Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Review: Battlechangers!

Whoo boy... Every time I write one of these reviews, I try to be as fair as possible. Often, that means I point out flaws, real or perceived, though I try to be as professional as I can.

So what can I say about Battlechangers? Well, we'll find out after the jump.

Created by Chris Field, and distributed by Skortched 'Urf, I was originally a bit wary of the game. Mr. Field is an unknown to me, but I've had the chance to read other Skortched 'Urf Studios products, and admittedly went into this purchase biased.  So, what do you get for seven dollars?

Touted as a "Quick Play, Transforming Robot RPG", Battlechangers is an 89 page diceless game that reads like the labor of a true fan. All the elements are there for a Gen 1 romp, with names changed to prevent lawsuits.

How is the game? Before I dive into the mechanics, let's talk layout.  As I said, there's obviously a lot of love and excitement in the product. Unfortunately, that love did not extend to such concepts as formatting. Organization is, to be blunt, a mess.  While presented in a two-column style that's easy on the eyes and has a mostly acceptable gutter, there's no real concrete break in the writing. Each section is separated by a header, and the general progression of the book flows in a logical order.  However, lack of variation in header size, and the fact that the text does flow, made it difficult to find certain things while generating a character.  The lack of an index (acceptable in a small-press game) or a Table of Contents (a very big no-no, no matter how small your product is) only exacerbated the situation.

Despite this, the system was for the most part easily understandable. Some placement of text proved frustrating, but this is a game I can enjoy. Definitely one I'll be running with my local group when given the chance.

Mechanically, Battlechangers is a simple 'compare the numbers' game. Each Battlechanger has nine specifications (better known as stats or attributes in other games): Strength, Speed, Armor, Lifeforce, Endurance, Fuelon, Firepower, Intelligence and Charisma. Much like the old "Power Cards" that once came on Transformers packaging, these specifications are rated 1-10, with a score of 4-5 being average. When a specialty's rating is compared to a skill (more on skills in a moment) the end result is the number used for task resolution.

A point buy system, players will choose a 'caste' for their robot which gives a pool of ability points (I'm assuming the writer meant 'specification points') to modify their specifications. Specifications are further modified by the robot's Faction,  Size, and Role. These are exactly what they sound like, and I won't touch on them save to say that the list of roles covers anything you can think of, and includes guidelines to create more roles should the GM desire (I should make a quite note here.  The game breaks immersion here in a manner similar to the Fight! RPG. Where, in Fight! you design combos around button sequences, in Battlechangers you approach building your Battlechanger as if you were creating a toy in a fictional toy line. Points are listed in US Dollars, and constant references are made to 'molds', 're-sculpts', running campaigns as 'seasons' etc. While in its own way amusing, this hurts a good deal of the immersion of the implied setting, though it does strike a few nostalgic chords.). More powerful characters will cost more points, usually outside the starting range (have to save up your allowance to get the neater toys, after all!).

On to Skills! Skills are rated in one of three levels: Novice (which gives a +1 bonus), Veteran (+2), and Master (+3). Players acquire Skills through their Roles, or through purchasing ranks (why this is in the gear section, and not the skill section, I'll never know).  If a benchmark (the target number for task resolution), is too high, the player has three courses of action.  Trying again (lowers the benchmark by one each time), Effort (Spending Fuelon to raise the skill total), or Database use.  Databases are one area where unkind players might abuse a system's goodwill. Mechanically, Databases act like effort, but don't cost Fuelon. With no ceiling set in place, there's really nothing stopping someone from pushing their total well past the most difficult benchmark. This seems to be the intent, as Databases are limited to the number of times per scene (encounter) they can be used.

The rest of the book is rounded out with hazards and examples of characters from the game's universe. Some of the characters caught my eye, others seemed bland, but that's really just personal taste.

So, now that we've reached the end of the review... Is Battlechangers worth it? Poor layout and lack of references (or a character sheet), hurt the game badly. However, Field's decision to release Battlechangers as an OGL product means that folks can take it and turn the game into whatever they want. Obviously a labor of love, there are several diamonds in the rough to be found, and for short campaigns, or even one-shots, I've yet to find a better choice. So... for fans of Transformers, I'd say give it a go. Click here to purchase your copy, happy gaming!

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