Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3

I just got my pdf of Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3 thanks to pledging in their Kickstarter.

This one was a no-brainer for me.  I loved CAH:S2 and have really enjoyed all of Spectrum Games products to date.

How does CAH:S3 stack up?  In an 80's word, Awesome!

CAH:S3 takes us back to the 80s Saturday morning (and week day afternoon) cartoons AND the toys that were so linked to them.   But I am getting ahead of myself.

And while I am still ahead of myself this game has the most awesome character sheet EVER!

Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3 (CAH:S3) is a game about cartoon and toy emulation. Specially 80s cartoons and toy emulation.  So there are some things that a given out of the box.  You won't see any deaths. Violence happens in terms of gun fire, explosions and maybe a fist fight, but you won't see people getting hurt.  There is a moral or message to every "episode"  and the bad guy is going to get away in the end only to be back next time like nothing happened.

The book, like Season 2, is divided into "Channels".  Channel 1 is the intro material, Channel 2 is the game system, Channel 3 is series creation (potentially more important than the characters themselves), Channel 4 is all about the Players, Channel 5 is the Game Master's section and finally we have an Appendix.

Channel 1 is the simple introductory material, but more over there is a great overview of how these cartoons (and this game) worked. There is a logic at work here in these and to get the most out of this game it is one you should follow.  The best feature of this Channel is of course the overview of the 80s cartoons.  It's not a laundry list of every toon, but a selective "bibliography" and must see TV.  

Channel 2 covers the game system itself.  In many games this is the Character creation chapter, but since character creation and series creation are so closely tied together we will discuss the system first.   The game is made up of a Series (the game), Seasons (a campaign), Episodes and Scenes.  Characters are PCs and GMC (Game Master Characters).  A Season for example is made up of 6 Episodes.  I might stick with my more familiar 12 and allow a mid-season break.  Why is this important? At season breaks is when you can improve your character or change it all together.

Characters are made up of Traits and Qualities.  Traits are something definitive about the character like "Strongest Man in World" or "Sneaky Thief" or "Leader of the Decipti-bots".  Stuff like that.  Qualities are more quantifiable and are measured based on how powerful your series is.  Characters can also be ranked in terms of their Star Power.  Stars (and PCs) have the highest at 3, your nameless, faceless goon has 1.  If there is only one star, then they are Star Power 4.

Oomph is the power-, hero- or drama point mechanic.  Collect "Proofs of Purchase" to get more Oomph!
It is equal to your Star Power but changes through out the game.

The basic mechanic of the game is the Check.
Traits and Qualities (and Oomph) add to the dice rolls on a Check.

Characters may not die, but they can loose an important scene.  For that there are Setback Tokens.  These Crucial Checks are usually the ones right before a commercial break or even worse, the ones at the end of an episode and continued next time (granted there were not a lot of those, but GI Joe first season comes to mind).  Gain more Setbacks than your Star Power and you are out of the scene.

Season 3 has something new in it, or at least something I don't recall from Season 2. Gestalts.  This allows you to combine powers, bodies or whatever into something greater.  Think Voltron or some Transformers.

I think one of the rules I like the most here is "The Movie" which allows you, within the game, to throw out some of conceits of the game.  So in this characters can die! Bad guys hit their targets!  Mechanically you get more Oomph and damage and Setback tokens are not removed as often (no commercials after all) the risks are higher but characters that make it out gain experience and can be changed.  Think "The Transformers Movie" from 1986.

Channel 3 covers Series Creation. Wait, where is Character creation you ask? Well it's here too.  Series and Characters are created together.  You can't have GI Joe without the Joes or Transformers without the Autobots.  First this is create a Series guideline.  First figure out what your series in named and it's tagline.  So the example I used last time was The Hex Girls with the tagline "We'll put a spell on you!".   Next up figure out the details of the series. Tech level, twists, genre.  What is your elevator pitch on this.  "Modern Earth, magic is real, but no one believes in it. Characters are supernaturals and try to lead normal lives." Something like that, only more detail.   The newest feature of the series creation is the Dial. Dials tell you the levels of the game.  How comedic is it? How realistic? What's the violence?

Now we get into character creation.
Characters are ranked as either human, superhuman or cosmic.  The GM will decide, based on the series, on what traits can't be used, or limits on the traits and other details before the characters are made.   So as an example a series about wizard kids must all have a trait "Wizard" at 3 or better, but no technology-based traits.
After that character creation is a breeze.
There are some special abilities and then we discuss GMC (Game Master Characters). They are created much the same way, only less details.  Some templates such as goons and Master Villains are presented.
Playsets are where the action takes place and they are created in a similar way.
How cool is this sheet?
Character advancement is handled next.  Among the obvious places for advancement you can also put in points to the playset to upgrade your base.  So something like in Season 2 getting a new super smart computer in the base or a new book of spells.

We end with 8 series ideas.

Channel 4 covers advice to the Players.  A game like CAH requires a lot of buy in from the players.  You can't go into it like you do other games.  This is not "Dungeons & Dragons" this is the "Dungeons & Dragons cartoon".  So the players have to go in with the right frame of mind.  You want your game to be like the first season of G.I. Joe where everyone worked together, not the seasons that featured (and were dominated by) Sgt. Slaughter.

Channel 5 has similar advice for the Game Master.  Again emphasis here is placed on cartoon logic, and creating a fun series and episode. Don't forget the "And Now You Know" messages at the end! That's not a bug, it's a feature of the game.

In the end what we have is a crazy fun game again.  If you were a kid in the 80s and watched any cartoons then there is something here for you.  It is also a great change of pace from all the other games I play. This game focuses on having fun as well as being fun.

There are no conversions for CAH:S2 here.  But the conversions look simple to be honest.  Enough that I feel fine moving characters from one to the next with little to no effort.

Character Creation is much improved in this edition and much more streamlined.  Series creation is about the same, but it was just right in the last version.

Looking forward to doing a lot more with this one!


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wow! Thanks for the great review! I appreciate it.

By the way, Norbert is already working on the S2-to-S3 conversion system. We'll make it available as a free PDF.