Here are highlights from my 2006 Gen Con tribute pile. These are new games that look way cool to me after a preliminary inspection, most often because they come with a pitch that makes me want to know more. My objective here is to spread the love by making you want to know more about them, too.
Pieces Of Eight, by Jeff Tidball, Atlas Games. This customizable game of stylized pirate ship combat uses specially minted coins, held in the hand, the way another game might use cards. Fast, fun and intuitive, it’s a testament to the game that I was not only able to understand it in my convention-addled state, but play a demo to win.
Don’t Rest Your Head, Fred (drivingblind) Hicks, Evil Hat Productions. A dark contemporary RPG about people who have such bad insomnia that they develop super powers. Wins my “brilliant IP concept of the show” award, hands down.
Wilderness Of Mirrors, John (wickedthought) Wick, Wicked Dead Brewing Company. Spy game that brilliantly turns the awfulness of traditional installation raid scenarios on its head. Here, instead of spending hours engaged in incomplete and tedious information gathering, the players determine what obstacles await them, gaining benefits that scale up the harder they make it on themselves. The game sold through its ultra-limited print run but will, if I understand correctly, appear in a mini-game anthology later this year. Thanks also to the Wicked One for a copy of his occult private dick novel/story cycle, No Loyal Knight.
Untitled, Keith (bob_goat) Senkowski, Bob Goat Press. This game appears as a battered manila folder with a rubber band around it, a hand-drawn black spiral on its cover. Inside are a variety of cryptic and disturbing player handouts, including a CD-R. According to Keith’s description as he handed it to me, this is not a game with one GM and many players, but many GMs, all taking turns to put obstacles in the path of its sole protagonist’s attempt to escape from a metaphorical labyrinth. After several pages through the material I have yet to find the crucial text bits that explain this, or give away the fact that what you’re holding in your hands is, in fact, a game. Now, I’m sure I’ll find them after concentrated study, but in a way I hope I don’t. Because what could possibly be cooler than a game where the rules are, a guy comes up to you at a show, mutters something about the game play, hands you a bunch of weird stuff, and leaves you to assemble the pieces? I haven’t been this tickled to receive a mysterious RPG treasure/art object since a spiral-bound opus called Kill Puppies For Satan was surreptitiously routed to me by its then-anonymous author, several moons ago...
Cold City, Malcolm (rpgactionfigure) Craig, Contested Ground Studios. Supernatural investigators in Cold War Berlin. I totally want to play this. Proof that you can come out of left field with a setting idea and still maintain clarity of concept.
Best Friends, Gregor (boxninja) Hutton, Box Ninja. Teen queen bees vie for social supremacy. My fave element of this is character generation, where the other players vote on your various stats. Nice clean visual presentation.
Shooting the Moon, Emily Care Boss, Black and Green Games. (Or is that Shield and Crescent Press? Two publishing brands jostle for bragging rights on the credits page.) Romantic rivals square off for the heart of their mutual beloved. Props to the designer for continuing her exploration of the under-explored romance genre. See also her previous game, Breaking the Ice.
Primitive, Kevin Allen Jr. Cavemen battle for survival in a land where dinosaurs still roam. I like this as an art object, appearing as it does on buff colored paper in the same compact sideways format as a Jack Chick tract. As I work on a revised edition of Og, I can use Primitive as a cudgel to remonstrate my players when they beg for mercy. The other caveman game, I can tell them, doesn’t give you any words at all to communicate with — all you get is grunts, man! And this one’s a serious take on the subject matter.
Covert Generation, Caz Granberg, Hefty Wrenches Game Design. Teen spies monkeywrench The Man. Spy Kids hits puberty and gets a tattoo.
Pulp seemed to be a recurrent theme this year. Pulp Era (by James "ravenspoe" Carpio, Michael Smith and Jon Richardson; Chapter 13 Press) is is an indie volume, whereas Jeff Combos’ Hollow Earth Expedition (Exile Game Studio) is a glossy commercial book complete with color signature. I asked what distinguished these from other pulp RPGs and in each case got a game mechanic as an answer. Evil Hat has a third pulp game, Spirit of the Century, in the pipeline. Didn’t get a clear pitch on that one, either. Pulp is a hard nut to crack; nobody’s quite hit the right combination of beloved genre tropes and the killer concept that makes it all seem fresh. And you can’t just add zombies to it, because it’s already got zombies in it. Anyhow, the love for the genre is clearly present with both of the two examples here, on both ends of the production scale.
Also I’d like to note that Dreamblade, a game I’m tangentially involved with (as web fiction author), is a ton of fun to play. Its innovation, for those not paying attention, is that it introduces a CCG-style pace and exceptions-based dynamic to minis play.
It may be that my writing schedule for the next half-year or so allows me to devote my Thursday nights to running games designed by someone other than myself. If that comes to pass, some of the above titles are definitely on my list to put before my long-suffering and ever-patient players. I’ll keep you posted.