Kickstarter is responsible for many things nowadays. More and more, small publishers and game designers in the USA are turning to that site to realise their projects and bring them to life. Azamar has been one of those projects that was successfully funded. From the start Azamar promised great things and from the offset looked gorgeous.
Of course with Kickstarter you never know what you’re going to get until you actually get it, so there is always an element of risk. However that is not what stopped me from backing this project. It was the lack of funds.
Quite frankly, had I have the money, I would have backed this project right away. It was well presented, interesting and the authors at Wicked North Games are, to say the least, passionate. So when I was offered the chance of a review copy of this book, I had to jump at the chance and say yes.
I must apologise, though, for it has taken me three months to get to that book!
The softcover I received left a very good impression in my hand. “Soft” is also a misnomer here. “Flexible” would have been more accurate. The cover is very thick and very sturdy with vivid colours and a truly lovely illustration.
The bind is perfect. No. Really, it is. I can’t imagine those pages detaching any time soon. Oh, and the pages are also on rather thick paper, so no problems with watermarking from the other side. Well chosen production values.
I will start with the things I didn’t like. The book layout and the book design.
The layout sticks to the traditional two column format. The font is serif, so some people with dyslexia might find it a bit difficult to read (I did). The DTP is terrible. I am sorry to be so blunt, but there are so many mistakes in there I can’t help it, though I’ll admit I am very pedantic about this sort of thing. Many times you will find a rogue lose line on top of the page, just before another section starts. Sub sections titles will share the same font size as section titles, thus making it difficult to know when you’ve jumped onto a new subject, or if you’re still in the same place. This becomes very apparent in the world description section, which is very, very rich.
There is a huge lack of consistency too. Inserts sometimes will have a background, sometimes they won’t. They are also mostly located before the title of the subject they cover, making it difficult to see that they’re part of a new thing.
The book design is also very strange. I shall never understand why the combat chapter is at the end of the book. It feels like they forgot to add it and it was an afterthought. Which it wasn’t.
On the other side of the coin, though, the illustrations are very nice. Consistent, well crafted and very appropriate. The artist did reflect the world very nicely and the style fits perfectly an RPG for an younger audience and beginner, which I think is the sort of audience that Azamar would cater to perfection.
So what did I like? Everything else.
The mechanics are mega-simple. Roll a d6, add your modifiers and if it matches a difficulty level, you’ve done well. If not, then… well…. something bad might happen.
The combat system is quick enough to keep things moving and be easy to get to grips with, and comprehensive enough to offer plenty of opportunities to be enjoyed and be flexible. I think it’s really good for beginners who will find it very easy to refer to and even easier to memorise. Good choice here!
The eight races introduced in Azamar are one of the highlights of the game. With Humans being an endangered species and events that lead to that situation making sense of the whole thing. What makes this something so interesting is that it offers a great opportunity of role playing in the game. Some other races look at humans in a somewhat patronising way, which some players could find annoying (thus being able to roleplay that), while other races still treat humans with a bit of contempt, which can also create some very good dynamics within any gaming group.
The pantheon also gives very interesting possibilities. Any god or goddess a player follows will give some special abilities to the character. The way gods so blatantly affect players who are non-clerical (so to speak) gives religion a heavier weight on the whole game, and players will have to be more mindful of their divine allegiances. This actually can help new players, as it can provide an easier to remember and more “black and white” template for them to follow. For more experienced players, it will be the perfect chance to be creative with the powers and the effects of their religion in their character development.
The bestiary is lovely. Great creatures as foes and they are very original too! I will say no more about them, but I will say that if I saw them in any renown monster manual, they’d be well up to the quality and the job. Extremely well done there to the authors!
The setting is rich. Very, very, very rich. We are presented with thousands of years of history of the planet with all sort of cataclysm, revolutions, extinctions, gods, battles, kings, politics… All concisely presented and lovely to read. During those events, the veil between Azamar and other worlds broke in many places, and The Veil, is thin in many parts of the planet. This is partly the origin of magic and tons of dangers to the world. One thing that struck a chord with me was the fact that the true name of places holds power and knowing the true name of something, someone of some place, can tip the balance against that item. Thus you’ll find people who will fiercely defend the true name of their lands so no one can find it. This soft of ideas are the ones that make Azamar a truly interesting world to explore, as far as I am concerned.
Although the cartography is somewhat basic, it shows a well crafted world and continents full of possibilities. The font in the map made it a bit difficult to read, but the interactive map in Wicked North Games website is a massive help. There are tons and tons of locations with their “toponomy” in book. Enough information to inspire your adventures, but not so much that you’ll feel overwhelmed. It will also allow for expansion of the setting, which could end up being a truly terrific new world to explore.
Azamar is full of potential and it is a very well worth product to invest in. It is pretty much perfect for beginners, though the chapter order will make things a bit more difficult than they need to be, which is a shame.
The layout does bring down my scoring of this book quite a lot. Although it’s obvious it wasn’t designed with Microsoft Word, it is not far from that level. It needs a great deal more attention to detail and a good editor to tidy up things. The art direction is good and the artwork is consistent throughout, so the designer has the heart in the right place, just not the eye. And it is a shame.
It is a shame because Azamar has all the ingredients to be a huge thing and it has some stroke of genius that scream at the potential this game has to offer, and, most importantly, the people behind it.
I would give this book 3 stars as a “tough love” kind of reward. If I didn’t believe so much in this book. If I thought this is a one time wonder, or if I didn’t care if I ever saw another edition, I’d give it 4 stars.
However, I want to see another Kickstarter project in a few months time. I want to see proper layout. I want to see proper edition. I want to see expansions that focus on just one part of the world. I want to see more magic. I want to see books that focus on just one chunk of its history. And I will extend the invitation I issued in my “Judge a book by (more than) its cover” article to everyone; I will take a look at your book before it gets published and give you my art director’s eye, for free.
You can (and should) buy Azamar from: