Saturday, August 4, 2012

RPG Review Recess - curse the darkness

I ended up picking up a game a little while ago called curse the darkness from Play Attention Games.  It had a pretty nifty kickstarter going, but if you missed that they're pretty close on getting the game out.  It was going to be arriving at Gen Con but printer problems being printer problem it's not going to make it.

The game itself springs from a simple premise, what if someone with enough anger and enough power could simply do away with all the things that they felt were the cause of all the world's suffering?  What if someone could use the shadows that have terrified us for ever and show that there really was something to fear?  It is ten years after this did happen, after His voice rang out of the shadows and entire cities fell beneath the powerful grip of his shadowy minions.  He declared that the only rule now was to take care of each other, all other ideology was banned and anyone not following those rules would be met with the only punishment available ... death.

Of course, this is funnily enough an ideology.  Something I'm sure that was ... Oh! AH! *dies*

I'm sorry, the previous reviewer made fun of HIM, and therefore was met with an untimely death.  Which is something you will have to get used to in this game.  Because ultimately it's not really about the individual people.  It's really a game that talks about cultures and societies and how we deal with this kind of stricture.  When you start the game, the gaming group will decide where they're located in the world, how they are following the rules, and how they're breaking them.  When I got to play this at Origins, and I really enjoyed how it gave you a sense of what your community was about and where you were going to end up transgressing.  Making a character is really just putting a few numbers down in your stats and coming up with a keyword that describes something about the character.  It's pretty simple, which is important because that character you just made up is no stronger than the piece of paper it's written on. If you want a game where you take one character and progress them from immaturity to power then you will want to go elsewhere because that won't happen here.  Your characters are made quick, and die faster.

That's okay though, because even in death they do serve a purpose.  There's a mechanic in the game that talks about remembering the falling, and bringing them up to help you through troubling times which is mimics with a memory point system.  Now, when I got to play this game there was someone who really was trying hard to game the system where they would try to bring up anyone no matter what the situation or circumstance, no matter what the relationship they had with that character.  This is not a flaw with the game, that's just going to happen sometimes because there are people who are like that and -- I didn't do anything!  What! *gurgle* *dies*

Okay, I am your third reviewer and let's talk about why there might be some gaming to be had with this game.  The rules themselves are very gameable.  It's kind of somewhat encouraged, particularly when it comes to things like Removal Challenges.

What's a Removal Challenge, well ... let me back up a bit.  The game revolves around two kinds of challenges.  The first is when no one has a chance of being killed.  That one just involves a target number and the current face up card in your applicable stat.  If you have higher, you succeed.  If you have lower, then you fail.  Nothing too traumatic, you just may need a different way to solve a problem.  However, once you've done enough of these Challenges you move onto the Removal Challenge.  That's where the live in death thing happens.  The players get a chance to stack the deck in order to try to get a favourable outcome out of the four available.  You either succeed and live, succeed and die, fail and live or fail and die. Of course your GM is trying to stack the deck against the players, so it's not like everyone isn't busy trying to figure out what's the best way to come out of this in one piece.

I'm not really going to go over how it works here.  This really is one of those games that you kind of have to walk through the steps in order to really get it.  Not that you need the Game Designer there to explain it to you, but after reading it I only understood because I had seen it played out.  It's one of those things that's kind of odd and complicated to explain but kinda really easy to show.  It's like magic trick that you just don't get until you physically hold the cards in your hand and go step by step through the instructions. I mean, no wait it's just illusions ... all in good fun ... I mean AARRRRRRRRRGH! *dies*

Okay, the one other big thing that I think is lacking is mentions of antagonistic play between the characters.  No matter what HE says, there will be moments when you just don't like each other and that's going to come to a head.  There are small things, like getting the ability to fresh (get more cards) for your stats when you shut down a memory conversation, but I'd like a really big section on what happens with being angry with each other.  I would probably like a little bit more of interest in a player when they curse the darkness as well.  A section on things you can do to help fuel that "keeping my head down" or even "being the informant" kind of way.  Something like encouraging players who have cursed the darkness to give points to the GM for when they feel that other players have broke the rules.

The pictures are pretty awesome, but I will say I am disappointed a little bit at the graphitti.  Not that I could do better than what's in there myself, but I was hopping for a little more subtle insertions of it.  Don't ask me how, maybe behind some text, on the sides, bigger, smaller ... just something to break up what I was seeing in the graffiti.

Ultimately, I think curse the darkness is pretty successful at what it does.  It gives you a very different frame work from a lot of different games, and really makes you look at the whole culture you're playing in, rather than just the characters themselves.  There's a lot of tension in the Removal Challenges, and in the way that you get to have HIM randomly show up unannounced to see if the players are breaking the rules.  Of course you ultimately have to decide if you want to keep fighting and light a candle, or just give up and hope not to be notice by cursing the darkness.

There, I survived that.  I guess we should have a funeral for the other reviewers.  Assuming we can find the pieces of them.  If you want the game, the PDF is currently available on DriveThru RPG.

1 comment:

shortymonster said...

Looks like you need some paranoia style clones to be able to review this game. And remember citizen, trust the computer, the computer is your *urck* *thud*

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