Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for September! We’re nearly ¾ of the way through this weird-ass year, and the desire for more escapism hasn’t abated. While we might *still* be gaming on Zoom, designers from all over the world are ready to serve up new twists. Whether it’s magical realist convenience stores, fantasy adventure insects, or just a nice blimp, Kickstarter (and a new upstart) have what you need to keep your mind off (waving hands) all of this.
Steampunk with airships? Not original per se, but it’s my catnip, and as much as everyone has had that idea you have to go back as far as Castle Falkenstein (1994) to get it done well. Cloudrunner might break that streak, in part by keeping things simple. Cloudrunner is based on Fate Condensed, which is both a solid choice for the pulp-leaning feel implied in the campaign as well as a good way to help the designers lean more into their setting. Fate is also a great system with which to give the players access to all sorts of gadgets (and airships, don’t forget the airships) without worrying so much about that ethereal notion of “game balance”. I’m not sure what it’ll take to get Cloudrunner to stand out among the vast library of Fate settings, but it looks like it’s well executed enough to make an honest attempt. $15 gets you a PDF.
Man, everyone wanted to create their own Tales from the Loop, didn’t they? As much as Free League’s hit wasn’t trying to be a do-it-all adolescent simulator, it was quickly followed with Kids on Bikes, as everyone was trying to capitalize on the moment of Stranger Things. Don’t Tell Mom & Dad is continuing this vein, but leaning more into the 80s nostalgia than even Kids on Bikes did…if you don’t see Goonies in that cover art, maybe you’re just not from the same generation as me. Anyways, Don’t Tell Mom & Dad is rather conservative mechanically compared to both of the obvious predecessors, but it makes up for that with a tight system and some cool map-placement mechanics that help establish the setting. I’m not sure this game is breaking any new ground in the teen adventure genre, but it’s a full package that is likely to appeal to those holding fast to their d20s. $10 gets you a PDF.
While OSR distillations are nothing new, Down We Go appears to try and keep a balance between boiling everything out of a game and keeping some of the old weird stuff that made old-school gaming fun. One thing that catches my attention is that the campaign promises dungeoneering, hexcrawling, and city-crawling in the same basic framework. These elements make the game a bit more expansive to me as a GM, and therefore more useful.
There’s another thing that’s hard to miss about Down We Go, which is that it’s not technically a Kickstarter. Down We Go is hosted on Gamefound, an alternate crowdfunding platform mostly aimed towards board gamers. Now, the marketing muscle isn’t quite there yet, I found this one thanks to the designer doing their own marketing legwork. That said, Down We Go is apparently the second RPG hosted on the platform and it gets high marks from the creator side from what I’ve heard so far. Network effects are a tough thing, but I’ll be keeping my eye on this site as it develops. If you want to give it a go, try pledging $20 for a PDF of Down We Go.
Have you played Exquisite Corpse before? It’s one of my favorite writing games. In the version I’m most familiar with, everyone has a small amount of time to write a paragraph or two of a story. Once the time is up, you fold the paper to only expose the last sentence, and pass it to the left, where the next person must write the next paragraph or two with only your last sentence as a prompt. The Exquisite Corpse in Maggots’ Keep takes this idea and runs with it, producing a gamebook where each segment is written by a different person in much the same manner as the game I described above. While gamebooks as an artform have been somewhat denigrated and diluted by the pulpy middle grade blah of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series (which many of us still remember fondly despite how bad most of the books were), a great gamebook with a great concept is still a wonderful thing, and Maggots’ Keep definitely seems to fit that description. $25 gets you a PDF, though there is a lower cost tier for those experiencing financial hardship.
“A solo RPG about customer service and the apocalypse”. Now if that isn’t one of the best stingers I’ve heard for a Kickstarter campaign in a long while, I’ll…I’ll clock out early! Golden Mart is a solo RPG originally distributed for Neighbor Jam 2020, and will be in print for the first time thanks to this campaign. The two core conceits are magical realism and convenience stores, and with just that they’ve completely gotten me. Like most single-player RPGs the mechanics aren’t that complex, but here there’s an added bonus of being able to run the mechanics by using six-color chocolate candies. Incidentally, I just learned that M&Ms have only had six colors since 1987, when red was reintroduced. Weird! This game is also weird, but the kind of delightful weird that means that I’ve already personally sent this campaign some of my money. As for you, a mere $5 gets you PDF.
Picaresque Roman is a game about rogues from the City, a nodal point of corruption, greed, and riches. This thematically joins two common RPG tropes, first the notion of the core city (seen everywhere from Cyberpunk to AState to Spire) and then the idea of playing the underworld (Blades in the Dark, Urban Shadows, Cyberpunk again). The cultural grounding is a bit different, though. Picaresque Roman is a Japanese RPG being localized for us, as opposed to the other way around. Now, we’ve seen this before on Kickstarter, but I believe most localizations I’ve covered were either Swedish or Italian, by some luck of the draw. Also, most of the localizations I’ve covered have been expansions from a relatively new game…the version of Picaresque Roman being localized is the Fifth Edition of the game in Japan, so this is more of a first opportunity to experience an extant product. The Japanese RPG scene is a bit different than that in the US, so the opportunity to take a look at a newly localized product is one you should definitely consider. $25 gets you a PDF.
It’s been a little while since we’ve seen a good insect RPG, but there’s been a number of them crossing through the Kickstarter Wonk threshold, covering many different angles of playing bugs. Stingers and Spores covers the, well, trad angle as it’s built in Savage Worlds and therefore intended to be a more typical combat-filled fantasy romp than most insectoid settings we’ve seen so far. In fact, reading the campaign, this really does seem to be a bog-standard fantasy RPG where all the characters are bugs. Don’t take that as a criticism, necessarily. Playing with the tropes and some entomology gives them a bit of new life, and it does sound like the designer knows what he’s doing. 14 insect archetypes for ‘races’ are built around different biological niches, and the intent really is to recast your typical fantasy game with a lot of weird bugs. Stingers & Spores seems to have done its homework while also understanding that bugs are fun and not taken itself too seriously either. $15 gets you a PDF.
So there’s an evil overlord. She dies, the city falls, the empire topples. Everyone flees, trying to make what lives they can out in the Desolation. You’re in one of the caravans fleeing the city. But who are you? Well, you’re the underlings of that evil overlord. Strange Hills is a game using the No Dice, No Masters system to put players in the shoes of some highly questionable people. The Questioner, the Witchling, the Informant, and the Technocrat were all in positions of power during the Witch Queen’s reign. Now the Witch Queen is dead and you are surrounded by the people you made suffer. Is this a story of redemption, or do you surrender to your Deep Wickedness? A very interesting twist on No Dice, No Masters, and arguably the Dark Sun inspired game that’s actually worth talking about this month. $10 gets you a PDF.
So a micro-game wouldn’t necessarily warrant an entire Kickstarter campaign. What about 50 micro-games? Tiny Library is a deck of 50 cards, each with a complete RPG on them. Now, these come from different philosophies, some including complete rules while others slotting into existing dungeons and/or dragons, and yet others still are more of the lyric variety, existing on the liminal edges of what some consider games. I do appreciate that the campaign has promised not to reveal most cards, though the examples in the campaign are all quite intriguing. For anyone truly interested in game design this should be a clear pledge, it’s hard to get more inspiration for less. A$7 (~$6) gets you a PDF, but come on. Get the cards. They’re just A$15 (~$11).
We didn’t quite hit ten, but this month still has an incredibly solid crop of new games. Any we missed? New stuff that slid in under my notice? Comment here or reach out with your other crowdfunding suggestions. I’m sure there’ll be a whole new crop in time for next month’s Kickstarter Wonk!
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