It’s July, and the Kickstarters are out in force before GenCon! Well, it was actually a fairly sparse list on the publisher front, though it’s worth noting that there’s a new edition of Chivalry and Sorcery, a supplement for the latest edition of Torg, and a new edition of Aberrant, to boot! Still, those are all editions of existing games, and Kickstarter Wonk is about the new stuff. I’ve painstakingly separated the wheat from the chaff and brought you ten games that should all be pretty solid…or at least pretty to look at.
Hit the Streets: Defend the Block is another twist on the supers genre, this time focusing on “street level” supers. This genre has been left in the shadows when it comes to traditional supers RPGs and their emphasis on power design and functionality, but with games like Masks on the RPG side and properties like Luke Cage on the media side, there is definitely demand for more street-level supers. Hit the Streets: Defend the Block combines a d6-based dice pool system with mechanics for neighborhood creation which drive the game conflicts towards the personal. If you want to ground the stories of your superheroes but keep the power shenanigans up there, this looks like a good game to try. $9 gets you a PDF, but $1 gets you the playtest.
Fantasy Flight’s “End of the World” series set up a compelling series of scenarios in the 15 minutes after the world ends. With those games, though, there wasn’t much follow-through, relegating some intriguing mechanics to one-shot purgatory. Scorched Earth: New Beginnings attempts to improve on the formula by deliberately extending the situations and the stakes. The first phase of the game is set in the day following a cataclysm, focusing on near-term survival much like End of the World did. The second phase is set two decades later, when the dust has settled and now humanity’s path forward depends on rebuilding. The third phase is set two centuries after the initial cataclysm, where the world, set up in phases one and two, is ripe for adventure and conflict. Scorched Earth throws a more deliberate story game bent to games like End of the World and Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, and just might be able to carve its own niche in the post-apocalyptic landscape. Only £5 (~$6) gets you the PDF.
Let’s take the apocalypse and keep rolling, shall we? Pirates of a Shattered World is definitely from the “two great tastes that taste great together” school of game design, combining classic (i.e. YARRRR) piracy with the post-apocalypse. Almost Rifts-like in its kitchen sink integration of post-apocalypse, fantasy, steampunk, and OG piracy, Pirates of a Shattered World gains its momentum from not only the creativity of the world but the strength of its distinctly anti-colonialist metaplot. The starkly traditional mechanics might hold up under the weight of the setting (he said after looking at the skill list) or they might not; but the setting will carry the day regardless. You can toss in $8 for the PDF to find out for sure.
Media emulation is a sweet spot for RPGs, but spy movies have gotten short shrift. And if you want to play a silly spy game, emulating the likes of, say, Archer, you’ve mostly been out of luck. Until now. Sort of. Super Secret Spy Agency isn’t the only spy game to be circling around, but it doubles down on the silliness of both the genre itself and its parodies and turns that into a simple, over the top game. The mechanics are simple, with character advancement ranging from 001 to 007 and the talent list including the all-important “make martini”. A revision of the designer’s earlier (and self-described “not very good”) attempt, the new game is informed by the designer’s work with such games as Ghost Ops and Delve, and looks to be a fun (if ridiculous) time. £10 (~$13) gets you a PDF.
Fateforge is a Sword and Sorcery game using 5e mechanics, in some ways pulling the game core back towards the OSR sphere. The game looks gorgeous and the setting seems interesting, but…it’s D&D, and the setting doesn’t go far enough afield to make up for the really conservative approach to the mechanics. There’s “one entirely new class”, but this is really borderline in terms of being a new game as far as I term them. Still, these are the guys who did Shadows of Esteren, so maybe there’s some (design) magic in there somewhere? $25 gets you the PDFs.
The Asphodel Complex is a complete game, but the design chops and page space are focused much more towards the environments than the system itself. Based upon the previews given in the campaign, these environments are lovingly detailed horror scenarios which seem to straddle the line between magical realism and cosmic horror. If you’re the type of player who likes your games driven by puzzles and player skill, this looks to be a really interesting read. Even if you aren’t, the design choices are intriguing and likely to provide great fodder for your next horror game. The PDF is super cheap (A$5, or $4 US), and even if you still aren’t sure, the first environment is available already for you to check out.
Emberlord is described as “easy to learn” and “infinitely variable”. Considering Risus is free, I’d implore the designers to get a better tagline. That said! Digging into the game, characters are defined along three axes: Mind-Body, Law-Chaos, and Social-Personal. Each of those axes further drop out into three skills apiece, which, in addition to Ember, the magical energy of the setting, pretty much tie the mechanics in a bow. This is a good chunk more breadth than you see in so-called “economical” systems, so I’m more interested in Emberlord than most. $12 gets you a PDF.
An intensely narrow historical story game, Red Carnations on a Black Grave tells the story of the Paris Commune, a famous but short-lived revolutionary movement that formed after the Franco-Prussian War and ended in massacre. As can be expected from a game based on a historical event with a known (unhappy) ending, tragedy is a strong theme here; the designers cites Ten Candles as an influence which has the same theme of inevitability. The game is card-based, with the rulebook supplemented by poker-sized cards for some of the mechanics and tarot-sized cards for each of the characters. In addition to the game itself (which has already started to garner praise), the art, by Juan Ochoa, is gorgeous, making this a game where you should spring for a physical copy. The book and cards are $40, but a print-and-play PDF is just $16 if you can’t swing it.
Bleak Spirit is a game about mysterious, lonely places. The designer references Hollow Knight as an influence, which helped me understand both what the intent of the game is as well as just how tough that feeling is to pull off in a tabletop setting. The game is a story game primarily, with rotating roles. Through alternating play as the world, the wanderer, and the chorus, each player gets to add to the story of the place through cards played at specific moments as well as hidden writing speculating about the lore of the place the game is centered around. It’ll take some buy-in and some doing at the table, but I’m totally behind the idea of a game exploring the nature of desolation and the stories inherent in a place. £12 (~$15) gets you the PDF.
Sleepaway is a new entry in the latest fork off of Powered by the Apocalypse, Belonging Outside Belonging. Belonging Outside Belonging is based upon Avery Alder’s Dream Askew, and uses the PbtA framework to tell stories about communities and community-building. Sleepaway takes this framework and uses it for horror, setting the players as camp counselors who must protect their campers from the mysterious Lindworm. Summer camp is a great backdrop for character-driven stories, and the core horror conceit helps drive the game closer to the drama one would expect from a role-playing game. $15 gets you a PDF, but act fast…this campaign is really close to its end and you’ll need to pledge by the end of July 4th (Campaign ends around 5am Eastern on July 5th).
Something I missed? Something that went live on July 3rd? Something that should have gotten more love? Let me know! In the meanwhile, check out the links above, and if you back so many that your wallet smarts from it, you can always check back in for some bargain bin gaming on Friday.