Box Office Smash or A Bomb? A Review of Movie Night

Movie Night

Author: Peter Frain
Publisher: 77 Studios
Page Count: 56
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – Pay What You Want
[$1.35 suggested]
Print Options (DTRPG) – Pay What You Want
[$2.61 minimum, $5.40 suggested]

The 1980s was an era of notable films and television series like Goonies, E.T., Star Wars, MacGyver, and The A-Team. They left an indelible mark on their audiences and influenced future generations through pop culture. One can recapture those moments in one of many roleplaying games where you play as kids or teens in the 1980s—many taking inspiration from Netflix’s series “Stranger Things” after it first aired in 2016. Imagine, for just a moment, taking on the role of one of the kids or teens in a classic 80s movie like Goonies or E.T. Would that not be awesome? Now imagine playing out some of those scenes or a new imaginary movie based on these and similar films or shows. This is what Peter Frain’s Movie Night purports to let players do.

Movie Night is a storytelling roleplaying game for all ages designed to emulate the films of the 1980s. It focuses on the emerging story with minimal dice rolling. It is kid-friendly and offers a lighter play experience. Games are easily framed as one-shots, played in as little as 30 minutes, or as a series of linked adventures for an extended experience.

Every game of Movie Night is a series of scenes strung together to form a complete adventure or “movie.” At dramatic moments, an adversary called the “Bad Thing” becomes the focus to thwart the kids’ efforts as their adventure unfolds. It can take the form of strange creatures, aliens, ghosts, or whatever; the sky is the limit.

Game Mechanics

The game unfolds through a series of scenes and “extra scenes,” mostly extra scenes as they are developmental in nature and serve as the connective tissue between the scenes. Scenes are the key high points of the game, akin to story beats. In whatever form it takes, the Bad Thing is encountered in these scenes. A game will contain a minimum of three scenes but can be easily increased. The three scenes intrinsic to the narrative are:

  1. Discovering the existence of the Bad Thing as it reveals itself to the characters.
  2. When the Bad Thing directly opposes their efforts, whatever they may be.
  3. In the adventure’s finale, like the climax of a movie, the kids have the opportunity to take on the Bad Thing.

Movie Night uses a simple mechanical engine to resolve scenes quickly. Like in movies, scenes have a lead and supporting cast. Whoever is the lead will resolve the scene, possibly with help from the supporting cast. Their action sets the scene’s difficulty number (ranging from 3 [easy] to 12 [impossible]). Scene resolution happens when everyone agrees the scene has come to its narrative conclusion. It is then time to determine if a player’s intended action is successful or not. This might be when a character wants to do something dramatic, attempting to learn something new, contending with Bad Things’ minions, or similar things. The player rolls a 1d6 plus modifiers, looking to meet or beat the scene’s difficulty number. Rolls can be further modified using Gear, Companions, Help, and Relationships. Occasionally, a character may have an advantage or disadvantage. When directed, they instead roll 2D6, keeping the highest (Advantage) or lowest (Disadvantage), then add their modifiers.

That is itquite simple. The more items or aid from the supporting cast the player can bring into the scene, the more modifiers they will have. However, things like Gear can be used up or worn out, so players need to be careful not to exhaust all their resources too early.

Character Creation

Character creation in Movie Night is quick, with only a small number of decisions to make. Characters have three ratings or stats. These are Kid (the essence of innocence and wonder), Nerd (all things intellectual), and Jock (all things physical). Players have three points to assign to these, and the result is 0 – 2 in each. Players then pick a character Type—Geek, Teen, or Little Kid. Each gives a general sense of the character and conveys Rating bonuses and special abilities. The last steps are choosing your Gear and defining two Relationships; they need not be other player characters.

The last thing of note, which is rather important, is that the characters have Hearts. Hearts represents their health but are also an expendable in-game commodity. Characters start with three Hearts. They are gained for winning a scene resolution roll and lost when failed. However, the player can spend a Heart to try again after failing. If a character loses all of their hearts, they are out of the action, but other characters may be able to rescue them.

If players are involved in a longer game, there are simple rules for character advancement through Marks. They gain Marks for completing a final scene, winning the final scene, and trading in Hearts on a 3-to-1 basis. Marks can then be spent, permanently increasing character Ratings and buying Gear or Hearts.

Resources

Included is a small but useful set of resources for the Gamemaster. This includes nine adventure frameworks, optional rules for creating adult characters, a collection of alternate worlds, and the Movie Maker. The Movie Maker is a series of random d6 tables to help create adventure concepts. Movie Night includes a fully developed adventure entitled “Night of the Beast” that takes place in Smalltown, USA, in the late summer of 1983. The adventure involves high school students trying to solve the mystery of why their friend hasn’t turned up for school.

Presentation

Movie Night is only available as a Print on Demand book if you’re looking for a physical copy. It comes in an A5 (digest) size format with a color cover and black and white interior. I have to admit the book’s layout sucks; let me explain. All of the copy is surrounded by huge margins, which leads to page count. Speaking of page count, there are no page numbers. The table of contents refers to sections by number, yet the sections themselves are not numbered within the book. Typos appear throughout but are not overly egregious. And there is a distinct lack of spacing between paragraphs in the enclosed adventure, “Night of the Beast.”

Final Thoughts

Conceptually, I like Movie Night. The bare-bones mechanics, pushing the story forward, and the lighter mechanics I appreciate. I love the idea of being able to replicate some of the movies I grew up with or creating new ones based on those ideas. Where Movie Night falls short for me is with the book itself. It is not terribly difficult to read, but it’s not an enjoyable read nonetheless. As I read it, questions would arise in my head, and the answers were not readily apparent in the book. For example, in character advancement, you can spend Hearts to buy marks. Marks can be used to increase your Hearts permanently. See the problem yet? When spending Hearts for Marks, do you spend down to your Heart rating? Can you spend down to zero? Do you reset your Heart rating to its fixed number at the start of the next adventure?

For me, Movie Night is a mediocre game with potential. Your mileage may vary, but at least it’s Pay What You Want.

~ Modoc

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for the great review! Really, really kind of you.

    Sorry if I didn’t make it clear enough but your Hearts always reset when you start a new adventure. So you can cash-in any leftovers at the end for rewards.

    “You always start the game with three Hearts. Your Character Type or having an Advanced Character may let you start with more.”

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts! It’s made my day to see this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. modoc31 says:

    Peter,

    Thank you for providing the clarity I needed.

    ~ Modoc

    Like

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