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Reviews: Monster Island
by Craig Robertson

Monster Island coverMonster Island
Designers: Bruce Harlick, Patrick Sweeney
Publisher: Firefly Games
32 b & w pages, with color cover and counters insert

Bruce Harlick and Patrick Sweeney love giant radioactive monsters, and it shows in their work. Monster Island, their first release for Firefly Games, covers the basics of monster-versus-monster duels. Using a streamlined version of the Action! System, Harlick and Sweeney have created a tightly-focused and extremely playable game.

With practice, monster creation takes only five minutes from concept to playable design. Almost any monster imaginable can be created using four stats, five derived attributes, and a list of special powers. The power list is complete and well-balanced, with the exception of the Teleport ability, which is overpriced compared to Tunneling and Swimming. In less than half an hour, I was able to create a giant mutant naked mole rat, a sentient oil slick, and a magically-animated colossus.

Combat moves smoothly, and uses attributes and stats efficiently. Attack rolls are easily resolved. Roll 3d6, add your Reflexes, then compare your roll to your target's Evade rating. If you equal or exceed his Evade, you hit. Damage is determined by your Strength for hand-to-hand attacks, or by your Blast ability in the case of ranged attacks. A good variety of holds, body slams, and tackles are also described, each using the same basic attack roll mechanic.

Much of the game's chrome is found in the power list, but a couple of extra rules are included to capture that authentic giant monster flavor. These special rules include alliances, which require communication, something giant monsters are inherently bad at. When an alliance attempt fails, the monster(s) that missed the required Mind roll must immediately attack the creature he failed to ally with. Rules for intimidation, and a mandatory one-turn victory dance after each opponent is defeated, extend the monster movie feel. In addition to a basic setting outline, Harlick and Sweeney devote four pages of the monster design section just to various monster categories. The last three pages consist of a concise and thorough filmography of the genre. This is in addition to the many monster movie quotes scattered through the rules. Terrain is covered briefly, yet thoroughly.

The rules are well-presented, with nice BW interior art by Bryce Nakagawa, who also did the color cover. Each illustration is clean and attractive, featuring most of the pre-generated monsters. Distinguishing subject headings from sub-headings was somewhat difficult, however. The fifteen stand-up cardstock counters are useful at first, representing most basic monster concepts, but you may eventually want to switch to miniatures. I have already started collecting 1.5" Zoids and Digimon figures for use on my old Ogre/GEV maps. The eighteen pre-generated monsters are nice, giving good examples of monster creation, but most players will enjoy designing their own.

I would easiy rate this product as one of my favorite releases of the year. The game does feel slightly incomplete, since it only covers monster against monster combat, but that should be corrected with the release of Escape from Monster Island later this month. However, I would have preferred a combined edition, perhaps boxed with some plastic minis. Maybe we'll see a deluxe edition someday. If we do, I'll be first in line.


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