Jun 012017
 

The Worm Within is the first novel in the Chronicles of Future Earth, a setting created and written by Sarah Newton.

By Paco García Jaén

Based on Earth in a very, very distant future where civilizations have come and gone and the world has suffered for millennia, left-behind ruins, glimpses and legends of what once was, the novel narrates the events that take place after an ancient and powerful threat is accidentally awoken. At the Chronomancer’s Tower, forces are set in motion to find the source of the threat. At the Autarch’s palace, machinations grow as self-interests move the wheels of intrigue bringing the end of the world closer than anyone thought possible.

This novel follows Iago, a young apprentice with a hidden past, and a group of companions delving into the world’s past and present to stop what could very well be the beginning of the end of a new cycliad.

And it is quite a journey.

Before I go on with the review, I must offer a disclaimer. I have known Sarah for as long as I have known of Chronicles of Future Earth – 17 years. This was her setting for an RPG we played and we went adventuring in the very universe this novel introduces. And I loved every second.

Well … not the time when my friend destroyed a few shelves of ancient books with his finger just to find which ones were magical. I was shocked someone could be so careless with books.

Anyway … the point is that we had a great time.  I have been a huge fan of the setting since even before it was published and I am good friends with the author. I am also very aware of her other novel and game in the Mindjammer setting, and know how well she writes. So I was bound to like this novel.

I just didn’t expect I was going to like it so much!

When I received the advance preview copy of the novel, it took the best part of 10 minutes to start reading it. And it took Sarah the best part of 20 minutes to throw me into the action. Pretty much from the start, fearlessly, the novel throws you into the world and the characters with just a few brush strokes to paint the very basics of both characters and their surroundings.

To start with I found that a bit disconcerting. Names of lost eras come and go. Places, creatures, people, objects, societies… it all comes in a whirlwind of activity that takes some time to process. This is coupled with the fearlessness of the author to throw you right at the deep end of the action pretty much from the start. A bit of chaos of information that little by little takes shape as eventually one becomes fully familiar with the ideas of pantheons, magics, politics and geography, as well as characters and a very well accomplished sense of ancient history.

The thing is, even though it feels a bit chaotic, it actually makes perfect sense in the context of the novel. An unknown situation is what the characters face and an unknown situation is what the readers get. As the plot unfolds, things become clearer for both characters and readers at the same time, thus helping with the pace and the familiarity with the threat, as well as making a better connection to the world and its history. By the end of the novel, you feel you have been there a long time and, without even realising, you have become very familiar with the world in the book.

The map at the beginning, even though a bit small due to the constraints of the book, gives a very handy visual clue to the journey the protagonists follow, as well as the scope of the world, considering it only represents a fraction of the whole place.

This is also important because it gives us a very clear idea of how well the world is created. How much sense it makes. And, personally, it makes me curious to know more about the cities, mountains, rivers and territories.

The plot is not something revolutionary, and it doesn’t need to be. Something has been found that puts the world at risk and it falls on the shoulders of the few and the unprepared to defuse the situation, or at least try. Taking place in two different locations and involving two different sets of characters, the plot evolves amidst intrigue and slightly predictable subterfuge in a crescendo of action that keeps you entertained throughout the novel.

Characters are very well crafted. Even though I can’t help but think we haven’t seen all they have to offer, relationships are explored and personalities grow with surprising detail that goes from the genesis of their friendships to their sexuality and emotional involvement. From the naive innocence of Iago the apprentice, to the churlish dignified traditions of the Pilogiarch or the troubled past of the priestess Appia, all of them show their vulnerabilities without shame or remorse and they grow stronger because they become closer to us. Suddenly someone from a dodgy background can be just as noble and someone who comes from a place of knowledge can have his world turned upside down.

One thing Newton doesn’t shy away from is, actually, fantasy. I know this sounds silly, but bear with me.

It is much too often that I read fantasy novels and they don’t get out of the Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Halflings. Medieval fantasy can be a bit trite at times. The Worm Within is not. Far from elves, here we have Viriki and other species, more alien and insectoid than mammal. And they are not just alien in their looks, but also their customs and behaviours are well reflected, giving us societies that, although vastly different, live together and mix well with each other.

Nods at real life situations are scattered around the book. So much so that it feels in places like it’s giving a very subtle yet powerful slap in the face of bigotry and shows a diversity that feels as natural as appropriate.

I could keep going on about this book for hours. Seriously. With a plot that engages without being overtly revolutionary, there are enough twists and turns in this novel to hook you and make you want more and more. And I haven’t even gone into how well written it is. How meticulously the words have been chosen to convey the right meaning and the right tone. And how that writing is used masterfully to reflect the changes in societies and social strata within the societies.

The sheer richness of the environment will be more than enough to paint some wonderful and mighty pictures of scenes that feel you are in them and leave you wanting more. And just as well because there is a trilogy to be finished.

This is the start of an absolutely fantastic new series and I would recommend anyone to jump on the wagon right away because this is already brilliant … but the best is yet to come.

May 232017
 

chaosium-logo

A company that has been going on for longer than most, Chaosium has brought some of the most emblematic and beloved franchises to the RPG world.

Glorantha, RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu… all of them prolific lines that have been supported by many thousands in many languages over many years.

And yet, the company has also gone through some very rough times in the last few years. So much so that a lot of people thought it would go under. However, it was rescued by a rather terrific group of people, one of them I had the pleasure of interviewing.

Jeff Richard is the Creative Director for the company and, being an accomplished game designer with a passion most would envy, he has a lot to say, not just about the past, but about the future of the company.

And he is a fun guy to boot!

You can listen to this podcast in iTunes and Stitcher too. You can download the episode from here.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Thank you for your support.

Apr 262017
 

Skijumpvideo

In an attempt to break our record for the weirdest episode, Jim and I attempt to discuss what games have been good for the industry.

A few weeks ago we chatted about what games were bad for the industry and a good number of them came up.

Today we try to do the opposite with some very varying results…

Also we spent a while watching some ski tyre jumping from Japan. That was really, really weird… https://youtu.be/f62Z8Ev9OXA

You can find us in iTunes, Stitcher or download the episode.

If you have enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Help us with our Patreon: https://goo.gl/5C2Eeg
Our YouTube channel: https://goo.gl/rl8MsU
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Thank you for your support.

Mar 202017
 

 

3D_3Secrets-2

3 SECRETS

The English edition of 3 Secrets, a cooperative game for 2 to 8 players, has just been released and it is now available for the European market.

The goal of the game is to unravel the three secrets of an unresolved case before time runs out.
One of the players plays the role of informant, and knows the truth about the case: they know which secrets need to be discovered, and try their best to help you guess them correctly. The clock is ticking and the clues are scarce; question the informant to gather useful information to find the solution. If you grope in the dark, the informant can reveal an important clue, but this will cost you precious time! Use your best observing eye, lateral thinking, and deduction skills to unravel all the mysteries of the ambiguous characters that populate this game.

3 Secrets comes with a free app available for download at the Apple AppStore and Google Play.

Game design: Martino Chiacchiera, Pierluca Zizzi
No. of players: 2-8
Ages: 14+
Artwork: Werther Dell’Edera
Language: English
Suggested retail price: €10.90

deckpace

DECKSCAPE – TEST TIME

Deckscape –Test Time is the first title in a series of cooperative games inspired by real Escape Rooms, where a group of people is “trapped” inside a room full of puzzles and odd items.

The goal of the game is to solve puzzles, understand the plot of the story, and make intelligent use of the items provided in order to exit from the room as quickly as possible.

In Deckscape –Test Time, you have been selected from Doctor Thyme’s most brilliant students for a special project. He’ll test your skills, and if you succeed, you’ll get a unique chance to help him on his newest and greatest invention. While he his explaining his project, he distractedly pushes a button: an alarm cries loudly and heavy gratings shut all the windows and the exit door. The laboratory is locked! Doc Thyme falls through a trapdoor below his feet and the lights turn off. Will you be able to pass Doctor Thyme’s exam and exit his Laboratory? Using just 60 cards, you will take part in a hectic adventure, without leaving home.

The English edition of Deckscape –Test Time has just been released and it is now available for the European market.

Game design: Martino Chiacchiera, Silvano Sorrentino
No. of players: 1-6
Ages: 12+
Artwork: Alberto Bontempi
Language: English
Suggested retail price: €10.90

Jan 012017
 

sector_6

Sector 6 is a strategy game currently (at the time of publishing this post) funded in Kickstarter, from Spanish company Draco Ideas with a Science Fiction theme.

In Sector 6 the players take on the role of prisoners in a space prison with limited supplies of oxygen. On their turns, players will move their miniatures between points in order to collect some oxygen canisters or rotate the boards to affect the labyrinth configuration.

The current video is a slides presentation review of the game and the prototype that was sent to me.

The game is a very quick one and plays in about 15 to 20 minutes. The board is set by placing a number of hexagons that contain some tokens that represent the amount of oxygen and some cogged walls. Each hexagon has some exits that create the labyrinth the players have to run through. Every turn the players have to either grab some of the available oxygen, or rotate one of the tiles. If the cogged wall side of the hexagon is adjacent to another wall, they all spin, thus changing the configuration of the labyrinth.

As the game progresses and the oxygen becomes more scarce, the level of strategy of the game goes up, which includes a lot of messing about with the other player’s plans, which is always a nice thing to do.

Hope you enjoy the video and take a look at the Kickstarter project.

Aug 102015
 

I realise you might not know this, but we have a competition going on!

We discussed a couple of episodes ago in the podcast our worst gaming experiences and we realised there are a lot of them and we’d like to know yours.

So here’s what’s happening: We’re having a competition until the end of August and the only thing you have to do is to send us an email (podcast@gmsmagazine.com) and let us know what your worst gaming experience has been.

You can be as graphic as you want, as detailed as you want and as honest as you want. It’s totally up to you.

The hosts of the podcasts – industry veterans Jim Pinto and Vickey Beaver and yours truly – will be the judges. We’ll read the entries and the worst experience will receive:

  • A surprise really cool RPG. We’ll decide which one after the competition, but we promise it’ll be a very nice game and we’ll tell you beforehand so you don’t get something you already have. And yes, it will be a physical book.
  • Jim Pinto will match the offering with some PDFs from Postworld Games, his company
  • Vickey Beaver will also chime-in with more PDFs courtesy of Obatron Productions

And that’s pretty much it.