Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gamma World Review Pt. 3 - Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech

For my 3rd and final post for Gamma World spotlight week, I want to talk about Alpha Mutations and Omecha Tech, two very important parts to this new edition of Gamma World. If you aren’t familiar, these two mechanics come physically in the form of cards. A touchy subject now, just as it was a couple months ago, especially with the coming of D&D fortune cards, the new CCG element to D&D 4e (I swore I wouldn’t bring that up… oh well, you won’t find a rant here though).

Inside the core GW box, you get a deck with a grip of both Alpha Mutations and Omega tech, as well as a booster pack of random cards as well. Alpha Mutations are random mutations that your character goes through, which grant some really interesting/cool/weird powers to your character. Omega Tech is essentially GW’s way of taking on magic items and special equipment. Inside the player’s book, you really don’t get a lot of equipment past the very mundane and ordinary. There is no guide for buying anything either, essentially, everything that you find in GW is going to be something that you pick up in your adventures around Gamma Terra. One of the first issues with these is balance. Both of these types of cards are meant to be used for all levels of characters, so they are going to cover PC’s from levels 1 to 10. Some of them can be quite a bit more powerful than others, so that might cause balance issues at the table, but as long as you keep the cards coming in and going out, that balance issue shouldn’t last too long (you also always have the option of holding out extremely powerful cards and giving them to players only in certain special situations).

Alpha Mutations have a few interesting mechanics that go along with them which give your characters new mutations, trading out old ones. My favorite mechanic in pretty much all of GW is the idea of Alpha Flux, which essentially equates to a critical failure mechanic. When you roll a natural 1 on any d20 roll, you trade out one of your Alpha Mutations for a new one. This makes rolling a natural 1 something interesting and potentially sad, but not game breaking or a pain. I like the weapon break mechanic that is presented in 4e Dark Sun, but I like this mechanic a lot more. It keeps the game random and active and makes rolling those critical failures a potential upgrade to your character, rather than something that simply gets in their way.

Omega tech on the other hand, seems a bit more bland. I like the idea that you can overcharge certain Omega tech in order to get more than one use out of a particular piece of gear in a turn, but at the same time, I think that temptation will most of the time go unnoticed. I don’t know many people who would risk losing their Omega tech in order to use it more than once in an encounter. I could see myself using a piece of really awesome Omega tech in emergency situations in order to bring a creature down that in one turn might kill my character, but other than those situations, I wouldn’t want to lose my Hypno Ray, just because I want to stun a couple more creatures. Did I forget to mention that some of these cards are pretty broken?

One of the problems I see with these cards is the idea of stacking your deck. You don’t have to have many cards in a single deck of Alpha Mutations or Omega tech, so allowing your players to build their own tiny deck of stuff, then draw from that, will see your characters gaining the same kind of stuff over and over again, if they are so inclined to do so. The reason this is probably suggested is to encourage players to go out and buy more cards for themselves (WotC has to make money off of this after all). I understand the business decisions behind this and the new fortune cards and I don’t really have anything to say about it other than, good luck and I hope it helps you make a profit.

I say all this and I can say that WotC will probably be getting someo f my money for GW cards. One of the ways that these can also be implemented is through the use of a DM deck, which is most likely something I will want to put together for my gaming group. I like that idea a lot better. Having one giant deck of Alpha Mutations and Omega tech, then drawing from that much more randomized deck and giving these cards to your players to use, is much more appealing and balanced in my opinion. Since to run GW you really need the gear to keep it interesting and keep it going, I will probably pick up a fair number of these packs to build a complete deck with all the cards and then use that for my games; I can justify that because I won’t be spending money on stuff like Adventurer’s vault, or other magic item based books, which in terms of GW plays essentially the same role. I might even call on my players for a few dollars to buy some more to enhance the game.

The major critique that I have with these cards is that they all have the same back. If your alpha mutations should happen to get mixed in with your Omega Tech, you are going to have to shuffle through these to find out which is which. I would have loved it if they had used a green Back for one kind of card and a red back for another, since there is really no place in the game where you are going to be getting a random Alpha Mutation or Omega Tech; every situation in the game has you drawing randomly from one of these separate decks. If they had used different back sides to these cards, it would have saved me from spending money on card sleeves for these. There isn’t anything rare about any of these cards, from what I can tell, so I don’t really feel any need to protect them, but being able to keep them apart and not have to sort through them before the beginning of a game is a major pain.

However, one way you can take advantage of putting these cards into sleeves is the DIY side of Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech. Because these are cards, you could easily make your own Alpha Mutation or Omega Tech cards, and throw them into the same colored sleeves and now your DIY cards fit in perfectly with all the other cards that you might have in that deck. I will probably do something when I run GW in order to have a much fattier stack of random goodness to roll with.

One of my final little notes has to do with opening booster packs. I tried to play this game with my wife and what she enjoyed the most was opening the single booster pack that came in the box. I find that a lot of people who aren’t really into gaming at all, still really like the thrill of opening packs and seeing what is inside those packs. However, her joy was quickly stifled by the fact that none of the cards were shiny or had any art. After opening the pack, her first remark was, “I like opening the MtG packs better.” So WotC, if you want to bank on the human emotional surge when opening packs of CCG cards, you might want to put something on those cards that is pretty or fun to look at. These cards are just visually boring. There isn’t any art, there isn’t anything shiny, so if anything, the “I want to open booster packs emotion” is just going to direct people to MtG and not to GW. My wife wanted to play more Magic after I let her handle the cards for a while… then again, maybe that is what you want people to do…. Crafty WotC.

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