PNP Double Feature: d6 Utopia

As I’ve been getting more into solo gaming, I’ve been looking to the PNP world for some new games to try.  PNP stands for Print-and-Play, and this is a way for designers to distribute their work without having to use a publisher.  As a result, there are a lot of PNP games out there that are quite unrefined, but there’s also a lot of creativity going on that wouldn’t necessarily see the light of day otherwise.

There is a big snag in PNP games, however, that goes beyond the lack of polish in rules.  And that is that a lot of them require a lot of components – cards, counters, maps, and so on.  These are things that you have to print and assemble yourself, which sometimes will result in a more expensive game than one you’d purchase from a game store.  A lot of people don’t mind, and find this to be an aspect of the hobby they really enjoy.  For me, I find that I don’t have the time, the patience, or the resources necessary to assemble a lot of these games – that can be a LOT of ink, and my printer is not really set up for bulk printing.  So I keep my eye open for games that require a minimal amount of effort to assemble.  And that’s what I’m going to present today – two games that really only require one sheet of paper, as well as some dice and a pencil.  I have played both of these games, but not really enough to do a full review.  Instead, I’m just going to give a general overview and some thoughts.

image by BGG user Grudunza
image by BGG user Grudunza

First up is The d6 Shooters, designed in 2009 by Eric Herman.  This solo PNP game is set in the Old West, as you lead your posse along a trail, trying to reach your destination in 40 days.  There are two official scenarios, “Long Road to Reno” and “Ghost Town Showdown.”  For purposes of this overview, I’ll be talking about the rules to Long Road to Reno, as that’s the one I’ve played.

For the game, all you need is a single play sheet for your chosen scenario, a pencil, and eight dice (five white and three red – you can substitute colors if needed).  On each turn (representing a day), you will roll all eight dice.  Any 5s or 6s on the red dice are locked during this first roll only, but otherwise you have two rerolls to try to get what you want (a five or six on a red die in the second roll can be rerolled). After the third roll, all dice have been locked and you can resolve them in numerical order (1s first).

  1. Move: For each 1 rolled, move one space on the trail.  If you reach an Event, resolve it before moving more spaces.  Events can be resolved by printing out Event cards, or by rolling two dice and consulting a chart, or by rolling one die and consulting a different chart.  Decide which you’re going to use before starting the game.
  2. Find Food: Receive one food for every pair of 2s rolled.
  3. Prospect: Find one gold for every three 3s rolled.
  4. Miscellaneous: There are actually several choices for this one.  You could Hide by adding a day and removing two 6s for each 4 used.  Or you could Seek Shelter, which cancels one 5 per 4 used.  Or you could Travel the Backroads, moving ahead one space for every twos 4 used.  Or you could use 4s to in a shootout when it’s time to resolve 6s.  You can split the 4s rolled among the available choices.
  5. Extreme Heat: Every 5 not cancelled by a 4 is rerolled.  If the next result is 3-6, you lose 2 food or 1 posse member.
  6. Attack: You are ambushed.  Reroll all 6s, as well as any 4s saved to fight.  If no 4s were used to fight, a 3-6 on a rerolled 6 loses you 1 posse member.  If 4s were used to fight, then the side with the lower total loses a die.  Once a side has lost all of their dice, the fight is over.  If the ambushers win, you lose one posse member per remaining Gang die.

At the end of your turn, you mark off a day.  Every fifth day, you’ll have to spend one food per surviving posse member.  If you can’t feed everyone, feed who you can and lose the rest.

As you move along the trail, you’ll encounter some towns.  Here, you can spend gold to hire new posse members, buy food or ammo (which is used every time there’s a shootout).  You can also play poker – bet a certain amount of money, then you have three rolls to get the best poker hand you can.  You then roll one die to see what the house has, and if you win, you doubled your bet.

If at any time, you hit zero posse members, you lose.  If it’s a Rations day and you have no food, you lose.  If it’s the end of the 40th day and you have not yet made it to Reno, you lose. But if you make it to Reno within the time limit, you win and calculate your score.

So what do I think?  This game uses the Yahtzee-style mechanism of rolling dice three times, locking whatever you want to after each roll.  It’s a very common mechanism these days, but it’s always interesting to see what a designer does differently.  Here, it’s the introduction of the three red dice which must be locked if they show a 5 or 6 on the first roll.  The bad thing here is that means there are bad events that can’t be avoided by rerolling.  The good thing is that you can at least try to deal with them.

The d6 Shooters has a really nice narrative arc.  You can come up with a really good story to go along with the journey because of the way the trail is laid out.  You’ve got a 40 day journey, and you want to try to move as quickly as possible.  At the same time, you’ve got to try to balance your posse, food, ammo and gold so that you don’t run out too early.  In fact, I bet a diary log of this game would be very interesting as you can make up the story as to exactly what happened.

I’ve played this game twice.  The first time, I won, but I think I played several rules wrong.  The second time, I got all the rules right, and ended up dying at the hands of the Griggs Gang on Day 23.  It’s a very challenging game, even if luck has a lot to do with your success rate.  It’s one I would highly recommend.  You can download the files, including rules and the single page you need for play, at the BGG page.

image by BGG user Black Canyon
image by BGG user Black Canyon

Utopia Engine was designed in 2010 by Nick Hayes.  It was picked up and cleaned up by Nevermore Games in 2011, but has always been a free PNP.  In the game, Doomsday is coming and the only hope of humanity is that you find all of the parts to construct the Utopia Engine, get them working, and then activate the machine.  Otherwise, we’re all doomed.

To play the game, you need to print the adventure sheets (there’s a regular version and a low ink version), and will need to provide two dice and a pencil.  You’ll then start your game by Searching.  Go to one of the six indicated regions and mark off the first space on its day tracker.  There are six spaces on each region’s day tracker, and 2-3 of these are marked with a -1 (always the first space).  The -1 means you need to mark one day off on the game time track.

Once you’ve marked off a circle, you start your search.  Pick a search box (which contains six smaller boxes).  Roll both dice, then enter both numbers into the small boxes.  You’ll do this twice more, and the result will be two three-digit numbers.  Subtract the bottom one from the top one to get your result.  You want to be as close to zero as possible – a score of 0-10 gets you the region’s Construct.  A score of 11-99 gets you a Component (needed during activation).  Anything 100+, or less than zero, results in an encounter.  For an encounter, consult a chart to find the creature’s level and how it will hit you.  Roll two dice.  Any value that matches the attacker’s attack value hits you for one damage, and any value that matches its hit value kills the enemy.  You continue rolling until you have six damage, or until the enemy is dead.  If you win, the creature may drop something.  If you get six damage, you fall unconscious and must spend six days to recover.  This wipes out your damage, but you lose valuable time.  If you ever get to seven or more damage, you lose instantly.  You can always choose to spend days voluntarily to rest and recover damage at a 1:1 rate.

Once you’ve found a Construct, you need to activate it before you can use its special ability or even add it to the Utopia Engine.  If you found the Construct with a perfect zero result, it comes to you already activated and you get five energy in your God’s Head device (you can spend three energy to extend the time track by one day, thus delaying Doomsday).  Each Construct has two activation fields consisting of four pairs of two boxes.  Roll two dice, then enter the results into boxes in the top field.  You’re trying to get the result of subtracting a pair of boxes as large as possible.  So a 6 and 1 would get a result of 5, which is excellent and gets you two energy (you need four energy to activate the Construct).  A 6 and 2 would get you a result of 4, which gets you one energy.  A 4 and 3 would get you a result of 1, which is bad.  A 2 and 5 would get you a result of -3, which results in one damage.  A 3 and 3 would get the result of 0, which allows you to reset the box (which can be useful).  Any excess energy earned can go into the God’s Head device.  If you fail to activate your Construct in one field, lose a day and move on to the next.  If you fail there too, lose another day and activate it anyway.

Once you have found all six Constructs and activated them, it’s time to connect them.  This can be started as soon as you have two Constructs that connect and the right Components to connect them.  Spend the necessary Component, and start rolling dice.  There are three pairs of boxes here, and you’ll be entering numbers as before, but are back to trying to make small results.  When you subtract the two numbers, you want it to be as close to zero as possible.  If you’re negative, you lose the Component and take a damage.  If you don’t like a die roll, you can throw it in the trash, but you can only do this ten times all game.  Once all three pairs are complete, add the results of each pair to get one number for the connection.  So a 3-2, a 5-5, and a 4-2 would result in 1+0+2=3.

Once all Constructs are connected, it’s time for the Final Activation.  Add the connection results together to get your target number.  You can spend health points to make this total lower.  Roll the two dice, and try to get equal to or higher than the total – this means your total has to be 12 or lower.  If you fail, lose a health and a day and try again (as long as you’re still alive and still have days left to lose).  When you succeed, you have won the game.

This game has a significant push-your-luck element to it.  On one hand, you have to roll really well.  On the other, you have to be wise enough to place all the numbers in their correct spots.  There’s some strategy in when you decide to do what, I guess, but overall, it’s about creating a story to go along with what you’re doing.  You could play this as a straight numbers game, but the theme makes it much more interesting.  The game is very challenging.  I’ve played once and screwed up the rules – I forgot to activate the Constructs – but I lost anyway.  I’m looking forward to trying again with the right rules.

So if you want to check this one out, you can download the files (rules and adventure sheets) at the game page on BGG.  Now, I would definitely recommend both of these games, and with the low printing requirements, there’s no reason not to try both.  But if you’re only going to try one, I think I’d recommend this one.  I think it’s a richer game with higher stakes and more complexity going on.

That’s it for this overview.  Hope you’ve found a couple of new games to try, and remember – not every game has to cost a ton of money to be worth your time.  Thanks for reading!

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