Pulp Alley AAR – Mike Hobbs

DSCF0345 - CopyIn upcoming Podcast Episode 132 (which we recorded earlier this week) we will be reviewing miniatures game Pulp Alley.

However, before then, podcast host Mike Hobbs has been trying out these new rules using a variant for Gothic Horror.

Here is his battle report:

Pulp Alley is a game that’s been out for a little while that; to quote the authors “captures the thrill-packed excitement of pulp action from the classic cliff-hangers and pulp magazines to more modern adaptations like Rocketeer, Indiana Jones, and Sky Captain.”

It’s a small scale skirmish game that was originally designed to create pulp style games in the 1930’s, however the character generation system in the rules allows players to come up with other backgrounds then this for their games with a little imagination. With the release of the campaign supplement “Perilous Island” new rules introduced “Weird” abilities which allowed players to move into other backgrounds like Gothic Horror, Steampunk and even Sci-Fi.

The scenario generation system in the rules is based around players fighting over various objectives, called “Plot Points” on a 3 foot square gaming area, and includes rules for “perilous areas”, where players can play cards to force their opponents to overcome challenges when crossing them. These cards are called “Fortune cards” and each player starts the game with 3 of them and takes 1 at the start of each turn, they have a few uses in the game, either they can be played to give the player an advantage (like reducing movement of the figure their opponent has just activated) or to issue challenges when their opponent passes through a perilous area (causing them to make a dice roll to pass the challenge or take a number of hits).

All in all it’s a lot of fun and perfect for a club night.

So I thought I would test out what the rules could do, by designing a scenario set in a deserted castle in the Victorian period where I would play the role of Dungeon master whilst my good mate Mark played a group of adventurers who were investigating reports of strange lights and eerie sounds that came from the castle at night. Yes we were going to do a classic dungeon crawl using the rules.

So this is a summary of what happened in part 1 of a little tale I call “The Castle of Clichés

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Marks gang, or “League” as they are called in the game are called “the Dark Night gang” and consists of a Leader (I didn’t get his name) his bulky and slightly deranged Sidekick (called Mr Choppy) a few Allies and one follower. These are all characters levels in the rules with allies and followers being the lowest ranking members of a gang whilst leaders and Sidekicks are the hero characters. To use a Star Trek reference, allies and followers would wear red shirts, so you know what’s going to happen to them

Mark started the game with the initiative which means he could decide which player activates the next figure, however as I had no figures on the table I introduced a little rule where I could interrupt Marks play at specific times and grab the initiative for 1 activation. This was done whenever the gang entered a new area on the table, and I would announce it by use of the phrase “a shot rings out”

So we begin with the adventures outside the large gates of the castle and my; those castle doors look perilous I do hope nothing nasty happens when they try to open them.

Mark is a canny player so sent his whole group up to the castle gates before getting his follower to open them. The doors were indeed a perilous area, so I played a fortune card from my hand and the follower had to pass a challenge when opening them or face taking a few hits, obviously being a lowly character he failed the test and took a hit which he failed to save and was knocked out (normally character can roll to recover at the end of a turn but followers being the weakest are just removed)

But the door was open and surprise surprise “A shot rings out” and I take the initiative for 1 action as the 4 defenders of the hallway appear and one of them shots at the party. Mark reacts by firing himself and we roll to see what happens, obviously I miss but Mark gets a few shots through.

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It’s worth mentioning here how shooting works in the rules, when a character shoots at an enemy they use their shooting ability which gives them a number and a type of dice to use to carry out the shooting (e.g. 2d6, 3d8 etc.) and their opponent gets to decide if they want to shoot back or dodge (using the dodge ability for that character) players then roll there dice and any rolls of 4 or more are a success. Then one of the players can decide how effective the shooting (or dodging) was by nullifying hits by use of the dice rolls they just made. Once they worked out how many hits each character took they roll a health dice for each hit taken to see if a wound was taken. If a wound was taken the characters health dice is reduced by one (d10 to d8 etc.) but if the health dice of a character goes down to lower then d6 then that character is “down” and takes no further part in this turn.

So after 1 round of shooting my Minion (who was an Ally class and therefore had a d6 health dice) failed his health check and fell to the floor

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Marks gang then moved into the hallway and started engaging my minions in hand to hand combat (called brawling in the rules)

Brawling works in the same way as shooting with the defender choosing to fight back using his Brawl ability, dodge or if the enemy has charged in more than 3 inches by shooting. One interesting rules mechanic is that of multiple combat, where each time a character uses their Brawl or Shoot ability the number of dice they can roll is reduced by 1, this doesn’t affect dodging but it means characters get less effective the more they have to do each turn.

At the end of the turn Mark had moved into the hall and lots of fighting was taking place and we all rolled “Recovery” rolls for our “Downed” character to see if they recover, this is a d6 roll looking for 4 or more.

And my minion who was shot early on in the turn jumped back to his feet ready to face the invaders

The combat lasted a few more turns but eventually Mr Choppy lived up to his name and the floor was littered with my fallen minions with the exception of my original one who had more lives than a black cat. It was at this point that Mark decided to open the side door in the Hall way and “A shot rings out” on the other side of the door is another Minion of mine standing on top of some perilous looking stairs

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Eventually Mark dispatched the guardians of the lower chamber and was able to try out the main door in the hallway, which was locked. It looks like he needs to find a key…

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So down the perilous stairs the adventures went, with only the leader failing the various challenges, I gave them (I had a fair few fortune cards at this point) so his health had been reduced to d8 and he had to wear a natty little band until he made his recovery roll at the end of the turn so we remembered

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Spying a package on the table the group moved to investigate, this was one of the “Plot Points” I had placed earlier and are objectives in the games. To win a plot point a player has to overcome a random challenge but unlike perils they don’t cause any hits to be taken if failed but the player has to complete the whole challenge before they win the plot point. In Marks case it took 3 of his characters to win this one. Once players win a plot point they draw a “Rewards” card which gives them a number of points to spend on extra things in the next scenario and helps drive a campaign forward. These extra can be spent on things like extra Henchmen that will join the group for a game, or maybe a gizmo that opens all locked doors or even a tank (if you get enough)

Eventually our now much smaller group of heroes decide to see what’s behind the other door in the room, and would you believe it “A shot rings out”

In the that room is a rather suspicious looking man (let’s call him a Doctor) hastily stuffing medical equipment into a leather bag, he screams at the 2 robed figures in the room to “get them” before firing his pistol at Olga (the purple dressed temptress who just opened the door)

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Olga falls to the floor and I play a card that means she immediately has to take her recovery roll, which she fails and is removed from the game (score 1 to the bad guys) Mark makes me activate next so my robed minions rush straight out the door into the loving arms of Mr Choppy who was hiding outside the room

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Characters can go into hiding in the game which means they move less but can ambush enemy players, this is what happened here and in the space of 1 turn both my minions were down, leaving the Doctor alone and defenceless.

Mark who still had the initiative made me activate first so played my trump card and used my shapeshifter ability (from Perilous Island) to change the good doctor into his alter ego Mr H.

Cue evil laugh from me..

Mark just smirked and activated Mr Choppy who charged into combat with Mr H, whilst saying “we all knew it would come to this.”

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The fight was long and hard with both characters getting the wind knocked out of them, whilst Marks leader messed around trying to find the key, until eventually he found it in an adjoining room

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In the best traditions of Pulp he ran passed the 2 fighting giants and up the stairs shouting encouraging statements like “Go on Mr Choppy, he’s on the ropes now”

In the end Mr Choppy landed an uppercut on Mr H’s jaw that knocked him out but slipped on something on the floor and managed to knock himself out at the same time, which ended the game with the Leader escaping out the castle doors clutching his prize. All ready for part 2 of the game which we’ll play next week.

So as you can guess I really like this game, it’s open enough to allow player to invent their own backstory and has some strong mechanics which just gives a good game. We didn’t have to refer to the rulebook once and it all just flows beautifully. With the Perilous Island supplement and the new “Vehicles, Guns and Gadgets” add-on, you have even more stuff to use in games and it just opens itself up for more expansions. If you like games that are narrative driven and play in an hour or so I would really recommend it, I’m already thinking of ways to use this in a Very British Civil war setting and even WWII games (Kelly’s Heroes anyone?)

For more info go to the Pulp Alley website, or if you are in the UK you can buy the rules at Statuesque Miniatures or get the pdfs via Wargames Vault 

Many thanks to Mike for that Battle Report. Look out for Episode 132 of the Meeples & Miniatures Podcast for a full review of the rules.

6 Comments on Pulp Alley AAR – Mike Hobbs

  1. Thanks for the great AAR, sounds like a fun game! I just bought Pulp Alley to use it for our sci-fi games, so I’m very interested how others play it…

  2. Commanderroj // August 25, 2014 at 16:06 // Reply

    Very interested in hearing if anyone has had experience of Pulp Alley compared to 7TV, albeit that one is specifically for pulp and the other is nominally for cult TV, and how they measure up.

    • they are both good games and give a different feel, 7TV has an activation mechanism where you activate half your gang in 1 go, where as PA is single figure activation, but both are scenario driven narrative games.
      the beauty of them is you can pretty much use the same figures in either game

  3. Is it too late to ask where you got the scenery from? It’s lovely.

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