Welcome to this month’s edition of Kickstarter Wonk! There is tons going on in March, so strap in. We have a baker’s dozen of games on tap right now, and I couldn’t cover every game being offered! In addition to that, there’s a game that squeaked in under the wire (their campaign ends the afternoon of the post date, March 7th), but was too neat to ignore. Let’s check out the wealth of new games we have on tap this month.
Hack the Planet is the newest entry from Samjoko Publishing, the two brother outfit of Fraser and Kyle Simons best known currently for The Veil, a PbtA Cyberpunk game I’ve gushed about on several occasions. Hack the Planet is also a Cyberpunk game, but instead of focusing around questions of reality and virtual reality it focuses on questions of climate change and human impacts to our planet. Also, it is an early game using the “Forged in the Dark” label to describe its derivation from John Harper’s hit Blades in the Dark. Hack the Planet looks like an intriguing addition to the Cyberpunk RPG corpus, and it’s being written by a designer who already has a Cyberpunk RPG under his belt. Not only am I recommending you check it out and back it, I already did at the hardcopy level.
HP Lovecraft Preparatory Academy wins the “best name” competition for this month’s Kickstarter Wonk. Not only is HPL Prep immediately evocative, but it looks like the game does exactly what it says on the tin: characters are students at a prep school for those with supernatural powers. The game is clearly going for a “Harry Potter meets Cthulhu” vibe, but is leaning a little closer to Scooby Doo than Defense Against the Dark Arts. The rules are derived from the PDQ system, and designed to be run as a sandbox within a typical New England Prep School campus. I’ve saved this project; while it isn’t in my typical wheelhouse (unlike Hack the Planet: Cyberpunk games can sometimes cause me to hit the “Back this Project” button so fast you’d swear I had boosted reflexes) it sounds like a load of fun. The idea of a campus-sized sandbox also intrigues me; running a highly contained sandbox is on my list of games I want to run. If you want to back this, the PDF-only tier is a reasonable $15.
Cartel is a Powered by the Apocalypse game where you play “bold narcos, naïve spouses, and dirty cops tied to the Sinaloa drug cartel.” Written by Mark Diaz Truman, Cartel is the most recent game to come out of the Magpie Games crew, which includes Truman, Brendan Conway, author of Masks, Marissa Kelly, author of Epyllion, and a number of other highly regarded authors from PbtA and Fate orbits. As you’d expect from a seasoned Kickstarter-driven publisher, the campaign is clear, high-quality, and provides links to reviews and actual play content. This looks like an intriguing game, and I’ve saved it to review and possibly fund later.
Protocol is a system for running GM-less fantasy games, and the Protocol Fantasy Omnibus is a collection of 15 of these games in one volume. From reading the description, Protocol sounds a little like fantasy Fiasco, and has me quite intrigued. Ten of the games in the omnibus have been released before as standalone PDFs, while the other five are completely new. If you like Fiasco, Microscope, and other GM-less games and want to look at using a similar framework for fantasy games, Protocol seems like a great place to start. $17 gets you the PDF; I’ve saved this one and may decide to fund it later.
This is a licensed Princess Bride RPG. I am a little gobsmacked, given the extreme narrowness of said license, but here you go. This game is based on Fudge, and the team has been working with Steffan O’Sullivan, the original designer of Fudge and a Steve Jackson Games alum of some repute. In addition to the well-qualified design team, Toy Vault has a good reputation on Kickstarter, and the team is providing quickstart rules as well. The $25 PDF price is high, but with the inclusion of free quickstart rules I am willing to overlook that, also given the design chops that are making it into the book. My thoughts? If you want a Princess Bride RPG, this is the one to go for. If you’re a fan of Fudge and have been disappointed by the lack of official Fudge-based games, you should support this too. As for me, I don’t get it…but I am convinced the game will be high quality, even if it’s not aimed at me.
Tiny Wastelands is a post-apocalyptic game based on the TinyD6 system. TinyD6 is a stripped down system using three d6s, and defining characters using archetypes, traits, and favored weapons. It’s designed to be quick to play, quick to learn, and quick to run. Tiny Wastelands, in addition to including what you need to run a TinyD6 post-apocalyptic game, adds settlement mechanics in the form of the Enclave deck, which offers some structure and random conflict generation to this stripped down game. There are also vehicle and scavenging rules as well. This game has already made 400% of its initial goal, and the $10 PDF buy-in is reasonable (though the book size is conceded to be small). If you like post-apocalyptic settings and are looking for something quick and dirty to run without much prep, Tiny Wastelands should do the trick nicely.
Era: the Empowered is a d10-based supers RPG. As one can tell from the description of the dice mechanic as well as the name, it cribs heavily from White Wolf Storyteller games. This one has a twist, though, focusing on a palette of superheroic powers through what the authors describe as a “Power Tree” mechanic. While I’m not a big supers guy, this game looks well developed and there are examples of both character creation and play to give you a better idea of what the game entails. The core PDF is available at a reasonable $15 pledge level.
Devil’s Run is a post-apocalyptic RPG based on the Devil’s Run board game. It’s also being dual-statted in Savage Worlds and 2d20, the Modiphius house system. I have not played the Devil’s Run board game, but Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic carnage is generally a good look, and if the board game succeeded enough to merit an RPG companion, all the better. Devil’s Run is also the first third party 2d20 product I’m aware of; I’m curious to see how things turn out and how Modiphius is to work with as a licensor. £10 (about $14) gets you the core PDF.
Far Away Land is a light science fantasy setting that, at first blush, appears to be trying to make an unholy hybrid of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Adventure Time. Now, if you don’t think that sounds as awesome as it does, you may just not be a very interesting person. It does appear that this is a reorganization and re-release of Far Away Land, which gives me confidence that the project will be finished…it also means there are reviews of the original game, which the creators link to. Quick start rules are also available if you’re interested in learning more about their d6-based system. I was a little annoyed that the names of the books don’t correspond to what they are (for anyone who clicks through, “Tome of Awesome” is the core rules, so you do get it at the first pledge level), but that is a minor complaint. The core book PDF is $15, and a bundle of all five books is $50. Worth checking out.
Liminal is a supernatural investigation game, where characters are liminals, stuck between the mortal and magical realms. The setting sounds fascinating, ostensibly based on British and Irish folklore and more obviously taking inspiration from books like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The one thing about this campaign that I see as a problem is that the rules are never described, beyond being a “traditional” RPG (and the quotes are theirs, not mine). The setting and the premise sound fascinating, but underneath all that text, the actual described product is thin. Still, this game looks well-developed, and even without system information it could be worth taking the plunge. £8 (about $11) gets you the PDF.
Necromech is an alternate history RPG taking place after World War II. The game is definitively dieselpunk, with some neat tech, psionics, and other supernatural elements. None of this is what makes the game truly interesting, however. Necromech is being offered as an “augmented RPG”, with all content available through a digital subscription service and continually updated. It’s an interesting idea, though one that at the MSRP the Necromech team is implying ($100 a year, ouch) will almost certainly not fly. However, a $15 pledge gets you three months of access, and any pledge down to $1 gets you access to the content for the duration of the Kickstarter (until March 28th). I’m not quite ready to leap into this brave new world of content delivery myself, but I think the Necromech team has given a wide range of options at reasonable prices for gamers to check out what they’re offering.
Superlatives looks to be a simple superheroes RPG, offered at a very low price. I’m unsure if the campaign includes the price for professional editing and layout, which, considering the block of text the campaign starts with, could be really bad. Still, a $4 PDF of a game with some neat ideas may still be worth it.
Capers is another supers game. Well, it’s not just another supers game. This game takes place during Prohibition, and mixes superpowers with bootlegging, all tied together with a playing card based system intended to evoke speakeasies and underground gambling. I’m not necessarily a fan of throwing out dice for the sake of being different, but Unbound did it pretty well and Capers seems to be going for the right angle by emphasizing the gambling and atmospheric aspects rather than any statistical advantage of cards. There are quickstart rules, but they’re locked until the game funds…so someone has to take the gamble, so to speak. Fortunately, Capers was recently featured on the One Shot Podcast, so there’s some (admittedly fast and loose) actual play to give you an idea of how it works. James d’Amato seems to be a fan, and that’s good enough for me. A $15 pledge not only gets you the PDF but also at-cost printing codes for books as well. That’s a great deal, though there’s nothing cheaper for any skinflints in the crowd.
There are other games here which I didn’t cover. These were games which, for whatever reason, didn’t resonate with me. Either the game didn’t seem to do anything new or the Kickstarter campaign was poorly written, such that I couldn’t fairly assume the game would be any better. The biggest issues in these excluded campaigns included clarity, formatting, and copyright. In leaner months I’ll cover everything anyway, but March has so many games that I wanted to emphasize those which looked neat and interesting. As always, I was looking for new games specifically…there were really cool settings and supplements (some I backed, even) out there this month, but unless the Kickstarter campaign is for a complete game it’s not going to show up on Kickstarter Wonk.
A few standouts this month: first, Hack the Planet, which I’ve already backed and am looking forward to. Second, Protocol, a neat set of GM-less fantasy scenarios that I’m strongly considering backing. Third, Cartel, another solid PbtA game from Magpie Games, a great crew of designers and contributors. Last but not least, HP Lovecraft Preparatory Academy, which not only looks great but ends soon! After this article comes out you only have seven hours (until 4:30 on March 7th!!) if you want to back this game. Otherwise, hope they accept Backerkit preorders, because I think there’s a lot of you that will find that game fun. Any I’ve missed? Standouts you’re interested in? Let me know! Until next month, keep your eyes peeled and hold onto your wallet!