Review of 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars

Review Summary
Playtest Review
Written Review

March 6, 2009

by: Mike Fischer

Style: 4 (Classy & Well Done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)

A simple and well designed space war RPG. Delivers lots of entertainment with a simple, intuitive system.

Mike Fischer has written 4 reviews, with average style of 4.75 and average substance of 4.25

This review has been read 5957 times.

Product Summary
Name: 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars
Publisher: BoxNinja
Line: Far Future
Author: Gregor Hutton
Category: RPG

Year: 2008

SKU: 0316
ISBN: 978-0-9559945-0-0

Review of 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars

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My reviews are generally set in the context of the group I game with

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 trial game.

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 flew.

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.

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