Once you finish admiring the tactile qualities of the outside of the book you will be even more amazed by the interior. The layout of the book is superb. The spacing and margins are all excellent and the fonts are perfect for the genre. The images used are mostly drawn from the likes of Frederic Remington, Charles Russel and other Old West artists who brought the frontier to life. Mixed in with the painted art you will also find black and white photographs.
Most people who know Kenzer and Company know them from their previous work in the gaming world. There three most popular products are as follows:
- Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine
- HackMaster Role Playing Game
- Kingdoms of Kalamar Fantasy Role Playing Setting
This game, years in the making, is clearly going to be their Magnum Opus. The well laid out rules system puts to shame the system they created for HackMaster and the pure beauty of the book puts even the best from the Kingdoms of Kalamar line to shame. There were some who thought this game would be based on the CattlePunk series of stories from the Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine but I am going to tell you right now that this game is far superior to any CattlePunk storyline printed in the magazine.
- The book is laid out into six well defined chapters:
- Chapter 1: Welcome to Aces and Eights
- Chapter 2: The Basic Game
- Chapter 3: The Advanced Game
- Chapter 4: The Campaign Game
- Chapter 5: The On-Going Game
- Chapter 6: Appendices
In this very short chapter the reader is introduced to the very basics of what a role playing game is and what you need to play. This is also where the reader first learns that the clear sheets in the back of the book are the much talked about Shot Clock. More on that later.
In the second chapter we learn the basics of the combat system. For those who purchased Aces and Eights: Showdown last year than you can skip over this chapter as it is a very condensed version of that book.
If you are new to Aces and Eights than I highly suggest that after you finish reading this chapter you setup and play through a few mock combats.
This is where the real meat of the game system begins to show through. This chapter covers the more advanced rules of character creation, combat, wounds and healing, brawling, firearms, horses and an advanced chase rules system.
Character creation is based on what came before in the HackMaster game but has been refined. No longer will players create a character saddled with a large number quirks and flaws in an effort to squeeze out more building points. The designers cleverly added a system of diminishing returns into the character creation system. You can still saddle your character with problems and move points around but it begins to cost more and more to do so until you reach the point where you realize the cost far outweighs the gain. This is a clear improvement over the HackMaster system.
Like HackMaster, the information for skills, talents, quirks and flaws are all found in the appendices. There are a few tables in this chapter but the descriptions are all to be found elsewhere.
After you have read about character creation you are introduced to the full combat system in all its glory. A very in-depth example of a gunfight is provided so you should have no trouble learning these rules.
Let me take a moment to tell you about the Shot Clock. This ingenious device is a clear sheet of plastic (think of an overhead slide) on which a circular pattern is printed. There are two of them in the game. One is for normal firearms and the other is for shotguns.
You use this device by placing it over a silhouette of your target and aiming. The center of the Shot Clock goes where you aim. You then roll a D20, apply and adjustments and draw a card from a standard poker deck. The higher you roll the closer you will be to the center and your target. Even a miss can sometimes hit if the card you draw sends your shot in a good direction.
Black cards send your shot high or low while red cards send your shot left and right. Thus, if you aim for the head of someone standing straight up and miss but pull a club card you still might end up hitting them in the chest or leg.
Wounds and Healing
When it comes to a gunfight it's not always the bullet that kills you, sometimes it's the infection. Aces and Eights does not hold back. You may have managed to kill that desperado but if he got a lucky gut shot on you then you may soon join him on Boot Hill.
There are several pages of tables dedicated to the side effects of a sever wound. you may not die from a serious wound to the foot but you may find yourself permanently lame from it. This lameness may be as minor as not being able to sprint to as severe as never being able to sprint, run or jog again!
There is also extensive coverage provided for the diseases and poisons of frontier life.
The brawling rules are like unto a mini-game in and of them self. Players use poker chips to represent their speed, endurance and strength. Each round they bid some chips, roll some dice and see what happens. Much like using the basic combat rules for firearms you could also make a night of just running a barroom brawl using these rules.
This section of the book is a beauty to behold. The designers feature brown and white photographs of the firearms available in the game along with pricing. At the end is a size comparison chart. You want have anyone asking you what a lucern hammer or bec de corbin is in this game!
In the Old West a lot could be said about a man based on the horse he rode. In Aces and Eights this holds true as well.
From markings to traits this section of the book allows for you to see just what sort of horse you have. Are you riding a nervous quarter horse or a spirited mustang?
Advanced Chase Rules
Much like the rules for brawling the advanced chase rules play out like a mini-game. You use a standard deck of poker cards and dice to play out the chase.
Some people look at an Old West game as a chance to be desperados and rob banks and stage coaches. That can be fun for a one-off game or even a mini-campaign but those outlaws never live very long. when you have a price on your head you just know someone will come gunning for you to collect that reward.
This section of the book covers short adventure hooks , co-op game mastering and the town of Black Horse. A little bit of information is provided for the town of Lazarus but a full supplement is planned for release next year. Even if you decide not to base your game in Black Horse (or the Shattered Frontier) you will find a mother load of information in this chapter on how to run your Old West game.
Reputation and Fame
If I have learned anything from the various Old West movies I have watched it is that a man is only as good as his word. If you word is not worth five cents than neither is your hide.
Aces and Eights builds upon the Honor system from HackMaster and takes it up a notch. Seeing as how there are no alignments in Aces and Eights the Reputation system is based on Code of the Old West. As your Reputation rises people begin to notice you. They might offer you a special deal on the wares. Some might even offer you a free pistol so that they can turn around and tell their customers that the great gunfighter Jebediah Smith uses their pistols!
A negative Reputation puts you into the world of notoriety. Rather than having people offer you deals out of respect they will offer you things out of fear. It's up to you to decide which road you want to travel.
Along with Reputation comes Fame. When people think you are the fastest gun in the West they may stumble when dealing with you. Like Reputation you can expect great things to happen to you once you become famous.
Because Aces and Eights is a classless gaming system you might be wondering how you "advance" in the game. You advance by bettering your character.
Rewards can come in Monetary, experience and Building Points. Money is its own reward but what about the other two? As you get in more gun fights (assuming you live) you will benefit by losing those greenhorn jitters. Your shots will be steadier and your aiming will improve.
Building Points are earned when you achieve certain milestones of personal and professional growth.
Unlike the many fantasy role playing games on the market Aces and Eights does not pigeon hole you into a single class. If you start out as a gun fighter there is no reason you should stay one for the rest of your life. Instead you have the option to follow Profession Paths.
You might start out as a carpenter or a farmer before you get drafted into the army. You may then spend the next year as a soldier until something goes wrong and you find yourself picking up a new trade.
Either way, the job you choose to live by may change multiple times during the course of the campaign but it can not change during the course of a single game session.
Now that you've played through a few scenarios and had a few gunfights what do you do next? Up to now most of the rules in the book have covered combat and running a campaign, what could come next?
Have you ever seen the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove? If you have than you know a large part of the Old West revolved around cattle ranching. With ample grazing land and hungry folks out East you could make a fortune raising cattle. This section provides rules for running a ranch. Before you think ranching is boring you might also want to consider what every rancher has to do to make their money!
Running a Cattle Drive
Whether you own the ranch or are just a hired hand the cattle drive is the high point of every ranchers life. It's the point where you decide to herd those steers to the railhead (or just cross country) to sell and possibly cash out.
A lot of things can go wrong on a cattle drive. Steers can stampede their way right off a cliff. You can be attacked my angry natives. If you are very unlucky your own men might mutiny on you and leave you alone in the desert. Either way, driving cattle can become a campaign long adventure all on its own.
All That Glitters
Perhaps you fancy yourself a gold prospector? There's gold in them thar hills and streams if'n you have the patience to dig and pan for it. But what happens when you make it back to town to file your claim? Are you strong enough to keep your claim or will banditos follow you back to your claim and kill you?
Just like driving cattle, digging for gold can also become a campaign unto itself.
Goods and Services
What game is complete without a section that lists goods and services? How much will that saddle cost you? What about your mining gear?
Will your Reputation and Fame have an influence on the prices you are charged? You'll have to read this section to find out!
Not every desperado ends up dead in a gun fight, only the lucky ones do. The rest either find them at the head of a lynch mob or at the hands of the local judge.
The Frontier Justice part of the game plays out like a mini-game. Players make their arguments and a jury can be swayed. Unless you get stuck with a hanging judge, then all bets are off!
The rules in this section are very extensive and a courtroom battle can be just as intense as a gunfight.
Drinkin' and Drugs
Whiskey and beer may be the two most common drinks you see in the movies but there were many other drinks served in the Old West. Couple this with the drugs of the natives and you can find some interesting reading here.
Everything not covered in detail earlier in the book gets the full treatment here. This includes an extensive background of the Shattered Frontier.
To make a long story short, the Shattered Frontier takes place in a world where the Civil War was fought to a stalemate. The Confederate States of America still exist, as does the Republic of Texas. Mexico still owns a large portion of the American South West and Canada is partly controlled by the British.
This is an amazing book and a great game. I can't say enough about the physical properties of the book but I do want to tell you that when you open the book, it stays open. Many glue-bound books will close if you try and lay them flat, this one does not.
The book is not cheap either. It retails for $49.99 and it is worth every penny.
If you are looking for a game system to use for a Wild West game then I highly encourage you to check out Aces and Eights, you will not be sorry.
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