I graded them betweenContender, OK, and Meh. Once I worked that out, I whittled the Contenders into a final 20 of Elites. I'll work out my Top 5 from there.
You can find all the games here if you want to get them yourself.
Here's what you're in for, kids.
Reviews (all 103)
(untitled - 1522): Napoleonic-era journey through magic-ravaged Europe.
Someone’s pet system is used here, but I’m afraid it’s nothing special. The basic idea is interesting enough, though not appealing to me. Discard pile.
Best bit: the set journey with days on the road between cities clearly presented.
(untitled - 1566): scientists discover a new phenomenon and try to work it out.
Gorgeous idea where you are randomly chosen to be a scientist or the elementals they’re studying. Uses cards to resolve narrative conflicts and does so in an interesting way. For all that, it could have been fleshed out a bit more.
Best bit: the evolving tactics that only get noticed after you’ve been playing for a while.
(untitled - 15124): mystical magics masquerading amid the mundane.
Modern-day magical game where you battle to keep the mundane world from dimming your magic. A centerpiece is how technology and magic are opposed, but the core system is mediocre. Not terrible, but not great.
Best bit: the growing list of technical devices that have special rules for your character.
10 Million AD: Long-abandoned Earth is threatened by the return of humanity.
A fascinating premise with a fairly simple storytelling tool that focuses on the tactical combat of the game. The Trust mechanics (being interpersonal) interested me more, and the limitations on the MC were cute, but I wasn’t sold. Nice images, though.
Best bit: “refreshment scenes” where you can heal as long as someone reveals something new about their character.
20.6 Miles: Napoleonic era subterfuge around the Dover area.
Interesting setting pitch that could work most elsewhere. Some good interpersonal debt mechanics, but overall fairly dry. Nice fiction set-pieces, though.
Best bit: double crossing an ally. I’d like to see more of that.
A Hard Goodbye: “Every time I try to get out, they drag me back in.”
Solid effort throughout. Evocative game attributes, minimal die rolling, and workable rules for running a three act narrative. Fits the tropes of underworld drama nicely. Very usable and interesting.
Best bit: The simplicity of Hooks versus Outs and the struggle against the Organisation.
Ad Libitum Absurdity: Washed up actors try to break their typecast role.
Definitely hooked me in as a brilliant concept, though I’d tweak it a bit. The theatrical improv aspect could be elaborated to ditch the die mechanics whilst maintaining integrity.
Best bit: I like having secondary goals that you follow whilst being supporting cast. That can be developed. I like it a lot.
To date, this game has still not eventuated. Apparently someone forgot to add the file to the email submission (d’oh!) May still appear.
Best bit: If it doesn’t eventuate, I’m gonna make a fake review of it.
Alien Passion Disaster: Alien species are developed through narrative card play.
I kinda like the card-based idea this thing is going for, but I’m just not getting it. And I can’t quite work out how to “soil” the cards. Far too complex to find interesting, and it breaks its own “Golden Rule” in that it isn’t funny. Said “okaaaaay” a lot while reading this and eventually skimmed it.
Best bit: The idea of marking playing cards, though fucked if I know how you do it.
American Heroes: Star spangled superheroes try to save America.
Started out like a hilarious rpg parody, but quickly got bogged down in lists of power mechanics. Whoever had the sense of humour was a legend.
Best bit: the overly bureaucratic method of selecting seniority that perfectly lampoons democracy whilst making perfect sense on a second reading. In fact, the first two pages were awesome.
Among Humans: survive as a monster in a human world.
Online "forum roleplay" in which commenters GM the results of your narrative. Commenters also join factions to ruin you in different ways. It’s possible to start playing right now.
Best bit: "for one player and the internet"
Anonym: Secret agents protecting (and occasionally abusing) the True Names of powerful entities.
Great concept unapologetically running with a Lacuna/Unknown Armies vibe. I’d like some more examples of Nomen powers, but it’s a pretty decent effort on the whole, and a sweet idea.
Best bit: the real-time character creation instruction sheet.
Anthill: Mutated ants struggle to save their colony whilst trying to understand their changing place among it.
A thoroughly workable idea and a boring but respectable percentile system. Really pretty character sheets and a good selection of funky mutations. Not bad at all.
Best Bit: clean, elegant character sheets and other reference documents.
Apprentice, Wizard, Familiar: Capricious spirits helping you cheat on your Hogwarts exams.
Collaborating on the tale of one central character is a treat and the game mechanics are appropriately simple. Good rip on Potterism with a cheeky twist.
Best bit: the highly entertaining spell components.
Aquila: Dynastic politics and power games in a constantly developing environment.
Seems to end rather abruptly, but a very interesting game. The base mechanic is so-so, but there’s enough interesting elements included to raise the bar significantly. Nice to see a contents page, too.
Best bit: the circle-drawing island creation mechanic that helps you build the game’s environment together.
Arcane Engines: People gifted with the ability to warp reality struggle against The Man and their own power. Simple take on an old idea using a deck of playing cards and some broad strokes. Not entirely my cup of tea and could do with some more flavor.
Best bit: bit: the more you change the scene, the closer you get to reality-whiplash.
At Any Cost: 2 player storytelling game using custom cards.
More like an alternative to Once Upon A Time than a true rpg, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The fact that you are competing over Anchors is a lot of fun.
Best bit: Excellent printable sheets for all the cards. Top job.
Automaton: AI detectives race their human counterparts to solve robot-related crime.
My initial caution soon gave way to respect. There’s more to this than meets the eye. Useful GM tools for tracking the progress and corruption of the human investigators is handy and the AI castes are well presented.
Best bit: the wonderful map charting the current status of your AI and the actions it can take. Very smart.
Bag Pulling Game: Combat-based fantasy revolving around drawing tokens from a hat (or bag, as it were).
Not a lot of meat here, but kudos for trying something different. A light system with a focus on collaboration in fighting.
Best bit: the fact that flaws are called Baggage (because the game uses a bag, yeah?)
Bakehouse Brawl: Mix two parts WWE with one part Iron Chef..
A great concept let down by a lack of useful rules. The cooking aspect barely gets a look-in other than to add flavor (see what I did there?) but the descriptive text is worth a laugh.
Best bit: encouraging non-participants in a fight to be the commentary team (which would have been a prime opportunity to give them GM powers).
Blue Shift: When life dumps garbage on you, make garbage-life.
An entertaining little romp on a HoL/Low Life scale with a core system that allows you to use random dice. Not entirely workable, but a fun idea. The artwork doesn’t entirely suit the content, but nice to see some colour.
Best bit: the description of how galactic refuse can create life.
Bootleggers: Firefly gets the Apocalypse World treatment.
Seriously, there’s a lot of words wasted here which could have been replaced with “we’re playing Firefly”. It isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really get me wanting to venture into their “Big Ol’ Black”.
Best bit: the cute little Blackjack-esque mechanic that makes every roll a risk.
Children’s Radio Hour: Entertain the kids or get the axe.
One hour game format which only allows certain times to speak out of character at the risk of Dead Air. A roleplaying challenge with Nordic gaming sensibilities.
Best bit: ready to play sheets and the strict timing structure.
Conspiracy and Cowards: Viva le revolution!
A highly polished game about usurping power. Playbooks, maps, GM tables and index cards are all available and elegantly presented. Really good game.
Best bit: where many other games say “add complications and agendas” this one gives some simple tools to help you.
Damned: Political manoeuvrings in Hell.
Nothing particularly groundbreaking, but the design is appealing and clean. You play demons who want to advance in rank but further details are thin on the ground.
Best bit: welcome examples of potential plots.
Dark Secret: Three act narrative where a secret identity is exposed.
Great little game with superb layout. Almost ready to go, though needs some fleshing out on a couple of important Associate archetypes (bit lazy there, guys). Other than that niggle, one of the best.
Best bit: fluid, simple storytelling techniques understandable to veterans and newbies alike.
Double Potions: Make a potion; pass the class.
More Hogwarts humour here as you and your classmates try to complete a potion whilst engaging in Munchausen-esque banter. The final verdict of “Professor Snoop” seems highly arbitrary, though. On the whole, I prefer Apprentice, Wizard, Familiar. (Note: most downloaded game at this time).
Best bit: Snoop’s caustic chart for grading your work.
Eat at Joes: Alien witness-protection in a ‘50s Earth diner.
High concept, but low on playable rules. Heaps of suggestions, but needs a more solid framework. Completely random scales for character creation with minimal examples for ratings leads to too many unanswered questions.
Best bit: nice archetypes for NPCs for a GM to chuck in at a moment’s notice.
Faery Wedding Reception Party Game: Fairy court game with card mechanics.
Sets itself up like a freeform larp where you build the characters on the fly, but doesn’t quite nail it. Would work better as a tool to help create a larp rather than a game in itself, especially since the setting and system would take quite a long time to explain to a group.
Best bit: the narrative Keys that reward you for acting in character.
Fallen Sky: irradiated western survival drama
Great setting and a cool card mechanic about deck turnover. One of the few card games so far that takes some deck-construction game concepts. Not the most brilliant system, but looks intuitive once you get the hang of it. Worth checking out.
Best bit: randomly assigned letters from home that help build your characters in-game. Could be explored in more depth, but is a fantastic idea supporting an equally interesting game
Fear of the Dark: kids fight against the darkness whilst avoiding being put back to bed.
Really cute game with a built in time mechanic. Does what it sets out to achieve with aplomb. Would be a heap of fun to play, especially as a teenager character.
Best bit: Having a charm that helps against the darkness, such as teddy or your favourite book.
Fetch This: revenge and rebellion against your human overlords.
Sparsely ruled game with a fun sense of humour. Best played lightly and the system is appropriate, largely relying on not wasting all your dice or else you’ll get caught. Examples are inspiring and cute.
Best bit: the freedom to play as a goldfish, even though that would really suck
Field Work: ”Have you tried turning the tentacles off and on again?”
Hilarious take on the supernatural investigator genre. Having everyone else act in various GM capacities during your scene is a great idea and the framework of a working day totally nails this form of roleplaying. System is minimal and discardable, but the storytelling techniques are well made.
Best bit: The hilarious fiction pieces.
Flashback and Fate: changing the past to achieve the future.
Microscopesque exploration of history design where you get to alter the timeline so that you can lead the story toward your goal. I wasn’t huge on the core mechanic and found the game a bit dry before long.
Best bit: core principles of the game stated right up front. Appreciated.
Forgeborn: creating magic items for mighty heroines (or heroes) to save the world.
This is fantastic. I really enjoyed reading this. Strongly board-game influenced, you get to create it together. Nicely arranged and clear rules. Very different, but a brilliant addition to the toolbox. There’s a lot of ideas here that you’ll steal for home games.
Best bit: dropping dice on a sheet to create the map. I applauded the screen reading that. Genius!
Friends of the Venom Spider: power, manipulation and insects.
Political power struggle using the insect world as a metaphor. Could lead to some heated Diplomacy-esque resentment around the tabletop, but only if you’re playing to win. And you want to play to win. A good Spider is what can make this game special.
Best bit: The character creation quiz is a good twist. And the confrontational spider image on the cover lets you know that no holds are barred.
Galactic Arena: intergalactic Olympics with Earth’s reputation on the line.
Simple card customization engine, but could do with just a bit more in the way of examples and templates. Some printable cards would step this up a rank. Bit of fun.
Best Bit: personal goals, which could have been more influential.
Game of the Gods: mythical adventures where you build the pantheon of deities.
I’ve always liked the classical hero-god politics of the ancient world, and this game captures the divine pettiness well. Printout charts and simple tables for resolutions are good game design and the whole package is ready to play. Bravo.
Best bit: the nice use of having the twelve face cards of your deck being indicative of each of the twelve gods you’ll be creating. Clever.
Gashlycrumb: trapped in the minds of Victorian schoolchildren haunted by the ghastly Umbrellaman.
Not sure if this game actually requires the “trapped in the mind of another” aspect, but the system supplied for it is solid. The charts aren’t clearly explained, but the options on them are great as storytelling tools. Some endgame options and ideas would have been nice. Macabre little read and could be a bit of fun, especially if the role of the children was explored more.
Best bit: the wonderfully creepy Umbrellaman who serves as antagonist to the game.
Gho5t: digital exploration of Emergent Intelligence.
Token sharing narrative game set in a cyberfuture “network” with a simple game engine, but the true power is the gorgeous presentation. Open source cyber-wallpapers have been used to startling effect, though the system doesn’t slack off to ride the coat-tails; it calls shotgun and pulls its weight.
Best bit: the very first time you open the document and go, “Ooh…”
High Velocity Times at Space High: high school antics in spaaaaace.
There’s a lot of appeal in playing Futurama High School (as I’m calling it) and the mechanics try not to get in the way (roll d12s because they look the spaceyist, indeed). Some tighter GM tools would have been welcome, but a good effort.
Best bit: thumbs up, thumbs down mechanic for popularity contests.
Hound/ed: 2 player cat and mouse chase.
One player is the Hound; the other is the Hounded. Play cards to gain narrative control and see who gets gobbled up. Uses a custom deck of cards, though you have to design them yourself. Printables would have raised the bar. Would make a decent packaged card game concept.
Best bit: a lot of these games have left the parameters for story options too wide, so I appreciated solid card enforcements (“You flee the Hound. How?”)
House of Hades: finding meaning in the world of the dead.
A dark, spooky journey with the novel approach of using dominoes. Very exciting. Lovely character creation and use thereof with a satisfying endgame. Loving the gothic horror vibe and the resolution method alike. Great work.
Best bit: they call the dominoes “bones” in a game about the dead. Ha!
If at first you don’t succeed: fuck it up, fix it up.
Groundhog Day style time loops encourage you to fail your objectives so that you can come back and fix them later. Playable in multiple genres and the list they offer is exciting and ready to play. Takes a simple Microscope basis and improves on the design. Much more elegant than it looks.
Best bit: the backwards timer of game sections fits the theme and is refreshing for a reviewer.
Imperial Measure: Make enough to last one more lifetime.
Use your experiences and memories of previous lifetimes to earn enough credits to pay the Empire for another one. I like the concept and the simplicity of the game. I would like to see more options to overcome challenges than the two presented, but both of them are excellent.
Best bit: totally different rules for different types of risk-taking.
In A Week of Sharks: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
Party game in the Werewolf mould but with a giant man-eating shark called Vescor. Rock, paper, scissors mechanics for a social environment and a good selection of scene cards help you tell a tale on the fly. A couple of tweaks and printable cards would raise this into Contender ranking (and it so deserves to be one). I love it, but it just misses out.
Best bit: Vescor always wins when he wants to eat someone. Chomp!
It Is Forbidden: culture clash and escalating tension.
No dice, no cards, no randomisers. Perfect party game and handy educational tool about identity and prejudice. Best played with a lot of people and great for social gamers. A brilliant alternative to Werewolf/Mafia.
Best bit: you’ll always have half the room opposing you and the other half backing you all the way.
Keeping Counsel: courtly politics and narrative bribery.
I really was liking this, but it feels unfinished. The endgame seems lacking and the number system could be minimized. Not to say this is bad – it’s really very good and I love the voting system in principle. But it just doesn’t make the cut.
Best bit: bribing other players with advantages so you can maintain narrative control.
King of Bones: jazz musicians trying to keep on side with the Boss.
Using music as a key game mechanic is a really hard idea to pull off and this game almost gets it done. The set pieces with the Boss are fertile roleplaying ground, but the system doesn’t quite reach the target. A bold and valiant effort.
Best bit: the Boss, who is never completely happy.
Langer Memorial Trauma Centre: gruelling shifts as an overworked night-watch doctor.
Original setting with some things to say about the nature of healthcare. I almost lost a bit of interest when they brought in some system mechanics, but the GM-only section put it into perspective. A good brainfucker that takes an artistic approach to game design.
Best bit: the big reveal.
Last Year’s Magic: boastful old wizards argue over drinks at the pub.
I love the “box” here, and the Munchausen style of play. Easily done over drinks in dressing gowns. Fun party game if you strip out the deck (or replace it with more specialized set of cards). Easy enough to get a grip on and a load of good, clean fun.
Best bit: coming up with preposterous excuses when your magic goes haywire.
Life As It Was: childhood after the adult apocalypse.
A dark premise about growing up the hard way. Simple system with ready-to-run character booklets of minimal length. The archetypes are great, the system is solid, and it seems to work well. Probably won’t hit my final selection, but worth a second look.
Best bit: the dark reflections of each of your advantages.
Magical Mystery Tour: Sell out or stay true to the music.
I love musical band games. This one follows a ‘60s band as they struggle between pursuing their muse or falling into the corporate machine. The two GM method is a good touch and the Virtue/Vice system allows for good customization and conflict, but there could have been a better core system than “roll 2d6 and add appropriate”. Surely there could have been something more inspired.
Best bit: Simple, clear instructions and just enough options to kick your creativity into gear without getting in the way.
Millennia: Playing through the mythic ages of a history.
More Microscopey goodness, but this game offers so much more variety. Playing as world-building titans is a different experience to playing rulers of nations later on and the rules wisely change as the various ages are introduced. Has a great sense of flow and direction offering a wide range of storytelling techniques. Intelligent and interesting.
Best bit: like a series of mini-games that all flow together nicely. It could have become chaotic, but has been reigned in beautifully.
Mixtapes and Mistakes: college party goes wrong.
Subject matter may be too much for some, but a great little game where taking risks saves you from dying but raise your chances of going to jail later on. A simple freeform game and a good structure. Swapping and stealing Risk tokens from other players looks like fun.
Best bit: the dying player gets to become the detective handling their own death.
Muscle Wizards vs Lazer Dinosaurs - Turbo Vampire Edition: well, someone had some fun.
Almost like the three game designers said, “Fuck the contest; let’s get shitfaced.” The humour is out of control and is honestly quite a laugh. However, it should have maintained the same tongue in cheek attitude to game design (“draw a picture of you being a FUCKEN BADASS” would have done the job). Unlike many other games, this never needed a working system and should have spent the time keeping the giggles going.
Best bit: the funniest of the funny games and essential for those of you who’ve already read a lot of the games so far.
No Myth: the consequences of planning for the wrong apocalypse.
You need more than a setting, a couple of working rules and some nice ideas to make a fully working game. The conflict resolution is baseline and the storytelling tools comprise of a page that is all advice and no actual help.
Best bit: very useful resource cards keep this out of “meh” territory.
Platonic Mastery: philosopher-wizards of classical Greece try to counter the atrocities of the state.
Great idea with an odd die mechanic. Deciding on the sins of your culture is a good hook, though I feel like the game isn’t quite finished. Can do with some polish, but doesn’t require much.
Best Bit: the callings that state not only what you see as a crime but what you plan to do about it.
Pony Express: My Little Pony the online roleplay.
I’ve only recently begun looking at the world of online text-based roleplaying, though I’ve seen few systems that could make it work. Pony Express, however, has got the problems covered. I probably wouldn’t play it with the setting supplied, but I’m prepared to give the “friendship is magic” train a ride.
Best bit: the use of keywords to influence the story and use your abilities. Really good narrative tool.
Psycheball: cyber sportsmen risk their minds for glory.
Sports games have never been a big thing for me, but I like the league aspect. I also can’t see a lot of reason not to use regular sport rather than mundane ones as the central concept, and the rules don’t feel cyber, either. It’s a neat clean work, but doesn’t have the X factor.
Best bit: playing through the matches in mid-session mini-games.
Psychic Detective Agency: improv theatre with psychic cops directing the scene.
The line between roleplay and improve theatre can be real thin at times. Central mechanic here is improv theatre, but with the added framework of different psychics responsible for establish the past, present and future. Less theatrical players might baulk at it, but it’s a good little improv game. (Not sure about using the term American Freeform, though…)
Best bit: unashamed theatre game core.
Q: a tale of the recent war against the monsters.
Would take a little bit of setting up, but could be a great experience. The concept is nice, but the mechanics don’t excite me at all. Still, holds its own in the narrative department.
Best bit: The Dungeon Crawl Classics-like joy of having multiple characters that can die in horrific ways.
Salt Crown: Spanish Civil War superheroes.
Very simplistic game that is more interested in the effects of war than the superpowers you possess. Sadly another great idea let down by a boring game engine. The text could have given us more flavor and the criminally overlooked piece of history the game deals with seems discardable or easily replaced.
Best bit: the unique subcategories given to character attributes.
Sandbox like: simulating old-school campaigns in a fraction of the time.
There’s very little in the way of Old School Roleplaying/Renaissance in this competition, but Sandbox Like is giving it a try. Some of the rules seem unusual (what’s with Clerics getting screwed for hit points?) and the game became a bit too dry after a while. Not as good as Forgeborn.
Best bit: the simple index card method of creating your map
Shadow of Ares: colonial space drama.
I haven’t encountered any outright bad games so far, but someone did fuck this one up a bit. The setting, timeline and locations are fantastic, but the system is awful and the writing for the most part is abominable. At least one of the earlier contributors did some great work, but the final product is the worst I’ve seen so far. Sorry guys.
Best bit: really good alternate timeline and some great flavor excited me at first.
Shinobi Village: long forgotten island of ninjas adjust to the modern world.
A lot of passion went into the setting, but it just isn’t for me (though I like the graph showing the inhabitants and their relationships.) The rock-paper-scissors mechanic is a bit tired (apart from fighting) and the structure of play is a bit too loose.
Best bit: the novel idea of throwing one hand over your heart (showing defense) and the other extended (as attack) for combat. Brilliant addition to “throwing fists’ mechanics.
Silver Tongues: bluff, boast and baffle your way to success.
A storyteller’s game at heart, Silver Tongues uses a gambling mechanic to tell stories. However, the framework seems a bit arbitrary and there’s a lack of focus that can’t be excused as a byproduct of allowing freedom for creativity.
Best bit: the dueling mechanic where the person to come up with the most puns wins, and a similar seduction mechanic that utilizes double-entendres, lift this game a ranking.
Space Problems argh: star trekkin’ with a possible traitor that even the GM doesn’t know about.
For such a simple looking game there’s a lot of good work here. The traitor mechanic is great and the basic system is fine. But the true beauty is in the charts that help you make quick space encounters on the fly. Countdown clocks denote mission priorities and party collaboration is key. Could have done with a helpful sheet of “clocks” for the GM.
Best bit: three alternatives for the traitor’s goal, so you can never be sure if there’s one at the table or not.
Spiral Star: larp one-shot with some strange happenings on a yacht.
Great little scenario with a perfect box that you can run in your own home. Simple layout and intuitive play are bonuses and the essential custom play cards are all provided. Ready to play with a bunch of friends in your own home. Perfect con or party game.
Best bit: knowing your Horrible Doom ahead of time, but trying anyway.
State Cinema: Entertaining the One True State with propaganda of the leader.
The concept here is hilarious and darkly entertaining. Some of the simpler elements are wonderful, but I dislike interrupting scenes in their height to bring in randomized dice resolutions. These should be worked out either before the scene or in another way. Likewise the family scenes could have been smoother. Needs a bit of work to realize its full, glorious potential. Regardless, I love it.
Best bit: three different players get to blindly collaborate on a picture of the despotic ruler.
Tales From the Vasty Deep: troubleshooters on the space frontier.
Starts off with a cute premise and then falls flat discussing a game system that is little more than bare bones. Uninspiring.
Best bit: playing the actual good guys.
Tales on the Weird Seas: anthropomorphic boats OSR adventures.
There aren’t many “classic” roleplaying games in the competition (the word limit is one reason) so this is highly welcome. A simple system, it lets you take a standard D&D style adventure and replace the humanoids with Tubby the Tugboat. Built with kids in mind, but would be just as fun for adults.
Best bit: includes its own monster manual section!
The Book of Armaments: tale of a weapon and those whose hands have wielded it.
Great setup and revolving GM process, but the card mechanics are a bit dull. Everyone would have a lot of fun playing the Weapon. Decent, but not A-grade.
Best bit: Comprehensive example of play.
The Clinic: medical institution horror.
It’s unclear just how many of the evils of this setting are purely in the minds of the PCs, and the confusion is perfect for the setting. Yes, No, And, and But largely comprise the narrative mechanic with some card trading going on as well. Works, but feels like it’s missing something.
Best bit: rewarding PCs acting in accordance with the Clinic’s inaccurate hypotheses.
The Coven: dealing with the Devil.
Texas Hold ‘Em mechanics where you can succeed despite your hand if you let the Big Bad fuck you up. A great idea that would work in conjunction with something meatier, but is unfinished. I like the central mechanic but the package isn’t quite there.
Best bit: the tense bargaining scenes where tabletalk provides the central entertainment.
The Deep: the deepest space, the darkest place.
Space exploration where the universe meets the edges of the world of nightmares. Although play mechanics are simple, the game relies far too heavily on the GM’s ability to create stories and gives her few techniques or tools to help her. The core mechanic is dull, too. Fine from the player POV, but annoying for the GM.
Best bit: you get to haunt your old party members if you die and get the ability to screw them over.
The Dream Palace: exploration of story through the connection of the unconnected.
With the right group of players this could be awesome. You each take a moment of your day, jam them together and find meaning in them. A total stoner experience in some ways, and I could see a group of players becoming really close over time. Much deeper than it appears.
Best bit: could possibly change the way you look at the world.
The End: all alone in the night.
There’s an awkward moment here when you realize that you know how to set up this game, and you know how to run the midpoint, but actually starting the game is totally unclear. Uses a FUDGE lite mechanic, but not sure what really to use it for. Is it a survival drama? A reflective soul journey? Lacks focus.
Best bit: the opening, where you work out what caused The End.
The Hot Seat: an infernal day at the office.
Corporate politics in a company owned by evil powers. Uses a token and hat system that seems like it could work well (though I can’t quite pinpoint when they change value). Making characters in an interview process is perfect for the setting and the hidden agendas create inter-player conflict quickly.
Best bit: the hilarious different departments and their sinister motives.
The Mask and the Daydream: adventures in your own subconscious.
A one-player game that feels more like an exercise in creative thinking and mind-mapping. Has a few good motivators but very little in the way of tools to help you daydream effectively. I admire and respect the ambitious idea at heart here, but I don’t think it achieves what it sets out to do. Largely, you can replace the entire game with the phrase “daydream and use some kind of creative outlet to express it.”
Best bit: a truly one-player game (though maybe not a game at all)
The Perfected City: family politics and the duels that define their struggle.
Conflict scenes dominate this game and are given the majority of attention, which is a welcome change from “make up any scene” game design. Mechanics are a simple voting system where you give advantage to your preferred storyteller. Crisp presentation, though what’s with the big blue boxes?
Best Bit: detailed culture that someone has spent a lot of time on.
The Policy of Truth: CIA handlers and their Iraqi agents try to influence Baghdad in September 2004.
Brave choice of subject matter that could have become too dry or deep, but it has been handled perfectly and is constantly engaging. A two-player game at heart, though could be adapted for more. The sheets, handouts and other tools are professionally presented and the minimal mechanic suits this game. One of the best games made in the contest.
Best bit: CIA-style character sheets where you run a black marker over everything that isn’t true. Brilliant!
The Prophet’s Price: fulfilling destiny using the Tarot.
There’s a lot to like about using tarot cards to help you tell stories, but this game simply feels incomplete. Conflicts and base mechanics are largely hand-waved off and the techniques used to interpret cards are almost non-existent. Maybe that’s intended to make a comment on the traditional use of such cards, but that’s probably a stretch.
Best bit: you don’t need to be familiar with the cards to play.
The Quantum Haruspex: cyber-wizards repair holes in reality.
Microscope meets Dixit with a tarot deck. Always nice to see an attempt to use a tarot deck, but a little tired of “interpret as you will”. Core mechanics consist of consensual interpretation with a revolving GM. The basic world idea is a bit more interesting than the other VR settings I’ve read, but it still just feels like an excuse to include anything.
Best bit: dropping just enough guidance to use the tarot deck without stifling imagination.
The Red Token: Can you be forgiven for your atrocities?
An exploration of guilt and redemption, it uses a basic voting mechanic to decide on the endgame. I love that it focuses not on if you are able to complete a task but on the morality behind your choice to do it. Could be confronting or an absolute riot.
Best bit: the game ends once each player has contributed a major vote to the story.
The Rending of the Veil: sci-fi meets fantasy in an epic tale of transformation.
There are many submitted games which can be set any a variety of places, but The Rending of the Veil is one of the few to supply a full workable setting (though it does give a lot of scope for customization). There’s a lot of intuitive ideas in the setting and characters are given great power. The mechanics are simple and effective and the supplied map is a treat. Really good game and brilliantly presented.
Best bit: The map which is integral to gameplay.
The Reunion: a damaged family is brought together, or falls further apart.
Family drama where discovering secrets can help you on the path to reconciliation. Has one of the best methods for creating connections between characters that I’ve seen (though the die rolling should be optional). Good game for casual gamers and veterans alike.
Best bit: placing common items between players to symbolize their connection to each other.
The Spirit of Nations: defending your culture against invasion and destruction.
One of the few games to readily admit that is a mechanic that you can add to another game of your choice. Well done, guys. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. However, I don’t really know why the game went for a “lower dice is better” mechanic.
Best bit: ”Use this in conjunction with your favourite system.”
The World As Such: subversive take on the art of game design.
Absolutely brilliant! Takes the idea of roleplaying games as artform and then totally scraps any notion of needing to be a game at all. In some ways this is a game about interpretation and can be played with any number of people. Maybe it isn’t a game at all, but a form of freestyle jazz only understood by gamers and poets.
Best bit: the S. Morgenstern-esque conceit underlying it all.
Through the Woods: lost children seeking their way home.
This really looked like it was going somewhere, what with each suit being trumped by another and the appealing concept, but it falls flat. Yet one more game that encourages you to roleplay but never quite gives you the right tools. Nicely presented, but some poor syntax lets it down.
Best bit: the trumping order.
Timelines: time traveller uses butterfly effect on own lifetime.
Playing different versions of the one character at odds with each other is a pretty funny idea and conjures up a lot of Rick and Morty-style shenanigans. Good use of Microscope principles but keeps things directed with a linear timeline that can break if you stretch it too much.
Best bit: having complete autonomy over the scene you’ve travelled to because you’ve seen it before and know what to do this time.
Titanomachy: ancient Greek gods develop their ascent to primacy.
Follows the gods as they consolidate their power through gaining followers. Develops from affecting lone believers and on to nations and entire cultures. Sadly, there’s no framework really for storytelling, so this is yet another gaming aid and not a full game. Pretty good work, though.
Best bit: the big ol’ list of powers.
To Return a Wallet: doing the right thing is harder than it looks.
A game for one player and multiple GMs. Such a simple idea but an utterly inspired one. Players and GMs use the stuff in their pockets to affect the story and the example lists are excellent. Fitting somewhere between competitive and collaborative play, this game is a delight.
Best bit: finding out how important your trivial belongings can be.
Transmission: finding out what happened to a space colony.
A simple text document, but a great game. First part of play has you creating transmissions from a lost colony; the second part has you examine the colony’s aftermath and draw conclusions as to its fate. Could be used for a variety of forensics set-pieces.
Best bit: a non-conflict game, but the optional action rules are really good and not just tacked on for completion’s sake.
Twilight Hotel: mysterious happenings in a quaint setting.
Great method of setting up with characters being introduced to the game by checking in and being shown to their rooms before being brought together for dinner. Keeps the locked-box mystery tropes coming and I love how you silently signal your intentions or support by moving the position of your dice. Sadly, for all of its charm, it remains a discardable paperback and not a masterpiece.
Best bit: the sweet use of hotel terms for various game elements.
Ultranormal Encounters: interrogating amnesiac abductees.
I’m not too sure on the system but it seems okay. However, the idea is fine and the floating narrative framework is accessible and solid. There are a lot of example playbooks to use, too, giving some direction for participants.
Best bit: includes tools to help you design your own playbooks, which a lot of games have neglected to do.
Under the Broken Moons: post-apocalyptic sci-fantasy.
A really cool setting and a die-drop method of map making excites me, and I really like that your core traits are Savagery, Science, and Sorcery. But they seem largely unexplained with Sorcery being entirely thrown under the bus. Could have been great, but instead is just plain good.
Best bit: the explanation of what’s really happening.
VHS Fury: a B-grade movie studio employees try to make the best films they can.
A four-player game ideally played with a timer. Presents competition well, but also encourages collaboration. The arguing and bidding mechanic is clever in that it has both long and short term tactics. A clever game in many ways but keeps the focus on fun.
Best bit: the four character types have links to the visual look of suits.
Village Council: “trump-making, trick-taking, rpg butt-kicking.”
The document ends with a note stating that the game is unfinished, and I’m glad that was admitted. The card game that forms the heart of the system isn’t my style, but I appreciate the idea. The symbolism for the suits and Seasons is nice, but it seems like the storytelling could lose immersion in such a tactical game.
Best bit: the idea that you’re running various guilds and institutions.
Voyage of the Promethean: 2spaceship tale of failure and desperation.
There’s so much good work here that it’s a shame that it doesn’t all come together. Character Roles are dealt with nicely, Plot Consequences and Skill Tags are both neat, and Mood mechanic is funky, but it leaves me a bit baffled. The individual parts are excellent, but it becomes a bit of a sprawl. One of the crunchier narrative games. Needs some printouts, too.
Best bit: a positive mood helps you use benefits, but a bad mood lets you draw on your flaws.
Wizarding: another Harry Potter game.
Largely guidelines and advice for running a Harry Potter game, but the tools provided are scarce and there are other, better examples of this type of game in the competition. The system left me bored, as a whole.
Best bit: collective dice pool that diminishes as you get into trouble, amping up the tension.
Yearbooks in Disgrace: high school hijinks.
Sets itself up as a rebellious coming-of-age tale, but it seems to be more encouraging of playing by the rules. The Gain/Strain mechanic is really good and fits well with the ability to add or reroll dice. The four character scales are a good template for the traits for any “school-days” rpg. But it needs a bit more direction and polish.
Best bit: Gain and Strain.
Zen Flashback Battle Zero: supercharged duel between two old foes.
A Last Airbender/Dragonball Z setup, this game is a two player card battle. The twist is that the history of the two characters fighting is only revealed during play. More card game than true rpg and could have gotten a much better grade if it supplied printable cards. Pity.
Best bit: the possibility that you could end up realizing you’re fighting over nothing.
My next step is to select my Top 5 from the Elites. I'll probably write that up.
Pleasee let me know if you found this useful. To all of you currently enjoying the #threeforged ride, hope you're having as much fun with it as I am.
Special thanks to Alan for the neat review chart available here. You rock, tiger.
All authors (and their drafts) can be found here.
Pleasee let me know if you found this useful. To all of you currently enjoying the #threeforged ride, hope you're having as much fun with it as I am.
Special thanks to Alan for the neat review chart available here. You rock, tiger.
All authors (and their drafts) can be found here.