As this year’s 200 Word RPG Challenge was ramping up I wanted to take a look back and review some of the lesser known entries from previous years. So every day I reviewed one entry for each letter of the alphabet. This was a fun way to force myself to look at games I might otherwise pass over. I’ve collected all the reviews here for easier reading.
“A” through “R” come from 2015 and 2016, the rest from 2017. Let me know some of your favorite entries in the comments!
A is for All Fall Down
I know. Picking a winner to start off feels like cheating, but this game still sticks in my mind years later.What first struck me was the candles. Taking the time (and words) to talk about setting the mood with candles is gutsy. It must have been tempting to cut that out, but the game is much better for it.
Matches are such an ingenious idea to build a mechanic around. Not many common household objects have one use, but matches make perfect sense. Ryan doesn’t need to explain “only use once and then mark differently”, it’s use is understood.
In fact, taking advantage of existing player knowledge is important to all games, but crucial to 200 Word RPGs because of their limited wordcount.
Finally, the game naturally follows the story arc of a survival story. Players start with promise and supplies but slowly run down to nothing. Curtain Falls. Flames die. Smoke rises.
The tone, mechanics, and materials are just perfect. Well done, Ryan!
B is for Blinded
Today we’re looking at Blinded from Jim Rennie in the 2016 challenge.
This entry piqued my interest because it reminded me of my wife. She has a very sensitive facial memory. If I shave my beard or cut my hair it takes her a day or two before she grows accustomed to it.
It would be interesting to play Blinded with some a tight-knit gaming group. You would still have your memories, but you wouldn’t remember what your friends or family members looked like. How weird would that be? You could drive to your office, but wouldn’t know your co-workers.
I would play this as a twilight-zone kind of mystery game and have the players try to track down what happened. Maybe you need to borrow your sister’s car, but you don’t know what she looks like, or your friend works at the news station, etc.
Very clever way to make the familiar seem alien and threatening.
C is For City Coin
First, aside from reflecting my own coin-based game “Clink”, I like that the game specifies the players use coins from different countries. It implies a lack of belonging, of unfamiliarity. Sets the tone of the game.
The mechanics are evocative. Even success drives home that you are not welcome in this city. I love how outcasts succeed over what they were shunned for, nice exception to the rules to drive that home.
I would definitely play this, maybe with a Numenera, post apoc vibe about finding a strange techno-artifact and trying to sell it/use it.
D is for Deicide
This one’s a supplement from the 2016 challenge, not a full game. Little supplements like these are interesting because you can use them with whatever system you choose, they aren’t self-contained.
“It’s true that you can smite a dragon with little effort. But now you’d find it so draining that you might not ever be able to do it again.”
I really like this idea, but I think the challenge lies in finding the right group for such a game. Most people can find some engagement with growing stronger and gaining new abilities. Less people are enamored with the idea of doomed failure and gradual despair.
Still I think for the right group this could be a blast, especially framed within a specific goal the players must accomplish before passing. “Defeat the 5 Dragons of Esther” for example. The first one will be a joke. The second one will be difficult. The third will be a serious challenge, the fourth will be impossible, and the fifth will kill you.
E is for Emperor’s Revelry
Emperor’s Revelry by Keith Kelley takes the Baron Munchausen formula and adds a GM-like character. The Emperor is the key to making this game work.
The Emperor must find the right balance between generous and cruel. Too cruel and no one will make it. Too generous and everyone will make it. I think it would be best to play the Emperor as a wildly unpredictable Child God King. Kinda like the Joker. You never know what will set him off, or what they will adore.
In fact, I might take it further and have each player write down 1 or 2 things that the emperor hates. In the end you might have a list like this: Anger, cups, the color blue, clear skies, cats, and high-pitched voices.
Each player knows of a few things, but no one knows everything. I can see a game like this being a blast with the right kind of Emperor.
F is for Family Matters
Having one player be the Donna (Mafia Boss) and judge the other players is really clever. I love the idea of players competing to one-up each other and impress the Donna. And Family Matters as written delivers that pretty well.
But aside from the stories told, the Donna has no way to know which players put a loyal/disloyal card on the table. How I would fix this is with a grudge token. Each player begins with a number of grudge tokens that they can spend to basically talk smack about other players.
At the beginning of each round the Donna leaves, or closes their eyes and the players show one another the cards they are going to play. The other players know who is being disloyal/loyal, but the Donna doesn’t. While telling stories, another player can spend a grudge token and put it on their card to represent suspicion or disbelief.
That way the Donna must decide if they can trust what the other players are telling them. Could add another element of storytelling and bluffing.
Either way, Family Matters looks like a blast to play.
G is for Good Times in Granite Gulch
Again, like my post about All Fall Down, any words spent on tone and flavor must be used with the greatest care. GTGG spends the extra words in order to sell a mood, one of cowpoke wrasslin’ grit and gristle! I just love all of the flavor and word choice demonstrated here. Fantastic work.
The rules are straight forward and serviceable. Nothing too crazy, although using a deck of cards for a western game just FEELS right, and is worth the extra effort. Also I love how skills are all missing the last letter (wrasslin’, shootin’, lyin’), it looks like a blast to describe your character to the rest of the group and find ways to use your skills.
Great job, Jason, you’re a true rough-ridin’ cowboy.
H is for Hero Cop II: Death Sentence
This is the sequel to “Hero Cop 1: My Happy Life”. This cliche filled fun-fest is written Hero Cop II: Death Sentence by Stephen Karnes. A game for exactly 4 players, each one has a specific role to fill and only a certain number of sentences to do it with.
Unlike most of the other games on this list, I think this one would be best played by post, or over a text chat. It requires players to carefully choose their words and their sentences; a very challenging game to play live.
Laid out like a play, each scene has specific motivations and roles. Each player rolls a die telling them how many sentences they have to explain their actions. In the end, the hero and villain have an intense roll-off ending in one-lines (where the die result is how many words you can speak).
Aside from the sentence requirements, I think this game works so well as play-by-post because it’s short. 30 mins and you’re done. A great game to try out or kill some time on a forum page; and I hope to see more games tackle this design space of short-focused play by post ideas.
Neat stuff! Thanks Stephen Karnes!
I is for Interns and Invaders
Who doesn’t love a good job interview? What if your life was in danger? I’m not selling this game very well am I?
Interns and Invaders by Sheila Ayala Heady takes the boring slog of an office workday and provides the tools for a gripping adventure. You create your characters by answering a short job interview (ha!) and then must use those skills to escape some sort of horrible monster attack (double ha!).
If I were to GM a game like this I would have a Half-Life 1 kind of adventure where the players must escape the office building as monsters swarm and the place begins to fall down around them. Maybe have them try to work with other employees to break into new areas of the build, repair elevators, etc. It could be a ton of fun!
Could be an interesting twist on a one-shot survival game.
J is for JukeBoxers
Music->Artists->Songs->AllSongs->Shuffle->click…..Alright! Jukeboxers by Phil Rosen, my favorite!
Jukeboxers feels like it needed just a few more words to fully explain itself, but the core idea shines through nonetheless. While your song is playing the other players give traits just based on the song alone. Strength, friendship, fighting, lying, etc. Later, on your turn, you use the song and the traits given to describe your goals and how you accomplish them. Then you roll a number of dice equal to the traits you used.
if your result is high enough, you pull it off and narrate it. I love the idea of using music and picking songs, but what really makes it work is how the OTHER players assign traits. You might think your music is powerful and full of badassery, but if the other players assign traits like “trying too hard, emo, butt metal” then you might need to adjust your story a bit.
It’s a cool idea. I think playing this would be a fun way to share some of your favorite music. Sitting around listening to a song while thinking of applicable traits would probably be an interesting, meditative preparation to the story telling.
K is for Kintsugi
Huh…this game looks a little familiar…oh wait, Kintsugi is one of mine! I hadn’t originally intended to do my own entry, but there are only TWO games that start with K, so I’ll give myself a pass.
Kintsugi was heavily inspired by Roll for Shoes, a little forum game by DWeird that had a shocking amount of popularity. I figured I could tweak it a bit to give some more structure, and Kintsugi was the result. Kintsugi also has the distinction of starting this who 200 Word phenomenon in the first place. Here’s the original post, and the rest is history!
My wife and I recently updated Kintsugi with some new artwork, a cleaner layout, and expended mechanics. Grab a copy and see for yourself how it has grown!
L is for Last Stand
Can’t decide between wistful flashbacks and brutal combat? Last Stand by Lee Mohnkern has got you covered!
I like how the tone is set immediately: You are surrounded by your enemies, and you will die. You roll the die, narrating your kills until you fail a roll. You take a grievous wound and your past flashed through your mind. Originally designed for 2 players, I would LOVE to see how this works with a group of 3 or 4.
One person begins, narrating the combat until they take a wound, at which point they narrate the flashback. Then the next person picks it up and describes the next sequence. You can’t contradict what has been said, but must build upon it.
I would definitely play this!
M is for MegaCorp
To play this one you need a set of Scrabble tiles and a Jenga Tower. If you’re not curious, I can’t help you. MegaCorp by Ben Scerri rides the line between rpg and board game closer than most of the games in this alphabet.
I like the mechanics, and I think it’s clever that no one else sees the words you are trying to get them to say. To increase the role play elements, I would probably decide beforehand what our meeting is about, and how the words we made will affect the company. So if my word was “Lion”, I might talk about our secret project, codename LION was messed up by another board member and could endanger the company.
Also, the imagery of corporate executives greedily taking blocks from a crumbling tower just rings true. With the right group, MegaCorp would be fun and devious!
N is for Night Shift
Bored. Boring. I don’t think I can….oh wait, what’s that? Night Shift by Joshua Mackay? Awesome! I am very interested!
Balancing character disinterest against their interest is something I haven’t seen before. Disinterest is used to resist weird distractions while interest allows you engage and investigate. The author mentions that Night Shift is inspired by “Welcome to Nightvale”, and I think that’s exactly the tone it would thrive under. Weird, otherworldly customers come in with various problems and the players must help them. Maybe they have to avoid the terrible gaze of the faceless woman while helping her find the right battery for her phone.
I’d probably run this with two or three players, a small enough group that silly, short stories would entertain.
O is for Of Blood and Shadows
A game with brutal mechanics really shines because of the way it uses it’s cards. In order to succeed your card must have the right number and the right color. Otherwise you suffer success with a cost or outright failure. Any drawn face cards act like power-ups that can be spent when needed to switch card colors, recover from a setback, or take cards from others.
I don’t quite know what the scores are for, or how they interact with the difficulty of the task or the drawn cards. But my main take-away is playing as monster without purpose and drawing cool power-up cards that can be spent later. Neat ideas!
P is for Paladin and Heathen
As a Christian I simply couldn’t resist this one, as my wife and I had many religious conversations and disagreements when we first met. Paladin and Heathen by Luke S Hendrix is built for two people, a paladin who captured and is escorting a heathen.
The question prompts are interesting, and I love how the heathen picks their core ideals while the paladin selects their duty and virtues. One is measures their life from within, one from without. What a great dynamic to center conversations and disagreements. The implication that the two could fall in love (even if that doesn’t happen) also adds another layer of conversation and role-playing.
I just love this, and will hopefully convince my wife to play it sometime soon!
Q is for Quick NPC Generator
Quick NPC Generator by Doug Ruff isn’t anything special, but it is extremely useful. Although these questions are meant for NPCs, I would probably use it for my players.
Often it can be difficult for new players to flesh out there characters and lists like these were super helpful when I was a new player. These are some of the best from the list, along with 2 or 3 questions of my own:
When you first look at them, what stands out? What things are they really good at? What things are they really bad at? How do they react to danger? What motivates them?
What are some other good questions to ask when creating a character?
R is for Robot Ranger
The game is a solid Apocalypse World hack, and I was surprised to see custom referee moves! These are one of the most important parts of AW games, and it’s nice to have some custom guidelines for this game.
This is one of the games that make me question the decision to make 2016 and 2017 entries text-only.
S is for Stop Reading to Lose
I generally tried to avoid finalists in this challenge, but I wanted to make an exception with Stop Reading to Lose by Jesse Coombs. The content isn’t exactly my bag, and isn’t a story I’d like to imagine. But the format and the concept really grip me.
I don’t know of any other challenge that used the contest format as well as this one. As a website the user can scroll for a long way, encountering each sentence one at a time. This forces the reader to take some time in between the next prompt and think about it.
I love to see this kind of creativity and innovation. Jesse should be proud!
T is for Trash Pandas
The name is hilarious; I’d never heard raccoons described that way before! The writing and the mechanics evoke the silly scheming life of raccoons beautifully. I think the character-specific abilities are pretty clever, if a bit awkward.
I just hope you have a LOT of dice, 20d6 is no joke! Shaking a box and pulling out dice just sounds like so much fun. I hope to play a game with my friends sometime soon. Trash Pandas is solid silly gold.
U is for Under the Mountain
At first I was unimpressed with Under the Mountain by Liam Moher . The mechanics and rules are perfectly functional, but nothing very surprising.
Until I read this line: “Gain a Coin [when you] submit to trouble or play a supporting character in another’s scene.”
It’s amazing how few of these entries understand that mechanical rewards will direct play. Players will do whatever they must do to get the shiny things. Encouraging players to both submit to trouble and help other’s with their own scenes is fantastic. I would love to see more games setup this simple kind of reward structure.
V is for Valor: The Dimming Flame
As I began reading this entry I was immediately hooked. Valor: The Dimming Flame by Thomas Evans starts off strong with a theme of paladin being pushed to their limits. Unlike Paladin and Heathen, however, it doesn’t take the concept as far as I’d like to see.
In Valor players roll 2d6, trying to roll an 8 or higher. Any dice that result in a 1 immediately take away one of 7 resolve points. That’s not great; you’re punishing players for random events, not giving any interesting choices. Maybe it could encourage some roleplaying, but I think it would often make awkward situations like, “I failed to convince the guard to release me….and I rolled a one. Guess I don’t believe in God any more.”
Then Valor tries to make an interesting choice mechanic by allowing you to willfully spend resolve and add another die. This is cool, and could be used on events that really matter. However it doesn’t stick the landing because this special action STILL triggers resolve loss when 1’s are rolled.
I wish the player had more control over how resolve is spent or lost. As it stands, it’s pretty random, and the only choice you can make is a risky gamble with minimal benefit. I’d love to see this theme expanded upon like it was in Paladin and Heathen.
W is for Wizards of the Tome
I love books, and George Philbrick‘s Wizards of the Tome uses books! Awesome. I’m sold. Magic abilities are always a fun place to take an improv game because the players can do anything. Basing their spells on book titles just makes it more interesting!
I like how each spell can only be used once, although I don’t see the point in keeping spells secret from the other wizards. Unless you’re planning on inter-group conflict, but I never find that to be a fun dynamic.
The game kind of fizzles out at the end with “Flip a coin for non-magic stuff”, but there’s only so much you can do with 200 words. I love the concept, and with the right group of players and books this could be REALLY interesting.
Just imagine what kind of spell “A Shortcut to Mushrooms” would be…
X is for Xenia
This is the only ‘X’ game in the history of the 2017 challenge, so it steals this slot.
Xenia by Mel sets itself up as a masquerade, hidden role kind of game. As much as I like the idea behind these games, I think the actual experience would be awkward and unfun. Unless you’re playing with a bunch of people who are very creative and good at improvisation, it could easily fall flat.
It relies heavily on Zeus making good curses and players being able to adapt to them. If Zeus told me I can’t talk for the rest of the game, or I must use the word “moist” in every sentence, I would immediately lose interest.
Games like these can be fun, but often require more rules or more explanations than Xenia can afford in this format.
Y is for You’re a Werewolf but it’s Not a Full Moon
“You’re a Werewolf but it’s Not a Full Moon” by Pete Rude is a game about werewolves in between their transformations. Players start playing on Monday, and each day has a goal or challenge they must accomplish.
Little things like hanging out with your friends, trying something new, or spending time looking at the stars. I can see these little exercises being fun even without the roleplaying element. Getting some friends together and agreeing to play this game as a community would be a blast. Share how you accomplished your goals, and make the week a little more memorable.
I would even discard the werewolf trappings and just make it a game to break up the monotony of the week. Cool little gem of an idea.
Z is for Zagyg’s Ancestral Word
The dice mechanic is basically a coin flip; I don’t know why we roll 2d6 and compare them against once another. The interesting addition to the game is when one of the die rolls a 6 another word is added to the world. The method is vague, but I could see adding a new character, situation, or detail inspired by that word.
Likewise when the die rolls a 1, a word is removed from the game.
I’d love to see more ways to remove words, making the setting dissolve as the players go through a story. Neat idea!
??? is for [REDACTED]
This game requires a bit of prep; players come to the table with a detailed dossier typed up for their character. Things like past missions, blackmarks, personal issues, and so on. As you play you can cross out words and phrases from your dossier to help you and add dice to your rolls.
It’s a clever idea, requiring players to be clever about typing their dossier as well as which phrases and words to use. “Assassinated a Target in Cuba” could be used to pull off a smooth gun shot, OR it could be used to justify knowledge of the Spanish language.
This is definitely a game that begs for more expansion; and the author mentions they have been working on a fuller version. Hopefully we’ll get to see something of that one day.
This was a blast! I really enjoyed this format of reviews; maybe in a few months I’ll get the urge to try it again. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Let me know what some of your favorite entries were in the comments. Thanks for reading!