Review – Critical: Foundation

pic6858742

 

Designer Yohan Lemonnier, Kristoff Valla

Artist Pascal Quidault

Publisher Gigamic

Category Role-Playing Game

Length 30 minutes per scenario

Release Date 2022

Player Count 2-5

Critical: Foundation is a campaign role-playing game from Gigamic. Consisting of 9 half-hour episodes, it provides an accessible introduction to RPGs for both players and game-masters. Let’s check out the dystopian (and not-too-distant) future of the year 2035!

Review

Critical: Foundation is the first installment of a new, cyberpunk-style RPG series. Unlike many RPGs, in which players need to purchase miniatures, sourcebooks, dice, a GM screen, and other necessaries, Critical comes with all required components in the box.

The materials needed for the introductory scenario.

To begin the campaign, each player selects from a number of pre-made characters and assigns their chosen character a name and background. Character backgrounds are chosen from cards associated with the character’s occupation—a Scientist, for instance, might choose a Researcher background. Each character has pre-generated stats in both physical and mental traits, which they will use to make skill checks.

This character’s occupation is Coder, and he has a Hacker background.

In typical RPG fashion, Critical is heavily story-based, with the GM creating the world for the players. Skill checks are made using custom dice, and can either be individual or group checks. (In a group check, all players roll and if anyone succeeds, the check is successful for the whole group.) Depending upon a character’s persona and/or equipment, they may get additional modifiers or rerolls for certain skill checks.

A critical success occurs if a player gets at least twice the required number on a skill check, and a critical failure occurs if they roll the red “X” on the die. Either way, the resulting gain/loss is doubled, but in the case of a critical fail, the player gets a “hero token” as compensation. Hero tokens can be spent later on to pump up a skill check.

Characters have 2 HP each, and damage is tracked via wound and status cards. If a character would receive their 3rd wound/status, they instead discard their damage cards and take an “Exhausted” status. Exhausted characters still participate in the game, but do so at a disadvantage.

Status and wound cards track characters’ damage.

Critical: Foundation meets a largely unmet need in tabletop gaming: namely, it offers a traditional RPG experience that is highly accessible to both new players and new GMs. Other RPGs have tried similar things, such as the D&D Starter Set, but even these introductory kits can still feel quite daunting to complete newcomers. Critical consists of bite-sized adventures that require minimal prep work and don’t involve a huge time commitment. Basically, it takes the heavy lifting out of the equation.

Scenarios typically consist of a couple of scenes and play out in about a half-hour. Given this minimal timeframe, it’s easy to play multiple episodes back to back. (Players could even blast through the entire campaign in a single evening, though doing so would take several hours.)

Every RPG needs a cool GM screen.

The scenarios themselves are very on-rails, which may be a positive or a negative depending upon player preference. For folks who are just dipping their toes into RPGs, having a focused set of options will likely give them a sense of direction. On the other hand, this game does not have a wide open world, a la D&D, in which characters can go anywhere and do anything they can imagine. As such, my recommendation for this game depends largely on what you want out of a role-playing game.

And every cool GM screen needs handy reference materials inside.

For people who are interested in tabletop RPGs, but feel intimidated by their size and complexity, Critical gets my utmost recommendation. Among campaign RPGs, it might be the best introductory one out there. For experienced RPG players, Critical could be a hit or a miss. If you’re looking for a breezy RPG that doesn’t require a lot of effort to play, definitely check this one out. However, if linear storylines or on-rails gameplay don’t do it for you, then it might be one to skip.

Either way, I am impressed at how this game manages to distill an RPG campaign into a novice-friendly package—I think other RPG systems could learn something from it. If you are interested in getting into tabletop role playing, Critical is a good place to start.

A review copy was provided by Hachette Boardgames.

The Bottom Line

Critical: Foundation takes the heavy lifting out of traditional RPGs, offering a highly accessible role-playing campaign. Recommended for folks who are interested in RPGs, but feel intimidated by their size and complexity.

 

8

Author: Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.