Reviews

Heart of the Cards: FAITH: the Scifi RPG

Jump through a wormhole, hack alien interfaces, and leverage the favor of a higher power with Faith: the Scifi RPG. Faith is an ambitious project; Burning Games tries to meld board game and RPG elements. They have created a new card based resolution system combined with a high concept science fiction experience. FAITH  heralds the start of a fresh intellectual property that will be sure to create memorable experiences for years to come.

Faith comes through as an effective RPG, but goes further than a rulebook and some dice. The core set includes five 54 card decks for the card-based resolution system, a Gear deck with cards for characters’ pieces of equipment, and an NPC deck laying out statistics and abilities of the challenges you will encounter. As a GM, the saved effort is very much appreciated. Often you take the time to write NPCs out on index cards anyway, and having a full portrait of a character and all of its stats in a neat package saves a ton of work. Character sheets are now cardboard character boards, into which you slot character portraits, attributes, skills, and abilities. You use damage and ammo counters to keep track during play. All of these components are sturdy and should hold up for a long time. The character boards are carefully made, and even after a bit of swinging around the chits did not fall out of their character boards.

Unfortunately for character boards, the abilities are named but don’t contain their text. You will have to reference the book or write them out yourselves, which somewhat defeats the purpose. Similarly the NPC cards have the abilities written out, but on the backs of the cards, which require some flipping before you learn them for yourself.

The art of Faith is, simply put, some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in an RPG product. Each and every piece, from the book’s sweeping landscapes to NPC cards, are fully painted. Every one is detailed and full of a powerful, mysterious atmosphere. Looking at these characters makes me want to venture out into space and discover its secrets.

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NPCs are concise and clear, but require flipping to get a full understanding

The quality of the components helps to make up for the fact that, at the end of the day, they aren’t actually necessary. Unlike some RPGs which are unplayable without the pricey components, Faith is completely playable with only a few decks of cards and some paper. If anything this works as a benefit, strangely enough. Burning Games has seen fit to put the entirety of the rules, lore, and an introductory adventure online for free. Anyone can play free for as long as they want, moving to the full version when they want to make the purchase.

On a small note, the rules are translated from Spanish, and the occasional slip-ups in the translation are noticeable but not so much that they ruin the experience. The rules are laid out cleanly and clearly, though they occasionally have to reference concepts before you read about them yourself. Most importantly the writers thought to do something every RPG author should do as a matter of course: summaries. Every chapter has a lengthy discussion of rules replete with examples to make them clear. Afterwards, quick bullet points tell you (or new players with less time) everything they need to know to get into the action

The mechanics are simple and intuitive, yet offer deep tactical choices with every encounter. Each scene players (and the GM) draw seven cards from a standard 54 card deck, the suits being changed to represent different environment types such as space or outdoors. Characters are successful unless they attempt something extraordinary, which triggers a conflict. Players then play cards from their hand or top of the deck equal to the appropriate attribute and add the number on the cards and your skill level. The higher hand wins. You and the NPC or challenge also compare advantages and  disadvantages, granted by the situation or special abilities; whoever has the fewer advantages is Inferior, and plays one less card.

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These player cards serve their purpose but go beyond; each has a full portrait set to the appropriate environment.

Why would you play a low card or a card from the deck instead of our hand? Because your hand gets depleted through play. A card of the same suit as the environment or lower than your skill level lets you draw again, but most likely you will have to worry about running out of resources. Reshuffles only happen at the end of the scene, so playing your best cards early could cripple you later on. Worse, what if the GM fakes you out, losing a key hand by playing low to draw out your resources? Every challenge is a struggle, testing the best in your abilities to calculate odds, read your opponent, and use every available advantage. Nothing is wrong with the basic skill checks of other games, but much like Dogs in the Vineyard Faith adds weight to each problem you encounter.

Characters themselves are defined by attributes and skills, already mentioned, as well as their race which affect attribute maximums and access to certain abilities. The abilities themselves come in the form of upgrades, which can be slotted directly into your character sheet.

The universe of Faith is our own, but far into the future. Alien races travel through a network of wormholes, communicate through a sort of technologically created psychic link, and as always battle for dominance. The universe is fairly high concept, not quite reaching the transhumanist quandaries of Eclipse Phase but well beyond your average Traveller transport run. Each of the races, while reminiscent of mainstays (we have bruisers, a swarm, et cetera) are unique mechanically, narratively, and artistically.

Most unusual are the gods, born out of and existing inside the collective intellects of their worshippers. Each is made up of concepts, such as community or chaos, and grant powers to their faithful, so long as their loyalty remains. Act against the explicit will of your god and you will lose access to the powers they provide. This light alignment system comes through well. Each god grants powers that are most useful when acting within their ethos. Much like everything else in the game the mechanics work to enforce the story Burning Games has created with Faith.

Usually I turn away from beings so powerful in games, as they create rigid morality that removes the nuance of a story and faith itself. FAITH, however, places the attributes and desires of the gods in the mind of their believers. Your characters will not have battles with dark, pure evil monsters that by their very existence necessitate their destruction. Now you deal with the minds and philosophies of individual believers, which themselves are as complex and valid as real religious beliefs.

The one problem, however, comes in the beliefs of a few of these gods. Two of them are similar enough to cause genuine confusion between players: the one being devoted to fierce individualism and the other opposed to organized bodies that restrict people are different, but written in such a way as to make the differences too nuanced to be obvious without careful thought. Worse still is a god who seems built not only for chaos, but for the kind of chaos to make a player a headache if he interprets it the wrong way. Working through this will need some careful discussion between the GM and players. This confusion between the gods and the problems that it creates will likely serve to hamper the experience for many players.

Last but by no means least are upgrades, purchased with attribute points. They come in the form of biological, technological, or faithful. Each is limited by a different attribute, and change characters in small, but profound ways. Your character might be better at hacking enemy technology, able to survive the vacuum of space for limited periods, or obscure enemies’ abilities to remember your face. The choices are meaningful and any one could inspire a character all on its own.

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As you can see, everything about a character is subject to modification.

Character creation is simple but full of such choices, but the core set does come with premade characters for those who want to get into the game immediately. They are all balanced and thought out, so using them puts no one at a disadvantage. Making a character involves effortless mechanical choices (no odd derived statutes or strange feat interactions here) but makes for fascinating narrative choices. Whatever your preference, you will find something here to excite you.

FAITH: the Scifi RPG
Designed by: Carlos Gómez, Helio de Grado, Mauricio Gómez
Published by: Burning Games
Players: 2+
Ages: 13 and up
Time: 3-4 hours
Mechanics: Hand Management, Roleplaying
Weight: Medium
MSRP: $78.00

90

Excellent

Faith: The Sci-fi RPG

Review Guidelines

FAITH melds board game components with roleplaying story in an experience that lets you explore the vastness of a mysterious universe. The rules are accessible yet deep, coming together to make satisfying strategic choices but not sacrificing story.

John Farrell is a Judicial Law Clerk living in Philadelphia, Pa and lead editor on the upcoming Dragon: Rekindled RPG. He has been playing board games and RPGs for as long as he can remember, and coupled with tenacity and weirdness loves the work he does with Gamingtrend and sharing that passion with all of you.
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