I'll admit that I was backer #1 for the Mongoose Paranoia KickStarter campaign -- and dropped my pledge several days later. None of the original game designers? No James Holloway art? Cards?? I was quite happy with my first edition Paranoia, with its Falls from Great Height chart and specialized skill trees. And, I'd like to think that Paranoia isn't a game where you know all the rules. It's an atmosphere you create with the game as a framework. So, with that level of skepticism, I passed on the KickStarter, thinking that I pretty much had a High Programmer's trove of Paranoia, from first edition through XP.
Well, you know how dangerous thinking is with Paranoia.
OUT OF THE BOX
The boxed set comes with three softcover digest sized books: Player Handbook, Gamemasters Handbook, and Mission Book. Additional Player Handbooks can be purchased separately. The set also has 110 cards, four regular dice, one Computer die, and six wipe-off character sheets. The graphic design and art are perfectly fine (and the books are entirely in color), with the artwork a splended "next generation" of uncomfortableness suited for the complex of Paranoia.
The Player's Handbook covers character generation, basic actions, moxie, and combat. The game is appropriately rules-light and don't expect the gamemaster to follow them, either.
Character Generation: You have Attributes, and you have Skills. Random generation? Spending points? You may have remembered the Amber roleplaying game (okay, you didn't), where you bid against the other players to rank your ability score against them. Well, Paranoia has another "meta-generation" mechanic, where you screw your buddy before your character is made. Starting with the player to the left of the gamemaster, you pick a Skill (not Attribute) at level 1. Okay. Except that the player to that player's left gets the same Skill at NEGATIVE level 1. Then, it's that person's turn to pick a different Skill at +1. Once every player has a +1 and -1 Skill level, it goes to +2 and -2. Then +3 and -3. You get the idea. And, nope, you can't select a skill you already have (no adding a positive to your negative skill), and, double-nope, the direction of skill chargen is to the left, you're not going to get back at the player who gave you the NEGATIVE skill level -- at least not yet!
Okay, you do, thank The Computer. From the Skills you will generate your Attribute values, except that, yep, the player to the left, the same player who's received all these negative skill levels, gets to assign the values to the attributes. And, also, before you met your frienemies, you picked three adjectives to describe your character, such as "handsome, brave, loyal", and that player to your left gets to change one of the adjectives to its opposite. So you could be "ugly, brave, loyal", "handsome, chicken-hearted, loyal" or even "handsome, brave, traitorous filthy terrorist mutant scumbag". (Oh, and any rumors you have have heard about ditching Communists for Terrorists are untrue. Report to re-education for brainscrubbing.)
You can, of course, create characters in the boring conventional way (or use, gasp, pre-gens). Players can improve their stats by burning their Moxie and even Clone lives, but tell 'em later, once you and your bretherin find your comfort (or at least dead traitor) zone with the system. (I think the record number of clone executions in a briefing I've had was five. For a single player.)
Basic Action: Roll dice. Specifically, the GM tells you what Attribute and Skill, equipment, and other modifiers you will use, and you roll that number of dice. This is called your NODE, which is short for "Number of Dice [You're still not cleared for that]". For every five or six, you succeed. You need blah number of successes depending on the difficulty level. Huzzah! But, wait. What if your total number of dice is negative because your CHUTZPAH attribute is 0 and your STEALTH skill is -3 and you're sneaking past two Blue IntSec guards with neuro whips and too much free time? The Computer, in its infinite glory, encourages troubleshooters to try new challenges, and allows you to still roll the absolute value (hah! you thought you'd only use it once in that other RPG) of dice. Except that, for every one through four, you subtract a success. Huzzah! Oh, and did we mention that The Computer has blessed you with an additional credit-free die you roll with the six replaced with an icon of our beloved Computer (and not a Ghostbusters symbol)? The result of rolling this icon is that you lose one Moxie of stress and also [you're not cleared for that]. And the regular dice you roll are a combination of white high-programmer plastic with black infrared pips, so make sure you don't touch the white part when rolling the dice.
Moxie: So we've mentioned Moxie twice, and it's (ugh) hit points. But it's roleplaying hit points! Much like Call of Cthulhu's Sanity Points, where the more earnest players would say, "Hey, pass the Necronomicon", when you run out of Moxie (you can also spend it on stuff like rolling an extra die and [you're not cleared for that]), you can play one of your adjectives to the hilt, or the GM can roll your roleplay on the Losing It table. (Strangely enough, the text says that when you've lost all your Moxie, you may feel "All-consuming hatred of something or someone in the immediate area" which seemed to be SOP for most Paranoia players I've encountered even before combat.) You can regain Moxie through stimulants, spending XP, or activating a new clone. (You gain XP through surviving missions, achieving other objectives, and other Alpha Complex carrot sticks. You can spend XP on Moxie, Equipment, Clearance Level and... what happened to credits? What do you mean by "credits", Citizen??)
Combat: Combat consists of rolling a number of dice based on your VIOLENCE and GUNS, and saying "I hit it". Well, not just that. Each combat, player will receive a hand of shiny color cards, called Action Cards, typically one hand of four for the entire combat. Each round, each player chooses an Action card. After every player places their card face-down, the GM counts down, from high to low, and a player reveals his Action card at the Action Order number on the card. Okay, not just that. A player claims his Action card is at such-and-such a number (preferably higher than the other player pointing his laser barrel at them), and any other player may challenge him. If the challenger is wrong, the challenger loses an Action card. If the challenger is right, the challenging player immediately gets to make an action (so can have more than one action during a combat round), and the challenged player discards the card and takes a Basic Action at the end of the round. (So look forward to claims and challenge cards when players only have Action Order 0 cards in their hands!) You can always perform a Basic Action instead of playing and discarding what's written on the card. Yes, I do think that player wielding a Megaphone that lets him to act at Action Order CHUTZPAH +3 works in tandem with his laser pistol (until somebody like the GM gets tired of it and shoots him). Equipment cards and Mutant Powers cards are also Action cards. (Although they have no Action Order number, I suppose you could use your Secret Society and Bonus Duty cards as Action cards if your real-life Chutzpah was high enough...). And some of the Action cards are Reactions, used only during another player's turn (including GM). You can still play Paranoia with just Basic Action roll. But I think the cards do a good job as inspiration to do crazy things you might not think of at the moment. The cards certainly don't restrict options during combat. (Myself, I'm thinking of sticking post-its over the text of each card to encourage good roleplaying.) Paranoia also has wounds, which are entirely different from hit points (of course not). For every additional success rolled during combat, the target suffers a wound. Wound states are Hurt, Injured, Maimed, and Dead. Sadly, "vaporized" is no longer a status (and the Falling From Great Heights table seems to be misplaced), but, hey, there's always that computer icon on the red die when that character is out of Moxie...
Much like previous editions of Paranoia, the boxed set does a very good job of providing the gamemaster helpful advice -- including for breaking rules -- to help him run a game of Paranoia. The handbook also tells us about Alpha Complex: Alpha Complex itself, The Computer, DAIVs, the Cerebral Cortech and Data Feed ("All data is recorded and stored. Not analyzed, however."), XP points (treason stars are still used, but gasp credits are now gone -- and, yes, Free Enterprise has something to say about that!), while service groups and societies have pretty much been relegated to a mention. Wait. Credits are gone?? Among other changes, Paranoia uses XP instead of credits to purchase equipment, luxuries, and higher security clearance levels. DAIVs are Deviant Artificial Intelligent Viruses, which the Computer is naturally afraid of, and will shut down entire sectors to get rid of. And, of course, DAIVs can infect a clone's Cerebral Cortech and Data Feed. The Cerebral Cortech and Data Feed is a HUD-slash-augmented virtual reality that every clone has (specifically every clone has Cerebral Coretech hardware on the inside of his skull). It's a useful way for the Computer to transmit data, and slow burn way for the Computer to helpfully interfere with troubleshooter activity. Alpha Complex does have "dead zones" which a gamemaster can conveniently use whenever troubleshooters need to or otherwise can do treasononus acts, like Secret Society shenanigans. Speaking of which...
About a fourth of the book are the secret societies (including Communist, which I though was announced as [REDACTED]). Personally, I thought the Secret Societies didn't get enough attention in previous editions (about half a page in first, second, and XP editions). Here, the gamemaster is provided specific tasks he can drop into an adventure, and bennies he can hand out to secret society members. We're also given some paragraphs of several High Programmers involved in their secret societies, as well as an "alignment graph" so gamemasters have a high-level view of how the secret societies have overlapping and opposing interests.
With Paranoia being a rules-light game system with its own uniquely absurd atmosphere, the Gamemasters Handbook also encourages you to modify and even relegate to heresay and rumor any aspect of Alpha Complex that you wish. It shouldn't be too difficult to bring back CBay (or, at least, Free Enterprise's attempts to bring it back!) or the ever-popular tongue-tattoo ID. ("Show me your ID." "NYAAAHH..." Fun times.)
Although conventionally last, this book actually should be read first. The book consists of three related missions, and a new version of the classic White Wash scenario. The first mission actually starts the players at Infrared level (completely with bossy Red troubleshooter), and gradually introduces the game mechanics. Given Paranoia's rules-light game system, a gradual introduction isn't necessary, but not all gaming groups will be used to its game style, and it's novel for regular Paranoia players to play as Infrareds. The next two missions are of the more conventional SNAFU side. I did feel that, compared to first edition Paranoia adventures I own, NPCs took a greater role in the missions, and the missions were not as detailed as other adventures (not that a rules-light game system has to be). The missions do have more involvement by Secret Societies, which I felt was overlooked in adventures from previous editions. So, overall, while relatively lightweight, you do get four missions versus one in (some) previous versions.
One reason I overlooked the KS was that I thought the cards were going to be the focus of the game. They're not. Think of them as mini-supplements, player inspiration, that sort of thing. Whee.
EQUIPMENT CARDS: The boxed set comes with twenty-two Equipment cards. Paranoia has three categories of equipment: Regular, Non-Standard, and R&D. Regular equipment, such as laser pistols and armor, don't have cards, nor does R&D equipment (you know what this stuff is). Non-Standard equipment includes combat-oriented stuff like The Minigun and Grenade X3, with some odd but usefull stuff like a Friction Enhancer and Fake Moustache. Their Action Order (see Combat) is an attribute plus a number, such as CHUTZPAH + 4 for the Fake Moustache. The add NODE dice based on their level, such as SMALL Level 1 for the aforementioned Fake Moustache. Equipment cards have additional text, which can be easily covered up with a small Yellow clearance Post-It if the Gamemaster so desires. In the meta-spirite of Paranoia, you could make additional Equipment Cards, hand them to players you don't like, then, later in the game after they've used the cards, question them why their Equipment Cards look like some gamer scrawled on them when they shoule using official shiny color Paranoia boxed set cards.
SECRET SOCIETIES: The boxed set comes with fifteen Secret Society cards, two printed with "NO SECRET SOCIETY" and two of the Computer's own Internal Security Secret Society (yep, it's official). During character generation, the Gamemaster deals each player a card. This assists character conflict, since each player will be in a different Secret Society (the Gamemaster Handbook's Secret Society chapter does give suggestions for faction play.) If you do enjoy factions (always fun to root out the competing splinter group, or participate in a friendly competition against your fellow Death Leopards), just make photocopies or use the PDF version. Use treasonous Magic the Gathering cards as backs, slip the card and photocopy into the card sleeve, slip the secret message from the player's Secret Society also into the card sleeve, maybe or not maybe tell the player that he has a secret message, and have his secret society chew him out when he doesn't find it. The cards are essentially player aids, to give them something sneaky to do. That's always a good thing.
BONUS DUTY: A set of six cards, either the team leader or The Computer assigns the role of each party member to their duty during the mission: Team Leader, Science Officer, Happiness Officer, Combat Officer, Equipment Officer, and Loyalty Officer. Again, these cards are player aids, assisting overt roleplay, as troubleshooters obstrusively abuse their role to annoy their fellow party members.
YOU ARE NUMBER ONE: A single pretty card that the troubleshooters will compete for to be The Computer's special [REDACTED] to receive special treatment from NPCs and The Computer. Use arbitrarily. Reassign favor when warranted and/or bored.
PDF SECTOR vs. PROCESSED DEAD ORGANIC MATTER WITH SPLENDED BINDING
Paranoia also comes in PDF format, but the cards and computer die make me recommend the boxed set. The Players Handbook, GM handbook, and Mission Book are separate books so there's none of that icky sharing stuff (at least between the GM and the riff-raff). The boxed set also comes with wipe-off character cards, or you can download an editable PDF from the Mongoose website. You're entirely welcome, citizen.
Paranoia's latest incarnation is a streamlined, rules-light, game system with new mechanics that should be easy to follow, and additional ideas you can add or ignore at your leisure. The missions were, imo, a little light, but, considering how much I ignored and faked my way through earlier edition adventures, I'm not going to worry about that. There is nothing to worry about. The Computer has everything under [REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED].
[5 of 5 Stars!]