Look what I found. Jason Lutes is developing a board-game entitled Thrilling Tales of Adventure! which is set in the world of 1920s and 1930s American pulp fiction and adventure serials.
During the game each player takes on two roles:
Firstly as a classic pulp hero, such as Samantha Starr (Fearless Reporter), The Reaper (Nocturnal Crimefighter) or Doktor Radium (Brilliant Scientist) who must gain plot points by travelling the globe and unraveling mysterious plotlines.
Secondly as an Arch-Villain (whose identity is hidden at the outset) who must gain enough Villainy points by completing sufficient nefarious plotlines to set their final dastardly Master Plan into motion.
The key mechanic of the game is the creation of ‘Plotlines’, linked sets of between 3 and 12 cards that a hero must investigate and overcome in order to collect Plot Points, the game’s currency. Plotlines are assembled by players and put into play for other players to investigate (as a face-down stack attached to a specific city on the map).
Here’s an example of a complete, 5-card Plotline:
The top left symbol indicates the card’s type (e.g. Hook, Clue, Destination, Ally, Villain, Minion, Loot), and along the lower left edge are “links” that indicate which types of cards can follow a given card. Certain cards — usually people that need rescuing or certain items that need retrieving — are marked with an “END” link, which indicates the Plotline is complete. In this example, “Henri Le Doux” is the “END” card that completes the Plotline.
When a Plotline is completed and put into play, it starts its own turn timer. Each turn, this timer will tick down, putting time pressure on the other players to tackle the Plotline before time runs out. A Hero can begin following a Plotline once he locates the City in which the Plotline begins.
Following a Plotline consists of turning over the cards in the order they have been stacked and resolving whatever effects they describe. Cards can present obstacles and hazards that need to be overcome in order for the Hero to proceed. It’s important to note here that the player who assembled the plotline is the one who turns over the next card and reads it to the investigating player, interpreting, narrating, and embellishing as he sees fit. A core goal of the game is to give the players a sense of unfolding narrative and have the game mechanics reflect that as much as possible.
Certain cards give plot points to the investigating Hero when they are revealed or resolved successfully (in the example above, “Temple of Nabu,” “Ape Men from Mars,” and “Henri Le Doux” are all worth plot points, as indicated by the yellow numbers in the upper right).
If time runs out on a Plotline, the player who assembled it scores the Villainy points (the black numbers just under the Heroism numbers) marked on any cards that still remain unrevealed by the Heroes. If a player acquires a certain number of Villainy points (15 at last playtest), he abandons his hero and his Arch-Villain comes into play, triggering the final act of the game, called the “Thrilling Climax.”
The Thrilling Climax:
During the Thrilling Climax, the Arch-Villain player attempts to complete his unique Master Plan while the remaining Hero players join forces to thwart his schemes. No more Plotlines are created — instead, the Arch-Villain and Heroes must spend their accumulated Heroism/Villainy points to generate Plot Points.
Playtest Report courtesy of Jason Lutes:
We had the full complement of five players and started at around 1:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon. After setting up the map, the Hero records were passed around the table and each player chose a Hero to play. The starting roster was:
THE REAPER, Masked Crimefighter (Rich) started in New York City equipped with his starting Weapon, “Twin Automatics.”
CAP’N JACK SNAPPER, Master of the Seven Seas (Roberta) started in Dublin with his Ally “Mister Mate,” a mischievous monkey.
THE BLUE FALCON, Ace Aviatrix (Steven) started in Paris with her faithful Biplane.
ROCKWELL JONES, Ace Private Detective (Dave) started in Chicago carrying his starting Item, “Lucky Dice.”
LA GAUCHA, Argentine Vigilante (Melanie) started in Buenos Aires with “Fuego,” her black stallion, and her trusty Bullwhip.
Before the game proper begins, players carry out a preliminary setup stage to get the first Plotline into play. Each player is dealt two Hooks, then must discard one and fill out his or her hand to seven cards. Play goes around the table with players discarding, drawing, and building their Plotlines until one player completes a Plotline, at which point it is made “Active” (is put into play on the map). The first player to do so becomes the “First Player,” and the game begins in earnest.
This prologue stage was added after the last playtest as a way to quickly get the first Plotline on the table. During this stage, Heroes may not move or take any actions; the world is untroubled. I was concerned that it would feel like too much preparation just to set the game in motion, but it went pretty quickly and people seemed to enjoy focusing on putting a Plotline together. Each round of the Prologue, players can discard 1-2 cards for Plot points, so they begin to increase their PP pool. The tension is between trying to get a Plotline on the table before the other players have too many PPs, while trying to accumulate enough PPs to deal with another player’s Plotline should it be made Active first.
Rich quickly assembled a 3-card Plotline (the minimum length) and put it into play. When Rich activated his Plotline, he conducted several routine steps. First, he collected 1 PP per card in the Plotline (3 PP total). Then, he set the Plotline’s turn Timer to “3,” also equal to the number of cards in the Plotline. Finally, he drew 3 City markers blindly from a bag (you always choose 3 — this number is unrelated to the number of cards in the Plotline), chose one, and placed it on the Plotline. A City marker has a City’s name on one side and the City’s Region on the other. The Author places the marker on an Active Plotline with the Region side face up, so the other players know what part of the world the City is in, but do not know exactly which City it is.
THE GAME IS AFOOT
The specifics of the early part of the session are a little hazy to me now, since I was concentrating on communicating the rules and didn’t have time to take many notes as we played. It would be too much to cover every Hero’s journey in detail here, so I’ll just describe the trajectory of one character, Cap’n Jack Snapper. He saw a little more action than the other Heroes, but his journey through the game was indicative of the general experience. Plotline cards are indicated in allcaps and italics.
THE TALE OF CAP’N JACK
Rich’s Plotline was somewhere in Russia, so Cap’n Jack and the Blue Falcon, being closer than our Heroes in North and South America, started a race to be the first to uncover it. After sailing through the Baltic and disembarking at Riga, Cap’n Jack made his way to Moscow and spoke to his contact there. In a stroke of luck, Moscow turned out to be the City he was looking for, so the Blue Falcon aborted her journey and turned her biplane back into European airspace, since another Plotline was starting up in that Region.
Cap’n Jack’s Plotline started with STRANGE NIGHTMARES, which the players interpreted as being had by Mister Mate, Cap’n Jack’s pet monkey. In these nightmares, Mister Mate was haunted by images of a SUNKEN CITY, somewhere out in the mid-Atlantic. He communicated this to his master by drawing pictures in the dirt, convincing Cap’n Jack that they should investigate. Back at Riga, they reboarded the Hibernia, their Tramp Freighter (CJ’s Special Ability), and set out for the high seas.
Alas, mere leagues from the spot Mister Mate kept pointing to on the nautical charts, the ship’s engines were sabotaged (by Rich playing a card for its secondary effect) and time ran out on the Plotline before the sunken city could be investigated. Rich collected 2 Villainy points for the last, unrevealed card in the Plotline, a (coincidentally) Russian Artifact called the SILVER FEATHER.
After repairing the ship’s engines, Cap’n Jack decided to head to the Far East (where another Active Plotline awaited, this one created by Dave). A long sea journey ended in the port of Peking, where Cap’n Jack and Mister Mate overheard rumors in a waterfront dive about a RAIN OF FROGS in the wilds of China. Never one to pass up an opportunity to appreciate the world’s wonders, Jack asked around and then set out to investigate.
Maybe the frogs had never fallen, or maybe they fell somewhere else. In any case, when Cap’n Jack and Mister Mate arrived at the DEAD TREE which marked the spot where the locals said the strange downpour had occurred, they were ambushed by a ROGUE TANK! Had the good Captain been lured into this trap intentionally? There was no time to dwell on the thought, since the tank had opened fire.
I won’t go into the Challenge (combat) mechanics here. Suffice it to say that each player involved chooses a Tactic (Might, Speed, or Wit), Tactics are revealed simultaneously, dice are rolled, results compared, and outcomes determined. It’s sort of a rock-scissors-paper system (similar to that in the original edition of Fury of Dracula) with various effects that mix things up. It worked well and as designed in this playtesting session, but needs improving in a few areas.
Roberta lost a SPEED play against Dave’s MIGHT, resulting in a WINGED result (1 Wound). Leaping away as the cannon blast obliterated the dead tree, Cap’n Jack was injured by shards of shrapnel, and Mister Mate ventured into the fray to save his master. The clever monkey lured the tank onto rocky ground, where it threw a tread (or where Mister Mate peed in its gas tank, depending on player interpretation), but this wasn’t enough to spare our seafaring hero; another blast from the tank narrowly missed Jack and blew him back into a narrow ravine, where he lost consciousness. The tank crew made some hurried repairs and fled the scene, leaving Cap’n Jack for dead while Mister Mate watched from cover in the underbrush. This paragraph summarizes about 5 Challenge rounds.
The monkey slapped Jack back into consciousness and brought him food to help him recover from his injuries. By morning, Jack had patched himself up and was back on his feet. The two companions set out to follow the tank tracks that wound their way through the Chinese countryside. They soon found themselves at the mouth of a CAVE ENTRANCE, into which the tracks descended. Girding themselves for danger, the sailor and his shoulder-riding shipmate crept cautiously into the darkness.
After a short distance, the tunnel opened up into some sort of UNDERGROUND HANGAR. What had they stumbled upon? From the safety of the tunnel, Cap’n Jack and Mister Mate took in the scene: supplies and equipment lining the walls, enormous mechanized hangar doors standing shut at the far end of the vast, cavernous space. Suddenly, there was a noise in the darkness behind them. Whirling around, they found themselves facing the terrifying COUNT KRAELUS!
The battle that ensued was epic (6 rounds long — the maximum) and ranged throughout the hangar, ending only when Mister Mate managed to activate the mechanism that opened the hangar doors, letting in a shaft of sunlight that burned the vampiric Count to ash.
Brushing the remains of the Count off of his pants, Jack went looking for his monkey friend, and found Mister Mate unlocking the door to a holding cell adjoining the hangar. The woman inside rushed to them in gratitude, but Jack took a step back in dismay, recognizing her as the notorious MATA HARI. “You must to trust me! I’m on your side!” pleaded the known double agent. Reluctantly, Jack agreed to escort her back to Peking.
While Cap’n Jack had been undertaking his adventures, the other players were doing the same. Just after Jack rescued Mata Hari, Dave (playing Rockwell Jones) actually won the game by gaining enough Heroism points. Everyone wanted to see how the Thrilling Climax would play out, though, so we just let Dave be the Arch-Villain and started the final act of the game.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers or explain the Thrilling Climax in detail at this point, so I’m not going to describe the final episode of this installment of Thrilling Tales. I will say that the Arch-Villain was defeated, but not before hypnotizing Mata Hari into joining his side for the final showdown, and bringing Mister Mate to a tragic end in a pit of scorpions.
What more can I say! This sounds like an awesome game. I wish I’d come up with it! The plotlines in particular are ingeneous. They’re similar to something I had in mind for RPG play but I hadn’t found a way to make it work yet, Jason has. And the game as a whole simply oozes pulpy goodness.
Unfortunately Jason says that there are some deeper systemic issues which he needs to resolve so Thrilling Tales of Adventure! probably isn’t going to be available for a long time, but if it was on the market today I’d buy a copy. Wouldn’t you?
Best of luck with the game’s development Jason! If you manage to get any copies up and ready for distribution, just let me know where to send the cheque!