Zine Month Round Up #5

Practicing a new (and literally newer than most) language via a roleplaying game.  The exchange between the distance between two people and the people themselves. A doomed mech pilot trying to help the survivors of their people reach safety. Delving in the darkness, maybe never to return. Saving the Jewish people by masquerading as Queens. We’ve done it once, twice, thrice, and four times before, let’s check out one last batch of Zine Month games and make it five, then have a serious talk about itchfunding!

o tawa

musi ni, sina kulupu pi jan tawa. sina ale li tawa lon tomo tawa telo, li toki e jan nasa, li utala e monsuta, li pana e pona tawa ma lili mute lon telo suli a.  pona sina la, sina jo e wawa nasa. o toki e nimi wawa la, o ante e ale.

Kama sona toki wan musi! Ahem, I might not have that right, but to reverse my attempted translation: learn a language with a game! o tawa is the first (so far as the creator knows, and I haven’t found any sign they’re wrong) tabletop roleplaying game written in the language of Toki Pona, a “philosophical artistic constructed language” created in ’01 as an exercise in minimalism and the idea that language can shape how someone views the world. To translate the header text:

“In this game, you play a group of adventurers. Together, you sail to new places, meet strange new people, defeat dangerous creatures, and help out the many small islands of the great ocean. Fortunately, you have magical powers to help you. When you speak Words of Power, you change the world around you.”

In many ways o tawa is intended to be a teaching tool for the language, which honestly I just find really neat.

You can get the digital version of o tawa with itchfunding  at 10% off, for a final total of $6.75. $18 plus shipping will get you the physical zine, with the toki pona version or an English version. $22.50, on the other hand, will get you physical copies of both.

Cadences: The Story of a Distance and Its Pair

All around you right now are incalculable distances, measured in years, measured in heartbeats, measured in steps between, or miles to a destination. Other distances elude our best efforts to quantify them, and cannot be weighed or assigned a number, even if we feel the weight of them settle in our bodies. Distance is a queer thing. No matter how close two people get, the very molecules of their being push them apart, resisting ideas of perfect alignment, making sure that there is always some level of separation maintained. Language is an imperfect tool, too, for communicating just what another person means to us, just how close we wish we could bring them, or how far apart we need them to stay.

But perfection was never the goal. This is the story — your story — of a Distance and its Pair.

A two player game designed to be be played asynchronously, Cadences is meant to tell the story of a relationship from beginning to end, whether it’s a cashier and their customer, best friends, or mortal enemies (to lovers?). What’s particularly curious about this game is that the two players are not playing the two characters – there is one booklet for The Pair themselves, but the other booklet and role is for The Distance itself, whatever is coming between the two characters, a nebulous concept  to be playing indeed.

Consisting of the two booklets, a set of cards for use by The Distance, and audio files, Cadences can be played as a play-by-post, by exchanging letters or voicemails, via texts a la Alice Is Missing, or whatever back-and-forth method you can come up with.  The aesthetic is very pleasing, and there’s quite a lot of appeal to playing a game that, while not as freeform as your typical play-by-post, lets you enjoy the experience over a long period.

The digital version of the game is already done, and all the backers of the indiegogo campaign will receive their digital copy “within a day of backing”, without waiting for the campaign to end. $10 will get you the aforementioned digital version and $25 the physical one, although as of this writing there are also some cheaper early bird options for both that are still available as of this writing.

Last Sentinels

The people of AUGUR-V had been cast into the stars,
pursued by the vengeful forces of the New Alliance.

But one Sentinel pilot still offered them hope.

This is their story.

Last Sentinels tells the story of a single mech pilot, doomed to fall to either overwhelming odds or bitter betrayal, as they try to shepherd their surviving people through the stars and away from relentless pursuit. GMless and for 3-4 players, LS has a collectively-controlled character (thanks for the term Tanya!) in the single Sentinel pilot, with players alternating between roles depending on where they are at the table. Using key phrases a la Polaris, players will engage in a back and forth between the pilot and the forces that oppose them.

Look, I’ll be honest, I grumbled a bit as I was reading the press release and then checking out the campaign page because I’m actually trying to save money and not back every single one of these great games I’m spotlighting. It hasn’t been easy, let me tell you. With “the rivalries, relationships and mech combat of UC-era Mobile Suit Gundam, the pressure and tragedy of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the ships and scale of Star Wars, and the relentless pursuit of Battlestar Galactica” though, like… come on Price, why do you have to come at my wallet all personal like that?

Kickstarting Last Sentinels for £5 will get you the PDF circa May ’22, £10 plus shipping the physical zine (only available through the Kickstarter and BackerKit) with an estimated delivery of July ’22, £25 plus shipping the physical zine along with some bonus physical content like a notepad full of character sheets and some stickers, and £40 plus shipping  the retailers’ pack of five copies.

Lost Below The Earth

“Its siren song calls to you in the small hours and for the better part of your life you have resisted it. But the song is sweet, honey and milk on your tongue. Its allure stands the hairs on the nape of your neck.

Here you stand now at the mouth of this great beast, the song still firmly in your head, the taste of it drying your throat. You know you must enter the maw of it, and it welcomes you like an old friend. You know you may not ever emerge from here again. But you also know you would die trying to reach what you seek.”

Dwarves delving too deep, D&D’s Underdark, and an entire sub-genre of horror movies tells us that going underground can be a fraught experience, and Lost Below The Earth looks to highlight that experience on the tabletop. The game uses a deck of cards and a minigame to determine how each round goes as the character(s) try to find whatever has driven them underground. With 100 prompts, it won’t be easy: the underground will try to take you Hope, Heart, Health, and Humanity. Run out of any of them, and you’ll never see sunlight again.

Claiming games like Mörk Borg as aesthetic inspiration, Lost Below The Earth hopes to be “dense and dripping with harrowing horror imagery”, and it certainly looks like it’s on the right track. This will be a zine as interesting to look at as it is to play.

£10 on the indiegogo campaign will get you the digital version, £15 plus shipping the physical one, and £100 a hand-signed copy, all with an estimated shipping date of April ’22. Of note, the digital and physical tiers are listed as £15 and £25 usually, so you’re getting a bargain in the mix.

Esther and the Queens

Your Queen is on a mission to save the Jewish people from Haman and has asked your party to attend the masquerade costume party as Queens from a far off land. Since you are in disguise, no one will know who you truly are.

A Purim-themed game, Esther and the Queens sees the player characters backing Esther in a plan to save their people. Haman has issued a decree that will see all of the Jews in the empire executed, and the only way to save them is to make a plea to King Ahasuerus. Approaching the King without a summons is taboo, however, and moreover the King does not know Esther is Jewish herself. She’ll need the nobles support to improve her chances of getting to speak to the King, and the confidence to overcome her fear of revealing her identity, and that’s where you come in.

Inspired by Firebrands, gameplay consists of a series of mini-games and dice mechanics meant to simulate winning various games and competitions at the party, leveraging the fact that your characters are mysterious and interesting to the other partygoers. There’s a dice-powered version of skeeball, a racing competition, an art booth, and more. Of particular interest is that Esther and the Queens will will “highlight the feminism throughout the Megillah and representation of transgender characters in the Megillah.”

$12 on the Kickstarter will get you the digital version, fulfilled through itch.io and $22 plus shipping will get you the physical zine, plus as many dice as you’ll need to play the game, both with an estimated delivery of August ’22.. $100 will also get you a 1 hour “Chevruta” session with the creators, a “special time of study to engage in our sacred Jewish texts,” which is estimated to happen by May ’22.

Scratching That Itch

Alright. Let’s really talk about that itchfunding.

Let’s get the  inarguably bad stuff out of the way. As a marketing tool? It’s garbage. There’s no itchfunding category or front-page link or banner and there’s not even an official tag. If you type itchfunding into the search bar right this second you get 24 results…. but there are 61 projects under the ZiMo banner alone who are using itchfunding, so that is clearly not as helpful as we’d like (prospective itchfunders: put ‘itchfunding’ in the title or description plug). If it wasn’t for the work that the ZiMo community has put in, actually, I might never have found o tawa, Sea of Mur, Abominations, Sapphic Slumber Party, or Mëch Borg.

Hmm. Well that’s a point in favor of Zine Month itself, so there’s that to consider.

Anyways. With itch itself not particularly making things any easier, why then is it pulling in so much more ZiMo money than indiegogo, Gamefound, and Game On Tabletop, who while still coming out quite poorly vs Kickstarter in terms of functionality are still more ‘traditional’ crowdfunding platforms?

I’d wager part of it is a cultural issue. itch is a hotbed in the indie tabletop RPG design community for a lot of reasons, among them the frequent bundles and the steady stream of game design jams. If you’re already a part of that community, it’s a couple of clicks to set up an itchfunding campaign – although a good one will take a bit more effort, mind. Let’s get into some actual reasons why, though.

  1. The money is real, and tangibly yours. First of all, itch is known to not take as large a cut as anyone else, and they also don’t give you any guff about putting your game anywhere else. More importantly, get to 99% of a Kickstarter’s funding goal before it ends and, congrats, you get no money and you’re back to square one. Actually, you’re at negative square one, because all of the time, effort, and maybe money involved in running the Kickstarter has hit a dead end. Get to 99% of your itchfunding goal and you just need to find that 1% somewhere else…
  2. But you probably don’t need to, because there’s not a hard deadline. Itchfunding is sometimes referred to as slowfunding, because unlike traditional crowdfunding platforms it doesn’t have a set-in-stone period of time. Now, the other side of the coin is that you do lose some of the hype – it’s well understood that the busiest time for a Kickstarter after the first few days is the time right before it closes. Some ZiMo projects are trying to emulate that be only doing itchfunding within February or by offering discounts for the duration of ZiMo, but the fact is that if you can spare the time you can continue to gather funds for as long as it takes.
  3. The games are usually ready to play. None of the itch ZiMo projects I’ve looked at didn’t immediately give you something to play with, and most were mechanically complete at the very least. Several were straight up complete, digitally-speaking, and were only using itchfunding for a print run. Again, some of that is cultural. Some Kickstarters have offered ashcan or playtest versions of their games upon the successful completion of the campaign, so it’s not a mechanically unique thing for itchfunding games to do, but it is How Things Are Done on itch. So, the risk of someone sending off their money and getting nothing for it is pretty much nonexistent.

Here’s the thing about that last one, though. Between all this ZiMo stuff and Kickstarter Wonk pivoting to the Crowdfunding Carnival, you can imagine that crowdfunding in general has been talked about a lot recently behind the scenes here at CHG. One thought that came out of the chatter between Aaron and I was that itchfunding isn’t really crowdfunding, and…. there’s something there.

I mean, it’s semantics, if the larger community considers it to be crowdfunding, we’re not going to convince them otherwise. But honestly, itchfunding as it is currently used has more in common with the original release of the Fate Space Toolkit than Kickstarter. The FST was originally an artless, PDF-only ‘prototype edition’, and depended on sales to get the money it needed to get its art and make it to print. That sounds pretty familiar with regards to ZiMo, doesn’t it? The defining difference between this model and the Kickstarters of the world is that the latter is more often raising funds for something that needs to be made, and the former is actually selling something, using the profits for the next step.

Itchfunding definitely has a place and will continue to do so. $45,000 plus dollars across Zine Month ’22 is nothing to sneeze at, and the platform does offer some advantages (mostly to creators, but always getting something for your money is good for backers too). Until itch.io itself sees a point to making it better from a marketing perspective and easier to find itchfunding projects, though, this method is going to be dependent on creators having something to sell that’s worth buying, as well as the marketing hustle of the creators/community.

Luckily for all the itchfunding ZiMo projects I’ve covered this month, they managed that with style.

That’s it, I’m done, that’s all I’ve got! Zine Month will trickle into the beginning of March, and there are still some great games that need some help, more than I could cover. We’ll probably do a post-mortem on the whole thing, but for now congrats to everyone who funded, good luck to those who still have a bit to go, play some games and have a good time!

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