There is only one way to start this review. There is one quote from Feng Shui 2 that truly encapsulates the entire feeling of the game:
“Any seriously gun-oriented character should be going through expensive firearms like facial tissue.”
In all seriousness, this is a game where anything can happen and the bullets don’t matter. If you can justify it, the Game Moderator will probably let you try it. I played a game in which a player got thrown through a restaurant lobster tank and proceeded to use the lobsters as vicious thrown weapons, and it worked.
Let’s back up a bit. Feng Shui 2 is a game about and in the world of classic Hong Kong action movies, with everything from street gangs to sorcerers and beyond. In Hong Kong anything can, and often does, happen. Explosions are epic, guns are plentiful, and ammunition is effectively unlimited. As long as you understand that, as a player, the rest of the game mechanics are almost secondary. You can pick up a pre-generated archetype and a pair of dice, and be playing in no time at all. In fact, the “Rules Briefing” part of the book is a whopping 4 pages and with a knowledgeable GM at the helm, you can probably get away with the half-page column about using dice. In fact, I bet I can distill it down even further.
In Feng Shui 2, players have two regular six-sided dice, each a different colour. One colour will always be a positive result, the other a negative result. Roll the dice and find the difference between them. If the positive die was higher, the result is positive. If the negative die was higher, the result is negative. (Weird how that works, hey?) Either way, the resulting number is called the Swerve. Your Swerve is added to (or subtracted from) the character’s Action Value for the stat in question and compared to the Difficulty set by the GM. Everything else comes down to narrating a good action sequence. Not even narrate a good story (although that certainly helps) but narrate a good ACTION sequence. Think about those over the top, impossible-in-real-life, sequences in movies like The Matrix. (Is referencing The Matrix even a thing I can do without sounding old and uncool?)
When I said “You can pick up a pre-generated archetype and a pair of dice, and be playing in no time at all.” I wasn’t exaggerating. The first sub-heading in the character creation section is “Hit The Ground Running”. You can quite literally grab one of the 36 (yes, 36) pre-gen archetypes and go. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also stretch your creative brain-muscles by personalizing your character. It’s fairly valid to say that details are important in a roleplaying game. You know, like having a name…
Speaking of names, as the name Feng Shui 2 implies, this isn’t the first edition of Feng Shui. Atlas Games acquired Feng Shui in 1999 and released a ton of great material. Feng Shui 2 is a different game, but not so different that the first edition can’t be converted easily, giving an extra boost to available materials for new soldiers in the Chi War. Wait, the Chi War? The “Chi War” is basically the overall setting that uses time travel to mix and match characters and themes from across the spectrum of Hong Kong movies. It’s set up in such a way that players can (normally) only travel to specific time periods. Junctures (as they are called) regularly lead to four eras: Ancient (640, Tang Dynasty era), Past (1850, European Colonial era), Contemporary (now-ish), and the Future (2074). “Pop up junctures” will occasionally appear, leading to other times as well, as needed for the GM’s story. This allows the game to seemly blend swords and sorcery with machine-guns and machines.
Okay, hold on. Confession time. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game of Feng Shui 2 that even comes close to touching on the Chi War. It’s not that all those Junctures aren’t ridiculously cool, it’s more that having a contemporary setting where anything can happen is something fresh and even cooler for me and my players. I can play Sorcerers in more systems than I can count. I can play Supernatural Creatures and even variations on the Transformed Animal in more than a few systems (although both are way cooler in FS2). There’s just something extra satisfying in creating a world just like our own, but without the same emotional weight that we face on a daily basis.
Feng Shui 2 is a near-perfect game. It’s fast to learn and easy to play, with high octane action, presented with tongue firmly in cheek. It is honestly one of my favourite RPGs of all time, and as of a few months ago it’s back in print. So go pick up a copy and prepare yourself for a masterclass in “Butt, Kicking of”.