We tend to start a lot of rpg reviews by saying the game is impressive and/or outstanding, The Index Card RPG 2nd Edition lives up to that standard and more. It’s not just a remarkable starter game. It’s not just a good generic RPG engine. It’s also packed with unique concepts, print-and-cut minis, and functions as a plugin to other RPG’s. The thing I like the most is- it’s a world designer’s dream come true. It might not be the greatest system ever invented, but it is ridiculously useful.
I can’t remember the last time I was this excited for a new game. Although I was shocked a second edition followed so closely on the heels of the first one, I was pleasantly rewarded once the waiting was over. It reminded me a little bit of opening that certain red box all those years ago. The funny thing is, there really aren’t any startling new concepts, genres or worlds in this game. Originally, when it was first released, I glanced at it, scoffed and moved on. It wasn’t until I downloaded the free QuickStart that I saw how ridiculously flexible the system is and how it could fit with several pre-published worlds.
ICRPG breaks several tried and true game designer rules when it comes to organization and layout. It wastes no time teaching you how to jump right in and make the most of your game using its very simple rules. It threw me off slightly when I went digging for the standard indices of character creation, races, combat, vehicles and spells. While all of those things are there, they are scattered throughout the book, especially the vehicle rules. As a writing teacher once told me, “do it all wrong.” The approach this game has to layout and organization is unique and wonderful. Please, keep it up. I am thankful the PDF is fully indexed and searchable, though.
I like how combat in this game has the potential to be an impeccably bloody affair if the GM so desires. The character death rules are even very well spelled out early on in the book. A solid hit or two from a weapon or monster and you could find your character down for the count. It definitely makes you think before you act.
That brings me to my next point. I love, love, love the turn taking and initiative mechanics in this game. If I come away with nothing else, I’m likely going to adopt this part of ICRPG for many of the other games I run. Not only does it cut down on cross-table chatter, but it makes people think before they act. The other amazing thing is the timer system. This game puts the clock into play for the characters any time the GM deems it necessary and there’s potential for a lot of heart-pounding, intense rounds with timers winding down.
ICRPG tends to be very medieval fantasy/sci-fi oriented. That’s not intended as disrespect, but just an honest statement of fact. Nor is this the time and place for a lengthy debate about whose genre is better. In fact, some of the world’s best, most well played, well loved rpg’s started out this way, or just doing one or the other very well. While the rules allow for kit-bashing almost any genre together, it just doesn’t seem suited very well toward non-magical modern espionage or modern warfare types of games. The skill system, turn-taking and timers work well. But, the combat, classes and loot just don’t seem to mesh with modern style play. Maybe time and effort will prove me wrong (pun intended.)
One other thing I think I would very much like to have seen spelled out in this book is some sort of non-loot-based advancement system. Again, it’s an easy fix. I can port the experience system over from any other number of simple rpg’s. Even the advanced rules in the ICRPG Worlds book seems to miss the boat on this, and I’m not entirely certain why. The advancement system in Worlds was nice, but it could be so much easier just to award some type of experience points.
As-is, ICRPG is loot-centric, which doesn’t work in modern games where gear might be issued by an agency or some far flung perfect utopian society where currency has been rendered all but meaningless and gear can easily be replicated. But in a fantasy setting or some non-Roddenberry sci-fi environment, finding a new magical bauble, spell or alien doodad is perfectly acceptable. Some games, if emulated by ICRPG might have to switch up their magic die and fancy loot for something more skill-based or practical. After all, some gamers like to go non-magical, no psionics, nothing weird or fruity.
Another plug-n-crunch change I’m likely going to use involves character generation. I don’t think I’ll ever see Armor as a basic stat one can readily increase. I’m also throwing out 8 starting points instead of 6 to increase the survivability of some characters. I also want the characters to be more reliant on themselves and their abilities than gathering loot.
The skill system in this game is just ingenious. No long list of skills to look up. No complex cross-referencing. And the best part is- complex skills are a matter of time and skill. Need to decipher a musty tome? It might take a few rounds. Need to disarm a bomb? You’ve got three turns. Better make them count. If it’s reasonable that your character might know what he’s doing, you can roll for it. If not, it might be a Hard roll and only a d4 Effort, but go for it.
Another advantage ICRPG has, as do many simpler games, is the ability to bring in creatures or characters from other games. Monsters convert in mere minutes. Other character classes with GM approval, are a simple matter of starter abilities and loot. Converting a race to your ICRPG bioform takes a description and some vague idea what they’re capable of. Role-playing games like Star Wars, D&D, Mech Warrior, and Deadlands are easily brought in. In fact, there are already examples within the ICRPG book for some of them. Of course, D&D or any other fantasy genre game is pretty easily emulated with ICRPG. A campaign world somewhat similar to Deadlands actually appears in the ICRPG Worlds book (sold separately, but well worth the investment.)
ICRPG is an amazing game to start kids on. I’m pretty sure this is going to be my own kids’ first experiences in role-playing. It’s what I would refer loosely to as a gateway game. If you can grasp the basic concepts of ICRPG, you can move up to any d20 based game easily. It covers the basic concepts of die rolling, skills, combat, gear, minis, and so on so much better than any game I have owned prior to this. I wish I had taken first ed more seriously.
Another thing I would like to point out is that my physical copy of the book came to me printed very poorly. It was lopsided within the binding. I hope this was an isolated incident. However, the nice folks at DrivethruRPG need to be commended for a prompt response and replacement of the book. Awesome job, guys!!!
The last thing I have to show a ton of praise for is the fan base for this game. It reminds me so much of the early days of D&D when a small but devoted cadre of game nerds sprouted up in Lake Geneva WI and blossomed from there to places like Des Moines, IA and all the way to California, and then the rest of the world. ICRPG has a remarkable fan following on Google Plus, Facebook, and even on DrivethruRPG itself. I see new posts every day on Google Plus that reminds me of my enthusiasm of being a new gamer, drawing maps for minis on brown paper grocery sacks in my parents’ dining room. I love the dedication and comradery shown even in the GM section of the book itself. It has brought back the love of the game and what it means for me to be a GM.
Thank you so much for the Second Edition Core Rulebook! You’re doing a great job with this game. Keep up the good work!