Fast-forward to 2017, and it was only a couple of months ago that I was arching my eyebrow at the announcement of a spin-off titled Whitehall Mystery. I read the preview articles and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was supposed to be excited about.
This week review copies of Whitehall Mystery stepped out from the foggy alleyways of publisher Fantasy Flight, and I gave it a play. And you know what? There’s now egg on my (blood-flecked, murderer’s) face.
I think this is the best hidden movement game ever made.
Everyone's talking about Tales from the Loop, the game of roleplaying young kids in a 1980s that never was. It’s got everything you need to play out your own version of Gremlins, E.T., Stranger Things, or any movie where kids hurriedly pedal their bicycles to save the day (but should probably be home before dinner).
And who wouldn’t want to play a kid? Adolescence is amazing, and I'm not just saying that because I spent months teaching middle school Algebra. All the hormones, and discovery, and bravery, and adventures, and confusion… it's perfect RPG fodder. The question is whether Tales from the Loop successfully unites ‘80s nostalgia and middle school feels with good science fiction mysteries.
Ok, I confess. I teared up more than once while playing it. What did you think?
Quinns: I’m going to be very British and delay talking about my emotions so I can squeeze this in above the cut: I think Tales from the Loop is a cool, clever, beautiful book, but the real reason I want everyone to know about it is that it might also be the easiest experience I’ve ever had being a Games Master.
I keep telling people that I’m not especially enamoured with Sagrada, that it’s just my latest diversion, but then I say they should still try a game with me. Then it hits the table again. Then I’m playing it once more. Then we have a good time and I think about the next person I want to try it with. Then it goes back into my bag and I bring it to someone new.
Am I in denial about just how much I like this?
That was my desk.
It isn't much to look at – an austere, industrial thing. The kind of desk I now imagine factory workers flipping over in some proletarian revolution. But I spent huge amounts of my late childhood and early teenage years here. Pouring through those roleplaying manuals stacked in one corner, drawing elaborate maps on that graph paper, and – as the spackling of color attests – painting the little figurines that line the shelf above.
Those were my first space marines.
About a month ago, Games Workshop released their 8th edition of the Warhammer 40,000 rules. Back when I was painting at that desk, it was 3rd edition I played. As much as those iterations between then and now can be seen as cynical cash grabs – partly because some of them were – there is something noteworthy about this new one. But more on that in a minute.
DON'T TELL ANYONE, but some of the best roleplaying games out there are not available at your local retailer. Thanks to the magic of the internet, they're completely free.
These irresistible blossoms of RPGs can suddenly appear on Twitter or Reddit only to vanish within a few days. Sometimes they'll quietly bloom on a designer's Tumblr or publisher's homepage. A few older ones thrive quietly in the dark places of the internet to be occasionally plucked by some intrepid RPG gatherer who brings them back into the light. There's even a contest-fed bouquet of 200-word RPGs out there, as Quinns and Paul mentioned in a recent edition of Games News. The brightest flower of all these lovely free RPGs, however, is Lady Blackbird.
That was the end of my second play of Bushido by GCT Games - the actual impaling being only metaphorical, if you're the queasy sort, but the defeat and delight being real. From my first encounter, what intrigued me about Bushido was that I found it immensely pleasurable even when I lost horribly. Let me try to explain why.
If the name and picture don't make it apparent, Bushido is a tabletop skirmish game set in a world inspired by Japanese folklore, or at least a western, Tolkein-filtered riff on Japanese folklore. Elves and Dwarves are replaced by Tengu and Oni, the heroes include snake-people and warrior pandas, and the outfits look like the result of a raid on a Kurosawa film's prop closet. All in the best possible way.
I'm wondering where the last two hours went and how I didn't notice we now have an audience of a new visitor and a cat. I realise, suddenly, that on this cool spring evening I'm bathed in sweat. This is the aftermath of Millennium Blades.
We've spent the time pretending to be players of a fictional collectible card game in an anime universe. Millennium Blades is, then, a game about playing games. This sounds like a recipe for a design that disappears up its own backside. Instead, this game is interesting, intense and ingenious. Stuffed with self-referential satire, it sits, winking at its players from the comfort of its oversize box. If you can unpick all the parodies from a card called “I’ll Form the Head” from the “Obari as Hell” card set, you’re a higher voltage gamer than me.
None of that prepared me for the bizarre investigations that I commenced upon my return to Minneapolis –– investigations that continue as I write. Therefore, while I still retain enough of my mind to write, I find it imperative to tell you all this:
There is no Lovecraftian mystery game as engrosssing, as well-crafted, or as much sheer fun as Pelgrane's roleplaying game, Trail of Cthulhu.
For the last few weeks I’ve been fretting and sweating against these games' arbitrary countdowns, searching for the best simulation of being locked in a room. And do you know what? I had a consistently happy time of it.
But the time for happiness is over. Two series emerged as front-runners during my trials, and it’s only right that I pit them against one another in cardboard combat. From Germany, in the blue corner, we have the prestigious series of EXIT: The Game. And from France, in the red corner, we have the flashy contender known as Unlock!
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! LET’S GET READY TO