It was the worst of times. I had poured my heart and soul into starting a campaign for my group, and no one seemed invested. We had some fantastic times, but for whatever reason everybody seemed happy to just take from the GM. Perhaps it is just my current group. Perhaps it was the game choice. Perhaps it was me. Either way the table was not an imaginative crucible I had wanted it to be.
I started poking around and came upon two new GM-free games built around crucibles of imagination. Both games are virtual one shots. The first was Our Last Best Hope a game where the players go on an adventure to save mankind from a mankind-ending threat. The second was Microscope, which is a world-building game. I bought Our Last Best Hope in the latest Bundle of Holding, which has quit a few great indie games in their “humble” bundle.
Our Last Best Hope is taking a movie like Armageddon, Deep Impact, or World War Z and converting it into a GM-free RPG. Reading through the 135 page PDF, I liked the cleanliness of the layout although I could’ve done without the huge emphasized silhouettes of Team Fortress 2-shaped people. I say poorly emphasized because, for example, on pg. 37 a guy holding a gun up near his heads in both of his hands appears at a quick glance to have something horribly wrong coming out of the back of his head.
Reading through it is quick, and the feeling of creating a thrilling world-ending movie bleeds through in every page. There are issues at every point in the game, much like anybody would expect of a non-stop thriller. Players will die, but dead players get flashbacks, such as being recruited for the mission, on their turn. And, it all comes down to a single point where the table wins or loses. After reading the scenario creator at the end, I felt like I had won.
Then I realized that the gamist in me had to understand the flow of resources from Act I and onward. This is where reading my shiny new RPG stopped being fun. There I found that the system was okay. It didn’t feel elegant, and the Quick Start Guide felt like it was not conveying information in a helpful manner. It was either rushed with leaving stuff out or had too much stuff in it. I honestly could not tell.
It’s a resource management game where players are expected to blow through resources and many players are expected to die, which sometimes yields more resources. Those resources then can be used to add to the major resource (“Event Pool”), which is all rolled at the finale. Like I said, it didn’t feel elegant. Judging by the great reviews the game gets, I am assuming that it is the rule’s flow and explanation and not the actual rules. I feel I need a flow chart and very patient players to understand.
Microscope is not an RPG about an event. I would call it an RPG in geological time. However, much of the game is a creative world-building exercise where in magnitude form players drill down into periods of time. The game goes from sweeping periods to world-changing events to scenes. Scenes are the smallest unit, and this is where the role-playing occurs.
If the Period is the Fall of the United States, a player might create an Event called Orbital Nuke Strike Against China. If a player wants to drill down a magnitude the Scene might be the President’s Pressing of the Big Red Button. Then each player gets a role in the scene, and they color it until it makes sense. The players keep in mind that this Scene will lead to the nuking of China, and that will lead to the Fall of the U.S. However one player might want to be a Chinese Diplomat in that scene. Roleplaying conflict is good. World-changing events are good.
Unlike Our Last Best Hope the mechanics of Microscope are laid out in a very easy to understand manner with examples all over the place. Microscope’s quick reference guide is also very easy to understand without feeling to need to refer back to the core rules for each line I read. To be fair, Microscope does not have a dice or resource mechanic, but it still has some fairly complex systems.
In Our Last Best Hope, I was really excited initially, but that excitement got drained pretty quickly once I hit an “understanding the game” wall. Microscope keeps filling the pages with excellent examples, and it is laid out incredibly well. The only art in Microscope are examples of what the tabletop would look like.
I would like to try Our Last Best Hope one day. Perhaps if I see it being run at a convention that would be the best way to learn. I am glad I picked it up in the latest Bundle of Holding, but it is also a good example of an indie gem having some rough edges. Microscope, on the other hand, I plan to run. I’ve already decided that my birthday is going to be a mini-con with friends and family. Microscope will definitely be a game I run.