For someone who grew in a country where the Doctor was, and largely is, nothing but a name we know very, very little about, it only took me a few episodes of the series to get infatuated with the character and companions hopping from adventure to adventure. Even though I wasn’t all that keen on the actor portraying the Doctor, the story and extremely clever writing that came with it really got me hooked.
There is one more trick about the Doctor Who series that I really, really like. It leaves a lot to the imagination. There is a lot of technology that’s implied and not revealed, leaving it up to us to fill up the blanks with something we find it easy to relate to. Just like a good impressionistic painting giving with seemingly random brush-strokes that paint the perfect picture in our heads.
The point of my initial rambling is that, if you look closely at the Dr. Who series, there is a lot more than meets the eye. And it’s changed a lot in the last few years, for the better, I hasten to add.
Needless to say, Cubicle 7 had a huge task in their hands to update the game that they brought out a few years ago with the new doctor. But if something the British company can do well, is to select the right people for the job.
The Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, or DRWATS if you’re a friend, comes in a lavishly illustrated and rather strong cardboard box. Due to licensing agreement with the BBC, no books have been published to date of this review. Since I am a lover of boxes – call it a childhood thing – I like the surprises they hold – I am rather glad that’s the case. Everything about the box has been well thought out. Size, thickness of the cardboard, illustrations and the information on the back, it looks and feels lovely. Even the inside of the box has an illustration of the Time Vortex. Totally cool.
Of course, if you have a situation that makes your life difficult, like having to make a box, you might as well do the most you can with it and C7 again knew how to do that.
The box contains various things that have been designed to take advantage of the format. A quick start guide, a player’s guide, GMs guide, adventure book, character sheets, character cards, time tokens and a set of really cool dice. They look gorgeous. They all have been printed in thick enough paper and the books have been very nicely bound. It’ll take some time to unbind those, I tell you!
First and foremost you find a simple quick-start guide that says “Start here”. Can’t be simpler. If you’re adventurous enough and experienced enough in RPGs, you can probably start playing right away, though it’ll require a fair amount of referencing to and from the two books that are underneath.
Once you’ve read through that, you have the first of the two books, the Player’s Guide. Both books, this and the GMs Guide, follow the same simple two column formatting. Both are illustrated with photographs from the show, which is both a blessing and a curse. They are a blessing because there is plenty to choose from, they are extremely good quality photos (except a couple of them) and there is no shortage of imagery. They can be a curse because some are very poorly acted, like the vampires ones, and others do show enemies in less than threatening light. Daleks are not all that scary when they look made out of plastic and black pin-pong balls.
I suppose I look at it from a dispassionate point of view since I found out about the Daleks too late in life to find them all that threatening, but even so, some of the images are just not easy to find scary.
However the contents are a different things all together. Two things become very clear then reading the book. The authors *love* the Doctor and it’s history. They know exactly what matters and what doesn’t, and they know how to write. OK, three things.
Reading the Player’s Guide is a pleasure. The simple layout and big enough font don’t strain the eyes too much and help with my dyslexia considerably. The occasional text box to offer additional information is also very welcome, specially when they clarify some rules or the game ethics. More on that later.
Character creation is a doodle. I doubt it’ll take anyone more than 15 minutes to generate a character once the basic concept has been decided upon. The advantages and disadvantages system is actually very fitting to the type of characters you can find in the series. Characters that can fall for the silliest of obstacles but can solve the trickiest of puzzles? No problem. Super strong human who can’t keep his mouth shut? Sure thing! Every advantage gives you that, an advantage, and every disadvantage can be used, not just to add tension and drama, but also to buy more advantages and to enhance the role playing experience.
The list of abilities and skills is good enough, but not hugely comprehensive, which really settles the idea in my mind that this is a game orientated to beginners of the series as well as the more experienced player. The reason I say that is because it would be very, as in *very*, easy to create new ones to match your needs.
The character creation section also deals with a conundrum you’ll face sooner or later: Who plays The Doctor. Thank goodness this game does two things very well. First of all makes easy to play without a Time Lord, Doctor or otherwise. Replacing the quirky Doctor with someone else who can master time travelling is very, every doable. Also it allows to create characters that, although not as powerful as the Doctor himself, will have skills and abilities the Doctor doesn’t, thus making them a necessary party of the adventures.
There is also plenty of advice on playing the game. From how to deal with difficult situations, to rewards for the better players, teamwork and, more importantly: Talkers and movers go first.
This really got my attention. Unlike more combat orientated game systems, the DRWATS is all based on ingenuity and wits, so people first of all get the chance of resolving any situation talking and negotiating. If that doesn’t work, then they can move before anything else happens. That gives the chance of escaping, dodging to protect yourself, etc. If all else fails, there is combat, which, although won’t always be deadly, it can be very, very painful and inconvenient.
The mechanics are really easy. Check your skill, your ability and your advantage, put the dice together and roll high. The higher the better. Choosing what skills and abilities to use is a collaborative process to be agreed between player and GM, so again, there is freedom for the players to use their abilities in new and quirky ways.
And there are the time tokens. They will help the characters in times of difficulty or when they want to do something extraordinaire. Maybe I should say even more extraordinaire. They are awarded for good gameplay and role playing, and they are used for good gameplay and role playing. But not at the same time.
The GMs Guide serves two purposes. First of all it duplicates a lot of the content from the Player’s Guide. The objective is to have two people reading the rules at the same time and save in preparation time. It works.
This guide also offers a very decent wealth of information on the time, paradoxes and how to deal with situations in which time travelling might be affecting the players. From means of time travelling to the effects. If you are familiar with the series, this should be a lot easier to understand. If not, it might take a bit to get used to it, but you’ll get the gist of it very, very fast.
There is also a selection of enemies and races for the players to face and, I’m sorry to say, this is where I was left wanting more. Although the foes presented in the GMs Guide are iconic, threatening and, most of all, easy to use, I was hoping to see a great deal more. More than anything because the wealth of creatures in the series is just immense.
Don’t get me wrong, there is enough in here to get you more than started and be able to devise lots and lots of adventures, but I was hoping for more. Having said that, for a box that’s meant to be a beginner’s box, it’s not bad at all. Here’s to hope there will be a (big) supplement soon with more creatures and locations.
Lastly, we find the adventure book. These adventures are, simply put, episodes of the series. And just as good. There is a bit of absolutely everything that makes the Doctor Who series so engaging. They are easy to understand, simple to run and with so much open space for the players to do whatever they want, that you can certainly expect the unexpected from them. The first adventure takes place in time. As in the players will travel in time and will have to deal with a paradox and how to avoid it, and how to use it to their advantage. The second one takes place in space and, to give you a taste of how dangerous they can really be even if they look silly, you’ll face the Daleks. A lot scarier than it sounds!
I am not going to compare this game with its previous incarnations. I haven’t seen them and therefore I lack a good point of reference, so I will just say what I feel about this particular edition.
The production is truly excellent. The materials are first class, the editing is good with very, if any, typos and although the photos can look silly at times, they are used to the best possible outcome and they do enhance the atmosphere of the game and give reference points.
The mechanics are simple enough. Word of warning for the GM, it paces a lot of weight on your shoulders and you’ll have to come up with consequences to the players actions very, very often. It’s all good and proper if you can foresee what the players will do, but when you can’t, it can be tricky and you’ll have to use a lot of your ingenuity. Which is very fitting to the game, really.
Like the series, the RPG feels very much like a game for the younger tier of players. However this can’t be any more wrong. Although it is indeed very approachable for newcomers and youngsters, the depth and chances for good acting and role playing are huge. My only reservation, though, is that it is not apparent. It won’t take much for an experienced team of people to come up with difficult tasks and decisions, but it will take even longer to come up with dark and gorier scenarios to develop. Mostly because they come from story telling and acting rather than actions. There will rarely be a dead dragon or a battle that will end up with slaughtered enemies. However there will be difficult situations and situations that the characters will make worse because of what and who they are. Without a team of players who understand that, this game won’t shine.
Overall, though, I can’t get enough of this. Yes, being a huge Doctor Who fan helps and if you are a Doctor Who fan, this is something that should certainly be in your collection. Despite the price tag, it is a very worthy addition to anyone’s gaming library and with the plans Cubicle 7 has for the license, I reckon we have a *lot* of Doctor Who goodness to come and fun to have.
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