Pulp Alley First Impressions

PULP ALLEY

Pulp Alley doesn’t care whether you have an AK or an M4.
Pulp Alley doesn’t differentiate between kevlar-weave and ceramic plates, between a stone wall or wooden crates.
Pulp Alley doesn’t have hit points, hit locations, a bazillion modifiers, charts, tables, or addendum.

Pulp Alley is about Heroes, Sidekicks, Enemies and Allies. The long shot, the near miss, the last minute rescue, the unbelievable fumble…

A Pulp Alley game isn’t about the rules – it’s about the story.

***

*whew* Got that out of my system. Now on the review.

I picked up Pulp Alley on a tip over at LAF. Fellow gamer Malebolgia – in his madness – decided to adapt the character-driven rule set to a cyberpunk setting. It seemed to work. (Nothing exploded or caught fire) He even painted up a bunch of cool terrain. (See HERE)

Bad c-punk is cheesy but good c-punk is so damn cool.

I’ve mentioned previously that at this (advanced) stage of my hobby-life, I’m incredibly uninterested in slavish devotion to a single rule set/line of miniatures. I don’t have the time or the interest in complex, detailed mechanics or faction-specific army books with exceptions, tweaks, and patches. Neither do my gaming buddies. We’re looking for an excuse to hang out, eat, game with cool figs on cool terrain – not a realistic table top combat simulation. Nothing wrong if that’s your thing. It’s just not mine.

Now one game and a bunch of read-throughs don’t make me an expert, so salt the following to taste.

Pulp Alley is a small scale, character-driven skirmish game for 6-12 figs per side. The idea is to assemble a team of individuals (Allies and/or Followers) under a high level Leader and competent second, or Sidekick. Here’s where you can dust off all those cool but odd figs and put ’em together for a reason. The core mechanics are constructed around four distinct ideas: Polyhedral dice, Character Stats, Plot Points, and Fortune Cards.

Polyhedral Dice and Character Stats
Similar to Stargrunt 2, polyhedral dice are essential, generally d6, d8, d10 and occasionally d12. Any roll of 4+ = success, so better, higher level characters (Leaders and Sidekicks) use higher-sided die, and more of them. Low-level Allies and Followers, while vital in the game, use d6s.

What makes the characters distinct are the Abilities, Gear and Team Perks. Here’s where you tweak their Movement, Speed, Melee and such. The lists in the book obviously use Pulp-flavored terminology like ‘Rugged’ or ‘Hardboiled’ but there’s nothing to stop you from changing the term to suit your setting. It’s the stat bonus that matters. High level characters can have 2 or 3 Abilities while Plankton-standard Grunts get 1. Team Perks effect your entire crew while Gear is purchased and assigned individually.

It’s not as complex as it might sound, particularly with only a handful of figs. The end result means you’ve not only determined your troops’ basic proficiency but generated important distinctions. This way, you have a (hopefully) cohesive team of unique individuals.

Plot Points and Fortune Cards
Essentially Game Objectives, controlling Plot Points earns you in-game benefits, and – if applicable – campaign bonuses as well. (Read the book for more on that) Plot Points shape the scenario’s story and focus game play toward concrete goals rather than it devolving into another Slugfest in the middle won by ‘Special-Rule/Feat’ trump card bitch-slap.

Speaking of cards tho… Fortune Cards can be played by either player at various points during the game. (In a dangerous area or when trying to seize a Plot Point) They either give your character a much-needed boost or cause grief to your opponent. None of them are overpowering however, and seeing as both players have them, add an exciting variable to game play.

Overall
I could go on about the simultaneous combat, Run/Sneak, League Formation, etc, but this isn’t an exhaustive review. The two things I find most remarkable are the cinematic, character-driven game play, and the robust game mechanics. This game is FUN. All my quirky character figs have a home now and that’s pretty cool. Also, it’s my opinion Pulp Alley will easily accommodate any game setting with only minor adjustments. Dungeon Crawl, WW2, STALKER, Cyberpunk, you name it. I wager it can be done.

Like I said, Pulp Alley is cinematic and story-driven, not a tactical military simulation. So if that’s your thing, Pulp Alley isn’t for you.
There’s an expansion out, (Perilous Island, IIRC) and I hear they’re working on Vehicle rules. I’m sure these add depth and subtlety. What I like most is how Pulp Alley manages to be simple without being simplistic, remains versatile and solid without taking itself too seriously.

Because that’s exactly what I need right now. I see more Pulp Alley in my future.

Thanks.

Deadly Shadows in Guangzhou

“You seeing this?” Omar Patek asked McNevin.

Silent frustration rolled off his supervisor in waves.

The corporate jet’s A.I. pilot had crash-landed the Lear in an empty parking lot on the east side of the Guangzhou High-tech Industrial Zone. Patek had spliced into the facility’s security network thirty seconds earlier, and started streaming live security camera feed to their stations. On one screen they watched as Domenic Van Dorn’s security detail helped the shaken, singed executive clamber up to the roof of a garage, while on another, six heavily armed men in trenchcoats threaded their way through Conex containers and gantries, heading straight toward them.

Facial recog identified two of the intruders: Skinny Jack and Malcolm “Tiny” Figg, leaders of the “V8s”, or the VuDu8 Crew, the largest criminal gang in New Kong. Well-armed,well-funded, the V8s had ties to Yakuza, the Triads, and Russian Mafiya. Recent investigations had linked them to a number of illegal corporate incidents in the Pan-Asian Zone.

“Nakada’s coming, right?” Omar asked.

McNevin ground his teeth. “He better be.”

TURN ONE AND TWO With Van Dorn in the middle, both sides advance towards the nearest Minor Plot points, trying to surround the garage and control the flanks.

NKPD moves up to Pump Bypass (plot point) on left
NKPD moves up to Pump Bypass (plot point) on left
Nakada at Med-tech container on right. (plot point)
Nakada at Med-tech container on right. (plot point)
Hey diddle diddle, Suliya Kova and NKPD trooper go straight up the middle.
Hey diddle diddle, Suliya Kova and NKPD trooper go straight up the middle.
VuDu8 crew advances. Tiny urging 'em on.
VuDu8 crew advances. Tiny urging ’em on.

TURN THREE AND FOUR – Crime does pay. V8 crew siezes two Minor Plot Points and closes in on Van Dorn. The NKPD troopers must be fresh out of the academy, because their Shooting is abysmal and they fumble taking control of the Plot points closest to them. The only highlight is Suliya Kova getting stuck in with Tiny in front of the garage. a horrified Van Dorn looks on from above at the brutal dance of death.

Ganger after grabbing power packs. (Plot point)
Ganger after grabbing power packs. (Plot point)
NKPD Troopers can't shut figure out how to operate the control console. (Plot point fumble)
NKPD Troopers can’t shut figure out how to operate the control console. (Plot point fumble)
Suliya stalking Tiny
Suliya stalking Tiny
Tiny comes around the corner to find Suliya ready to go.
Tiny comes around the corner to find Suliya ready to go.
This turned into a nasty brawl for multiple turns, see-sawing back and forth until they killed each other.
This turned into a nasty brawl for multiple turns, see-sawing back and forth until they killed each other.

TURN FIVE AND SIX NKPD can’t get it together to save their lives – literally. Combined assault rifle fire fails to bring down Skinny Jack, Kova and Tiny succeed in knocking each other out, and Nakada is too little-too late. He goes down to a shotgun blast from one of the V8 thugs. Skinny Jack climbs onto the roof, shoots the guards and takes Domenic Van Dorn prisoner.

“Don’t sweat it, mister,” he laughs. “You’re gonna make me rich.”

NKPD troopers going after Skinny Jack.
NKPD troopers going after Skinny Jack.
Skinny Jack is the Boss for a reason. He faces down the troopers in a fierce firefight.
Skinny Jack is the Boss for a reason. He faces down the troopers in a fierce firefight.
Nakada finally hacked the lock on the Med Tech crate and rushes to help his men.
Nakada finally hacked the lock on the Med Tech crate and rushes to help his men.
Crime *does* pay. Skinny Jack and V8 ganger get  Van Dorn.
Crime *does* pay. Skinny Jack and V8 ganger get Van Dorn.

NK69 – Seraph Protocol

NK69 is a series of linked missions set in the futuristic mega-city of New Hong Kong in 2069. I’ll be learning/adapting the excellent Pulp Alley rules to game out the intrigue and vicious covert battles in this cyberpunk setting.

A bit of fiction to start

SERAPH PROTOCOL

The flatscreen showed a VTOL pad, an oval cleft on a corporate black-glass cliff, a sharp little Lear sub-orbital poised for take-off.
Omar Pateck didn’t bother with the text in the pop-up: the building’s sleek lines screamed New Kong as loud as Cantonese holo-porn or a salary-man’s nanite grafts. He’d verify specifics in a minute. The four men were the priority.

One man, actually. The Suit in the middle.

He walked with the nonchalance of someone accustomed to being the center. The other three moved in sharp jabs, chunked by body armor, bristling with stubby automatic weapons. Guard dogs.

Omar tapped a button and his drone’s camera zoomed in on the suit. He read the pop-up this time, then heaved away from the screen with a sigh. “Why are we still on Van Dorn? I thought Algion Limited was the better lead.”

McNevin leaned over from the adjacent station. “Upstairs is convinced his Macau lab is cooking more than antibiotics.”

“The increased air traffic was put down to the viral-strike in Bogota. Twenty-thousand infected, Columbia’s emergency services were screaming bloody murder. Which it was.”

“The Red Queen hacked Macau’s Procurements and found orders for Oxiprenyx.”

“So?”

“Thirty-seven orders over the last six months, from multiple sources. None of them individually worth flagging, but added up, we’re talking liters.”

Pateck whistled.

“Right?” McNevin agreed. “So either their drinking the stuff, or…”

“They’re still trying to develop Cerebreflex.”

“Exactly.” McNevin pointed to the screen. “Which is why you’re babysitting Domenic Van Dorn and his goon squad tonight.”

On screen, the Lear arced into the sky, thrusters flaring. Pateck ordered his drone to follow. “Lucky me.”

“Lucky you.”

Another flurry of buttons. “Hey,” Pateck called over his shoulder. “That was Pacific Centuries they just left.”

“I know,” McNevin said smugly. “Another reason to watch him.”

Omar Patek fired off a new set of commands to the drone. “That I can do.”

His UAV was an older Raytheon Shrike. Big compared to the latest surveillance models, but he’d opted to keep it. He’d had good luck with it, it was reliable, had a decent stealth package. Hell, it was even armed. Little five millimeter automatic, but it could sting up close. Certainly enough machine to shadow Monsieur Van Dorn around the hemisphere tonight.

Omar settled into his chair and what he hoped would be an uneventful shift.

Twenty-seven seconds later, the Lear’s port engine blew. The image wobbled as the transport shuddered into an emergency descent.

“Qù nǐ mā de!”

“The feck just happened?”McNevin demanded.

“Explosion in the jet.”

“Bad?”

“Mid-air explosions are always bad, right?” Omar’s fingers blurred on his keypad, the onscreen image lurched to huge. The Van Dorn Pharmaceuticals logo glinted large on the tail fin. Flames licked the jet’s underside, inky black smoke leaking from a rent in the engine cowling. “It’s still flying. But not for long.” He turned to McNevin. “I take it that wasn’t us, then?”

His supervisor shook his head. “I’m calling upstairs.” He flinched at a painful thought. “Van Dorn still alive?”

Omar shook his head impatiently. “Hell if I know. You didn’t get me a splice on his Chip. The Lear should automatically notify China Air Traffic. I’ll tap the On-Boards.” He waved up a second screen at his workstation.

“Can you at least tell me where he’s going to land?”

“Land? No. Hit dirt – probably. Gimme a second.”

McNevin turned away, muttering urgently into his headset while Omar and his computer best-guessed where the Lear would end up.

If the explosion hadn’t effected the pilot A.I. If the jet didn’t lose pieces mid-air. If there wasn’t another explosion. If, if, if…

McNevin was loud now. “Best estimate puts him in…” He paused, covered his throat mike and looked at Omar expectantly.

“West side of Guangzhou HIZ.” He swiped new data over to his supervisor’s station.

“Guangzhou High-tech Industrial Zone.” Another pause as McNevin scanned his screens. “No Ma’am, damage is severe but confined to one engine. All passengers are reported safe and secure. I’ll alert Emergency Services just in case.” McNevin blinked. “Yes Ma’am, I’m on it.”

The call cut and McNevin turned back to Omar. “Van Dorn just jumped to the head to the queue. Seraph protocol, but no direct intervention unless he’s in imminent danger.”

Omar stared at his screen. The Shrike was trailing the jet by a kilometer now. It was falling fast but stabilized. “So this was no accident…”

“Hell no. You know the redundancies on those things.”

“Failed hit?”

“The Lear’s diagnostics show a mechanical failure in one engine. You want dead, blow the whole thing. Go big or go home. Someone sending a warning?” McNevin suggested.

Omar brought the drone’s stealth suite to full power, then concentrated on closing with the jet. He’d need eyes on Van Dorn the moment the plane touched dirt. “Plenty of other ways to send that message. Even photos of his family are more subtle. Less traceable.”

“Good point,” McNevin ceded. “Forced landing?”

Omar glanced over. “If Macau really is working on Cerebreflex …”

“Guangzhou is isolated. Huge sections are automated. So not a lot of people – especially this time of day.”

“Sounds like a lovely spot to snatch an exec,” Omar noted.

McNevin frowned, waved up his comms screen. “I’ll call HKPD Special Branch. Dispatch a team.”

Omar raised an eyebrow. “We have someone there?”

“Hal Nakada leads a Rapid Response unit. Suliya Kova’s the team Razor.”

“Well, day-um. There’s a pair not to feck with.”

“Exactly.”

Nakada picked up on the second ping.

“We have a problem,” McNevin said.

***

TABLE SET UP.
Plot points marked with green glass stones.

Another angle.
Another angle.
Pic of the table
Pic of the table

HKPD Special Branch

Hal Nakada, Suliya Kova, and four members of HKPD SB
Hal Nakada, Suliya Kova, and four members of HKPD SB

Mr. Van Dorn with his security detail

Mr. Van Dorn and his security detail hiding on the roof of the garage.
Mr. Van Dorn and his security detail hiding on the roof of the garage.

Skinny Jack and Tiny, backed up by four members of the VuDu8 Crew.
Skinny Jack and Tiny, backed up by four members of the VuDu8 Crew.