Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! This month, you guys…oh man. So many games! So. Many. Games. Down-selecting this list from nearly 20 campaigns was difficult. I had help from another Cannibal Halfling author, Jason, who wrote excellent reviews for both Lancer and Sundown. You won’t see those games covered a second time, but definitely read the linked articles and check them out. In the meanwhile, the top ten for this month came through a lot of reading and pondering, but I’m pretty excited by my selections. All of these games have some really original stuff going on and are worth a look.
Once Upon a Time in Jianghu is another expansion of the Powered by the Apocalypse corpus, this time into the wuxia genre. Many of the elements you’ve come to expect are here, though the use of trait tagging to produce a mechanical benefit, as well as higher modifiers, has created the need for additional mechanics for large rolls. The ‘auspicious result’ (12+) has been done in other PbtA games, but the use of additional 3+ rolls (15+, 18+, etc) to buy mechanical benefits is new. All of this is in service to a game clearly inspired by wuxia films, with their own brand of over-the-top martial arts action. The creator, Tobie Abad, is from the Philippines, so I have hope that he will deliver a unique but faithful vision of the genre. $7 gets you the PDF, a low price for a well-detailed campaign.
‘A Town Called Malice’ isn’t just a song by The Jam anymore. Nordic Horror may sound very, very specific, but when this is described as combining thematic elements from both the films of David Lynch and the novels of Stieg Larsson, color me intrigued. A Town Called Malice utilizes a narrative structure somewhat similar to that found in Fiasco. Here, though, the story focuses around three narrative ‘pillars’: The Body, a discovery that plunges the small town (or other setting) into chaos, The Event, a future event which The Body threatens to disrupt, and The Darkness, the creeping, sinister force which presents the real threat. Like Fiasco, A Town Called Malice uses a playset structure, so the setting and underlying conflicts in the system can be modified and adapted easily. A Town Called Malice takes a spin on the Fiasco mechanics and makes it dark, and $15 will get you a PDF to try it yourself.
In a logical turn after the Fate Horror Toolkit, Evil Hat has turned towards the Mythos with their newest standalone game based on the Fate system. Fate of Cthulhu has an interesting premise, though. In this game, the characters are sent on a one-way trip into the past to stop the stars aligning for Judgment Day and prevent the Great Old Ones from returning. That makes Fate of Cthulhu effectively a mashup between Lovecraft and…the Terminator? Considering how heavily trodden the Mythos has been since Call of Cthulhu was first released in RPG form, a new spin on the cosmic horror tropes we all know and love is necessary to really stand out. In addition to the unique setting, Fate of Cthulhu makes good use of the Fate mechanics which came before it to ensure that the game is adding to the RPG Mythos, not merely making a Fate conversion. $20 gets you the PDF, but $10 gets you access to the prototype version as soon as you back.
Dark Fantasy Rome. That’s the basic premise of First Kings, a Rome inhabited by werewolves and other unspeakable monsters. The characters in First Kings claim the lineage of Romulus, first king of Rome, and through that lineage your supernatural powers are explained. Pretty nice split for horror buffs and mythology buffs alike, if you ask me. First Kings is first and foremost a narrative RPG, with scene-driven conflict resolution mechanics (as opposed to the task resolution mechanics of more traditional games). Where this stands out, at least to me, is the character creation system, steeped in astrology and using both zodiac signs and phases of the moon to help define what makes your character unique. Add to that a ritual-based magic system and First Kings looks to be offering a deep and unique fantasy gaming experience. £16 (~$21) will get you the PDF.
Charmed and Dangerous mashes up two unique classes of characters: RPG adventurers and princesses. This card-based game is designed to be easy to pick up and accessible, while still providing a range of princess characters with unique abilities that will come up during the course of the game. The challenges for the game come from a ‘Forces of Evil’ deck which matches the characters up with equally potent and sinister villains. The lead artists on this project both come from the comics industry and it shows, the promo art and sample cards are gorgeous and the entire game looks incredible. Minimum pledge is $20, but keep in mind that’s for a physical copy of the game!
Zoetrope is another card-based RPG, but with a completely different angle than Charmed and Dangerous. In Zoetrope you play members of a secretive government organization who are sent back in time to correct disruptions to the timestream. As you may guess, this could go in a very serious or extremely wacky direction, depending on how the premise is executed. Depending on your Role, you draw differing numbers of Action, Time, and Gear cards. Depending on the state of the Timeline, and what Event the GM draws, players have different temporal challenges that they’re facing. I’m personally a fan of this premise, and my hope would be that characters can get in plenty deep as they mess things up further…the presence of ‘Recur’ cards and setpoints seem to indicate that things can get very messy indeed. The minimum pledge here is $30, but like Charmed and Dangerous above, that is for a physical copy of the game.
Pater Asteri is a “cooperative science fiction tabletop role-playing game”, and the setting doesn’t really jump out at me. The mechanics, on the other hand, are quite interesting. The game de-emphasizes combat, which is an interesting choice in itself, but more striking is that the game takes place across ‘scenario boards’, making it look quite a bit like a board game like Shadows of Brimstone or Gloomhaven. The game does emphasize the narrative impacts of your choices; if executed correctly this would take the game back from the legacy board game and towards RPG. The question of course comes down to how this execution actually plays. The game looks great, but there’s always questions when you’re trying to do something new. Minimum cost of entry here is $50 for a PDF…with that price these questions may be left unanswered.
Infinity’s Edge has an interesting premise obscured by unfamiliar terminology. ‘LitRPG’ is a genre of fiction which takes place in game worlds, and isn’t the greatest descriptor here considering that Infinity’s Edge a) is a game itself, not literature and b) doesn’t take place in an existing game world. That out of the way, the concept here *is* interesting. Infinity’s Edge is essentially a meta-RPG, where the characters are aware that they live in a massively multiplayer online game. Cool concept, and the driving conceit behind things like .hack and Sword Art Online. Slight issue…literally the biggest controversy in role-playing in the last 15 years had its origins in an edition of D&D appearing to be too much like an MMORPG, so then pairing the concept with MMO-like mechanics may have been a mistake. Still, might be worth it to see if these guys do it better than Wizards of the Coast. $10 gets you a PDF, so there’s little risk in checking it out.
Let’s get the interesting stuff right up front: In Relics you play a Fallen Angel, and the mechanics are Tarot-based. I do appreciate the full commitment to card-based mechanics as described within the campaign, and the underlying rules were originally developed by James Wallis, best known for designing The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Designer Steve Dee is an industry vet himself, with credits in WFRP, the Doctor Who RPG, and others. The campaign doesn’t go deep into the premise, but what little it does describe roots it firmly in Christian mythology and demonology, so you at least have an idea of what to expect. Angels, demons and Tarot make for an intriguing combination, and the PDF is only A$15 (~$11).
“A post-apocalyptic RPG of humans, monsters, and humans becoming monsters.” This intriguing but broad premise gives way to an anime-inspired RPG where the characters gain most of their abilities through making pacts with monsters. While the mechanics aren’t detailed in the campaign, there is a description of success-with-cost mechanics, emphasis on negotiation and social conflicts, and a combat system focused on status conditions and offering limit break mechanics, which would be in-genre to say the least. This all sounds well and good, but if you’re skeptical you can always download the beta rules from the campaign, even without a pledge. There’s also links to a character sheet and the game’s feature cards, giving you a pretty extensive ability to read before you buy. Like what you read? $10 gets you a PDF.
There was lots to love this month, and we have a range of styles here. Card-based games, board game hybrids, MMORPG-based rulesets, you name it. Definitely worth checking out each of these games and seeing if any are worth your gaming dollar. Have any thoughts? Any other games you thought were particularly great beyond the ten here and the two Jason covered? Let us know in the comments! Otherwise, keep hunting for new RPG treasures, and I’ll see you in next month’s Kickstarter Wonk!