Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/16/tabletop-
Written by Greg Stolze, Better Angels is the newest game from Arc Dream Publishing and uses the One Role Engine or O.R.E for short. I am, unquestionably, a fan of superheroes and the comic book genre in general so this game is right up my alley. If it has a cape and a fancy leotard, then there is a good chance I have read it. This type of idea has always held a place in my heart. The battle of Good vs. Evil, the mighty powers and city-smashing brawls have added spark to my imagination for as long as I can remember. Of course there was also the desire to play the black hearted villain, and the idea of being the foil to the hero always intrigued me.
Better Angels is definitely not a game based around constantly doing the “right thing” or living a life of Truth and Liberty. It is a game about dealing with your inner demon (literally) while exploring the limits of your ill-gotten powers. As one begins to read this PDF they are greeted by a several page story that begins to give you a feel for the setting. This part is followed up by a description of real world EVIL versus the over-the-top EEEVIL of Better Angels.
It is at this point that, at least for me, problems arise. The most basic precept of the game is the use of Strategies and Tactics that work to represent the internal conflict between the human host and the demonic force that inhabits them. This is where things start to get complicated. While the Strategies and Tactics are not directly tied in with the dice mechanic, it figures in incredibly heavily into the character concept. It is nice to see that the struggle between the demon and human side of the character is emphasized, but it just feels too complicated for me.
The thing one learns as they continue reading, is that the Player is not the one that controls or even creates their demon. During character creation the choices for each characters demon are made by the Player sitting to their immediate left. Once play begins, it is this same Player that controls their friend’s demon.
Now, while this is a great idea in theory, I can’t help but wonder how many problems this could cause in a group. I know from experience that there are players out there that enjoy making things difficult for the others at the table. Aside from that I worry about players who don’t fully understand the interaction rules, or simply don’t care, are not going to get the most out of this game. I understand that this is a group-to-group situation, but I feel that it is important enough to mention.
The mechanics of Better Angels are easy to understand and will be familiar to anyone with experience with this company’s games. These mechanics do a good job of representing chance while still allowing for versatility in actions and consequences. Additionally there is a section that details what should and shouldn’t be rolled on.
The next session goes into great detail about how to use the variety of Strategies and Tactics and how they can be used in different combinations to achieve different effects. This does go a long way towards helping to add further layers to the conflict between the character’s internal struggles. Unfortunately this can make things even more confusing to novice Players and Game Masters.
The list of powers is compact but does an excellent job of detailing what the different demonic abilities are. There are enough of them to create different types of characters which I do believe is an important feature in any game representing super-hero activities.
Admittedly there is more to the game than I have written about. It would be impossible to truly expound on every bit of Better Angels without making this review insanely long. All in all I admire the writer’s work and his obvious love of the genre, but for me it misses the mark. This game, while well represented, will be difficult for many readers to understand and get the “feel” of.
I understand that while this game may not be for everyone it will certainly fill the niche for some. Those who really enjoy in-depth characters, with all manner of repercussions for their actions will find this game enjoyable. Those who want a quick and easy supers-game will be better served to look elsewhere.
[3 of 5 Stars!]