Pulp City

By Grant
In Reviews
May 1st, 2010
18 Comments
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Review
by Grant Hill

Pulp CityPulp City (warning, site has sound) is a superhero/comic book style pulp game, published by a Polish company, Pulp Monsters. Currently the game rules (Pulp City guide) are a free PDF download but the company does plan to produce a full printed rulebook in the not too distant future. There is a range of approximately 32 mm miniatures to accompany the game, including both Heroes and Villains starter sets, and a series of “expansion” packs. For this review Pulp Monsters provided us with one of each starter and three expansions: Harrier, Blood Rose & Trail, and Rook & Francis Gator.

The starter sets retail for €29.99 (EUR), while the price of the expansion packs varies based on the contents (number and size of the miniatures). They tend to vary from around €7.99 for a single miniature and up to €17.99 for one of the larger expansion packs.

First impressions

The packaging for Pulp City is some of the nicest I’ve seen. Both the starters and the expansions are packaged in cardboard boxes that are printed in full colour with artwork for the figures on the front and photos of studio painted miniatures on the back. Opening the starters you’ll find that the components and cards are then further packaged in two additional boxes containing foam. The expansion boxes are somewhat smaller and the components/cards are again padded with foam. The boxes definitely give an impression of a quality product, although I’m sure that some people would prefer simpler packaging if it meant a slight price reduction.

The Heroes starter set contains six miniatures and ten reference cards, while the Villains starter set is comprised of five figures and twelve cards. There are no quick start rules, dice or counters included. The back of the packaging states that the Pulp City rules can be found on the company website. Each figure has its own reference card and there are additional cards for equipment. The cards are printed on relatively nice cardstock but have a limited colour palette; the equipment cards are greyscale while the cards for the figures have a colour background and greyscale art. The front of the cards look good with clear statistics and damage track, but the rear, which lists some abilities (see later), seems like a wall of text. There is a lot of writing in a font size that isn’t particularly easy to read from a distance. Overall I would say that the cards are okay, but they don’t really live up to my expectations given the quality of the packaging.

The miniatures

Components

Components

The figures are produced in metal, with the majority being multi-part, and are supplied with round “lipped” bases of the style seen in Warmachine and other games. In general the miniatures seem pretty tall, Gentleman from the Villains starter is approximately 35 mm to the top of the head, with exaggerated proportions. Of course, this being a superhero type game means that exaggerated proportions are almost expected. The metal used is reasonably soft, meaning that removing (the pretty minimal) mould lines was an easy task but some of the thinner parts (such as weapon handles) needed straightening out before assembly. For most of the figures assembly was pretty straightforward, with a couple of different head options in some cases. Unfortunately, there were a couple of more difficult cases, the zombie wolf from the Heroes starter comes in three pieces: two body halves and a head. Even after quite a lot of filing and dry-fitting in an attempt to get the best match possible there was still an obvious “seam” around the figure that requires some minor sculpting with greenstuff to fix. Secondly, the Villain Guerilla (who wields a mini-gun) has four main parts to consider when attaching the gun: the body, the lower left arm, the gun itself, and an ammo feed belt that connects the gun to a backpack. Trying to align all of these pieces at the same time was difficult, frustrating, and left me with some gaps to fill.

Once assembled the miniatures have a lot of character and fit the subject matter very well. In some cases the sculpting seems a little disappointing for the price point, examples of this is the lack of texture on Hellsmith’s helm and the lack of detail (folds) on Twilight’s cloak. I’d like to emphasise that these are pretty minor quibbles, but the minis are aimed at the premium end of the market. As a whole, I would say that Androdia isn’t really up to the quality of the other figures that were provided for this review, although this is mostly the subject matter, the sculpting is basic and the large metal nipples seem a bit too silly to me. One clever touch that caught my attention is the way that Solar appears to be floating because of his cloak being the part that is attached to the base. I also really liked Nuke, while the sculpting may be best described as adequate, this is definitely a case of the character of the piece being expressed particularly well – a perfect representation of a radioactive waste monster contained in a metallic suit. Overall, the miniatures do a great job of representing comic book heroes/villains, and apart from construction quibbles on a couple of pieces the casting/production is good.

The rules

Heroes assembled!

Heroes assembled!

Pulp City is concerned with two main classifications of figure: “Supremes” (the comic book style heroes and villains with powers) and “Minions” (cops, robots, mercenaries etc. that are controlled by the Supremes). The only Minion provided for the review was Red Riding Hoodoo’s zombie wolf, so further description of the Minion rules will be reserved for later in this review. The collection of Supremes and Minions that each player controls is called their “super team” and these are balanced by a very coarse-grained points system. Each supreme has a supreme level of 1, 2 or 3 and the number of level 2 Supremes should be equal to the number of level 1s in your team (there are rules for when this isn’t possible). Level 3 Supremes are reserved for large games, you can only take one level 3 supreme for every complete 12 levels in your combined team. Each starter comes with three level 2 Supremes and two level 1 Supremes, for a total “encounter level” of eight.

The cards for the models contain all of their statistics. This includes their supreme level, the number of action points (AP) they can spend in a single game round, a damage track, their origin (science, nature or mystery – more on this later) and whether they are a hero or a villain. Also listed are numeric values for each model’s traits:

  • Strength – used for melee attacks
  • Defense – used to oppose melee attacks
  • Energy – used mainly for ranged attacks
  • Agility – dodging those ranged attacks
  • Mind – psychic powers etc.
  • Spirit – resistance to psychic attacks and mind control

Some of the traits may be marked in red, these are that Supreme’s trump traits. The bottom of each card lists the character’s skills and the reverse gives a list and description of exclusive actions they can take.

After the initial deployment, each game turn starts with calculating the number of action points your team has in its pool. This is obtained by multiplying the number of levels in your team (eight for the starter boxes) by two, then adding an extra two. Assuming no extra modifiers this means a total of 18 AP if you’re playing with the starter boxes. Who goes first within the actual meat of the game is decided by an opposed roll, each player rolls a single d6 and adds the highest mind score from their team – highest total wins.

The game then proceeds with the players taking turns to perform an action with a supreme. The action is chosen, paid for out of the action pool, carried out, and then it is the opponent’s turn to undertake the same process. Each supreme can be activated multiple times, until they have spent the maximum number of action points indicated on their card. The number of possible actions is quite overwhelming: the is a list of universal actions that can be carried out by any supreme (these include a couple of different types of movement, punching enemy Supremes, commanding Minions), trump actions that can be carried out if you have the correct trump trait and supreme level, and finally the exclusive actions detailed on the back of the reference card. Some actions can be combined (usually movement and a second action), but otherwise you are limited to a single action while it is your “turn”, and each supreme can general perform a given action only once in a round.

The villains

The villains

Movement is a set 4”, although you can chose to run an additional 4” at the expense of more AP. Most of the other actions involve hitting, shooting or casting spells at other Supremes, and all of these are resolved with an opposed roll; again a single d6 plus the relevant stat. Ties are decided by the “origin” of the supreme, with nature beating science, science beating mystery and mystery beating nature. Handily the supreme cards are coloured coded so that you can see their origin at a glance. Supremes that are taking part in an opposed roll using one of their trump traits can choose to reroll once per round. For an attack that deals damage, the damage is equal to the amount that the attacker’s total beats the defender’s total by.

While many of the ranged attacks (all exclusive actions) are projectiles, blasts, rays etc. one type that is worthy of mention is the aura. When this action is selected (usually just at the expense of AP, no roll required), the power emanates from the supreme a set radius and usually lasts for the rest of the round. While some of these effects can be deadly, often they boost friendly Supremes or produce some type of immunity from attack.

As the Pulp City Guide is a free download there is no need to go into full details here, but rules are included for damaging scenery. There is also a relatively extensive list of skills describing what those listed on the front of the reference cards do in game terms. There is a lot of variety, with skills covering armour, faster movement, teleportation, flight, knocking down enemies, luck, mercenary behaviour, crawling up walls etc. If I counted them correctly, there are a total of 67 different skills listed. Tucked away at the back of the rules is a section on resources and this describes how the additional equipment cards provided (usually locked to a single supreme) are used, and lists some generic resources you can kit your team out with. Each supreme has as many resource levels as their supreme level and each resource has a cost paid for out of these resource levels. Again these can be read about in the guide, but there are options for having things like TV reporters, corrupt cops and robots as Minions, and first aid kits and forcefields as equipment. Minions have a reduced number of traits, and must be commanded by a supreme within the range of their mind trait to take an action. The number of possible actions is much reduced from a supreme, typically only movement and an additional action.

The rules do not contain any scenarios, but they do have a set of optional rules termed “agendas”. These are a set of secondary objectives that also introduce citizens to Pulp City – who move around and are sometimes the focus of the agendas. Each agenda can be cut out like a card for easy reference and can either be kept secret or shared with your opponent. Some examples include: eliminating specific opponents, defending citizens, retrieving objects, robbing a bank, and conducting an evil ritual etc.

In play

Promo shot 1

Promo shot 1

Pulp City has a lot of elements familiar to many modern low model count skirmish games: individual model activations, resource management, alternating play within a game round, and the use of card profiles. What did seem quite different to me was that each model usually gets several activations, giving you potentially more opportunity to react to the opponent’s decisions. I found this required some additional thought about strategy; do you go all out with one of your impressive exclusive action and take only a single action this turn, or do you take it slow, see what the enemy is up to and try to scupper their plans with a series of cheaper actions.

The game has quite a learning curve and this harmed my enjoyment of the first couple of games. The number of options almost seems like too much to take in, not only is there the strategic options alluded to above, there is also the sheer number of different actions each supreme can take. This often lead to extended periods of trying to figure out what was the best course of action to take, and it didn’t help that this information is a little scattered, you have basic and trump actions in the rule book (on different pages) and the exclusive actions on each card. Combined with trying to remember/discover what all of your Supreme’s skills are leads to a feeling of information overload and too many choices. It feels like the game should be really kinetic with play jumping between opponents but this really didn’t happen until the third game and beyond where I started to remember different action choices and could start to see a bigger picture. Because of this, I would recommend that you play a few games of Pulp City before you make up your mind about it; my enjoyment grew with every game. I would also suggest using only two or three Supremes for the first couple of games so that the number of options and skills is reduced, and making yourself a quick reference sheet is also a good idea.

After the initial learning curve the pace of the game started to show through and even though it will take more time and practice to get a good feel for all of the options, the different possible synergies started to unveil themselves to me. My most basic games were slugfests as it seemed like the best option was to simple try to hit or shoot things with every supreme. Only later did I see the benefits of trying to buff and debuff, and this is where the expansions shined. Blood Rose and Trail are great examples of this, Blood Rose is all about healing your other Supremes and moving them away from trouble, Trail can add +1 to a friendly models’s opposed rolls and uses mind powers to try to control the opponent. Of course, some of the additional Supremes from other expansion packs are more likely to be melee orientated, I would recommend browsing the Pulp City forums to discover images of the character’s cards before purchasing to see how they would fit into your team.

As with almost any game, the lack of scenarios to play becomes a bit of a problem after you’ve played a few games, and hopefully Pulp Monsters will include some scenarios in the printed rulebook. Agendas as secondary objectives (or clues for writing your own scenarios) do alleviate this somewhat, and I really liked trying to accomplish a couple of secret goals whilst still carrying out the overall game plan. It’s certainly something that I’ll try to incorporate into other games.

The coarse grained nature of the supreme levels system dramatically simplified the process of army building; there was no need for excel, a calculator or even scrap of paper to work our your points total as realistically it’s going to be in the high teens at most. The downside to this is that some Supremes didn’t feel particularly balanced against others. The prime example of this is Guerilla, he is awesome in melee (high trump in strength, ability to force you to reroll your strength roll), great at shooting (can shoot three times a round and inflict extra damage), great at dodging shots, has a couple of other nice exclusive actions and can be either a hero and villain. From a competitive point of view I can’t see why you wouldn’t include him in your team. That said, as a whole I get the impression that Pulp City is probably better suited as a fun-game rather than in a hyper-competitive tournament.

One area that I feel the kinetic energy and comic book feel of Pulp City could be improved is with a change to the rules that lock you in combat; imagine the scene where Hellsmith charges into Iron Train and smites him with his Hell Hammer, Iron Train responds by running to the nearest dumpster and throwing it at his current nemesis, knocking him through a wall. In Pulp City this type of action is blocked because when a supreme is charged they are locked in base to base contact for the rest of the round, furthermore to escape from base to base next turn the supreme must make an opposed roll of their strength or agility against the opponents strength. If they fail they suffer a free strike from the opponent. While this may seem fitting for a fantasy skirmish game, in my playtesting the result was that after a turn or two everything degenerated to static melees. This was particularly a problem when you were caught by one of the level 2 melee monsters such as Hellsmith or Iron Train, chances are you wouldn’t escape and they would quickly finish you off, especially level 1 Supremes.

Conclusions

Promo shot 2

Promo shot 2

As a comic book fan I’m happy to say that Pulp City is probably the best attempt at capturing the genre in miniatures game format that I’ve played to date. The alternating activations and wealth of actions and skills included can make for a franticly paced game with comic book staples like flaming fists, flying dumpsters, moving faster than a speeding bullet, disappearing into the shadows, and general destruction of the surroundings – by both sides. For anyone just reading the conclusions, personally I’d implement some sort of “house rules” that would make it much easier for Supremes to leave combat, with the intention of ensuring the game keeps its fast pace and to prevent bogging down in melee.

Apart from some construction issues on a couple of the miniatures (which needed greenstuff to correct), they were pretty easy to assemble and have a lot of character. In most places this more than makes up for some minor sculpting imperfections. The slightly exaggerated proportions are a perfect fit for superheroes and villains. For those who have only seen the promotional painted pictures of the figures I would suggest getting a look at the bare metal, to me they look better in your hand than the somewhat muted, though technically brilliant, studio paintjobs would suggest. The reference cards provided would perhaps benefit from some more colour and reducing the wall of text feel to the reverse, but the cardstock is good and the printing of high quality.

The steep initial learning curve means that this probably isn’t the best choice for someone who is taking their first foray into miniatures games; it would be much better suited for someone with experience of other detailed skirmish games where most figures have different options and abilities. To get the most out of the game I think that you’ll really need to commit yourself to it; the better you know the rules the more pace the game will pick up, the more synergies you’ll start to spot and the more fun you’ll have. To my mind this suggest this should be a game that you play regularly, rather than bring out of the closet for an occasional game. The game will also benefit from some modern day urban scenery (rules are included for picking up lampposts, remote controlling cars, smashing through walls etc.) and in spending some time devising your own scenarios.

In addition to offering a fast and fun comic book adventure, one standout from the rules for me are the agendas, secret objectives that fit the genre and involve citizens running around the board added an extra element to the game that I really appreciated and helped boost the fun factor. Pulp City do sell some citizen tokens (plastic “silhouettes”) but I can see some gamers wanting to use real miniatures, and the same goes for the Minions resources. Again this seems to fit well with people playing the game regularly, the more you put in the more you are likely to get out.

I took the opportunity to ask Pulp Monsters what we can expect from the printed rules and some highlights included rules tweaks for Minion management and control over citizens (supreme specific rules should remain the same). In terms of new additions there will be gameplay options for taking on big monsters with your super team and some location specific rules that will be tied to background stories. It will be interesting to see what these additions bring to the game and how they will keep it fresh.

Pros:

  • Miniatures have great character
  • Fun and fast gameplay that captures the genre well
  • Agenda system works well for secondary objectives

Cons:

  • Steep initial learning curve
  • Coarse-grained points system is easy to manage but leads to a feeling of imbalance
  • Locking figures into melee hampers the comic book feel a little