Power-fantasies are prevalent in roleplaying, but it’s not my cup of tea. Maybe it’s a British thing, but if my character is showered in glory after triumphing against impossible odds, I’ll find no satisfaction unless I suffered through hell first. Paranoia: High Programmers understands this. It’s playable as a standalone game, sure, but it’s best enjoyed by those who’ve already suffered through the nightmarish hilarities of the Paranoia universe before. Yet being in charge in Alpha Complex remains no insulation from jealous underlings, scheming rivals, or the insanity of your overlord Friend Computer.
In each game the PCs are summoned to deal with a crisis. You quarrel about how to expend limited resources on a range of available minion types, the little guys who actually (theoretically) solve the crisis, whilst the PCs sit at home eating all the pies. You are also buried under a mountain of secret missions from your political allies, agendas you covertly funnel resources into to complete, whilst preventing other PCs from doing the same.
Most sessions start with relatively sensible suggestions for solving the crisis, which are immediately vetoed by players who know the obvious approach interferes with their secret missions. Most sessions end with an utterly ludicrous (if hilarious) “solution”, stitched together like Frankenstein’s Monster to complete as many secret missions as possible; by now, you’ve worked out the only way the other players will accept your absurd demands is if you agree to theirs as well. If, along the way, a PC is framed by the rest of the party and executed for treason, that’s an added bonus.
High Programmers is designed for campaign play. All the rewards for completing secret missions only pay off in future sessions. It’s a shame, because one-offs would seem the perfect vehicle for something this silly (as in Troubleshooters). In a campaign, where the stakes are really high and the pressure of lying to your friends unrelenting, things can be unpleasantly intense.
Luckily, the game relieves this burden with humour. Though the rulebook is overrun with formatting errors, inconsistencies and typos, it’s also rich in the comedy of Paranoia’s setting, and reflects that in both artwork and text. If your gaming group is confident the fun of Alpha Complex will win out over the unyielding pressure and sporadic unfairness of the actual mechanics, then High Programmers has plenty to recommend. Everyone else should at least be wary.
(I never review a game I haven’t played or run. Check out https://michaelduxbury.com/category/reviews/ for more RPG reviews.)