Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars

The only game I actually signed up for at Gencon was a demo of 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, Gregor Hutton’s take on Starship Troopers-style space marine roleplaying. It was entertaining, to say the least. So much of the game revolves around what can only be described as military porn: improving your gun, earning new campaign medals, advancing in rank. It’s almost (but not quite) to the level of a console RPG.

Still, there’s a bevy of quirky game elements that keep this title squarely within the “indie” category. Gameplay focuses on soldiering, usually a series of missions to unexplored planets. Upon encountering the enemy, players get to position their characters at various ranges for the encounter. These aren’t physical range brackets, mind you; rather, they’re a sort of nebulous combat metric that interacts with lots of other game elements. Certain guns work better at “Near,” for example, and other weapons can actually push characters into different ranges, thus affecting their performance.

Guns in this game are great. You roll to hit, then you roll to see how many aliens you freakin' kill. No rolling for damage — characters are expected to mow down dozens of aliens in a single mission, and it’s great fun to roll 1d100 and mark down dozens upon dozens of kills on your character sheet.

The flashback mechanic was also beautifully done. In a pinch, characters can choose to roleplay a brief, relevant flashback, thereby whisking the team to safety and, incidentally, revealing a little more about their character to their fellow marines. Flashbacks have positive and negative flavors, though, and lower-rank troopers can force higher-rank officers to relive a particularly embarrassing flashback as well.

A few things about this game struck me as confusing. It’s unclear whether the minimalist setting is meant to be played as campy or grim; I opted for campy (naming my character “Thick Neck Johnson”) but I guess you could go either way. Then there’s the title...3:16...what’s that about? In the game, that’s the name of your combat brigade (the 3:16th infantry). But for us Westerners, that number holds a weird spot in our cultural landscape. I sort of expected some weird religious overtone, a la Warhammer 40k, but it wasn’t there. I’m not entirely sure where the name comes from.

In addition, the art is barely there, which I guess gives GMs and players a lot of latitude in determining what their characters look like -- but I was hung up on more fundamental stuff, like what the standard-issue armor suit is supposed to look like. At first, that got in the way of my game, but by the end of the demo I was rolling d100s like a champ.

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