Just being released, “Pulp PI – Investigator for Hire” from Two Hour Wargames couldn’t have come at a better time. You see, there’s a direct tie between pulp fiction and film noir, and in August, Turner Classic Movies suspends its weekly showing of “Noir Alley” for its month-long Summer Under the Stars film festival. So, you see, as a film noir addict, I needed a fix.
I don’t know if you’ve ever held a pulp magazine, when I was a child only comic books and really cheap paperbacks were still printed on pulp paper. The remaining magazines that had started as pulps were being printed on newsprint or had made it to slick paper in the early sixties. The pulp paperbacks were so cheap, the pages were already yellowed as the book was printed. Yeah, I’ll give away my age by saying comics were only a dime and paperbacks were only forty to fifty cents.
But what’s the connection between the pulps and film noir, you may ask? The pulp magazines appeared at the start of the twentieth century, you know, the century that had “19” as the first two numbers of its years. Commercial film began about the same time. Anyway, the stories appearing in the magazines were ideal for turning into movies. Some good and some not so good. Many were regulated to the shorts or the B-series of the 1930s. Adventure stories did great in the thirties, but detective stories and mysteries are for the most part, really bad.
It would take the film noir movement to elevate the detective story from obscure pulps to the general conscience. Most notably, 1941s “The Maltese Falcon” with its extraordinary cast.
So, I’m going out on a limb and say that when most of us think of pulp fiction, our minds are picturing scenes from a noir movie. In fact, I often saw the movie first and became curious as to what the author had written.
“Pulp PI – Investigator for Hire” from Two Hour Wargames is a quick playing game, which like a movie, uses a battle board to create scenes to tell a story. The rule book is only sixteen pages long including the Quick Reference Sheet at the back.
Setting up the Game
As with most Two Hour Wargames, the first part of the rules is on how to create your character and other characters (NPCs). This is followed by a short section of the rules covering questioning, shooting and fighting – the main ingredients for film noir, outside of lighting and camera angles. There are only a few encounters which you can draw upon to weave your story. There’s the usual Chillin’, Job Offer, Confrontation, Escort and Find. The Find encounter has a nice twist in that you can use it to gather clues to find a person or object.
For this review, I’ll play a quick encounter. When Ed sent me copies of the pulp titles to review, he asked if I liked pulp. I responded in a cheeky way that I liked hard boiled detectives and lesbian pulp stories from the 50s. He responded with “cool.” So that gave me an idea for a story.
“It’s a sorry way to make a living” thought Tom Sullivan as he shadowed the curvy blonde. I had only taken the job from Herbert van Fleet because I needed the money, I always needed money. Van Fleet was convinced his wife was seeing another man and he wanted proof.
Character creation in Pulp PI is much simpler than in other games. There are no attributes, no cheating death, no extraordinary effort, and even star power is different in that you can use it, but your character still gets beat up. One of the definitions of noir is that the story is about a guy with no future entangled with a dame down on her luck.
Proof was provided with pictures, the dirtier, the better. It wasn’t enough to snap a shot of the errant spouse having dinner with someone else. Often, I would take two pictures, one of an embrace or a kiss for the client and a second one taken during the “throes of passion.” This second picture was used to convince the errant spouse to behave.
In place of a fixed turn sequence or an action table, the game play revolves around two tables – Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk. Talk the Talk is used when questioning or interacting with other characters. Walk the Walk is used when talking breaks down. Intimidation, Breaking and Entering, Shooting, and Melee all occur as a part of walking the walk.
Playing the Game
The blonde, Mrs. van Fleet, turned onto a walk leading to what looked like a club of some sort. Though prohibition had been over for several years, the by-product was the transformation of speakeasies into private clubs. A bouncer stood at the door under a blue light screening people as they entered. Mrs. van Fleet met another woman, a perky young brunette, the two pecked one another on the cheeks as women do and then entered the club. The club was doing a brisk business as several men and women were in line to get in. I decided to try my luck, often greasing the bouncer’s palm with a sawbuck or two would get me in to these kinds of joints. As I drew near, I noticed the bouncer was a tall muscular woman in a dark pin-striped suit.
This is where I should have taken the rules’ suggestion, written in italics to make sure I saw it, and made my Star a Rep 5 character. But no, Ed got me with the very next sentence: “Want more of a challenge, start at Rep 4.” Being the same Rep as the bouncer, I lost the roll on the Talk the Talk table. As you can see from above, the bouncer is an “exotic” rather than a civilian, so losing on the Talk the Talk table means I now go to the Walk the Walk table.
“Whoa, big guy, you are in the wrong place,” said the bouncer, “you just turn around and go back the way you came.”
“Oh, come on, sugar, can’t you give a working man a break?” I asked while lifting my wallet from my coat pocket high enough for her to see.
“Unh, unh,” she said shaking her head and placing her hands in her pockets, “being a man is the problem.”
I heard feminine laughs around me and I turned to implore the men to join my cause. It was then, I realized the men in line were not men at all. A puzzled “What?” was all I could utter as I lost my breath. A punch to the gut doubled me over, the camera hidden in my coat fell to the ground. There were gasps as the bouncer grabbed my tie and straightened me up.
“You some kind of peeping Tom?” she growled. She pulled the tie where we were almost nose to nose. She pulled her arm back to deliver another blow. I saw the blue light glint off of metal, the dyke was using brass knuckles. With a sneer, she spat “Good night, asshole.” My world suddenly went pitch black.
I guess I don’t have to say I not only lost on the Walk the Walk table, but I did even worse on the Melee table.
Pulp PI Investigator for Hire is a very fast paced game. I know some of you are asking is it better than Larger than Life, or as good as New Hope City PI? Some of you are even turning up your noses and saying to yourselves “I could do the same thing with Chain Reaction.”
I think it is pretty much like comparing apples and oranges. All of these games are great. You know, there are times when I want to read a novel; there are times when I read a short story; and wonderful times when I read a comic book. Games are the same way.
Right now, I’m engaged in a map campaign using The Solo Wargaming Guide, Warrior Heroes Warbands, and Warrior Heroes Warring Fleets. I’m two weeks in and have yet to fight a single battle. It will probably take the rest of the year to play this campaign. In its own way it’s fun.
On the other hand, Pulp PI Investigator for Hire took about an hour to play. Spoiler alert, Mrs. van Fleet is having an affair after all, not with another woman, but with Tom Sullivan. It was also fun.
I didn’t even use miniatures or counters for this game. I used my keyboard, a pair of dice and my lurid imagination.
This is a fun quick game. I enjoyed letting my imagination run free. Let me know what do you think? And please, if you think all games should be a simulation – lighten up!