Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for May! There are tons of games out there, and as usual, it can be tough to narrow down to a reasonable number. This month I’m highlighting nine games and a tenth category, into which at least three of this month’s games fell. In thinking about this spread of projects, it made it clear to me that I needed to ask a very direct question: what makes a project stand out? What makes a game that can advance or expand the hobby? These ten games all provided a good answer to those questions, whether I’d choose to pick them up for my personal library or not.
Agents of Concordia has a fascinating premise. Set in an alternate 1960s, the characters are part of a multiversal nation called the UVA Concordia. Earth is under a protection order, but nefarious elements still slip through. As part of Concordia Central Intelligence, the characters will undertake missions, be they on Earth or in other parts of Concordia, to protect Concordia from mystical threats. Combining urban fantasy, spy fiction, and straight up sci-fi, Agents of Concordia provides a fascinating setting for players to mess around in. Backed by a relatively straightforward (and intriguingly, d12-based) system, the game should be easy enough to play while you’re trying to wrap your mind around the setting. A first Kickstarter outing for Strangewood Studios, it seems likely that Agents of Concordia could join the Swedish RPG renaissance and rub shoulders with greats like Mutant: Year Zero and Symbaroum.
“Yarn Quest is one part knitting pattern, one part Role-Playing Game, and one part Choose Your Own Adventure. Each quest is a knitting pattern, and as the player leads their character through the quest they come across enemies to battle, choices to make, and items that all influence the patterns knitted on the project. “
This is one of the most unique concepts I’ve seen in quite some time, and think it sounds positively fascinating. If you have an interest in knitting and gaming or know someone who does, point them to this game. Like when I covered Good Society back in February, this is a game with fairly narrow scope in terms of who will be interested. Nevertheless, it’s exactly the sort of crazy and novel design I’d like to see more of.
Overlight is a fantasy RPG that takes place in a world dramatically different than our own. The setting consists of seven ‘shards’, floating continents above an infinite sea. Each continent has its own color and its own ‘shard’, resulting in dramatically different playable cultures. The system looks compact, though typical, but the setting is what really piqued my interest. If you’re looking for something different or have had previous experiences with “out there” fantasy games like Skyrealms of Jorune, Overlight may be worth checking out.
An Atlas of the Horizons is a fantasy RPG with some interesting design choices going for it. First, the emphasis on a “fairy tale fantasy world” means that the setting tends toward the optimistic, which is a breath of fresh air among many of the emerging fantasy settings (save for, interestingly, D&D itself). The mechanics and character creation process seem to me to be reminiscent of Spellbound Kingdoms, creating specific options and maneuvers rather than generalizing everything. The mechanics, through the path options, also give emphasis to other abilities than raw combat ability or magic. An Atlas of the Horizons is treading in territory that, while not new, is still largely unexplored, and for that reason I have highlighted it here.
For some time, “RPG with Jenga Tower” meant Dread, the excellent horror game. Now, thanks to Bully Pulpit Games, publishers of Fiasco, there will be Star Crossed, a game of forbidden love for two players. Like in Fiasco, you act out scenes between your characters, who in this game are both drawn to each other and also have a powerful reason not to act on their feelings. But this is where the Jenga tower comes in. Each scene you pull a block from the tower. If the tower falls, your character gives in and acts on their feelings. If you make it to the end without the tower falling, your characters never act on how they feel, and the tension remains. Playtests have begun, and it looks like this game is new, potent, and fun. As One Shot’s James d’Amato puts it: “It’s one of those games that proves how beautiful roleplaying is as an art form. Also, there is kissing.” I’ve backed this game.
Aztec-inspired giant robots. Both unique and evocative, Nagual immediately grabbed me with that setting premise. The campaign is a little thin, but Little Red Goblin Games are established as developers of material for Paizo Publishing games (both Pathfinder and Starfinder), and have released original games before. It’s a bit more of a shot in the dark than some of the other campaigns, but if ‘Aztec Giant Robots’ interests you even slightly, it may be worth throwing some money at these guys and seeing what comes out.
Journey Away is a fantasy RPG that is unique because of how it structures encounters. Instead of being based on challenges which can be passed or failed, Journey Away has mechanics around story beats and finding out what happens. While PbtA is an RPG which is designed to encourage drama and emergent storytelling, Journey Away is very literally a story game, where the mechanics determine how the story is written. Coupled with narrative gameplay is a setting where magic has just appeared in the world, and the characters are villagers who wander off in search of adventure and answers. If you’re interested in narrative gaming Journey Away may be worth a look, it takes a much more deliberate approach to being a story game, and makes “play to find out what happens” a mechanical guarantee.
Wingless is a PbtA game with an intriguing premise: you play a guardian angel, with a ward who needs protecting. Your character must balance between protecting their ward from threats and dealing with dangers to themselves, all the while pondering the nature of their own death. Wingless sounds like it is going for a fairly narrow set of story beats, though this is in no way a bad thing: PbtA is an excellent platform for very focused games, as shown by Night Witches. More a specific set of stories than a genre game like Urban Shadows or The Veil, Wingless sounds like it’s an interesting design that hopefully builds on all the PbtA advances that have come before it.
Syystem currently looks a little rough around the edges. That said, there’s one rules conceit in here that’s incredibly cool. The setting of Syystem is one where the laws of nature themselves are starting to unravel. To reflect this, the game’s rules change, on the fly, a la Fluxx. I think this is an incredibly neat idea, especially for players who are already rules lawyers and system mastery types. The Syystem campaign and art needs some work, but the rules concepts are top-notch, and I hope that the designers continue to experiment with this idea. A good meta-RPG is missing from the hobby, and Syystem could be it with more polish.
BFF is an RPG of friendship and adventure, including a number of physical elements (charms, character standups, the like) and specific minigames for each “hangout”, or encounter. BFF is focused on friendships and relationship development, as opposed to violence, which is how “adventure” is often defined in other games. Stated to be appropriate for gamers of all ages, BFF looks like another solid entry in the RPG library for families and children, like Power Outage. I recommend anyone with young gamers in their life check it out.
The Others: Heartbreakers
Typically I look for ten solid RPGs every month which I want to see made. If it’s a slow month, I’ll find “honorable mentions”, supplements or play aids which do something interesting to advance the hobby. This month, I found more than ten games, and while some campaigns were clearly not up to snuff, there were also a number of games which, despite high production values, good campaigns, and obvious interest (at least a couple of them already funded), I could not get interested in. These games tended to focus around fantasy settings, with little detail about mechanics other than emphasis on certain design choices which are used in traditional RPGs. The settings themselves, while fully realized, didn’t strike me as unique or interesting. And this is why I label them heartbreakers. A fantasy heartbreaker may not be a bad game…but on Kickstarter, where the backers are bearing risk by funding your development and/or print run, they aren’t worth the money. If I can’t tell why your game is making the hobby better, I won’t cover it. It doesn’t have to be wholly original; Zweihander is a retroclone but the designers had a strong mission statement and their end product made a lot of WFRP fans (and others!) very happy. Fact is, there are tons of games out there. If your setting sounds like a rehash, or your mechanics describe something you think is novel but already exists in multiple systems, it’s probably not the sort of game I’m going to highlight or put money towards.
What a month this was! While fantasy RPGs overflow from all corners, we also have knitting, romance Jenga, a game whose rules change as you play it, and Aztec Giant Robots! Check out these games, and if you have the interest and wherewithal, back the projects and support the authors! Come back next month for the next batch of worthy projects!