Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for December! This has been…it’s been a year, no arguments there. We’ve had a pandemic, we’ve had an election, we’ve had so much more…and I feel like I’m still working off a sleep debt from March. No matter! The game designers are hard at work, and just in time for the holiday season we have a complete slate of Kickstarters! Ten Kickstarters, emerging from the quagmire known as 2020. Have designers been hard at work, reading my columns and heeding my advice? Well…no. Even though there have been some rookie mistakes made, there are still ten solid games listed here, ten games that deserve to get made! Will gamers heed my call? Will the designers read my summaries before it’s too late? Will the world ever forgive Brian Liberge for turning Seamus on to D&D 4th Edition? Only time will tell. For now, though, check out the games below!
The Well follows in the footsteps of games like Torchbearer and Trophy by being about dungeon crawling and only dungeon crawling; The Well may actually feature even less non-dungeon content than the two I just compared it to. The Well combines dice mechanics that are much like that of Trophy with stress mechanics like those from Spire and some numerical choices that encourage pushing your luck more than either above game. Combine that with checkmark-based character creation, a lot of debilitating wounds, and a setting centered around a bottomless pit, and I’d say you have something. Pete Schaefer is an experienced designer with a number of credits to his name, and I’d say he’s entering the indie dungeon crawl arena with his best foot forward. $15 gets you a PDF.
This one looks interesting, not because of the name or concept (Steve Jackson called and not even he’s making money in the generic RPG business) but because it seeks to actually be inclusive of a large number of elements people aim to get out of a generic RPG. The “skill check plus” ruleset is an immensely common one, powering everything from Genesys to Cyberpunk to, yes, GURPS, but if Basic and Generic manages to encapsulate that and include mass combat and magic in a book of less than 100 pages? Sign me up. This is a game that is apparently text-complete, which might explain the low campaign value, and I think the book layout mockups look really cool. I’m not sure if the game will live up to the vision the campaign has put in my head, but I do think it’s worth taking a look. $9 gets you a PDF.
Timeless is another entry in a Cannibal Halfling favorite genre, the family RPG. While Timeless centers on animal characters and talks a lot teaching core skills like conflict resolution and decision making, what sets it apart from other family entries seems to be that it leans back towards the game side of the equation, and beyond that specifically an OSR take on the game side of the equation. I like the use of a board and pieces, especially when trying to get kids into RPGs, but it’s a hexmap, and the adults know what you’re trying to do. That’s not a bad thing, by the way. Mixing kid-friendly characters with at least the principles and precepts of old-school games that the adults (may) know and love is a winning combination, at least in my mind. What’s not a winning combination is the pledge tiers: If the lowest tier you can send a copy of the game out at is $65, you will fail. As physical as you may think the game is, it will never happen unless you know how to teach kids to spell P-D-F. With 29 days to go, maybe the designers will read this and understand why they’re nowhere near their goal.
Our Last Days isn’t the first journaling game I’ve covered, and it probably won’t be the last. It has a premise that I think fits the medium well, though: what if there were 30 days before the planet were destroyed by a massive asteroid? What would life look like then? Much like abandoned space stations and vampires, immediate impending doom is a great source for the sorts of exploration that journaling games can provide. In addition to the standard PDF and hardcopy deliveries, there’s a fun twist among the options: you can pledge at a tier that will have the prompts delivered to you, day by day, in the month prior to the game’s release. For those of us that can’t as easily get on board with such a schedule, $5 will get you a PDF to play at your own pace.
Tarot card domain-managing fantasy heartbreaker? That just about sums up Diadem, an RPG-board game hybrid that seems to frantically incorporate every single “wouldn’t it be cool if” in the entire D&D domain. That said, I’m intrigued. With the boards used for overland travel, small-scale war, and large-scale war, Diadem seems to point right at the sort of epic fantasy that would best employ these sorts of elements. The enemy types and influence mechanics lean positive, while the focus on the setting’s calendar and making content for Tabletop Simulator before it’s even released engender skepticism. Ultimately, ambition is positive, and Diadem is nothing if not ambitious. With the cheapest game tier at $60, though, this may end up a heartbreaker in the traditional sense. While I’d love to see this prediction proven wrong, I doubt this one will go anywhere with buy-in that high. Words to the wise? “Print and Play”.
I love Opera House already, because I’m a sucker for the odd venue. When the game is described as being about ghosts stealing lifeforce from the audience, and saboteurs from rival theater companies? I’m so in. I’ve done my share of theater (when I was younger admittedly), and the idea of running a one-shot that mimics the frantic but surreal pace of a show is incredibly enticing to me. When I see that the designer is a seasoned freelancer who happens to work in theater as a day job, I believe they just might pull it off. Ambitious in intent rather than scope, Opera House is exactly the sort of niche game that makes me feel like Kickstarter still works. £10 (~$14) gets you a PDF.
SpaceFest Unlimited is, in some ways, the opposite of Diadem: a relatively safe game in a well-trodden genre with conventional traditional mechanics. Where Diadem has ambition and a questionable campaign, SpaceFest has convention and everything you’d want out of a Kickstarter project. There’s a demo version and a solid explanation of what the full version will bring, as well as a full range of pledge levels ranging from the humble to the fanciful. Now, I’m not sure what SpaceFest Unlimited will do to stand out from Starfinder and Traveller. That said, the sample materials look solid and the price of entry is comfortably low. If you’re already a fan of space opera, SpaceFest Unlimited looks to be an interesting source of new inspiration and material. $12 gets you a PDF.
“A tabletop RPG set in a dying world with no metal where humans have transformed plants and insects into living weapons.” That’s…a lot, and in some ways I think the pitch undersells the game’s concept a bit. “Dying world with no metal” makes you think of yet another convoluted Reddit worldbuilding experiment, but “transformed plants and insects into living weapons” is the meat of the idea and really should have been the lead of the sentence. Asunder looks gorgeous and has the playtest videos to salve the skeptics…though the comfortable funding margin the game already has seems to be driven more by the designer’s connection to Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop than anything else. No matter, if you’re looking for a twist on typical fantasy games but don’t want to go too far from your minis, this is a good one to land on. $40 gets you PDFs of the two core books; the changes from D&D in setting are balanced by the use of D&D’s price structure.
Originally a hack of Electric Bastionland, Maximum Recursion Depth is a game which appears to be about navigating the bureaucracy of hell. What seems like a mix of Ghost Court and Beetlejuice lists influences as disparate as Bojack Horseman, Doom Patrol, and the Persona video game series…and I am intrigued. The game provides generators to make a unique client, case, and ‘Court of Hell’, and this has all been published in an ashcan edition you can check out if you’re curious. Like Electric Bastionland this seems irredeemably out there, but like Electric Bastionland it has captured my imagination totally. I’d strongly recommend checking out the ashcan, figuring out what the hell ‘Karmapunk’ means, and then pledging. $10 gets you a PDF, though there is a $5 tier for those experiencing financial difficulty.
Ace Adventure and the Flying Royal Flush is a pulp adventure game for Fate Accelerated which embraces both the fast and flexible nature of the system as well as an inclusive spirit that’s well embodied by Fate and all the other games listed as influences. Embracing alt history and social justice warrior as a positive title, Ace Adventure is about not only high-flying action but also, in its own words, flexibility and spectacular failure. Now, as a matter of disclosure, the designer of Ace Adventure and the Flying Royal Flush was at one point a GM for both founders of Cannibal Halfling, and might be solely responsible for how much Seamus gushes about Fourth Edition (well, not solely, but… – Ed.). That said, think of this less as a conflict of interest and more that we know first hand how talented and imaginative Brian is. I have high hopes for Ace Adventure, and have backed it myself. If you want to follow suit, $10 gets you a PDF.
Last Kickstarter Wonk of the year, and honestly I’m feeling good. That said, we as a society are not out of the woods; if I hear about any of you setting foot in a mall, let alone doing so without a mask, I’ll smack you through the computer (I can do that, I bought the upgrade from Comcast). What we have here is a chance to maybe end 2020 on an up note, but that’ll take not only supporting our independent designers (as seen above), but also redoubling our commitment to care about not only our loved ones but everyone around us who may suffer consequences from our actions, no matter how minor we perceive them to be. We’re all in this together, and the holiday season more than any other time of the year is a good time to meditate on just how much we depend on and matter to everyone around us. Be safe, stay healthy, and have a happy new year.
Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can follow me @LevelOneWonk on Twitter for RPG commentary, relevant retweets, and maybe some rambling. You can also find our Discord channel and drop in to chat with our authors and get every new post as it comes out. You can travel to DriveThruRPG through one of our fine and elegantly-crafted links, which generates credit that lets us get more games to work with! Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!