more or less effective at different ranges. The combat
encounter thus has two components. The first involves the players trying to
place themselves where their weapons will do the most harm. "Close"
range for example with a flame gun. The second component is simply rolling
equal to or less than your fighting ability. If you succeed you will kill a
number of aliens, a larger number if you're at optimal range.
The GM's section of the rules includes clear and lengthy
descriptions of how to create planets and aliens. The game is intended to be
played as a campaign and planet creation is designed to present the players
with varying environments and toughness of opponents. One noteworthy element of
the game emerges in this section. Each session follows a similar format. The GM
creates the planet and has a set number of "encounters" planned. At
each encounter either the aliens surprise the players,
the players surprise the aliens, or the two groups face off at some range. Once
the players have succeeded at a set number of fighting ability rolls the aliens
are defeated. There is an intermission and then the next encounter occurs.
As an example, say the GM has decided that the space sharks
can tolerate 3 successes on the player's fighting ability rolls. In the
encounter only one player ever succeeds and each time
he attacks with his fists and kills one creature. That ends the encounter just
as if a player had succeeded three times with a flame gun and killed thirty
aliens. The key is the number of successes, not the number of kills. Clearly
the game requires some good narrative skills on the part of the GM. In the
first example above the GM might say that the sharks are so demoralized by this
two fisted trooper that they flee in terror.
I was curious to see how this abstract game system would
work with my group. As one might predict the character generation itself took
just minutes. One player was fairly balanced, one had great fighting skill, and
one had great non-fighting skill. They chose reputations and into the game they
The players were introduced to their NPC lieutenant and told
they were to retrieve scientists from an alien world. The world was scheduled
to be bombarded and so they were operating under a time limit. The lieutenant
was played as a nitwit who couldn't operate the mission clock or any of the
other equipment. Right away it was striking to see the player with higher
non-fighting ability stepping in and fixing all the gear. With virtually no
effort we had stepped into the cliché of the team led by a fool and the players
moved with it happily.
The team was dropped on the planet. I followed the GMs guide
and rolled up a water world populated by shark-like aliens. The scientists were
three hundred feet below the surface in a damaged pod and the team had to swim
to retrieve them. Several things were noteworthy in the playing that followed.
The first is that the game was extremely easy to run on the fly. Themes like
"rescue the scientists" or "find the lost shuttle" are
familiar and easy to run.
Combat ran very smoothly and was surprisingly colorful. The
actual system is bare enough but the narration it demands creates a pretty
scene indeed. The players dodged sharks flying out of the water. They boiled
the sea with lasers and energy rifles. And each player has only a handful of
effective hit points so the encounters become quite dicey. I think the players
always felt on the edge of disaster, in a positive and exciting way. I don’t
think they sensed that the entire night was structured around a “three
encounters and you’re done” format. Further, the fact that victory in combat is
based on a number of die roll successes created some exciting tension. The
players might strike twice, kill literally hundreds of aliens, and then begin
to sweat when the foes keep coming. The game really creates a sense of facing
off against a deadly and mysterious enemy. This is in contrast to a game where
you might say “here come three goblins.” Immediately the players know exactly
what to do to succeed. The two attribute system worked well. The combat
oriented player was certainly deadly with a gun but mission success required a
mix of fighting and non-fighting skill. The players finally had to use
flashbacks to survive and came up with creative ideas for how their past
experiences could be of use.
In the end we were pretty happy with 3:16. I found it a breeze to run. The players were able to enter
the world setting easily and grasp the rules immediately. The play itself was
surprisingly detailed and colorful considering the simple rule structure. We
also found that the characters took on a good degree of depth despite limited
attributes and rule based color.
Certainly 3:16 is
not the final word in SF role playing. It wasn't designed to simulate
diplomatic missions, murder mysteries, or encounters with friendly aliens. It
is a terrific tool to role play combat and war
stories. Considering the amount of content the genre of "war story"
contains I think 3:16 could keep a
group happy for quite some time.