Expendable: A Review of Feng Shui 2

I was instantly captivated when I first encountered the game Feng Shui back in 1999. Its unique innovations, such as the inclusion of mooks that go down in a single hit and a disregard for...

I was instantly captivated when I first encountered the game Feng Shui back in 1999. Its unique innovations, such as the inclusion of mooks that go down in a single hit and a disregard for ammunition, made it truly stand out. The combat revolved around pulling off incredible stunts rather than worrying about realism, and I thought to myself, "Finally, a role-playing game that captures the essence of action movies from my adolescence!" Now, years later, a sequel has emerged, ready to transport me back to that thrilling, over-the-top, Hong Kong-inspired action.

Unfortunately, while Feng Shui 2 does manage to evoke the spirit of the original, it fails to reach the same exhilarating heights. The issue lies in the fact that the first Feng Shui brought such groundbreaking innovations to the tabletop gaming industry that other games have since integrated them into their mechanics. What was once revolutionary has now become commonplace.

The core mechanic of Feng Shui 2 involves adding and subtracting six-sided dice, applying various fun "schticks" that essentially translate into arithmetic modifiers. It then becomes a matter of comparing numbers against each other and transforming them into a kung fu narrative. However, when I think of games that can execute this mechanic more effectively, names like Savage Worlds, Apocalypse World, and Fate Core spring to mind. Compared to these giants, the original Feng Shui, though light and fluid back then, now feels as outdated as a Chuck Norris videotape. Instead of modernizing the game to align with current RPG design, Feng Shui 2 stubbornly clings to its original mechanics, hoping that the novelty and nostalgia of its setting and subject matter will suffice for success. This begs the question: why create a second edition at all? Why not simply reprint the first edition?

If Feng Shui 2's purpose was solely to give the original game a fresh coat of paint, then publisher Atlas Games has undoubtedly achieved their goal. The new edition boasts a stunning visual presentation, with over 350 pages of vibrant full-color art and a lively layout, a far cry from the black-and-white columns of its predecessor. The intentionally ludicrous setting remains intact—a "Chi War" spanning four different eras, allowing game groups to seamlessly combine Wushu sorcerers, 90's cyborgs, and 80's blue-collar heroes. It's as over-the-top as it was when the game first debuted in 1996.

The collaboration of two brilliant minds in the industry, Robin Laws and Cam Banks, resulted in the creation of Feng Shui 2. As much as I wanted to fall in love with the final product, it feels more like a studio-backed, more-of-the-same reboot rather than a radical reinvention or thoughtful modernization. Perhaps that was the intention all along. Nevertheless, Feng Shui 2 ultimately disappoints, leaving me to question why this product needed to be made in the first place. If you're genuinely nostalgic for 80s/90s-style action, I recommend playing the original Feng Shui or exploring various modern systems that excel in capturing that same essence, such as Cortex Plus or a modified version of Gumshoe. Feng Shui 2 serves as a reminder, once again, that sometimes a sequel is simply unnecessary.

Picture Tag: fengshui2_cover_final Caption: The cover of Feng Shui 2

My copy of Feng Shui 2 was provided for review.

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