Saturday, January 3, 2015

MUTANT: Year Zero Review

For this review, I'll be covering Modiphius Entertainment's MUTANT: Year Zero - Roleplaying At The End Of Days (English translated version of Paradox Entertainment AB's game). Unlike some of my other entries, I'll be covering the mechanics and layout of this offering a bit more than I normally would, since the overall mechanics really tie in to how the game is played.

Likes (D6):
  • 1. The artwork is well done, with the inclusion of both color and B&W art which supports the setting appropriately, and appears often enough to augment the text without generally bogging it down. I'll even go as far as to agree with the use of a standard two-column layout of text (in general, with exceptions for utility, like tables and the "Index").
  • 2. Character creation is quick and easy. The inclusion of character classes (called "Roles") with skills (though I wasn't too keen on the limited class skills). Example names, though limited, are included, though probably scattered too much throughout the book for quick reference.
  • 3. The mechanics do provide a gritty, post-apocalyptic feel, while retaining a good mix of gonzo elements. The Rot as a generic mechanic for CBR hazards was fairly well implemented, though I thought it's generic nature lost some points because detection devices (such as chem sniffers or geiger counters) were missing. While food, clean water, and ammo were stressed as resources to help give that scavenger/survival feel, fuel sources (especially for vehicles) seemed a bit more hand-waved to the detriment of the setting.
  • 4. The setup that allows and encourages building up the PCs home base "Ark." When combined with the (somewhat flaky, see below) Artifact system, it makes for an interesting challenge.
  • 5. There are some rules for scavenged arms, armor and equipment, though I'd probably only rate the system as fair, due to the quick-play mechanics of the system.
  • 6. A fairly good setting, with sample locations, ideas for other locations, and factions to interact with.

Dislikes (D66):
  • 11. Useless 'Chapter Only' "Table of Contents" (sorry, if your TOC only shows what page a chapter is on, it's f***ing useless as a TOC for a Role Playing Game). While I don't mind the small image included with each chapter, spreading this useless POS over FOUR pages (two PC section and two GM section) was a waste of space (though no doubt makes sense from a designer's perspective (i.e. holding a physical book let's you see the whole PC or GM section at one glance). Also the PDF version didn't even hyperlink the chapters.
  • 12. Character sheet in the "middle" of the book (pages 20-21). With the TOC being useless, having this in the middle of the book just makes it difficult to find. Moreso when the 'Index' has this for the Character Sheet entry, "Character Sheets 11, 265". On page 11 is the mention of Character Sheets as s tool of the game (oddly saying you can find one at the back of the book, which would be page 265, except, it's not there, instead some art and quote page is there.
  • 13. Actually, somewhat of a personal dislike here, I'm not fond of a lot of the "two-page" layouts for the material in this book, while it works somewhat for a physical book, all it does in PDF form is highlight wasted space (or artificial page count padding...see Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions for an extreme example of this). The "color" page borders with what appears to be fairly extreme text margins doesn't help either.
  • 14. Quick character creation because there's really only one offering of character type; Mutant Human. Pure Humans, Animal Mutants, Plant Mutants, Robots, Cyborgs, and the like are hinted at, and appear as NPC monster types, but with so little information as to be only a teasing appetizer.
  • 15. The lack of gonzo mutations for mutants. There's only 24 mutations available, the game recommends that each PC have a different one, and then half fills a D66 table* for random rolls.
  • 16. Really poor overall layout in that you're constantly told to reference some other part(s) of the book for information on most subjects. (When you're not being teased with "be covered in future supplement" tidbits.)
  • 21. A "unique sector generation system" that has the most useless table in the entire book. It can be summed up thusly, "ruin environments have ruins and artifacts, wilderness environments don't; all environments have threats". For that I needed a whole table taking up a quarter of a page? Admittedly, the rest of the material in the chapter is quite useful, to the point you may want to incorporate much of the material into your own game.
  • 22. *I have to qualify this dislike a bit. While I'm not opposed to limiting the mechanics resolution to use of one or more D6s on its own merits (easy availability of dice with which to play the game), I am opposed when the only reason for really doing so is so you can sell your own, custom (and overpriced) dice. Even using D6 based tables though, the table layouts in this book are much better than Barbarians of the Aftermath, though still not great because of their limitations (i.e. 24 mutations on a D66 table).
  • 23. I'm not completely sold on the way "Artifacts" are done in this system. Certainly it makes sense with the way the game is laid out, however some of the choices don't really seem to fit (I'll admit, this reaction may mainly stem from being presented with the first "Artifact," "Air Mattress," I mean, seriously, an air mattress, doesn't quite fit the whole gritty PA feel the designers have been trying to interject).
  • 24. The price tag, twice the price of The Mutant Epoch, maybe one quarter of the utility. Combined with constant references to the custom dice and cards for the game (overpriced merchandizing), you feel like you paid way too much for way too little.
  • 25-66. Re-roll

Overall, I felt that this game was more of an overdeveloped board game or underdeveloped computer RPG than a table top, pen-and-paper RPG. There are a few useful things to take a look at in the setting, and the game mechanics are intriguing enough for representing a grim and gritty PA feel, but for the price, you're better off looking elsewhere. Maybe in the future if the expansion material gets published and can be incorporated into one book for a reasonable price, this might be something to use as a go-to Post Apocalyptic RPG, but for now, not really.

Edit: After thinking about it a bit, I've decided that this "game" is more like a large adventure module of the sandbox-setting style rather than a board game or CRPG. It is great for running a limited sandbox, but as it's own RPG it still doesn't make the grade.