Mini-Review: Swords Without Master

There’s a dichotomy in the range of RPGs: if combat is important to a game, it must be tactically deep, and therefore long and complicated; alternately, if combat is resolved quickly and without fuss, then it can’t be a game where combat is important or satisfying. In an age where even the most action-packed movie blockbusters are still 75% “talky bits”, rarely is it considered that games about violence should resolve that action with a fast pace that matches the narration.

Swords Without Master is an exception. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Dungeon World

Dungeon World is not a fantasy adaptation of Apocalypse World. Key elements of the fantasy genre, such as mass battles or courtly dramas, go entirely unaddressed within its pages. Instead, Dungeon World is a D&D adaptation of Apocalypse World, meaning it’s about adventurers going on dungeon crawls and not a lot else. That’s hard for me to review, because whilst I love Apocalypse World, I don’t love D&D… and I suspect that the bits of Dungeon World I find most obnoxious will be the bits most celebrated by its intended market. Continue reading

Review Policy

Just a short update. I’ve done some tidying up on the site, which has included updating my review policy, for people who wonder where I derive the justification to pass judgement on other people’s games (nowhere, really). If you want a neater list of the reviews I’ve done so far, or are interested in submitting your games for me to review, you can check out that review policy here.

Hope to have something more substantial next week!

Mini-Review: Only War

Every time I return to the 40K RPG after playing something else, my dismay at its slow, dated, overdesigned combat system increases. How much can I forgive this game for, when the only reason I’m playing is that I’m a Warhammer fanboy? Turns out quite a lot. Dark Heresy Second Edition might represent the system at its most elegant (or perhaps just “most sensible”), but Only War’s focus on the soldiers of the Imperial Guard is surely the best representation of the 40K setting. Back on the battlefield, but without sacrificing humanity to get there, this is what the Grim Darkness of the Far Future is all about. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Microscope

Let’s skip over the question of whether Microscope counts as a “roleplaying game”, so-argued because players assume the perspective of detached observers, and only rarely historical participants. Whatever your definition of “RPG”, world building has always been a part of it, and collaborative world building the very best way to engender mutual investment in a setting. Given that is Microscope’s raison d’être, it’s no surprise it does this extremely well. There’s a reason this has become the go-to setting generator for “proper RPGs”. Continue reading

Cars Don’t Fly: A Furious Game Jam Review

I recently entered Ryan’s Macklin’s Furious Game Jam with a hack of Night’s Black Agents, titled “2 Nights 2 Agents”. (You can read my hack here.)

One of the competition’s rules is that, in order to be in the running for winning, you have to playtest someone else’s entry. Since winning is the most important thing in the world, I was prompted to try out “Cars Don’t Fly” by Adam Shwaninger, a game which the author describes as “The demon lovechild of Hollowpoint and Uno, welded together and thrown out of airplane.”

This is how we got on! Continue reading

Mini-Review: Hillfolk

Hillfolk is difficult to play, but difficult does not necessarily mean bad. Whilst not crunchy, game sessions often devolve into lengthy interpretations of mechanical terms, especially what constitutes “an emotional concession”.  That’s a turn off for players who like to be perpetually in-character, but debating the thoughts, feelings and emotional needs of a player character IS roleplay. It’s just not the kind you see in most RPGs. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Psi*Run

When people talk about “empowerment” in RPGs, they usually mean giving players the ability to own their successes, but I think it’s more important for players to own their failures. When I screw up, I want to know why, and how I can maintain some control regardless; or better yet, know that the failure was MY FAULT, so I can learn from the experience and do better next time. Psi*Run embodies this with one of the most beautifully elegant core resolution mechanics in the history of roleplaying. When you act, you don’t roll individually to see if you succeeded, if you were hurt, or if your superpowers remain stable. Instead, you roll EVERYTHING, all at once, and CHOOSE where to assign successes and failures. Never has a game delivered such power to the players whilst trapping them in awful lose-lose situations. It’s both a delightful and agonising challenge. Continue reading