The Powered by the Apocalypse system, Vince Baker’s revolutionary game design paradigm originally showcased in Apocalypse World, has become a big of a mixed blessing: while it inspired games like Monsterhearts (which is incredibly important to me as it massively changed how I play and think about roleplaying games), it seems like lots of people are trying to make PbtA games without really thinking about what that means. The virtue of PbtA is that is can emulate a specific combination of genre, emotional intensity and surprising twists like no other system that currently exists. At the same time, it just doesn’t work for everything. It shouldn’t – it’s not a generic system. It’s pretty much the opposite of that. There are some great places to look for systems that can be hacked into whatever shape you like: Fate if you want high-action, minimal changes; Cortex for something more tailored to genre emulation; Hillfolk for high-drama big-picture plots.
So when I hear ‘it’s x done in PbtA’, my heart sinks a little. Will it disappoint me? My ears prick up. Will it have mechanics I really want to get my teeth into?
The Secrets of Cats by Richard Bellingham is an excellent setting for Fate, part of their Worlds of Fate series (which, by the way, is generally wonderful, as they’re really committing to their Open Gaming Licence and promoting lesser-known designers with innovative uses for the system). The characters are all cats who belong to a secret cat society that guards and watches over humans, their ‘Burdens’, using sacrificial magic, territory and occult know-how. If that didn’t already make you excited about this game, you’re probably a lost cause for this review, because this game fully embraces the concept. Less horrifying than Bunnies and Burrows, more heroic than Another Fine Mess, it’s a sweet and occasionally brutal game of animals who are willing to risk anything to save those they love. Continue reading
Definitely not a Molly Ringwald film – instead, an innovative horror game that was nominated for several categories at the ENnies (though sadly did not win).
Ten Candles is a game I supported on Kickstarter a couple of years ago and mostly forgot about. I mainly went in on it because of its core mechanic: games take place by the light of ten candles (with optional extra lighting, obviously), each of which darkens as the game goes on. When all the candles are out, the game ends. It certainly caught my attention, plus the tagline was ‘A storytelling game of tragic horror’. So, y’know, my kind of thing. I’m actually really pleased I backed it on a whim, because it’s brought up some great concepts. Continue reading
Breaking the Ice by Emily Care Boss is a two-player game that tells the story of a relationship through its rocky start into a bright future. I was initially dubious about this game, as I felt that it would inevitably be awkward and weird to play, provoking lots of trashy novel descriptions and stilted, melodramatic dialogue, but I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s fresh, fun and opens a dialogue right from the start about comfort levels. Continue reading
Monsterhearts is one of those games that’s acquired a sort of mythic status (certainly where I live). It’s known for being emotionally powerful, excellent for genre emulation and potentially hugely variable depending on the campaign. Maybe that’s just in my friends’ circle, but there are good reasons for this reputation. Continue reading
I have spent a long time saying I wanted to play Annalise and never getting around to it, another trophy from the Bundle of Holding. I’m a huge fan of the Gothic and of vampire stories, and Annalise is a fascinating take in a potentially over-populated genre. Continue reading