Wednesday, 29 September 2010

with a whimper - review: apocalypse world

Apocalypse World by lumpley games.

Metric: Doomsday clocks.  The use of this image as a health track and for other game elements is one example (of many) of how this game uses design to devastating effect.  It's more conducive than six boxes and Apocalypse World (AW) is chock full of details like this.

Summary: 5 doomsday clocks.  It's not often you read a game that will change how you play RPGs.  While the collaborative nature of story gaming may not be for everyone, there are adaptable ideas - the use of fronts (collaborative threats defined by plot/character relationship arcs), choice- and question-driven interactions, stakes and charged situations can be applied to established games to take them in new directions. This game deals with mature themes and includes sexuality (implicit and otherwise) with survival in a broken world.  Those looking to re-create games in the spirit of early Mad Max, Book of Eli, The Road, The Stand, Earth Abides or The White Plague will find lots to enjoy.

Contents: 5 doomsday clocks. AW is densely packed with innovative content and evocative language.  The design of it shows considerable thought and how effective monochrome is at evoking mood.  It has it's own voice and this shines into how a master of ceremonies (MC), the AW games master interacts with players from the first session to the end of the game.  A series of player moves (basic and specific to roles) and MC principles and strategies enable improvisational play, cheat sheets for fronts and individual playbooks for the roles facilitate planning and juggling this may be intimidating for those unfamiliar with this style of play.

Troubleshooting options for moves are available to help you and your players differentiate between them.  That said, once you familiarise yourself with the methods, the learning curve slackens and you find yourself looking at the game and thinking about how cool it would be if (insert situation here).  Of particular note is the MC love letter, which presents a choice-based decision process, where benefits and consequences are woven with player-provided names and backstory.  Some players may balk at the additional work (and grumble until they get a killer scene) but for email, forum or blog-based games, this format seems ideal.

Layout: 5 doomsday clocks. Monochrome and simple, section artwork is redolent of good parts of the old World of Darkness, like the game itself, it focusses on characters. The only complaint is that the PDFs lack bookmarks - a minor problem mirrored in a lot of PDF products. This is a relatively minor caveat and overall the design and style of the book is quality stuff.

Support: 4 doomsday clocks.  The game is well-supported by it's website including the wonderfully named Barf Forth Apocalyptica forum.   Playbooks, character sheets and planning sheets for first sessions and fronts are available.  The feeling is that more is coming - given the buzz from ChattyDM and Gnome Stew who have both identified how versatile the principles in AW are - it would be surprising if this game fails to endure. There's plenty of noise about Apocalypse World - deservedly.  Vincent Baker is one of the more accessible designers from the Forge and the post-apocalyptic vogue that's hung overhead like hungry buzzards for the last couple of years is a potent setting.

I'm particularly struck by the resonance with early World of Darkness only with better editing, practical advice on developing in-game relationships between characters and without metaplot uber alles. The game begs to be hacked and a profusion of variants can be found on the forum. The book is as much a toolkit for deepening character development and interaction during play as a game in it's own right. In conclusion, this game will elevate your roleplaying - think of it like going to the gym.  Some temporary discomfort and self-consciousness but soon you'll be doing things you hadn't even believed were possible.  You can acquire your copy from the Indie Games Unstore and PDF fans may want to consider the lumpley games bundle for your device of choice.

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