The following is not really a review of Unity Underground by Red Moon Medicine Show. Rather, it’s my experience playing the game at GenCon 2011 filtered through the game designer part of my brain. Your mileage may vary.
Unity Underground is an unreleased game by undergoing playtesting at GenCon. When I read the GenCon description and realized this was a playtest, I had to sign up. It’s only right since I’ve pushed Triune playtests at GenCon for several years! I’m happy to say this game is real nice and would recommend it when it’s published.
According to the game’s designer (who ran the game–nice touch!), he wanted to capture cinematic action rather than D&D style tactical combat. And in that respect, he really succeeded.
The mechanic is as simple as Dying Earth but with more logic and less luck: Roll 1d6 equal or under your attribute or skill. There are modifiers, usually +1 or -1, so it stays simple. This creates a game experience that’s very quick and fluid, much like a movie action scene. No checking distance in meters, no counting up scads of modifiers, and no referencing rulebooks to see the reach of a pike. Just aim, roll, and play!
Another great design element that supports the game’s theme is ammunition. Instead of counting ammo, you get a small number, say three. Every time you roll the worst die possible (a six) during combat, you decrease that ammo number by one. When your ammo number gets to zero, you ran out.
Theoretically, you could never run out of ammo. Fine! This game isn’t about realism, it’s about cinematic violence, where running out of ammo only happens if it’s important to the plot! The designer could have forced in an ammunition system that counted bullets or clips like many other games. Instead, he kept true to his vision and designed the ammo system to fit that vision.
The game itself is a sci-fi rebellion against the tyrannical government, nothing we haven’t seen before but still fun to play. Yet I give kudos to the design team for building a system that supports the setting and theme.