The time has come. The night of all nights has arrived, where I will dive into darkness. Evil awakens and a nightmare comes true: Dracula rules our city of New York and the lord of darkness is also the head of the local corporation for cyber-genetics, cyber-space, cyber-surgery, cyber-technology, cyber-weapons and cyber-surveillance. Appropriately, it has been a very long time since the city has seen any light; we are in an apparently endless night.
Being a declared non-fan of roleplaying games, but a bit of a fan of Buck Rogers (the 1930s serial being somewhat forgettable, but the first season of the 1970s series being totally excellent), this game always had me torn. I gave playing it many serious attempts, sometimes not getting anywhere, but gradually getting better at it. Time to have another go!
Countdown to Doomsday, from the outset, makes a couple of very good design decisions. First of all, the player is not allowed to play Buck Rogers himself or even have him in the party. Given that character's status as an immortal icon in this universe, it would have been unthinkable to have him fail at comparatively simple tasks at the hands of a less than perfect player. Second, the game opening is simply excellent: the party of new recruits of Earth's military is immediately thrown into battle when during their welcome, their base is attacked. So the game begins with a tense, action-packed scene (sort of a "quest 0") even before letting the player take a breath to really take inventory, visit the bar for some rumors etc.
At first glance Arcanum looks like a role playing game full of great ideas: Its main attraction is its fantasy world, which is set at the time of an industrial revolution, that is about to turn it into a science fiction setting. It is a refreshingly unique place, full of whimsical magic and technical marvels, that has great potential for interesting twists to age-old cliches: How does an ageless being, like an elf, react to the rise of science, which is about to make the magic, that has kept him alive so far, obsolete? Is there a cheaper workforce than orcs, which can be exploited at will, for they are obviously evil and therefore deserve no less? Or what about safety: Should a wizard, whose magical power has an unpredictable effect on machines, be allowed to get close to steam engines or trains? There are so many new stories that could be told…