Happy Hanukkah from Kickstarter Wonk! While it’s early for most people’s holiday season, there is still a dedicated group of designers out bringing their games to life on Kickstarter, waiting for a hearty Chag Sameach from your pledges. This month wasn’t too heavily populated, as is to be expected for the holiday season, but there were still a wide variety of excellent games available. Whether you’re looking for hard sci-fi or mythology or just a quick RPG party game, this month’s crop of games has got you covered.
From the mind of Greg Stolze, designer of Reign, Unknown Armies, and others, comes Termination Shock, a sci-fi game in a setting of his own making. With actual plays and fiction already available (and linked in the campaign), there is no absence of background material to show what’s going on: hard sci-fi complete with rogue AIs and a heavy dash of transhumanism, heavily complicated by aliens sent to ‘rescue’ humanity, with uneven results. For rules, Stolze has moved away from his famous One-Roll Engine which powers Reign and Unknown Armies to a three-dice mechanic that’s intended to pack a lot of information into every roll. Stolze’s game design resume is impressive, and him working on something other than ORE is worth noting. $10 gets you the PDF, and the campaign has tons of background if you’re on the fence.
Nibiru is another sci-fi game, taking place on a massive space station in a far-flung star system. The focus of characters, though, is on memories, and each player-character comes from a different ‘habitat’ on the station which affects how they form and access memories. Instead of skills, these memories impact each character’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing players to shape their characters and their abilities in play. Beyond this, memories can also serve as Revelations, where the content of the memory has a stronger impact on the story because of new consequences for their use. 20 pounds (roughly $25) will get you the PDF, and there is a quickstart guide to read before you decide.
Demigod is a mythic fantasy game, like a Godbound or Exalted, but with a twist. The characters in Demigod are based on actual demigods, mythic characters from 13 different pantheons. The game notes many different legendary characters, as well as myths and legends to use in storytelling…it also mentions freeform character creation, implying that there is a mode of play outside using extant demigods. All in all the fiction of the project is very ambitious, and I’m excited to see how existing and player-driven myth come together here. $15 will get you a PDF copy, and there is a demo to check out first. I will also note that the campaign is not currently promising a print copy; that’s a stretch goal. This is a smart move for smaller campaigns which may or may not break even on a print run!
Vindeon started as a labor of love by a group of Swedish high schoolers back in 2004. Now, after years of playtesting and successfully executing a previous Kickstarter, these designers want to bring their passion project to life. Vindeon may not be the most innovative game on Kickstarter, but unlike many heartbreakers there’s an economy of rules here indicative of what these designers had fun playing. This humble campaign has already funded, so it may be worth it for fans of fantasy games and Swedish RPGs to check it out. 200SEK (or about $22) gets you a PDF.
Never Tell Me The Odds is a game about space scoundrels, as you might have been able to tell from the title. However, this game is set apart from other space scoundrel type games by its simple mechanic which is designed perfectly for immense drama. Your scoundrel has no numerical stats; they are only defined by what is most important to them. When you need to make a check, the odds (ironically) are always the same: 50/50. What makes each roll different is what you’re willing to risk to succeed. Bet big, win big…but fall hard if you don’t. Simple and brutal, the game will quickly create a story to satisfy the Han Solo or Mal Reynolds in your heart. $5 gets a PDF of this one, and you can check out the free playtest version as well.
Thematically an expansion to Mutant: Year Zero, Mutant: Elysium is a standalone game about the time immediately following the apocalypse. Four merchant dynasties build an underground enclave called Elysium, designed to survive nuclear winter. The interesting aspects of this story come out in part when you understand the role that Enclave humans play in the broader Mutant: Year Zero universe. Ultimately, regardless of the struggles within Elysium, the Enclave Humans don’t come out on the right side of history, and given the nature of Elysium itself that raises some interesting questions. This is probably an easy back for Mutant: Year Zero fans. As someone who has not yet played Mutant: Year Zero, I find this a difficult starting point, but reading the lore has gotten me more interested in the base game. $28 gets you the PDF…a bit of a high cost of entry, but given the legacy of the Mutant game, I’m not as concerned here for the value of both the core book and the eventual add-ons.
Let me start here: “New breed of tabletop game”? “Groundbreaking”? Jeez, guys, you’re laying it on thick. That said, Emberwind looks intriguing, being a modular fantasy game where each group can figure out what additional rules to bolt in. Looking at the example content in the Kickstarter reveals some really neat tactical gaming designs, with monsters that have semi-random maneuver blocks and PCs with highly delineated ability breakdowns. If any of you really enjoyed the mechanical intention of 4e, this might be a fascinating game for you. In fact, anyone who likes crunch or tactical combat should probably check this out. As a note, though…I was ready to hate this game from the subheading. Hyperbole is the realm of heartbreakers, and I was genuinely surprised to see this game has so much more going for it. $24 gets you the PDF for this well-done project without too many peers, which should definitely consider toning down the first paragraph of its campaign.
After the War is described as a “game of memetic horror”, and while the premise of this galactic-scale apocalypse is intriguing, it’s hard to describe. Nonetheless, the aftermath of “The Song” leads the game to start on the frontier world of Polvo, where each character is a part of a settlement trying to rebuild after the Galactic War. Like The Quiet Year, After the War focuses on community, though the existence of the many horrors from the war also force the characters to look without as well as within. Horror is a strong element here, and the game looks to have a focus on characters banding together against what still wants to destroy them. $5 gets you a PDF of this one, and there is also a free quickstart.
FlipTales is unique because it’s both a game for all ages but also structured to be an easy and fun party game, resolving its single session of play fairly quickly. Each player chooses one creature card (like humanoid, wingoid, and insectoid) and one ability card (like Inventor, Shadow Mage, and Botanist), and from there the group responds to adventure prompts from Story Books, akin to the gamebooks of yore like Fighting Fantasy. The game engages RPG mechanics but does so in a straightforward and fun way, while remaining expandable by using Fiasco-like modules to drive actual adventures. FlipTales could be an easy and light party game, or a great way to introduce RPGs to children who may be too young to understand the mechanics of D&D. $5 gets you the PDF, and there are several Actual Plays to check out in the campaign, including one from One Shot. There is also, as is the case in many fine Kickstarters, a free quickstart.
Become is an investigation game with a twist. In Become, each character is an AI who is tasked with solving a Mystery about their city. After the GM sets up the Mystery, the characters must work together, figuring out hidden truths not only about their city but also the nature of themselves and their programming. While there are five program types which define each character’s starting point, their programming will adapt and change through the course of the game, adding more intrigue to the mystery. The dice pool system sounds interesting, though the description of “construct[ing] a pool of possible opportunities and consequences” is not nearly enough for me to grok how the game is played just yet. Nonetheless, the concept is solid and both the notions of how the characters change and the framework that the GM uses to build the mystery are intriguing to me. $13 gets you the PDF (though there is a discount tier for those experiencing financial difficulty), and there is a free quickstart (you can back at $1 for access, and it’s instant access so you could still cancel).
Even in the leadup to the holidays there’s still action on the Kickstarter front. And though none of these will be ready as gifts, the season of giving is a great time to help these creators get their dreams across the finish line. And as a bonus, some new and interesting RPGs will come to life as well. This is the last post of 2018 for Kickstarter Wonk, and though there’s been some adjustments and learning experiences, I think the series has been a great success! Look forward to more interesting RPG Kickstarters as we enter 2019 and start another great gaming New Year.