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Review: Gamma World (2010)

October 18th, 2010

Gamma World is one of the oldest paper-and-pencil role-playing games, first published in 1978 during the ascendancy of Dungeons & Dragons. Detailing a loony, post-apocalyptic future of mutant badgers and excessively dangerous weapons, Gamma World was the radioactive country cousin of D&D.

There have been half a dozen editions over the years, and now comes number seven: a slick boxed set marketed as D&D Gamma World and based on the current version of the Dungeons & Dragons rules set.

The old-school nuclear Armageddon has been replaced by a 21st Century disaster. In the new backstory, our world ends in 2012 when the Large Hadron Collider causes dozens of parallel universes to collapse in upon each other, creating a combined reality. But there are still mutant badgers.

What’s in the Box: A 160-page rulebook that covers character creation, combat, monsters, tips for game masters and a sample adventure. Two double-sided battle maps. Two sheets of character and creature tokens. Character sheets. A deck of 80 Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech cards, plus an 8-card booster pack.

First Impressions: At its core, this is a stripped-down version of 4th Edition D&D. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. As a fan of 4E, I’m happy to see that–a few notable changes aside–I can pretty much jump in and play.

Character creation is intentionally quick. As heroes max out at 10th Level (as opposed to D&D‘s thirty levels), it’s clear that you’re not intended to enjoy a long, happy career. No magical healing + notoriously undependable future technology = rolling up a new mutant. Fortunately, the character sheet walks you right through the process.

There are no feats in the trim rules set, and skills have been reduced to a mere ten. (One of which is “Conspiracy.”) There are no action points or healing surges.

Races and classes are replaced by “origins”: everything from Android to Yeti. Each character gets two, randomly-determined origins. While some of the options seem very specific–Rat Swarm, for instance–the game encourages creativity in the way they combine. (One given example is a Seismic/Hawkoid re-skinned into a gargoyle.)

One controversial aspect of this edition of Gamma World is the introduction of collectible cards. In addition to the powers granted by their origins, characters draw from a deck of Alpha Mutation cards that represent temporary abilities. Similarly, loot comes in the form of Omega Tech cards that describe futuristic hardware. While the Mutations are replaced after each encounter, Tech cards can potentially carry over…assuming that they don’t break, run out of ammo or explode. Skillful characters can salvage broken Tech into permanent gear.

The components are excellent; there’s a lot of value in the box. The token sheets are made of heavy cardboard and punch out easily. I’m not a big fan of chits in tabletop role-playing games, but given the unlikelihood of Gamma World-specific miniatures being produced, it’s nice to see that every one of the 25 monsters detailed in the core rulebook is represented by multiple tokens.

The Final Word: I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but this new version of Gamma World looks like a good time. The rules are loosey-goosey and the emphasis is on random wackiness. It should be a fun change of pace from your weekly dungeon crawl.

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