Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for November! What am I thankful for? Well, I’m thankful that not only was November a bumper crop of games on Kickstarter, but it was also one where there were a large number of really solid offerings. Whether you try and take over the moon or try and explore your Jewish identity, this month’s Kickstarters were for a huge number of really diverse games. Check out the descriptions below, and consider what sort of game either tickles your fancy or stretches your mind.
MoonPunk is unapologetic about its inspiration; the game stands as a direct rebuke to the flawed notion that “games shouldn’t be political”. Using some of the Cyberpunk ethos but setting it on the Moon, MoonPunk is all about action against an authoritarian regime, and each of the playbooks described help further different visions of the best way to take action. MoonPunk is decidedly one-note in its framing, but that one note is one with plenty of conflict and motivation, so in many ways it can still work well. $15 gets you a PDF, and there is a quickstart available for free if you want to learn more.
Mystic Lilies is described as a game of “magical melodrama”. Inspired in part by games such as Monsterhearts, the aim of Mystic Lilies is to portray witches with their own agendas and penchant for drama. Much like what is expected in a game of Fiasco, the players of the game are called to work together even when their characters are at each other’s throats. Combining this premise with magic is sure to turn into a good time, though it might not seem that way at first for those of us used to a more traditional definition of teamwork. Though influenced by Monsterhearts and its PbtA ilk, Mystic Lilies uses a unique playing card system where each character has their own relationship with the traits associated with each suit. If this sounds intriguing, like it does to me, only $10 is needed to get a PDF.
Delve is a fantasy game where the characters find themselves shipwrecked on an island filled with monsters and intrigue. Spaced, from the same designers, takes the same conceit but puts the characters onto a strange planet, in fact a prison planet controlled by corporations, doombots, and others. An old school game at heart, Spaced immediately places the characters in a tense situation, and rewards those with the wits to carve a way out of it. Intended to be like Delve but at a larger scale, Spaced looks oddly like a dungeon crawl with sci-fi trappings plastered over it. Honestly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. £10 (~$13) gets you a PDF.
From the Swedish publisher Fria Ligan comes Vaesen, a game of “Nordic Horror”. Your characters are possessed with The Sight, seeing that which others cannot. Of course, with that comes many chances to cross paths with the Vaesen, the fair folk, the multitudinous supernatural creatures that creep just beyond the sight of normal people. Your characters will venture into the “Mythic North” using their wits to drive off the creatures which neither bullet nor blade can touch. Based on the acclaimed Year Zero engine and written by the designer of the award-winning Tales From The Loop, Vaesen looks to be another feather in the cap of Fria Ligan. Based on 19th century Scandinavia, the “Mythic North” of Vaesen looks to both blaze new trails for Fria Ligan as well as hew close to the principles that have made all of their games quite well received. For this one, SEK 250 (~$25.90) will get you a PDF.
Last year, Matt Colville’s Strongholds and Followers was the most profitable Kickstarter in the RPG space, raising north of two million dollars. Now, the second half of Colville’s Fifth Edition supplement magnum opus is on Kickstarter, adding mass combat and domain management to the strongholds and, well, followers of Strongholds and Followers. In my review of Strongholds and Followers I noted how much synergy there was between the first supplement’s systems and the implied mechanics in the second half (so much so that a pared down version of the mass combat system was included as an appendix), so I am greatly looking forward to this book. $25 gets you a PDF, but given the marginal cost I should note that I personally backed at $40 for a hardcopy.
When I reviewed the Fate Accessibility Toolkit, one of the comments I made which resonated with my fellow Cannibal Halflings was the degree to which the toolkit stood alone as a product to support disabled gamers. Someone was listening, at least somewhat, and now on Kickstarter there’s Survival of the Able. Based on the Fudge system, Survival of the Able puts you in the role of a person living with a disability when the Black Plague strikes their village. Of course in this timeline, plague victims have a nasty habit of coming back to life. With attributes intended to represent the degree to which you have command over your five senses, your character must make it through a struggle where the traditionally abled have almost all succumbed to the plague and ensuing zombification. Unlike the Fate Accessibility Toolkit, the intent of Survival of the Able is to evoke empathy for people with disabilities by providing a scenario where the characters have no mitigators or aids available to them, and must survive only with what faculties they do have available to them. This is noble in intent, and worth checking out both to support the mission these creators have as well as to see how well they implement Fudge to achieve these ends. $15 gets you a PDF.
There are designers out there who are worthy of attention. For me, at least, the first game gets me to remember the name, but it’s the second game which ensures that I’ll be paying attention to everything the person does. For Jay Iles, the first game was Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. Voidheart Symphony may be that second game, because it is straight-up wild. While part of Voidheart Symphony is about the pressures and injustices of the mundane world, the other part departs a bit from familiar territory. Like a dark and twisted version of the video game Psychonauts, characters venture into dark castles formed from their targets’ minds, but which have impacts which reach far out into the mundane world. Using a two-sided version of Powered by the Apocalypse, Voidheart Symphony characters both have to worry about the pressures and strains of the real world as well as the power they need to venture further into the dark castles casting shadows over their communities. £15 (~$20) gets you a PDF.
Another Powered by the Apocalypse game, Arcana Academy seems to have popped into being here in 2019 only because it took so many machine tools to file the Harry Potter serial numbers off. Using what is arguably the most popular system to create a cadre of dramatic teenagers, Arcana Academy centers around solving mysteries at a magical school of the players’ creation. The game works on both the strength of PbtA’s character linkages as well as a freeform magic system that puts emphasis on both the spells your characters are learning and the ability to use them creatively in many situations. No matter which house you associate with, there should be something to grab you in Arcana Academy. $12 gets you a PDF, a solidly low price.
Renascentia puts a twist on the traditional fantasy RPG, setting the game in 15th-16th century Italy. This was a dynamic period in history, with the peninsula divided into various duchies and city-states. And, as is typical for any RPG, the occult and arcane of the day are sifted into the setting just to make everything a little more intriguing. Based in Italian folklore and heavily inspired by more modern dark fantasy properties, Renascentia pops when you realize that it’s headed by an Italian design team. While the game aims to lean into subsystem work with alchemy, magic, and swordfighting, it also lays claim to the rules-light title, only requiring a d10 to play. This is one place where I think the reader would need to determine for themselves how accurate they see these statements. €14 (~$16) gets you a PDF.
Reflective of the form factors which the indie scene has pushed forward, Doikayt is an anthology of small RPGs, looking to interrogate very specific settings and stories. What these settings and stories are, though, are of particular significance to me. Doikayt is a collection of RPGs about Judaism, the likes of which I have never seen before. I have personally tried to interface my RPG hobby with my Jewishness since I started, playing a number of overtly Jewish characters like Israeli spies and Kabbalist psychics. Doikayt, unlike those games of Cyberpunk and GURPS, is intended to get to the thematic heart of Jewish gaming by being deliberate about its themes. While I had heard about Doikayt on Twitter, once I read the description in the campaign I backed it immediately. $12 gets you a PDF, but act fast: the campaign ends on November 9th, three days after this article goes up.
Heading into the holidays, it’s almost surprising that there are so many games out on Kickstarter in November. What may not be seen in this article is just how many other games weren’t featured here and are competing for eyeballs and dollars. I am convinced that I’ve picked the top ten, but I don’t expect everyone to take my word for it. And while you’re out there, remember that Kickstarter United is still aiming to unionize the Kickstarter workforce. Check them out on Twitter, and throw in your support behind this cause to help ensure equitable access to the crowdfunding environment. If everything goes well, I’ll be seeing you next month for another Kickstarter Wonk!