Weekly Indie RPG & Storygame Review Weeks 32 & 33, 2017

This week:

Oh dear, so many new things! So many awards! Compounded by the fact that I missed a week and this review covers two weeks.

It must be award season: The winners of Game Chef, the ENnies, the Diana Jones Award, AND the Indie RPG Award were all announced in the past two weeks.

Then, there’s Brian Ashford’s OSR overview, Lowell Francis’ game review standards, the +1 Forward podcast on porting principles from PbtA to other games, the She’s a Super Geek podcast plays Rockerboys & Vending Machines, Randy Lubin’s Playtest Tracker, Tod Foley’s Fictioneers game directory, and Sophia Brandt’s Friday Grab Bags. And I haven’t even mentioned the new games! Jason Morningstar’s The Skeletons as a print edition, Andrew Valkauskas’ Vanagard on Kickstarter, James Iles’ Weave, Rory O’Connor’s and John Fiore’s Untold, Roberto Grassi’s The Suitcase and others, Todd Zircher’s Rewind, James Iles’ (again!) Escape, Rowan Cota’s Act of Kindness, and Small Bite Designs’ L & F hack Honor & Oni.

Events, Thoughts, Blogs, and Interviews

Game Chef Winner

This year’s English-language Game Chef winner has been announced, and it’s Pedro Ziviani with his game “Once Upon a Full Moon”, in which players are “henge” in 10th century Japan, shape-shifting animals that can turn into humans and who are on a mission to bring lovers together that were meant to be, but were separated by fate. It gives the heart-warming roleplaying game “Golden Sky Stories” and the Japanese animated movie “Your Name (Kimi no Na wa)” as inspirations.

The game uses the hearts suit of a deck of playing cards, some dice, classical Japanese poems to inspire obstacles, and half a meter of red yarn that represents the red thread of fate that connects the two lovers.

ENnie Awards Winners

The ENnie winners have been announced! Some (highly subjective) highlights:

  • One of the biggest winners is without a doubt Tales from the Loop from Sweden, which won Gold for best game, best setting, best writing, best interior art, and product of the year!
  • 7th Sea, the game of fantasy swashbucklers and pirates, was another big hit: it won Gold for best cartography (that map was created by Mark Richardson, designer of Headspace, by the way! Yay, Mark!), Gold for best free product (for the quickstart), Silver for best game, Gold for best rules, and Silver for best supplement as well as product of the year!
  • The Gauntlet’s Lowell Francis’ blog Age of Ravens won Silver in the Blog category, with Gnome Stew taking Gold.
  • Evil Hat’s Bubblegumshoe, the Gumshoe-based game about kid investigators, won best family game, with Magpie’s PbtA game Masks, about teenage superheroes, coming in second.
  • A nice surprise: The English version of Germany’s number one RPG setting, The Dark Eye/Aventuria, won Silver for best setting (in the form of their The Dark Eye Aventuria Almanac)
  • The excellent Tabletop Audio, which has countless free soundscapes for any type of game, won Gold for best website

See the full list of winners, along with extensive links at ENWorld!

Diana Jones Award Winner

They haven’t updated their website yet, but some Twitter research turned up the winner for anyone who couldn’t attend the ceremony on the 16th at Gen Con.

The Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming 2017 went to … drumroll: Gen Con itself, “the best four days in gaming”!

Being nominated is its own reward, though, so here are the nominees, which I don’t think I covered before:

  • The Beast, the unsettling erotic journal-writing card game by Aleksandra Sontowska and Kamil Węgrzynowicz
  • End of the Line, a LARP by Bjarke Pedersen, Juhana Pettersson and Martin Elricsson taking place in Helsinki that combined Nordic Larp and White Wolf’s Vampire/World of Darkness
  • The Romance Trilogy of relationship-themed role-playing games by Emily Care Boss (Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon, Under my Skin)
  • Two big names in the board gaming world were also nominated: Terraforming Mars from Sweden, which my hardcore boardgamer friends tell me is complex and awesome (but probably not for me), and Gloomhaven, which I’ve played myself a few times: it’s a cool and innovative deckbuilding dungeon crawler (but no way is it, as some people say, an RPG, at least as I play them; however, it could be similar to what I imagine Dungeons & Dragons to play like).

Indie RPG Awards Winners

The winners of the Indie RPG Awards have also been announced!

The biggest winner was Blades in the Dark, which won Overall “Best Indie Game of the Year” as well as having the “Best Support” and “Best Production”. “Best Supplement” went to Ben Robbins’ Microscope Explorer for his game Microscope. “Most Innovative” was the #Feminism anthology of nano games and larps, which is also the runner-up for best game, best support, and best production. Quill, Scott Malthouse’s solitaire letter-writing game won “Best Free Game” (and I really need to check it out, I keep hearing good things about this!)

Some more games appeared as runners-up and often more than once:

  • The Beast (Best game, most innovative)
  • War Birds, an anthology of games about women in World War II (Best game, best support, best production, most innovative)
  • The Skeletons (Best game, best production, most innovative)
  • Godbound (Best game, best support, best production)
  • Schema (Best game, best free game)
  • Bubblegumshoe (Best support)

Brian Ashford’s OSR Overview

+Brian Ashford has started a series of blog posts about what he learned about OSR games when he got into this scene that he had previously paid not much attention to. His first post answers a few questions people who usually play more “Indie Narrative Hippy games” may have.

Part 2 gives a sampling of a few popular OSR games and what sets them apart from each other and concludes with recommendations based on your personal needs. On the list: Basic Fantasy RPG, Labyrinth Lord (which I know about because it’s the awesome Alex Schröder’s favorite, I think), Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Adventurer, Conqueror, King, and finally Beyond the Wall, which is the only OSR game I own myself - in a lovely German hardcover print edition. (h/t to Brie Sheldon!)

Some Good Standards for Writing a Game Review

On his G+ feed, Lowell Francis comes up with his own interesting questions for RPGaDay and I particularly liked his answer to Day 9, “What do you look for in a review of an RPG?” An excellent set of things to keep in mind, and I’m definitely going to refer back to it when writing game reviews in the future.

+1 Forward Podcast on Porting the ‘Pocalypse’

On the +1 Forward podcast, hosts +Rich Rogers and +Rach Shelkey have a special episode that’s not about a specific PbtA game as usual, but about which parts of games based on Apocalypse World can be used in other games to make them better. Ask questions, build on the answers, countdown clocks, and the principles are my favorites from the ones they discuss, I think. Listen to “Porting the ‘Pocalypse”

Rockerboys and Vending machines on the She’s a Supergeek Podcast

She’s a Super Geek is a live-play podcast showcasing women as GMs. It’s pretty cool, you should give it a listen! (The theme song by Kieran Strange has great earworm potential, though, so be warned.)

This week I’ve been catching up on their recent episodes and their Rockerboys & Vending Machines episode (57) (continued in episode 58) really made my day a little brighter! Host Senda GMs Rockerboys & Vending Machines, an ENnie-nominated fun cyberpunk hack of Lasers & Feelings for the game’s designer Phil Vecchione and others.

Other episodes I’m looking forward to listening to are 59, which features the Tropes vs Feminism microgame from #Feminism with, among others, Alex Roberts from the Backstory Podcast.

Randy Lubin’s Playtest Tracker Tool

+Randy Lubin made a cool online database tool for game designers trying to track their playtesting sessions. Take a look at his blog post about it to find out more!

Tod Foley’s Fictioneers Game Directory

Wow, it’s been online for a while, but I only just found out about it this week: +Tod Foley is making an online directory of (mostly free) independent tabletop games (and resources), both traditional and story, which you can filter according all kinds of criteria, like “crunch”. Here’s the link to his patreon, where you can support him and/or go to Fictioneers itself, which is free to use for non-patreons as well! (You could drop him a tip into his Paypal tip jar, though, if you find the site useful!) (h/t to Ole Peder G.!)

Sophia’s Finds

As always, +Sophia Brandt has many nice tidbits in her Die Heart Friday Grab Bag, for example:

  • A new issue of the Dungeon World newsletter (#10) and a helpful reddit discussion about DW fronts
  • Paul Stefko’s short videos about Core Mechanics, for, among others, Blades in the Dark

And since I missed posting last week, I also missed mentioning her previous grab bag, which featured her quoting my “Untold” overview, thanks Sophia! But also, among others: Trash Pandas, The IMPROVisr GM tool, and the really cool-looking “Hall of the Dwarven King” roll-and-write game, along with many (well, 35) more of this type of game, which I didn’t know were a thing - like “Ada Lovelace: Consulting Mathematician”.

New & Upcoming Games on Kickstarter and Elsewhere

The Skeletons in Print!

The Skeletons at DTRPG
The Skeletons, Bully Pulpit’s meditative reverse dungeon crawl (by +Jason Morningstar) in which you play immortal skeletons trying to hold off intruders used to be only available in PDF form. Due to popular demand, it’s now been made available as a printed booklet on DTRPG. I played the game and heartily recommend it. I love how the questions prompt you to come up with loose fragments of backstories for your skeleton during play and the fact that they don’t have to make too much sense right away, but will end up weaving a full, rich picture in the end. The short to long breaks of waiting in actual darkness (no, really, lights off!) work great to give you a feel for the long centuries or millenia of waiting your characters go through before another intruder enters their tomb.

Vanagard on Kickstarter

Vanagard on Kickstarter

Vanagard is a collaborative storytelling game of Norse mythology by +Andrew Valkauskas. Players are Vanfolk, anthropomorphic animals, characters which they can create either before or during the game, something I always like to see because I know quite a few people who prefer to get to know their character during play instead of having to come up with an idea from scratch. (h/t to Jason Pitre!)

Weave: from Game Chef to DTRPG

Weave on DTRPG

Last time I mentioned that +James Iles’ game Weave was among the four finalists for Game Chef. And now it’s already up on DTRPG to buy in PDF or print! In the game you play traveling novice magicians in a world which draws power from fabric and pieces of clothing.

Untold Rulebook

+Rory O’Connor’s and +John Fiore’s storytelling game Untold holds a special place in my heart, in case you’re wondering why I keep mentioning it (I was a playtester, too). I think as a pure structured freeform storytelling game in a board game box it just has so much potential to bring new people and children into the hobby! I can’t wait for its release this October at the Essen game fair in Germany (as well as Pax Unplugged in November in the US). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, but would like to, read my overview right on this blog here.

I’m mentioning it again today because this week, the finalized rules PDF has been made publically available on Dropbox (it’s also on BGG, if you prefer). Also, a few weeks ago they posted a sweet video of the last print proof of the game itself:

Free Games & Downloads

The Suitcase

“The Suitcase” by +Roberto Grassi, is a 30 minute narrative game for two in which you are building the backstories of two women travelling together in a train compartment. Roberto usually writes his game in Italian, but has recently added several English translations of some of his one-page narration games to his site, take a look.

Rewind: Temporal Tales

+Todd Zircher has updated Rewind, his lightweight system for time-loop tales like Groundhog Day. It’s pay what you want on DTRPG!


Oh hey, it’s James Iles again - he’s been pretty busy! He’s developing one-page RPGs on his Patreon and his August game, Escape, is now available for non-patrons, as well. Escape is a microgame about an interloper being chased out of a place they don’t belong. He cites Meguey Baker’s Psi*Run as an inspiration.

Act of Kindness

Rowan Cota made this lovely nano game and posted it to her G+ (it’s probably a freeform larp, I’d say) that encourages you to perform a selfless act of kindness when you’re not doing great and also to help someone else do the same. (h/t to Rob Donoghue)

Samurai Hack of Lasers & Feelings

And finally, as always, a new hack of Lasers & Feelings I didn’t know about yet: Honor & Oni (link to PWYW at DTRPG) about noble samurai by Ian Lambert/Small Bite Designs. (h/t to Keith Stetson)

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