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Reviews - Gamma World (2010)
 
by Daron Patton


Gamma WorldDungeons & Dragons 4e: Gamma World
Published by Wizards of the Coast (2010)
Designed by Richard Baker & Bruce R. Cordell
Contents: 160 page digest-sized rulebook, 2 full color double-sided battle maps, 2 sheets of die-cut character and monster tokens, 4 character sheets, 80 cards (40 mutations & 40 technology), booster pack of Gamma World cards
$39.99

This game is featured in the OgreCave Christmas Gift Guide 2010.

Dungeons & Dragons 4e: Gamma World is Wizards of the Coast's latest resurrection of a classic game franchise. Many folks, including me, just call it Gamma World but the WotC marketing types have gone to great lengths to stress the connection between 4e and this edition of Gamma World.

I was lucky enough to gamemaster the demonstration for the game on October 23 at a friendly game store in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I used the official demo game adventure, but its design is very similar to the adventure/campaign included with the starter game.

Exploring the ruined future
Like some of the earlier editions of Gamma World, this one comes in a cool starter box set. Unlike many classic boxed sets, there are no polyhedral dice sets or dice of any type included. The game also introduces a collectible card option for expanding the game.

The backstory states that all realities in the multiple possible universes all jammed together one day (The Big Mistake) and now things are really hosed up. From nuclear wars to time warps to dimensional fissures and whatever else you can imagine, all of them are possible in the world the PCs now explore. Randomness is the word of the day and this Gamma World is based on it.

While it's acceptable to design your character, picking and choosing powers, background, and so forth, that is not the default concept. The game excels at slamming together two randomly rolled origins and letting players figure it out – like how a swarm and a yeti can be combined to make a character. It's a lot of fun watching folks try to figure out quasi-lucid rationales for the bizarre origin pairings. Once you've got your origins sorted, pick some armor, a couple weapons and some gear from a short shopping list, and you're ready to play.

Characters are quick to roll up. This is useful because making up weird PCs is a kind of mini-game unto itself and because GW is a wee bit more lethal than current D&D. If your hawk/cactus character bites it, you'll have fun rolling up a telekinetic super speedster to take her place. So far it looks like leveling tops out at 10th level, but there's cool bennies every step of the way – more hit points, more weird powers, and a modicum of increased control over the random weirdness (but only a modicum).

Like D&D 4e, your characters will have some at-will abilities (things they can use every turn), or encounter abilities (which can only be used once per battle). There are permanent mutations such as hawkoid PCs having wings and every origin has some traits to make them stand out and reinforce the origin concept (radiated origin have blasts from their eyes, for example). Most mutations and high tech you'll encounter enter play via cards, as card use is a core mechanic. The fact that it's presented as an optional CCG add-on has been the source of much internet debate. Cards express random mutations as well as the higher technology gee-whiz-gizmos you might find laying around a bad guy's lair once the battle is over.

There are two card sets available for the game. The starter game comes with a complete 80-card deck that's the same regardless of which starter you buy. It contains 40 'alpha' mutation cards and 40 'omega' technology cards. After encounters and certain other specified events, such as rolling a '1' on a d20 for just about anything, you experience the alpha flux. Time-space (or whatever) shifts and you have to ditch that card for another mutation card.

Here's where the booster pack model comes in. If you want, you can buy 8 card booster packs for $4 MSRP each. The boosters comprise a collectible set of 120 cards that are different than the 80-card standard set. They are also broken down in mutations and advanced tech and are printed in a rarity scheme so that some cards are more difficult to get than others. Some people, like me, think they're pretty neat as an option. Others hate them with the fury of at least a few blazing suns.

Fortunately, since it's optional, you can play just fine with the core deck that's included with the game. If you want to buy boosters to expand that experience, I think you'll enjoy them. If you hate CCGs and only want to use the core deck, I think you'll also enjoy them. Either way, the cards do add a neat, uniquely wahoo element to the game. Just when you're planning on zapping the mutant elephant villain with your laser beam eyes, a reality shift/alpha flux happens and your laser eyes are gone, replaced by giant ballet shoes (not a real game example, but close) or something equally useful; really keeps you on your toes.

Gamma World rules are basically D&D 4e with a few tweaks. There are skills to check and a ton of combat options. You roll the same range of dice types, from d4 to d20, with the d20 being the core resolution die. Like D&D 4e, Gamma World is very board gamey when combat comes around. Some rules are changed, but it looks to be reasonably easy to slide rules, monsters and characters between the two games.

Support materials like maps, counters and even creatures from D&D 4e are readily slid over to Gamma World. If you are familiar with and/or like 4e, you'll feel pretty much at home with this version of GW but there are some differences – you can't coup-de-grace in GW, for example. Our demo game made me realize just how big a role the board game element plays in 4e (having never played it) but I liked it a lot. I saw some places I could adjust things, like making combat move faster, but it still felt like 1980s Gamma World in theme.

Conclusions
In summary, D&D 4e: Gamma World does a good job of bringing Gamma World to 2010. The authors suggest the limited levels and randomness make it perfect for one shots or shortened campaigns and I agree. I also think you could make a long-term campaign if that's what you wanted from the game.

The back-story is open ended enough that you can do just about anything you want and the rules do justice to the game. That's what's kept Gamma World in just about every incarnation as one of my favorite RPGs. This update is one of the better versions I've played and I'm really looking forward to the planned expansions.

Favorite Things:

  • Plenty of awesome monster/PC counters
  • Nice digest sized book
  • High production values and humor
  • Amazing art and overall Gamma World feel (very 1980s).
  • Cards add fun factor and silliness (and plain old coolness)
  • D&D Essentials counters, maps and monsters look like easy porting over
  • Expansions look to be continuing the fun

Not My Favorite Things (no show stoppers, just preferences):

  • The index could have been more thorough like recent D&D Essentials products (e.g., Heroes of the Fallen Lands)
  • Rules changes between D&D and GW are just different enough that 4e veterans will have to be careful if they play/played both systems
  • CCG aspect, which I enjoy, has put many potential players off this product
  • Paperback main rulebook will probably get rebound like my other paperback game books I own for better durability
  • No dice included – I know most RPGers will have them, but newbies will still buy this and potentially be put off to find they can't play using just the contents

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