Recently I wrote an article about five games to help cheer you up given the terrible year we’ve had. The thing is, the events are probably not isolated to 2016. I’m not saying that we’re going to be The Road immediately, but it’s probably going to happen.
The Quiet Year
By Avery Alder and Buried Without Ceremony
The world ended, but that’s not the point here. You had a terrible winter and what’s left of your community needs to rebuild. Together, you draw a map of the world, starting with some landmarks and the resources your community has or doesn’t. Each turn is a week, represented by a draw from a deck of playing cards. They ask you a question about the community which needs to be drawn on the map. You discover new things, cultivate projects and have limited communications about what you’re doing. The restrictions on communication help reflect the fractured nature of discourse in a whole community and act as a social mechanic to direct play. The concept of ‘Contempt’ is also a beautiful nonverbal mechanic to express displeasure in a direction someone takes things.
Will your community survive the upcoming winter? Will they deserve to? As silly as many games have been, they’ve left lasting impressions about community, communications, how we deal with problems and how unexpected things can hit us just with one bad week. There’s also a free spiritual sequel called The Deep Forest which is about decolonisation. You all play a community of monsters who are finally free from humans. They need to see if they can work together and rebuild what was theirs before The Heroes return. Both are great games with messages about communication.
By Rio Grande Games
Our world is one where climate change is having actual quantifiable effects on our planet and yet the president of America has repeatedly mentioned that he believes it is all a conspiracy by the Chinese government. People are looking more and more unwilling to adhere to the Paris Agreement.
Arctic Scavengers is a kind of brutal, ugly version of Dominion and great for it. You build a deck, just like in Dominion, but after a couple of rounds, you all have a big knife fight for the few good resources that are left. The prize might be a refugee family, some sled dogs or maybe a grenade. You scavenge through the ruins of civilisation for any first aid or other supplies which might help you recruit people to your side. You might ‘lose’ some refugees who aren’t helping you into the icy wastes where others may take them in or leave them behind. It’s brutal, but just another tactic to make sure your gang stays on top. The HQ and Recon expansions add a lot of variability. HQ has engineers add a new element where you can build bases to hold weapons or food. Both expansions add gang leaders with abilities like cannibalising some of your weaker gang members. There are goal cards which have more people join you at the end of the game if you have the most medicine or the most refugees (reversing the tactic of trimming your deck of them mentioned earlier).
It’s brutal and horrible, but a really fun game and a definite upgrade from Dominion.
Dead of Winter
By Plaid Hat Games
I’ve already mentioned the Day After Tomorrow-like horrors in the entry for Arctic Scavengers, but Dead of Winter adds a little roleplay into it. Now you’ve got zombies roaming around in the icy wastes and your community are all people who can help or useless survivors who you’ve got to keep alive through it all. The Crossroads mechanic adds a narrative element which can cause some acts of horrible pragmatism. Harold and his wife want to leave the community and head south. You could keep them or lose one morale to get rid of them both in one go. It’s a discounted morale hit for removing two mouths. It’s horrible to do that, but it’s a bad choice we’ll all have to make when we’re in frozen bunkers trying to stretch out our last pieces of canned food.
Sure, zombies aren’t real, but the Long Night adds bandits and it’s been said that there will be an expansion allowing war between colonies. God, it makes Walking Dead style moral horrors really interesting. I still want to do a ‘moral playthrough’ and see if I can survive without having to compromise my own ideals. We’ll see if that can happen.
By Goat, Wolf & Cabbage LLC
Given recent events and the rise of fascism, this game is uncomfortably prescient. It only came out this year, too. The game is a Resistance-style game about hidden identities, but with a few interesting tweaks. It’s also a fantastic use of mechanics to reflect the slippery slope of letting fascists have power. The enclosed comic for Kickstarter backers talks of how easy it was for Hitler to prey on fears and get into power without real resistance until it was too late.
The game has the pre-WWII German government filled with more liberals than fascists. Oh, and Hitler. The role of president rotates and they pick their chancellor. The pair get a set of policies from a deck, most of which are fascist, but a few are liberal. The liberals win if they get most of their policies out, but sometimes that won’t be possible just from a bad draw. Or one of them is a secret fascist. Or one of them wants to unlock the powers which come with a fascist policy. Too many fascist policies and the fascists will immediately win if Hitler is allowed to be chancellor. But then a liberal president could use those extreme powers to disappear someone they suspect to be Hitler. It’s too easy to start slipping towards fascism and then they might win, despite your initial good motives. On a completely unrelated note, there is a sticker to turn your Hitler card into Trump.
Monopoly is shit. It just is. I know people say that it was made as a social experiment type thing to show that monopolies are shit. It doesn’t stop the game being awful. One person always rockets ahead and a few people stare at their few awful properties which no fucker will land on. The bastards. Then you land on other people’s places which they’ve been merrily buying up. Sometimes there’s some chance event which will gain you something, but just as often it’ll cost you. Then arguments start and the game ends early.
Money’s the root of all evil, people. That’s what Monopoly teaches us. This is a game reflective of the unfairness of society and the futility of all things.
As a side note, there are so many role-playing games which would be suitable here. I decided that I would stick mainly to tabletop games, lest I drown you in them. Five of those to look at are:
Gamma World – The gonzo dystopia, like if Fallout was very, very high. My brother once played a giant wasp bounty hunter and one of the newer editions had people constantly mutate different abilities from a deck of cards.
Paranoia – The classic 1984-meets-Marx Brothers dystopia has received patches and updates in the upcoming edition. Think a little more Portal than Brazil. It is always the year 214 and humanity lives as a legion of clones in an underground ‘utopia’. Their overlord is The Computer, somewhere between GLaDOS and Clippy. You got a promotion by betraying a friend, so now you hunt mutants and members of secret societies. There are two problems with this; you are a mutant and a member of a secret society. There’s a reason your character has six clones.
Misspent Youth – Soon to be featured on Tabletop, Robert Bohl made a zine-looking RPG about teenagers fighting ‘the man’ in a dystopian future. You make the dystopia you fight against and see whether you can get a victory against the Authority. You can sell your convictions to force victory, but are you willing to do that?
Apocalypse World – Of course Apocalypse World is on here. The second edition has embraced some more Fury Road-ish elements and is a more refined version of the book which created the PbtA movement. You can read my enthusiastic ranting about the first edition here.
Downfall – Caroline Hobb’s game for three players where you create a society and its’ rules, work out how they changed over time and were corrupted. Then you alternate playing the hero (rebelling against the corrupted dystopia), the fallen (the authority/antagonist) or the ‘pillar’ (the forces of the status quo).
If you have any suggestions for games which will help prepare us for our future dystopias, sound off in the comments and hope that whatever overlords rule us won’t hold your responses against you.