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Reviews - Hardnova
by Demian Katz

Hardnova coverHardnova: Space Opera Adventures
Concept and editing by Mark Bruno
System and layout by Brett M. Bernstein
Published by Politically Incorrect Games
34 page PDF

At the end of my review of Armada X, the first and last in the OneShot line of mini-RPGs released by the late ThreeSixty Publishing, I expressed an interest in seeing what Mark Bruno would do next. With the release of Hardnova: Space Opera Adventures, the first of Politically Incorrect Games' genreDiversion Quick Fix Games, my curiosity has been satisfied. Hardnova is basically the reincarnation of Armada X. Although it has dropped its predecessor's "Revolutionary War in space!" theme in favor of leaving things more open and generic, it has carried over many broader concepts such as character creation options and equipment available, and it's still a cinematic game. This means Hardnova, like Armada X, is designed to be played quickly and with little preparation as a change of pace for a somewhat experienced gaming group. The fact that Armada X doesn't seem to be available for sale anymore reinforces the feeling that this is meant to replace it entirely. Although Armada X did have a few merits (mainly its somewhat unusual setting and its novel core game mechanic), Hardnova is definitely an overall improvement.

The first twenty-four pages of Hardnova are devoted to describing the genreDiversion game system. I've seen an awful lot of fast-play role-playing systems over the past couple of years, and there's really nothing to make this one stand out from a mechanical perspective. Characters may be created using either a point-based or a random system. They have four primary traits (Fitness, Empathy, Reasoning and Willpower) and can pick various skills which relate to these traits. Optionally, backgrounds may be chosen which offer special modifiers or powers (most notably psionics). The basic game mechanic involves rolling two six-sided dice and comparing the results to the sum of the values of the relevant trait and skill. Optional rules are included for applying difficulty modifiers and for measuring margins of success. Opposed rolls are resolved by comparing success margins, and combat (man-to-man or ship-to-ship) is handled in a turn-based fashion and (not surprisingly) uses the basic game mechanic.

It's all very familiar, and the dryly-written rules make for rather dull reading, especially if you've seen this sort of thing before. Still, the game deserves a lot of credit for being easy to pick up and play; if you ignore the advanced rules and manage to wrap your brain around one pointlessly overcomplicated rule determining how many skills you can choose per trait, it's extremely simple to learn. Print-and-use sheets are provided for various character archetypes and spaceships in case you don't have time to create them yourself. More than any other mini-RPG I've encountered, this game has all the details laid out and ready to be used; even the scenarios include full stats for important NPCs and enemy types. I've always been frustrated by the way that games of this type say they're ready to play but then require the GM to come up with enemy stats on the fly; the fact that Hardnova addresses that issue earns it a lot of credit in my book. Of course, if you want advanced rules, they're there, and they work perfectly well.

The last ten pages of the book contain four scenarios: three at two pages each and one four-pager. As I noted, these include all of the stats a GM could need for play, and they're quite easy to run. Unfortunately, though, they're not all that interesting. Each one revolves around a set of familiar clichés (mad scientists, insectoid monsters, etc.) without straying into unusual territory, and the writing remains as dry as in the rules. There aren't any especially interesting puzzles to solve or distinctive characters to encounter. Most of the excitement seems likely to come from action sequences: ship-to-ship battles, races through claustrophobic settings and show-downs with criminals in their lairs. This is nothing new for a mini-RPG, and it's not necessarily a fatal flaw; by keeping the scenarios simple and action-oriented, the game makes them easier to run without preparation. Still, a GM whose players are inclined to take a more cerebral approach may have to do some extra preparation to make these adventures worthwhile, and it might not really be worth the effort compared to simply devising entirely original adventures.

The last thing worth discussing is the game's presentation. The book's two-column, illustration-free layout is functional and attractive, but I think it could have been designed with more consideration for the fact that most players will be making printouts. The cover is almost all black, and the character sheets (of which there are many due to the pre-generated character archetypes and spaceships) have dark backgrounds. While this helps to convey the vastness of space, it also wastes a lot of ink or toner unnecessarily. I was also a little disappointed by the number of typos I found in the review copy that was sent to me. Fortunately, this disappointment was more than made up for when the list of suggested corrections I sent in were acted upon in less than twenty-four hours. I'm impressed with Politically Incorrect Games' devotion to improving their products, and I suspect that they'll be more careful in future.

In the end, whether or not Hardnova is worth buying depends on a number of factors. If you want a cinematic science fiction role-playing game that's ready to play "out of the box" in minimal time, and you don't mind that most of the thrills will come from action sequences enhanced by GM creativity, it's worth the four bucks. On the other hand, if you already have a copy of Deep7's Star Legion (or something similar), your needs have probably already been met. If you're not so interested in science fiction, you're best off waiting. There are quite a few genreDiversion titles currently in the works, and I look forward to seeing how they turn out. Although the lack of shining originality here renders this only an average product, I see enough potential in the ready-to-run presentation and straightforward system to feel that there's a good chance the product line will turn out something memorable eventually. The second title, Ghost Stories, is already out, and I will be examining it shortly. Stay tuned!


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