The journal of a lone lighthouse keeper, their compatriots having vanished as a storm rages all around the island. The Dwarves of the Renidar Mountain Ranges, with all of their unique deities and cultural foibles. A project manager with little hope of success, filling out Status Reports and desperately trying to keep their job. As we continue to close in on the end of the year we also continue to check out the Ind of the Year . . . Bundle of twenty-five different indie games from around the world!
Last time we took a look at Saudade, Traitor!, The Chained Oak, and Yule Army. That’s only 16% of the games available, however, so how about we bring our coverage up to 28%? Now again, in the interest of disclosure, Thomas and I both have an offering in the bundle, but those have already been plugged elsewhere, so I’m still focusing on all the other lovely creations. Also again, if you’re reading this in the future, each game is worth checking out on its own – but if it’s still December 2020, then some of these games are discounted by as much as 72% as part of the bundle.
Alright, enough disclaimers and set-up, let’s check out the games!
“The boat arrives at the island, what do they find? Are you standing on the jetty waiting for them? Do they find the island completely deserted? Will it ever be known what actually happened to your fellow keepers?
Whatever happened, your journal is the only record of the events that transpired on the island.”
Written by James Chip, Light is a “journal keeping game about lighthouse keeping in exceptional circumstances”. On an island that the locals refuse to set foot on due to old tales, there is a lighthouse maintained by three keepers. You are one of those keepers, who awakens one morning to find your compatriots vanished as a storm closes in. With rescue and resupply held off by the storm, you must keep the lighthouse lit lest ships fall prey to the rocks, until the storm breaks and you are relieved.
Light is also one of several games in the bundle to be written using the Wretched & Alone system based on work by Chris Bissette, and we’ll see another later in this article (it’s also, curiously, one of a couple games in the bundle to feature lighthouses). That means that aside from your choice of writing implements, you’ll need a deck of cards, a single six-sided die, a tumbling block tower, and some counters (seashells and other nautical bits and bobs ideal, but not mandatory).
Once your tower is set up and your joker-less deck shuffled, you start every ‘day’ by rolling the die, and then drawing that many cards from the deck. Each card will have an action, event, or task for your keeper to complete, which also serve as writing prompts. The 10 of Diamonds prompts “The day before they went missing one of the other keepers seemed a bit edgy. Why, do you think?” The Jack of Hearts says “You are awoken by a large bang. Looking you could swear you can see the outline of a hand print left on the window. Pull from the tower.” If the block tower ever falls, the light is extinguished and the game ends – sheer exhaustion, a rogue wave, or perhaps something spookier got to the keeper. It’s possible, says the game, to play without the tower, but it would rob a fair amount of tension from the proceedings.
At the end of every day, write a journal entry about your experiences – the tasks you had to complete, the challenges you had to overcome, the increasingly weird occurrences that haunt the island.
If you draw the Ace of Hearts, your keeper checks the barometer to see that the mercury is rising! The storm may be ending! You set the card aside and place four counters on it, and at the start of every day you’re rolling the die for that card as well. If you get a 1, you add a counter as the storm worsens, and pull from the tower. If you get a 6, though, you remove a counter – if you remove all of the counters the storm ends, and the keeper makes it back to safety. A number of cards interact with this mechanic, being reshuffled back into the deck instead of getting acted upon if your ‘mercury exposure’ is low enough.
I’m new to the Wretched & Alone system, but Light seems to capture it very well, with a setting (creepy lighthouse in the middle of a storm) that’s very easy to picture in the headspace. I agree with the advice that you really do need the tower to play the game, as without it there’s not really any kind of failure state other than getting tired of the game? Some advice on that would actually be nice, now that I think of it – perhaps if you reach a certain number of counters on the Ace of Hearts (the mirror to the win condition for The Chained Oak from the last article, which now that I think of it definitely has W&A DNA).
On its own you can get Light for $4, and you can get it as part of the Bundle’s $50 level (which gives the game an individual cost of $2, if you do the math).
“The Renidar Mountain Ranges in the north were the original home of the dwarves. Dwarven culture is strong, having survived for centuries without outside influence. These people of the ground are guided by tradition and belief in their Gods:
Yird the Earth, Uisge the Water, and Adhar the Air.“
And now for something completely different! Dwarves of Renidar by Stuart Watkinson is a ‘cultural guide for players’, a setting guide of sorts for putting the eponymous dwarves in a fantasy setting of your choice. It was originally made for D&D 5th Edition, and we’ll see the bones of that in a second, but there’s nothing really mechanical about this one, so it could be dropped into any fantasy setting you think it fits in.
There’s some talk about the huge mountain capital city of Storslet, the lack of gender specific roles and the fluidity of identity common to the Renidari, the communal way many dwarves are taught the ways of the world, and the leadership (the elected Unkir, their chosen partner in leadership the Ulkir, and the Council of Families).
More talk is spent on the three deities. Yird, Uisge, and Adhar are the gods of Earth, Water, and Air and each claim certain domains in Renidari society. Yird oversees War and Industry. Uisge claims Fasting, Feasting, and Family. Adhar is credited with Adventure and Creativity. The only true mechanical bit of this entire guide is that each of these domains also map to a standard Cleric domain for 5th Edition, allowing for easy choices if that’s the kind of character you want to play: Death and War for Yird, Tempest and Nature and Trickery for Uisge, and Life and Light and Knowledge for Adhar.
Each domain has a description on what those things mean to the Renidari, and how they play into the culture’s society and history. War is viewed as unavoidable and inevitable, so many Renidari receive martial training from a young age, but there haven’t actually been a lot of conflicts recently. Renidari don’t stay home very much, keeping busy for much of the day and with many domestic activities such as washing and cooking being public affairs; that same drive to be doing things plays into Adventure, as many head out for a time to explore the world, with not all returning. Each domain also has a 1d6 table of traits on how a dwarf relates to the domain in question, usable in any game but recognizable as mimicking the Background traits tables from 5th Edition. One result for Family means your character was an orphan, put under the protection of the Unkir. One for Fasting states that you once received a vision of Uisge themself!
Dwarves of Renidar is short and sweet, doing exactly what it wants to do with minimal fuss. If you want a unique spin on dwarven culture for your setting or your player character (and let’s be honest, said culture can be very same-y across many settings otherwise), this is a fun grab. It’s also got some good layout and cool black-and-white art by Peter Sage and Dean Spencer. About the only quibble I have is that it leaves me wanting more – there’s an implied larger setting from Stuart, such as the half-giants believed to be the descendants of giants who once held Storslet, that we don’t get to see much of. If we get more like this, it’d be nice.
On its own you can get Dwarves of Renidar for $5 AUD, and you can get it as part of the Bundle’s $50 level.
Your company has entrusted you with millions of dollars of other people’s money. They expect you to please the client and turn a profit at the same time. On paper, it looks pretty straightforward. However, your client, your team, your company leadership, and your friends and family also have needs which complicate the execution of the project. You might even occasionally want to take care of yourself. Good luck!
Brought to us by Steve Wright/Deus Ex Minima, Hope Is Not A Plan is a “journaling game of professional horror”. Unlike the other solo journaling games of things probably going pretty badly that we’ve seen so far in this Bundle, this one is entirely mundane. You’re taking on the role of a project manager for a very complicated engineering project. As the first little footnote describes project management as “the art of making trade-offs that nobody likes while explaining them to people who don’t want to hear it”, this is not a game where success is likely. If anything it’s less likely than usual.
This is that other ‘Wretched & Alone’ game I mentioned above, so there are a lot of the same mechanics and requirements. Setup is also mostly the same, but we get our first glimpse of how HINAP is a harder offering, as before play starts you have to roll the die and complete that many pulls from the tower, which in this case represents “your mental state, your focus, your ability to keep requirements and dependencies straight.” Tower falls, project fails, and you get fired.
Play is what you’d expect after learning about W&A games – rolling dice, pulling cards, pulling blocks, and writing about it. Content wise it’s very different, of course. The 10 of Diamonds prompts “Your company has been overly casual about non-disclosure agreements, and now you must collect signatures from your entire engineering team in order to keep the project within terms of the client contract.” The Jack of Hearts says “You accidently attach your private notes to a group email, instead of your normal weekly project update. What have you revealed? Pull from the tower.” The game’s period of time is measured in weeks, and your ‘journal entry’ is a Project Status Report shared with the client, shareholders, and engineering teams. The Ace of Hearts is also the route to a win condition, although in this case it represents the contract being signed and the actual work beginning while the tokens represent milestones along the road to project completion.
Remember how you had to pull blocks before even starting the game? Things get even nastier with certain cards dictating that blocks aren’t put back on the tower – they’re put to the side and removed from the game permanently. There’s also a backdoor way to lose the game outright. The Kings cards generally don’t make you pull a block, but narratively they’re mean, like the lead engineer quitting and moving to Antarctica or the sales proposal violating the laws of physics. Kings are set to the side, and if you draw all four the game ends as the fourth card’s outcome becomes catastrophic.
Interestingly, though, it’s not all bad. The ‘weekly’ roll to see what happens with the Ace of Hearts doesn’t add a token on a 1, it only removes one on a 6. Certain cards will bring a Change Order into the game, a negotiation between your team and the client represented by a die roll. This roll could very well add one or two milestones to the project, but there’s a chance for removing them as well, with another specific card providing a bonus on these rolls. Finally – and, as far as I’m aware, uniquely for a W&A game – there is a New Game+ option for play. “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement,” states this section, positing that most projects fail anyways and that those who have failed in the past are better equipped to succeed in the future. The next time you play HINAP, you can remove any card from the deck before you start, removing an additional card for every additional game – taking those pesky Kings off the table, for instance. On your second game a 5-6 removes a token from the Ace of Hearts instead of just a 6, 4-6 on your third, and so on. Speaking of your third game, by then you’re a Senior Project Manager who doesn’t have to deal with getting a contract signed, starting with the Ace of Hearts on the top of the deck.
Hope Is Not A Plan could definitely get the ‘Too Real’ label slapped on it – Steve comments at the end that more than thirty of the results – including the particularly crappy ‘choose between your job and your family’ King of Spades – are from personal experience, and the rest were seen to happen to others. While that may turn some away, it’s also the game’s greatest strength. This is the kind of horror that can really get to you, because it’s right next door. Plus, while with Light we got a great example of Wretched & Alone as a system, HINAP shows how you can modify things in a unique – and, with the New Game+, hopeful – way.
On its own you can get Hope Is Not A Plan for $7, and you can get it as part of the Bundle’s $50 level.
Give these games a closer look, and through 12/31/20 consider getting them as part of the Ind of the Year Bundle 2020. If you need more convincing (or if it’s the future and you just want to check out more individual games), check the first article for more Ind of the Year gems from the depths of the Indie Frontiers! Even after that, there are still eighteen games to check out – and trust me, it’s been a lack of time time and energy, not a lack of good material, that’s kept me from covering more here.
Happy gaming, and happy holidays!
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