Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk! The month of June was an embarrassment of riches for RPG Kickstarters, but I’ve taken on the sobering duty of narrowing the month down to my top ten projects. Here you see some inventive games, some games by rising stars in game design, and some games that just need to be seen. Check it out!
Is It A Plane is a Supers game with a clever core conceit: instead of rolling dice to determine outcomes, players must draw their actions, as if putting together comic panels. Varying amounts of time (from thirty seconds to three minutes) can make the game crazy and frenetic, and at the end you have a set of crazy comic illustrations of your adventure. This is a neat take on the supers genre, complete with some meta-mechanics for messing with comic panels and giving more drawing time or chances. Anyone interested in Supers or breaking the Fourth Wall should check this out.
Dream Askew / Dream Apart comes from Avery Alder, the immensely capable designer of both The Quiet Year and Monsterhearts. Both games are tied together, mechanically, by being about communities of outsiders in precarious situations. The game is diceless and GM-less, but has a Moves structure clearly inspired by Apocalypse World and designed to introduce conflict. The settings drive the feel of the game, like many PbtA games: Dream Askew is about a queer enclave in an apocalyptic world, while Dream Apart, written in the engine by Benjamin Rosenbaum, is about a Jewish shtetl. Both settings have the potential to help produce evocative stories, and I’m looking forward to seeing how.
Galloping Stars is the latest in an intriguing subgenre of role-playing games: Games with ponies. Trotting in the footsteps of games and settings like Ponyfinder and Tales of Equestria, Galloping Stars takes ponies (and unicorns, pegasi, sphinxes, among others) to the stars, moving pony play into the science fiction realm. Using the stat-driven incrementing dice MAGICAL system (think an acronym like SPECIAL, only more MAGICAL), the game provides a simple way to take the setting of My Little Pony (because, let’s be honest, even if the serial numbers are filed off it’s still pretty clear) to the stars.
SuperAge is a Supers game using a modified version of PbtA called Advantage6, or A6 for short. The logic behind modifying the system makes good sense: PbtA creates sequences of rising tension and danger, which don’t necessarily work for Supers, especially four-color Supers. If Masks is a game about teenage heroes and their trials and tribulations, SuperAge is a game about the Superman and Wonder Woman of the world, dealing with cosmic power and cosmic threats. SuperAge also adds more delineated combat rules to a PbtA framework, appropriate for comic-style superbattles. A6 is another hack of PbtA in the mechanical style of Blades in the Dark, and I’m looking forward to see how more of these mix-and-match rulesets evolve.
Following in the footsteps of heavy hitters like Atomic Robo and the Dresden Files RPG, Tachyon Squadron is the latest RPG based on the Fate system being published by Evil Hat themselves. The main expansions to the Fate corpus included a detailed spaceship combat system, and rules towards creating a military sci-fi feel. Tachyon Squadron is rules-complete, so backers can get a PDF of the rules text as soon as they pledge.
Triumvene is a game system designed for broad, narrative encounters. What most intrigued me was the description of the game as “Impressionist”; while the setting provides broad strokes, each individual group is encouraged to fill in the details for themselves. The game provides a 3 act, 15 scene main story, but is designed in such a way that groups can intersect with this narrative as much or as little as they wish. Combine this with narrative mechanics and a creative science fantasy setting, and Triumvene has made quite an impression on me.
The Mountain Witch was originally written by Timothy Kleinert for the Game Chef competition in 2004. Though it didn’t win, it was met with critical acclaim, and has been cited as an influence by such designers as Jason Morningstar and Vincent Baker. Now, Kleinert is making a second edition of The Mountain Witch, and bringing it to a broader audience of gamers. 14 years later, this game of Ronin in a mythical version of medieval Japan will likely entertain, intrigue, and inspire a whole new set of gamers.
Inspired by worldbuilding games like Avery Alder’s The Quiet Year, Gather takes place in the shadow of the Evertree, a world tree which establishes the core of the setting. Using Question cards, the players must establish facts of their world through consensus, then having opportunities to expand on the answers only after the primary answer is given. Combining collaborative worldbuilding with a set of rules and customs for the “Gather” which the players are participating in seems likely to produce a uniquely challenging game.
Champions Now is many things. It’s a retroclone of the first three generations of Champions, one of the original Supers games from the 1980s. It’s a new outing for Ron Edwards, a game designer made famous by his website, The Forge. But most important, it’s a sign of Old-School gaming movements breaking away from D&D and fantasy. While Champions evolved into the hugely influential Hero System, Edwards aims to recapture the potent elements of the original Champions which were left behind by the design direction Hero System took.
Quest is built on a familiar fantasy adventure archetype, but designed to be simple and straightforward. Skills and magical abilities are listed on cards, making character creation and tracking easy and intuitive. Quest is also aiming for a very different intent with the design of its rulebook, moving away from textbook-like referencing and towards a format that’s more narrative. Quest is a project where the execution is much more interesting than the setting (or even the ruleset), and I look forward to seeing where these design decisions go.
Party Fowl is not an RPG, rather a board game where you try to be the coolest (drunk) ducks at the party. What makes this notable is that it’s the latest project from Caleb Stokes, designer of the incredible Red Markets. Even with the dramatic departure in both format and subject matter, I’m looking forward to seeing any project which Caleb directs his design chops towards.
It was a good month on the Kickstarter front, and there were some solid games outside of these selections. While in past months I’ve found dismaying trends or really incomplete or underwhelming campaigns, this month I saw a pretty solid level of quality across the board. There were a lot of games I didn’t include that still looked solid, including some more hits on Viking themes, some other second editions of good releases, and as usual, a bunch of supplements, including some cool stuff for both 5e and Starfinder. But when it comes to the best new games coming out, I think I’ve captured the key additions to the Kickstarter universe. Questions? Comments? Think I’m wrong? Let us know in the comments below!