Game Review: Tunnel Goons
Publisher: Highland Paranormal Society
Game Engine: Tunnel Goons Engine
Marketplace: Free Download
Tunnel Goons: An Analog Game for Nice People is one of a handful of super-light RPGs that have come across my desk as I have been taking my deep dive into indie RPGs. While it is not the lightest system I have ever seen, it comes pretty close.
The game uses a 2d6 + Stat roll-over mechanic where players try to beat difficulties ranging from 6 to 12. Characters have three stats, hit points, and a carrying capacity. Amount under or over a target indicated damage taken or (where applicable) dealt.
The game is classless, but uses a simple levelling system where a character levels up once every two gaming sessions, with an increase of 1 to a stat and 1 to either hp or carrying capacity.
In other words it is a pretty simple game that has almost zero learning curve. I can now recite the rules verbatim after a single read of the two-page manual. If I wanted to run a game completely off the cuff, and was low on batteries for my phone, I could run this in a heartbeat. In fact, it might be the perfect tool for entertaining my wife and oldest son in the car if the law permits our usual summer road trip.
What I Loved
Short and Sweet
Tunnel Goons wastes zero time or words. It is tight and simple. It assumes you know what a role-playing game is and has a fair sense of how to run it. The PDF has four pages: a cover, two pages of rules, and a character sheet. This review already has a higher word count than Tunnel Goons. Amen, hallelujah.
The cover art and layout of the character sheet are it for offering any art or design. There is some additional cartoony "goon" characters on the website in the same simple style as the character above. Cheerful, simple, childlike... the design suggests innocent make-believe.
Progressive Difficulty Reduction
One of the things I hate about hit points is that they don't - in most games - capture the way the mounting fatigue, pain, frustration, and fear that comes from losing a battle leads to a downward slide. In D&D an Ogre with 3hp is still as fierce as an ogre with 28hp. In Tunnel Goons, each successful attack against an enemy reduces its one stat it has: its difficulty. So, if you fight a monster with an 8 (average) Difficulty for 2 damage, it's difficulty drops yo 6. Next round it will be easier to hit and may take even more damage. Once a bad guy starts going down it gets easier to finish him off.
It is a pity PCs don't have a similar mechanic.
Tunnel Goons is free and is under a basic Creative Commons 4.0 license. Nate Treme isn't even asking for credit. I will always praise a creator who gives his work to the community like this. I am happy to support him with time of my own writing a review, and, if this blog ever becomes self-supporting, I will buy and review his cherrfully defigned and gonzo Knave and Tunnel Goons adventures happily.
Fans of Tunnel Goons like to show it. A recent "Goon Jam" event hosted on the Highland Paranormal Society blog invited people to make derivative RPGs for a showcase of games built on the Tunnel Goons engine. There are over 60 entries. I am personally partial to the psychedelic Shroom Goons whete you play tiny myconids trying to defend their home from horrible Smurf-orks. With fantastic art by Skullfungus.
Maybe too Brief
There are a lot of niceties skipped to make Tunnel Goons so compact. It doesn't even include its creative commons license or a link to the HPS website, let alone more than one example of the rules in action. There is someparsingbto be done by the reader to get the whole picture. Some of the derivative games, like Shroom Goons, do a far better job at explaining Tunnel Goons' rules than the original game does.
One of the annoying habits of game designers is to hide rules in funny places, like spell descriptions. For example, in Dungeons and Dragons' earliest editions all the rules for possession were laid out in the Magic Jar spell and nowhere else. What it meant to be an "Enchanted Creature" was hidden in Protection from Evil nowhere near the monster section, and the effects of being swallowed whole were found primarily in the monster description for Purple Worms.
These hidden "impled" rules are rarely overt and take serious mining to discover. And Tunnel Goons has several of these. Like that gear grants bonuses to rolls that stack (seen only in the example). Or that careful planning, seeking advantages, and creative problem solving should grant bonuses to the roll (implied on the website.) These two examples are pretty significant and deserve a whopping third page to be parsed out.
Not Sufficient as a Standalone
Tunnel Goons offers very little in the way of sample equipment, no example enemies or challenges, no way of handling some of the more complex ways of handling traditional fantasy tropes like traps or magic, and no sample adventures. It doesn't give a GM a lot to work with on its own, and requires a lot of back-end processing for the GM.
Tunnel Goons is a cute sketch of a role-playing game, like a doodle on a napkin. And if you are running a quick doodle of an adventure off the cuff on a lazy afternoon, it might well be exactly what you need. Much of its appeal is in its state as a cheerful doodle that encourages others to build on the same. Goon Jam is like watching a bunch of kids with pencils once one ringleader draws something fun and the others decide to take the same and run with it. They aren't afraid to be fun and silly because it is a doodle and doesn't need to aspire to be more.
If I were to run with my daydream of creating a game about farmers defending their crops against goblins using common farm items as traps and weapons, this would be my jam.