There’s a lot of buzz about the new incarnation of Gamma World, more so even than there has been for the D&D Essentials series and they seem to have learned a few things from that – and unfortunately vice versa. It’s definitely a weird mix, old box-set ideas, a few Indie RPG ideas, CCG ideas and Old School ideas all blended into a mutant that is, perhaps, more strange than the characters in the game itself, but that doesn’t stop it being good.
In this version of Gamma World the large hadron collider was performing some sort of experiment in 2012 when something went pear-shaped and hundreds of different realities came clashing together, annihilating the world as we know it, flooding it with strange radiation and mixing all the different dimensions together. Some weirder than others. Now it’s over a hundred years later and the world is a very strange place. The characters take the role of mutated wanderers and potential heroes, scouring the wastes for lost technology, troubleshooting for isolated communities and taking on the manifold conspiracies, monsters, gangs and other hazards of the changed world. Basically this entails a lot of comedic mutations, bad puns and mutant animals kicking the crap out of each other while things explode for no readily apparent reason.
Gamma World is built on the same mechanics as 4th Edition D&D and, interestingly, has been branded as such rather than another Wizards product. Whereas there are issues, many believe, in the 4th Ed rules used for D&D, the over-the-top power/stunt basis of the system is a much better fit for the crazy-arse nature of Gamma World. It’s also a bit simplified and stripped down – perhaps too much in the case of skills. There are only ten levels and some of the more layered, complex systems of 4e are missing.
The BIG difference to practically any game made in the last ten years or so is that character creation is mostly random. Characters are made by fusing together two character templates and trying to make sense of them. For example, you might roll an altered human/plant which might be interpreted to be a human crossbred with Japanese knotweed genes to make a supersoldier of exceeding toughness and survivability. Your powers and abilities are a combination chosen from those available to each type, mixed and matched as you want.
The controversial part isn’t so much this as the inclusion of cards that determine temporary mutant powers and represent high tech ‘treasures’, omegatech weapons. The randomised nature of the cards means you don’t get a full set and the idea is that players and the Games Master will build their own decks, paying out more money for them. I can see the impulse to make money but this feels like a bit of a gyp. Worse still the idea seems to be crossing over into normal D&D with similar card ideas coming into that game.
The temporary mutant powers are a bit of a killer for me, but you could use them to randomly determine permanent mutations, which might be a better way of handling it for people who – like me – don’t like that aspect too much and prefer a little character consistency.
There isn’t a great deal of background information and the book is mostly illustrated with character types and monsters, so it’s hard to get a real handle on the vision for the ‘look’ of the game and its world. The maps that you get with the game help out a little bit with that but it still makes it hard to get a grasp on how the world is really meant to operate. On the other hand that leaves it fairly open for you to put your own spin on it.
The adventure – traditionally a ‘this is how you play it’ example giver – is disappointing, little more than a string of fights with very little plotting. Not really an example of roleplaying but, rather, much more of a skirmish game. If you’re trying to introduce people to roleplaying a bit more of it might have been a good idea.
What artwork there is is fairly good, but more cartoonish than similar products for D&D. In one sense that’s a good thing because it fits the background and darkly humorous tone of the game. However, for some of the nasty creatures that are presented in the book I’d rather have seen a darker, nastier spin.
The game is sold in a box with a half-size book, maps, cards and tokens. It’s a good, tough, presentable box with plenty of room to carry additional supplements, maps and tokens to other games. Oddly though, for what feels like an intro product there’s no dice in there and that feels like something of a glaring omission given the way everything else seems to be aimed.
The tokens are a nice thing to include, but there’s a hell of a lot of wasted space on the card sheets that could have been used to have more tokens on there, which shouldn’t have cost that much more to produce… surely?
A great entry product with a few niggling irritations that prevent it being a truly perfect product. It needs some roleplay encouragement and some good supplements to be something really great but it definitely fulfils the role of a great RPG entry product better than anything else that’s been around since the original red box D&D, even better than the new one. Here’s hoping it can get into non-specialist hobby and toy shops.
On the plus side
- Great introductory product
- Takes some risks and experiments more than usual for a ‘mainstream’ product
- Lots of room in the box to carry supplemental products
On the minus side
- No dice? Seriously?
- The cards feel like a gouging product and aren’t well presented
- The intro adventure isn’t remotely inspiring