I’ve been peripherally aware of this game for a little while now but had never had the chance to play. When I saw it on the list at this years Furnace I grabbed the chance to give it a go. My preconceptions were that the game was indie, it’s focus is on fighting as a space marine against a horde of aliens, that success is measured in kills, and that’s about it. Turns out I was right.
My game was one of those ‘lets make it up as we go along’ type sessions that normally makes my heart sink. For once though, the promise of being able to generate your character in 5 minutes was true. We had six players, the GM brought 5 sheets, a rookie error. Pretty much your only choice is where to divide up your ten points across two stats, fighting ability, and non-fighting ability. The minimum is 2 (making the maximum 8). Two players needed reminding of this rule, which just goes to show how difficult it can be to pitch the simplest of explanations to a group! I plumped for a 6/4 split, concentrating on fighting. Our numbers then generated a few other stats such as previous kill total and ranking. Our group had a sarge and a corporal, everyone else was a trooper. We got kit cards and orders (mine said ‘kill all aliens’). With a name and a tagline we were off to our first battlefield.
Group dynamics fascinate me, and gaming gives me prime opportunities to indulge that fascination. In any team a leader will push their way through. In 3:16, this leadership role is handed out prior to play. If your natural personality wants to follow and join in, this is a tough gig. If you’re the sort of person who likes to be in charge, then your role as a trooper can be excruciating. So it was in our game. Our leaders were decision-phobic, and the rest of us were too polite to make a fuss about it. That made the simplest of scenes become awkward. Our GM was happy to stay silent on the issue and when he did get involved it was to ask for skill checks. This included rolling to see if we could turn on lights. Oh good.
The mechanics are brutally straight forward, you roll a d10 hoping to get your skill level or less, with high rolls better than low. With 2 stats, there’s not a whole lot of tactics, which is odd given the game’s premise. Combat is at the heart of the game, and the rules don’t appear to get any more complex at that point. There’s a little chart with range bands on it, and you have a mini on there to represent yourself. The aliens are (loosely) represented by tokens and you each blast away at each other until there’s one force standing. I hesitate to say it’s board-gamey because that does a disservice to board games. It reminded me of Kill Dr Lucky, with it’s home made components. There’s things called Strengths and Weaknesses on your sheet, but I didn’t fully understand their use. It seemed you could use them to indulge in a little PVP if you wanted.
The scenario was ultra generic sci fi bug hunting. I can absolutely see how this could do 40K very well indeed, or Starship Troopers or Aliens. The thing is (and this is not exclusive to 3:16) you can’t let the rules do the heavy lifting when it comes to presenting a good game. All those IPs I just mentioned are backed up by big budget visuals and huge sourcebooks full of canon. If the GM and players in 3:16 don’t put in the effort to bring the world to life, even if only temporarily, then the game is doomed to mediocrity. Some games will let you coast along with zero input, but 3:16 doesn’t have enough bulk to do that. The fun part of the game seems to be in between the missions, with promotions and new equipment to ‘roll up’. In game, it soon became samey and pointless. Attempts to add flavour to the proceedings were brought crashing down to earth with ‘just roll non fighting ability’.
Finally, I got the impression that the game got more involved when you’d been playing it for a while. If that’s so, why couldn’t we start like that? Many, many games make ‘zero to hero’ a feature of play, I love those games. In a 4 hour con slot, why on earth would you play at level 1, unless level 1 has the ability to display the game at it’s best? This didn’t. 6 players and 7 deaths just made us care less about our characters and served to turn the scenario into a light comedy.I have a sneaking suspicion we weren’t shown the game in all it’s glory, and that there are potential good times held within. A GM who really loved the game (and really knew how it worked) could have shown us a cracking 4 hours. I’m an easy target, I’ll buy nearly anything if I can see so much as a nugget of potential. I didn’t buy 3:16, and that’s very, very telling indeed.