Thank for Eric Mona for making sure this was published. This book turned me onto Hugh Cooks writing, and my literary life was enriched for it.
This is sword and sorcery at its grittiest, and the writing and plot are superb. I second the notion that fans of the Dying Earth will enjoy this; I read this and Cugel's Saga each for the first time, back to back, and thoroughly enjoyed Cook's bizarre and intriguing world and writing. I'm now in the process of reading the rest of the Chronicles of an Age of Darkness and have yet to be disappointed! If only Planet Stories had a production schedule that would allow them to reprint all of the books in this under-appreciated series....
Let me start by saying that the game itself is pretty fun. As the other reviewer mentioned, it's DEFINITELY beer and pretzels gaming- I can't imagine it being able to support the weight of an extended campaign out of the box. The setting is downright flimsy, leaving the GM to fill in details. This seems inconvenient given that the game is likely to see most of its use as an on-the-fly distraction from another campaign at my table, or else be used for something to do when part of the group can't make it.
The rules are light, bordering on incomplete, but anybody with decent knowledge of 4th edition rules can fill in the holes. I'm personally not a huge fan of 4th edition, but I actually really enjoy this use of the ruleset.
My main beef is actually a combination of pricing and the intent behind it. The box is largely empty- the rulebook is 160 pages, stapled softcover. The character and monster tokens are thick and reminiscent of Fantasy Flight Games- they're decent quality, but still just tokens. Then you get 40 each of two types of cards, one for mutations and one for equipment. For $40 I would expect quite a bit more out of this box set.
I'm tempted to lower my rating by another star simply for the obvious money grab being done here by introducing a CCG element to the game. At $4 per pack, you get 8 random cards; none of the cards have unique art, it's just a bit of flavor text and the mechanics. WotC also sell Magic booster packs, which run $3.50 each for 15 cards which have some pretty stellar art on top of the mechanics and flavor text. I won't let that affect my rating, though, because out of the box the boosters are an optional add-on, not required.
Yet again, I can't think of much to add to Endzeitgeist's and Dark Mistress' reviews. They've covered all the major points, and although the complaint EZG made regarding the lack of an overview map is a sticking point, I don't think it's enough to detract a star. Well done.
This product details the background/history of Tsar, as well as the denizens and events of The Camp, the only permanent settlement in the area, and likely the home base for your group of adventurers, whether they like it or not. The writing here is fantastic, and it had me laughing throughout the description of The Camp, sometimes because of the entertaining NPCs, other times because of the dastardly tricks and traps laid out to put the PCs through, and often a combination of both.
I recommend this even if you don't plan on running the entire series, just to use as a particularly cruel town from which to launch your adventures. At $2 you can't beat it.