Critical Foundation: Season 1
- Designer: Kristoff Valla and Yohan Lemonnier
- Publisher: Gigamic
- Players: 2-5
- Age: 14+
- Time: 30 min per module
Per the publisher: “It’s 2035, and the world has changed little. Huge multinationals have taken over, and nanotechnologies are part of everyday life. Icarus was created to respond to the new challenges that this new way of life brings. Its goal: Investigate sensitive cases and undertake delicate operations. Critical: Foundation – Season 1 is constructed like a television series, with each of the nine episodes taking 30 minutes to play. You can take on the role of Gamemaster, who directs the adventure, or play as one of the characters to put yourself in the story. The game provides an RPG-style experience with board game scaffolding via character cards and dice-based combat.“
This review will talk about the board outline of the game without providing any details of the story than what is above. The whole point of an RPG is to explore and learn the story, and I’ll leave that experience to the gamers who will play this in the future.
As with most RPGs, one player will be the gamemaster, leading the other players though the adventures contained within the box. There is an introductory booklet that expands on the universe, and this will help you tell the story to the other players. There is also a complete synopsis of the story included here (for the Gamemaster only!) which will also help. A huge screen is provided for the GM to hide all of the information behind. The back of the screen also has a nice noob’s guide to RPGs, giving reminders of the most important structural parts of the GM job.
Each player will “create” their own character; though this game streamlines the process a bit. Each player starts with a character card which provides base attributes (with one attribute being the main attribute). A Background card is drawn to provide skills, occupation and some background story. Finally starting equipment is given to each character.
The skills of each character will be used during the game at necessary moments. The story (or the gamemaster) will determine that a specific event requires a skill check, and the difficulty of the task. This will set the die roll which needs to be had on a d12 to succeed. Of course, there are plenty of ways to modify the value of your roll: +1 for your main attribute, variable changes based on equipment bonuses or other skills, etc. In certain cases, you might get a hero roll which allows you to add a d8 to theroll a well.
The game also simplifies recordkeeping. Here, we do not worry too much about the numeric values of stats, nor do we worry too much about health points. Each character simply has 2 health points. Once you have 2 damage cards, you’re gonna have to rest for the rest of this episode, and you’ll have an ongoing penalty in later episodes to reflect your injury. The game includes sleeves to store your Character card, occupations, equipment, handicaps, and whatever else you need to carry from session to session.
The game is built for beginners/novices. It does not assume that any of the players or even the Gamemaster have ever played an RPG before. The initial episodes teach both sides how to RPG. The framework is pretty simple (especially if you have played an RPG before), but the way that the story gradually builds through the episodes is fairly engrossing.
There is a deck of cards which is used for important story points; providing illustrations/clues/extra flavor for the players. The game makes it clear which cards to use at which point, making the story development fairly idiot-proof.
As with most RPGs, a lot of the success of the episode will depend on the ability of the Gamemaster to tell the story. The rules recommend that the GM read the story the day before to become familiar with the story, and then read it again just before playing. This is really no different than what I did as a GM in my old D+D days. The game does provide a nice stepwise process for each episode to help with setup, to guide the story, and then make sure that the important plot points are not missed. There are large colored bars placed in the synopsis to make sure that these important points are not missed.
Essentially, this game provides players with the framework/introduction to role playing games, but in a way that is likely palatable to boardgamers. If you do not have the most imagination, or if you are new to the genre, you could simply read the materials provided and work through the game/story. You will not need any pen/paper. There is nothing to map. There are no sheets to track stats, injuries, etc. Instead, everything you need is provided with cards/tokens in the box. Sure, I think it would be better if everyone roleplays, but the game would work without that. To me, it feels maybe closer to Sleeping Gods or Gloomhaven than it does D+D, but there is much more freedom here in what you can do, leading me to consider it more of an RPG than a boardgame.
Furthermore, much of the “busywork” of RPGs is really simplified here. The box itself provides players with 9 episodes; each short in length – 30 minutes or so each – but once this series is completed, you can continue to roleplay in this universe, possibly writing your own scenarios or downloading new scenarios on the game’s website.
It’s definitely not a game for everyone, but for a boardgamer maybe looking for something fresh and different, this is a great way to dip your toe into a new genre without having to commit to a lengthy RPG campaign or have to wade through a 60 page rulebook. The framework of player rules here is a scant 4 pages, and this is probably just the right amount for a RPG noob to have to go thru.
It’s hard to rate it after only played 3 episodes, but it has been enough for me to think that this could be a great way to learn about the RPG style of game. I’ve already passed through that stage of my life, and I frankly wouldn’t want to go back having already crawled through a lifetime’s worth of dungeons and labyrinths – but I’ll surely pass this on to a RPG-curious gamer at some point.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor