I was born too late and in a country that never had a tradition of pulp fiction. Most of the Lithuanian writing at the time was focused on being depressing, mourning the decline of countryside and/or (later on) Soviet propaganda. This explains why I mixed up pulp and men’s adventure magazines while reviewing
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Pulp Alley is played on a 3×3 board with about two leagues (teams) of generally less than 10 characters. After all, what reader of pulp fiction could have remembered all the names? Each league is near-guaranteed to have one heroic leader, one somewhat beefy sidekick, and a bunch of goons.
I said “nearly guaranteed” as Pulp Alley league building rules are simple yet offer a lot breadth. Your league may be a lot more numerous, yet have no leader. It might be made up of simple sidekicks. Its members may consist of a single person and a pack of animals. Maybe you want them all to be zombies? Or only one of them to be a zombie? There’s a serious amount of fun to be had.
And the best thing about it? The rules are simple and easy to grasp. It’s a dice pool game, using dice in the d6-d12 range. Successes are always on 4+, and the target number never moves. You only add or subtract dice, or shift the dice type up or down. Simple, elegant, easy to grasp – play ball*! *The ball is an old-timey bomb Nazi Klansmen tossed at the car of our Archeologist Detective. Will he throw it back in time?
So as not to overburden itself with rules for objectives and challenges, Pulp Alley resolves everything via the Fortune Deck. Draw one card, and look at the lower part. It will tell you what skill to test, and the amount of successes you need to pass it – that same number also shows how many hits you take if you fail! As for why you might need to pass a Might challenge after having encountered an objective marker…. get creative! Pulp characters always get into nonsense they have to solve using their manifold skills.
Fortune Deck isn’t the only deck in the game, but the one you’ll use all the time. It’s doubly important as the upper side of the card can be played to affect characters in some positive (or negative) ways. Cassa didn’t much like it, as he felt that the effects weren’t flashy enough. We also encountered the Horror deck, meant to represent the affects of being exposed to horrors from beyond space (and in my league’s case, Space Marines). The effects are always bad for the character in questions, but sometimes they can have benefits as well as downsides!
Pulp Alley also provides a bunch of rules for temporary benefits you can buy for a single battle, a campaign system for actually earning resources, rules for giving your characters specific weapons (the game tends to abstract them), vehicles, mounts, and even appropriate rules adjustments for different types of pulp fiction! Of course, there are also supplements you can’t buy, but it’s show policy to touch only the main game.
All in all, Fortified Niche recommends Pulp Alley. With some imagination, you can use it for many other small skirmish games that have cool settings bereft of good rules. I wonder how playing Necromunda would feel like…