Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Jurassic Ancestry

Jurassic Ancestry
Publisher: Joker’s Playground
Page Count: 118
Release Date: 08/22/2011
Cover Price: $5.00
Get it Here:
Drivethru RPG

I saw the name of this game, and I was interested. Jurassic Park put a love of Dinosaurs in me that everyone once in while must be satiated. Despite the god awful cover art, I thought the concept sounded nifty enough. Advances in genetics have allowed long dormant traits to creep forth, leading to people inheriting the strengths of dino ancestors. Add in a combat system that denounced dice for cards, and I found enough to be interested.

A couple of read-throughs later, I really wish I had never heard of this book.

The first issue I came across is how poorly explained everything is. The writer came up with his own unique system. Naturally, he knows how everything works and thinks he’s explaining it well. In truth, he’s not. I had to figure out the combat system through various clues, and even now there are several things I don’t understand. I don’t know how often you reshuffle the deck, whether you’re forced to use a re-draw no matter what, and if armor is permanently destroyed.

Another issue is that there is a lot this game doesn’t cover. There is a whole section detailing how to go about purchasing upgrades, but the upgrades and what they do are absent. The guy mentions buying a scope for a gun, but doesn’t include the scope anywhere in the book. The DM is also going to be forced to make every enemy by hand, and what the game offers is very little. There are no monsters, only humans. Without even a guide to creating enemies, the only option is to make NPCs using the character creation system.

Speaking of the character creation system, it is fairly simple. You have a small handful of stats and only four different classes to chose from. Actually, instead of classes, you chose which dino you have as an ancestor. The options are t-rex, raptor, parasaur, and triceratops. T-Rex is the melee fighter, raptors are like rogues, parasaurs are support, and trikes are defensive fighters. Each class has unique bonuses and several different trees you can level into. For example, one rex tree is based on doing max damage with one shot while another tree is focuses on damage over time.

You also need to pick a background. These offer some perks and some negatives. For example, someone with a criminal record is going to have a hard time finding work, but probably have some street smarts. Some of these backgrounds are very situational though. The “hoodlum” option is only applied in cases where the players are in a big city. Since the game is designed for players to be part of a mercenary group, it seems unlikely that you’ll ever deal with gang warfare or other situations where his perks come in handy. There obviously wasn’t much forethought put into these.

Leveling in the game is weird. Instead of experience, you gain levels by spending cash. The logic here is that you’re a mercenary and that you’re purchasing advanced training. This means if you want to buy new shiny weapons or upgrades, you’re going to have to forgo that next level. While this is interesting, it is also limiting, and not a great idea.

Now for the card system. The game uses what is called a “critical bar” system. Instead of dice, each player uses a deck of cards. At the start, you take the top three cards and place them in order from highest to lowest. These basically act as your AC. If an enemy attacks with a number higher than your lowest card, but lower than your medium, they preform a low hit, which does minimum damage. Likewise, if they beat your best number, it counts as a critical. Instead of simply playing cards off of the top of your deck, you actually draw a hand and can fiddle around with it depending on your stats. The really nifty thing about this is that instead of random dice rolls, you have a hand of cards you can play to systematically break down an opponent’s defenses. This is especially important when they’re wearing armor. This adds a lot more strategy to combat when it comes to basic attacks. However, the game offers no options for attacks of opportunity, grappling, lying prone, or any of the complexities gamers are used to. The game also proves to be skewed in favor of certain stats. Those who can draw the most cards are going to be at greater advantage. So, while the system may be nifty, it is also horribly unbalanced.

One thing the game seems to want to advocate is a more active role taken by the DM. Since enemies have to have their own critical bar and hand of cards, the DM must actively play as them instead of following rules in a book. This may backfire, as the DM may be a much better strategist than the players. I know I certainly wouldn’t pull any punches. There’s also no system for determining success of non-combat tasks. It’s all up to the DM whether a lie is successful or whether someone can fashion a weapon out of materials. That just gives the DM too much power.

Also, the number of playing card decks required to play this game is nuts. Every player needs one, and the DM is likely going to need several. Add in character sheets that must be kept separate from the cards, and we’re talking ton of real estate being used. I’d suggest a rather large table or relatively few players. Another issue with the cards for the DM is that he/she is going to have to keep track of several hands, one for each enemy. Also, there’s the issue of cards constantly needing to be shuffled. All told, this is just not a convenient system.

Finally, we come to the most god awful part the of the game. This would be the setting. The game takes place around 2050. In this future, Earth’s resources have pretty much been tapped, leaving the world economy in shambles. No place seems to have been hit like the U.S., however. We’re apparently at eighty percent homelessness rate and even more are jobless. The working folk have all moved into cities where security has become super tight. What boggles my mind is that if law and order has become so centralized, why is everyone homeless? Seems like there’d be countless buildings lying vacant and that no bank could possibly keep tabs on them all. Also, I want to know why, in the writer’s mind, if metal has become so rare that a simple pistol will now cost you fifty grand, why is said metal still being used in iPods? (Yes, the game specifically mentions iPods.)

Oddly enough, Canada has flourished in this future to the point where apparently they are the top power in the world. (Russia and Europe seem to have suffered massive nuclear fallout, Japan when isolationist and feudal, and China is in the middle of a civil war.) Millions of poor, jobless Americans want desperately to move there, Canada has become the champion of democracy, and they were the only country smart enough to hold on to reserves.

Gee. Do you think maybe this game was written by a Canadian?

The biggest head scratching moment comes in the game’s signature weapon. If you look at the cover and see the contraption on the guy’s left hand, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s called the “Bear’s Mouth”. It’s essentially a bear trap attached to a leather glove. Apparently, I’m not joking, it has become popular among the dino super soldiers because attacking with it feels like how a dinosaur would attack. As inane as that is, and how horribly useless such a weapon would be when EVERYONE IS USING GUNS, that isn’t the part that bothers me most. This weapon is used by people with dinosaur traits, and it’s called the Bear’s Mouth? How does that make sense?

The problems with this game are many, and most of those reasons can be explained pretty easily. This is the guy’s first attempt at creating an RPG, he’s probably still in grade school (as evidenced by him still living with his parents and the god awful drawings that go along with the book), and he doesn’t understand that what makes sense to him in his head isn’t always clear to readers. Things are not explained well, the game is overly complicated at points and too simple at others, and the concept is utterly stupid. I hate to stifle the guy’s creativity, cause his system has potential, but what he needs now is a ton of constructive criticism.

So Daniel, if you’re reading this, you need to rethink some things. Explain yourself more clearly, give a potential DM more to work with, and hire someone else to do your art. Or, at the very least, take some art classes. How you expect anyone will buy this game when the first thing they see is THAT is beyond me. You’ve got potential, so keep working at it. As such, I’m looking forward to what you can come up with next, but I can’t in good conscience recommend this game.

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