Review: Gaslands

(originally published on Geek Ireland)

It’s time to get your old Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars out of the attic because they’re about to get a new lease of life thanks to Gaslands. Created by Mike Hutchinson, Gaslands is an apocalyptic vehicular combat miniatures game that channels the energy of such franchises as Mad Max or Death Race onto the table top. Available through Osprey (as a physical book or via PDF download), the game offers a lot of bang for very little buck.

One of the great appeals of Gaslands is that it allows you to delve back into your childhood and get out your old model cars all over again. With simple yet intuitive rules, the game can be played very easily with the vehicles as is. For those at home in the world of tabletop miniature war games however, the game also allows for the customisation of said vehicles into weapons of death and destruction. Cars are divided into a number of classes, defining how fast they can move or how many implements of destruction you can strap to them. While you’ll be unable to stick a missile launcher to a motorbike, it should easily outrun something the size of a truck allowing it to get out of range of the latter’s weapons before annihilation is visited upon it. Like most wargames, players will have to build their team within the constraints of a points system (referred to in game as cans), with each vehicle and weapon varying in value and usefulness.

Gaslands Wargame Complete Bundle

Once your cars are ready, you’ll be able to jump into the action with Gaslands’ easy to learn rules set. Each ‘race’ takes place over a number of turns, with each turn involving a number of activations. Each car begins the race in 1st gear (though certain advanced perks may alter this for some races) and, as a result, can only make manoeuvres that could be done in first gear. In order to do so, they select an applicable movement template (these can be photocopied from the rule book or bought separately from the game’s website) and place it at the front of the activating car. They then role a number of game specific dice (again these can be bought online, though the rules do offer a table for converting a standard d6) to determine how successful the manoeuvre is. Once all the dice outcomes have been resolved, the car can be moved to its final position and make available attacks on other vehicles.

Such attacks vary in nature depending on how vehicles come into combat. Should the moving vehicle be in range to bring one or more of its weapons to bear, it can assign one of its crew members to that weapon and activate it. Each weapon may be used by one crew member (unless specified) and the active player rolls a weapon specific number of dice to determine how much damage is sustained by the target. The target then rolls a number of dice, determined by the gear they are currently in, with each ‘6’ result removing one point of damage from the attack. Once the final damage total is calculated, the player receiving the hits removes hull points from their vehicle to reflect what damage has been done. If a vehicle removes its last hull point, it becomes wrecked and may explode in spectacular fashion, potentially taking other cars out with it.

Of course, vehicles can be difficult to control and players might find that their chosen movement template will bring them into contact with another vehicle, resulting in a smash. In this case, a number of things need to be determined; firstly in what direction is the smash occurring? The rules allow for three types of smash; HEAD ON where the vehicles meet bonnet to bonnet, T-BONE where the activating vehicle hits a car on either side, and TAILGATE where the activating vehicle hits a car from behind. A second consideration for determining the dice pool for the smash is the speeds of the two cars while the weight class of each vehicle also has a bearing on proceedings. Once all values have been determined, and the appropriate dice pool is built the combat proceeds in much the same manner as that outlined above for weapon combat. The only difference that may arise are situations where the ‘defending’ vehicle might wish to visit damage back upon the ‘attacker’ rather rather than trying to evade the damage.

Gaslands Cars Motion Shot

During all this movement and combat, vehicles will be receiving hazard tokens to show just how difficult driving under these conditions will be. Players will be able to remove these tokens in a number of ways, but should a vehicle ever have six hazard tokens on it at one time, the driver will lose control and potentially flip their vehicle. It’s a very interesting addition to the rules and provides a bit of tension, even when a vehicle seems out of reach and on its way to victory. On one occasion, during my own playing of the game, one of my vehicles (a Dodge Charger equipped with a missile launcher) lost control in fifth gear, while well out in front and flipped, resulting in it finishing up trapped between two buildings and a wall and being effectively out of the race as a challenger.

As I mentioned above, each car begins the race in first gear, but as the game progresses their dice rolls will allow them to move up and down through the gears, allowing them to make more activations per game turn. Once all vehicles in first gear or higher have been activated, the game turn moves to its second gear phase and all vehicles in second gear or higher get to activate again. This continues for a third, fourth, fifth and sixth gear phase until the turn is over. As a result, vehicles can potentially activate up to six times per turn, though being in higher gears will mean that certain tighter turns or shorter straight advances will become unavailable to them making it more difficult to control their cars’ movement.

What is really exciting about Gaslands is that it’s highly customisable. I’ve already mentioned about that you can customise your vehicles in any manner you want within the games’ rules but there is also a great deal that can be done with the ‘races’ themselves. The setting for Gaslands, as per the rules, is a post-apocalyptic Earth that is being used as a TV showgrounds by the rich, now living on Mars. As a result, the core game offers a number of suggestions as to how you might play the game, from straight out Death Races that see cars aiming to race through gates on their way to the finish line to Destruction Derby style events that see the vehicles enter an arena with the ultimate goal of being the last one standing. There’s even an obligatory Zombie mode that sees combatants trying to run over (or ‘collect’) as many zombies as possible, with the winner being the person to collect the most zombies by the time the last zombie has been ‘collected.’ The Gaslands rules however, are so open to customisation that should the post-apocalyptic setting not be to your tastes then you can apply them to one of your own. The games’ fledgling community has already suggested the use of the rules to recreate a number of different pop culture races from Mario Kart and Wipeout to Star Wars‘ Pod Racing, so there’s plenty to work with for those willing to try it out.

Leo Curiosity Attention Django Unchained Meme

Overall, Gaslands is an amazingly entertaining gaming experience. Personally, it’s resulted in my going out and buying some new die-cast vehicles which I haven’t done in the best part of two decades or more. As enjoyable as it has been to modify my new toys however, the game itself has been where the true enjoyment has come. I’ll admit that my first foray into Gaslands was a rather tentative Death Race scenario but once we got going, and upped the number of participants (the game recommends 3-10 combatants) things really stepped up. The fact that the game goes against the standard 1v1 template of table top miniature wargaming should be enough to warrant it getting some attention, but it is its robust and fun rule set that really make Gaslands worth checking out.

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Book Review: ‘The Final Book: Gods’ by S.W. Hammond

(Originally published on Geek Ireland)

Published by Surf Star Media, The Final Book: Gods is S.W. Hammond’s first foray into an enticing world of gods and mortals. Spanning four millennia of mortal interaction with the divine, the story follows a path that will be both familiar to Assassin’s Creed fans and at the same time something all its own. For centuries members of the Greek pantheon have found themselves stranded on Earth after a childish argument between sisters causes an upheaval among the Gods. As a result of one brash action, mankind is thrust into an age of unprecedented corruption and greed of which the Gods are powerless to circumvent. Flash forward to the late 1960’s and Zeus is reaching the culmination of his work on Earth; Project Genesis. Using technical knowledge gained over the centuries, he has constructed a machine that can create a memory link between a person in the present and a past life. Now all he needs is the right person for the job, and in USAF pilot Martin Akadian he believes he has found him. But even the great King of the Gods is not infallible and what follows is an epic tale of loss and redemption that could spell the end for mankind.

The Final Book: Gods is a story told in three distinct parts, the earliest set 4,000 years ago around Mesopotamia and the latest in modern-day America. Hammond does a great job of interweaving these different stories in a manner that both makes sense and doesn’t compromise the narrative. The book easily glides between each era, unfolding the story in a manner that makes it easy to read and understand. Unfortunately it is this fluidity of storytelling that really makes the court document pieces stand out. They feel completely out-of-place, as they are written in a style entirely at odds with the rest of the book, though their importance to the overall story cannot be discounted. Thankfully the rest of the novel is written to a high standard, and these documents are short enough that they shouldn’t cause the reader to put the book down indefinitely.

A further minor issue I had with the book was the fact that all the characters were practically perfect; Each is introduced with reference to their beauty or intelligence. Of course each of the characters is supposed to be one of the ancient Gods, so some of that might be forgiven but it certainly stood out as something that grated throughout the book. It seemed the female characters defining trait was their beauty while the males frequently, especially Zeus/William, discussed philosophy with ease. Beyond this however, each character stayed true to the mythology upon which they were based: Hera was vengeful, Zeus was frequently unfaithful, but The Final Book: Gods does take the interesting route of showing them trying to overcome their past indiscretions. In their personas of William and Pom, Zeus and Hera appear more like a loving couple than they were in the old myths, while Andi and Chloe seem to have put the incident that accidentally caused Christianity behind them.

At its heart, The Final Book: Gods takes a very interesting view of religious development and as a result has a strong message to put forward. In a similar manner to Becky Chambers’ A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet the book takes a negative view of organised religion. It is perhaps for this reason that the publisher and author describe the book as “a controversial last chapter of humanity.” Should readers be able to get beyond this ‘controversial’ theme they will find an extremely well written tome that certainly deserves a place on any bookshelf. What’s more, S.W. Hammond has revealed that ‘Gods’ is intended as the first part in a trilogy of The Final Book titles, so there’s plenty more to look forward to in the future.

(Review copy provided by Net Galley)

Review: ‘Lightning in the Blood’ by Marie Brennan

(This review originally appeared on Geek Ireland)

Published by Tor.com, Lightning in the Blood is the second book in Marie Brennan’s tale of Ree Varekai. Much time has passed since the events of Cold-Forged Flame and Aadet’s rebellion has been a success. The former ruler of Solaike has been deposed, and a new leader raised in his place. Cursed to ever wander however, Ree has been away from her old friend for many seasons, but her latest return could not have come at a more troublesome time. Deep in the mountains of Solaike, a group, loyal to the deposed ruler, has been harassing caravans and killing travellers. When Ree comes across one such caravan, little does she know that this chance meeting will reveal her past, dictate her present and set her future on a new path.

Marie Brennan Author Profile
Marie Brennan

Expanding on the scope of its predecessor, Lightning in the Blood once again exhibits Brennan’s skill at character development. Ree provides an interesting main character and her story is one involving so much mystery that the reader is drawn in, eager to find out more. Like the last book in the series, Lightning in the Blood offers up just a tantalising glimpse at the whole picture. Things are made even more appealing by the fact that no one character knows everything about her. Cold-Forged Flame offered little more than a fragment of Ree’s name and revealed her as an archon, while Lightning in the Blood adds a hazy possibility of a past.

Brennan’s use of secondary characters to create an engaging heroine is absolutely masterful. As mentioned before, no one character knows everything there is to know about Ree, but each offers a tantalising glimpse of the whole. Through Ree’s own thoughts we know that her past, before she wakes at the start of Cold-Forged Flame, is lost to her. Through her interactions with other characters, from Aadet and The Lhain to Mevreš we are able to piece together a greater picture of an alluring character.

Fantasy Jungle Trees River

One of the key issues with the novella as a writing form is the lack of room to really go in depth into character and world creation. Brennan has navigated these waters masterfully however, teasing out little details at a time to create a rich and intriguing world. In Cold-Forged Flame we were briefly introduced to the concept of Archons, while this latest title in the series delves a little deeper. Combined the stories weave an interesting and compelling mythology that attests to the author’s anthropology background. So too are the world and its people becoming more fleshed out as the series continues. All of this lends a pleasant counterpart to the story’s compelling lead character.

Lightning in the Blood is a wonderful addition to the Ree Varekai series. Like its predecessor it offers just the right amount of exposition on a wonderfully detailed world. At just over 100 pages it provides not only an excellent ‘between books’ read but also a compelling read of its own accord.