We have another round of playtesting scheduled for this Sunday, so I need to get the rest of this account down before my memory is cluttered with a whole new session. I'm running out of steam a little, since a lot of work demands are encroaching on my free time, somy apologies in advance for the fact that the level of detail here will taper off as this entry proceeds.
When last we left our intrepid Heroes, Jack Snapper was knee deep in Lemuria, The Amazing Uri's attention had been drawn to the Amazon Jungle, and La Gaucha had just finished patrolling the Pampas. The Arch Villain had been chosen but not yet revealed.
Before heading to South America, Uri decided he needed some muscle, so he took a train to Irkutsk to pay a visit to his old friend Unegin Dash. Unegin, a hardy Mongolian tracker, agreed to accompany the Russian magician on his investigation, and the two began the long journey to the Amazon. In game terms, Uri had the Unegin card (an Ally) in his hand, but had to travel to Irkutsk or Peking in order to recruit him. To recruit an Ally, you usually have to travel to a specific City. Recruitable Allies are all in the White Deck (from which only the Heroes may draw; the AV player has his or her own similarly "private" Black Deck), so often Hero players will draw for Allies and try to snag any that are close by. Each Hero can have up to two Allies.
Upon reaching South America, Uri and Unegin travelled up the Amazon toward the latitude and longitude that had been indicated by the Hall of Planets (see Pt. 1). At those precise coordinates, they discovered a Hidden Airstrip, and began a cautious reconnoitre from the safety of the jungle. They observed a number of native workers clearing brush and prepping the landing strip, overseen by an imposing figure who could only be some sort of shaman. From the grotesque stains on the shaman's lips, Uri surmised that he was none other than Yellow Mouth, a cannibal witch doctor known in European occultist circles, said to be hundreds of years old as a result of his horrifying diet.
Uri and Unegin managed to dispatch Yellow Mouth with little trouble (I'm foggy on the details), and wrapped up their Wild Adventure in time to begin tackling one of the Arch Villain's Plots. Two Plots popped up on the map in Act II -- one in Rome and one in Calcutta. Uri crossed the South Atlantic to Lagos, where he recruited Professor Gundu, a Nigerian Magician, and with a full entourage began making his way to Rome. La Gaucha, who had followed a Wild Adventure into the Australian Outback (where she defeated the renaminated fiend known as General Riktus), boarded a steamship at Perth and headed for Calcutta. Meanwhile, Jack Snapper continued his drunken stagger through the steaming jungles of Lemuria.
Besides Jack's run-in with the Firebox, there were two other really memorable incidents in the game. The first was when La Gaucha and Fuego, her faithful Argentine Criulo (a breed of horse -- who knew?) followed clues from Calcutta into the Asian Jungle, and came across an Abandoned Campsite. The AV players noticed that the campsite card had a Trap icon on it (which means Trap Twists can be played there), and, having not tried playing any Twists yet, they decided to throw a Pit Trap at La Gaucha to see what would happen. The Pit Trap card reads "Target Member with lowest Wit;" La Gaucha has Wit 2, and Fuego has Wit 1, so Fuego became the target. The horse failed his Speed Test to leap aside, and suffered 2D of damage, which killed him instantly (docking La Gaucha 2 Heroism and netting the AV 2 Villainy). We all imagined La Gaucha riding into the trap on horseback and leaping free of her noble steed as it was impaled on the spikes below.
The other really funny moment for the players happened when Uri was scaling the Swiss Alps with his entourage, and (after escaping from an erupting volcano and battling an unholy brotherhood of slave-trading monks) came face to face with Black Angel, the voluptuous mercenary siren, in her mountaintop Observatory. Black Angel has two special abilities: .45 Automatic, which allows her to discard 1 for a simple Might bonus during a Challenge, and Seductress, which allows her to discard 2 before the Challenge starts in order to force the opposing male Ally of her choice make a Wit Test or become her minion on the spot. Much to Uri's dismay (and everyone else's great amusement), the AV discarded 2, chose Unegin, and cackled with glee as Unegin failed his roll. So the strapping Mongolian tracker, once Uri's trusted right-hand man, became his instant enemy. Did I mention that Uri had seen fit to equip Unegin with a Tommy Gun back when they made a pit stop in Rome?
Amazingly, Uri and Professor Gundu marshalled their resources at the right moment. After surviving one round against Unegin and the lead he had begun to spray their way, Uri made use of his inherent Puff of Smoke special ability, which allows him to instantly escape from his current Foe. This effectively allowed him to sidestep Unegin and take on Black Angel herself. The best part about the fight that ensued was that the player who was controlling Uri had finally wrapped his head around the combat system, and through a series of careful choices was able to execute Gundu's special ability (Black Fire) twice, which was enough to send Black Angel screaming to her death from the top of the observatory. It was a narrow and well-earned victory.
On the turn after Black Angel's demise, Act III began, and the AV's true identity was revealed: Malevola, Queen of Planet X! Her Master Plan is to "Lay Waste to Planet Earth," which is accomplished in game terms when she destroys a certain number of cities. Her arrival is heralded by the appearance of the X-ian Ark, a vast space craft that sets down on any Country, Desert, or Polar space, whereupon it begins to disgorge X-ian Behemonths, giant War-of-the-Worlds-esque walkers that can incinerate entire cities at will.
I won't go into the endgame any more than that, other than to say the Heroes won the day. There were some balance issues with the final Act, some having to do with the overall mechanics, and some having to do with Malevola's Master Plan itself. We discussed a few possible Act III tweaks and I'm implementing some of them in time for this Sunday's test.
The main positive thing that I took away from this session was that everyone involved had a lot of fun. There was a lot whooping and hollering at the moments of high tension or hilarity, to the point where I was worried about disturbing the neighbors. Everyone involved was very eager to come back the following week, so overall it was very gratifying. I had made so many changes over the preceding year, and altered so many of the game's basic mechanics, that I had no idea whether it was going to even be playable, so it was a huge relief to see apsects of the game unspool almost exactly as I imagined they would.
And some others, not so much. The game is 16 turns long and took about 4 1/2 hours to play, which is longer than I'd like. My playtesters are still learning the rules, and this next session will surely move quicker now that they have a better handle on things, but I'm looking for ways to tighten up the play time. 16 turns seems to be just about the perfect length in terms of each player being able to play through at least a couple of Adventures before the final Act, so I can't see trimming there.
Hero player turns are uneven; some turns, all a Hero will do is move five spaces on the map and nothing else, while the players before and after might negotiate a series of entertaining obstacles and fights. Downtime seems to be a bit of an issue; no one ever seemed bored, but as it stands now you can't really affect another player's turn unless you are the Arch Villain. In previous versions Hero players were allowed to play positive card effects on one another, so I might bring that option back.
The two other main points of feedback were that they wanted the game mechanics to encourage teaming up more actively, and that in the endgame they felt the need to travel greater distances with greater ease. There are rules for teaming up, but they rely on the players being self-motivated to do so. This next session I may just emphasize that it's an option always open to them and see if that changes the way they play. The late game traveling issue I'm trying to address by instituing air travel that's always accessible, but costs Heroism to use. We'll see how that goes as well.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and thanks again for the votes of confidence. This will likely be the only playtest report at least until the summer, when I'll have many more sessions under my belt and a cleaner running engine.
So tune in next... season (or the one after) for another exciting epsisode of Thrilling Tales of Adventure!