Itch Black Friday Roundup!
And so it is Black Friday, that now traditional festival where Americans who have given up shopping for 24 hours go wild in the aisles, bludgeoning each other to death for and with cheap consumer goods.
I like to think of it as to normal shopping what Blood Bowl is to American Football. Sadly this year’s annual Walmart riots will probably be another victim of the plague but like most things this year the action’s just moved online.
Whilst there’s the usual big savings on stuff you don’t need to be found all over the shop (come to daddy Blood Bowl… btw I will keep mentioning Blood Bowl until someone buys it for me) Itch are doing something slightly different this year.
Taking a leaf out of Bandcamp’s book the "open indie game marketplace and DIY game jam host" will be giving their share of all sales made this Friday back to the game's creators. Nice.
There is a whole other conversation to be had about itch, their place in the indie RPG ecosystem and what an "itch game" is, if such a thing even exists, but that's for another day so instead here's a few titles we think you should check out.
DELVE / RISE / UMBRA
by Anna Blackwell
DELVE, RISE and UMBRA are 3 solo map making games written by British games designer and journalist Anna Blackwell. Originally released as part of this year's ZineQuest campaign the three titles are now available as PDFs and in a nice bundle.
The premise of all three is roughly the same and take their inspiration from venerable titles such as Dwarf Fortress and Dungeon Keeper. In DELVE you command a dwarven hold and must expand your subterranean realm, uncovering natural formations, supernatural forces and long forgotten, best left buried, ancient horrors.
RISE flips the script and puts you in the curly slippers of a long forgotten, best left buried, ancient horror who now seeks to re-establish their lair, stop pesky adventurers stealing all your stuff and conquer the surface world.
Finally UMBRA catapults us into the far future and space, where you have to build, maintain and defend a new colony from all the terrible, no good things that space has up its cold airless sleeve. Good times!
Also because my life literally revolves around promoting our own kickstarter at the moment it would be awful of me not to mention at this point that Anna has written a column for our debut issue all about solo games, so hey maybe check that out too!
ECHOES IN THE GRAVEYARD
by Matt Umland
Sticking with the terrifying & unfeeling cosmos, ECHOES is a new scenario for use with everyone's first or second favourite sci-fi horror RPG Mothership.
I'm a sucker for good looking zines and I'll be honest what first caught my attention here was ECHOES gorgeous cover. I mean look at it, definite "cheap 1970s dime store pulp sci-fi paperback, written by a formerly feted author who's still coming to terms with the vast amounts of LSD he consumed at the tide end of the 60s" vibe. Love it.
Anyway I digress. ECHOES takes place upon the hubristically named spaceship 'The Graveyard', which you don't need to have psychic powers to predict isn't in for a good time.
Unfortunately for the PCs 'The Graveyard' managed to rip time a new one just at the point it dropped out of "jump space" close to their own ship and now everyone's trapped in a kind of Groundhog Day meets Event Horizon clusterfuck.
It's a well thought out little adventure with lots of lovely, if horrible, twists that should trigger some great roleplaying as the players start to figure out what's going on and really lean into the premise.
by Jack Harrison
Another solo game Jack Harrison's Artefact is a fabulous little one player game which puts you in the role of a mysterious magical item.
Work through the ages and tell the story of an otherwise inanimate object as you're found, put to good (or indeed bad) use, returned to the ground and so on and so on.
If you've ever fancied role-playing as the one ring then here's your chance. Play it as a standalone game or use it to create vivd, powerful back stories for the otherwise deathly dull Swords of +1 hitting things that people seem to leave lying around dungeons all the time.
SODALITAS / ADVENTURES ON A SINGLE PAGE by Jan Van Houten and Nicolas Folliot
The result of a French "Dungeons for Beginners" jam, SODALITAS is a lovely little one page RPG from Jan Van Houten and Nicolas Folliot. A clean, simple, and, thanks to Folliot's layout, beautiful system designed for short adventures with young players.
Accompanying it is the equally lovely ADVENTURES ON A SINGLE PAGE, a set of small, condensed but above all elegant little scenarios perfect for the young and young at heart. From a classic heist to a zombie filled jungle romp there's everything you need here for an hour or two's fun.
There's currently 7 scenarios in the pack but as the game sells more copies Van Houten and Folliot are adding new ones, so it's really the gift to yourself that keeps on giving. Check it out...
PROLE by Nate Treme
In a turn of events that will shock absolutely no one there was a brief outburst of discourse on RPG Twitter earlier this week, with this episode's brouhaha focused on games on Itch.
Are they 'real', are they 'play tested', 'what is an itch game', and so on and so on. Lines were drawn, straw men erected and 12 hours of angry tweets later it seems like nearly everyone had got out of it whatever it was they had wanted. Same time, same place next week then.
It's actually, when you get beyond 280 character snarkbites, an interesting subject and thanks to a masochistic streak a mile wide, one I plan to come back to.
For now though let's just say that this week I've picked up the new Age of Sigmar - Soulbound book & the new Mausritter box set and they are both absolutely beautiful objects that I will treasure for a long time. But I've actually devoted a lot more time this week to thinking about Nate Treme's Radikal Quest, in this own words "a one page RPG that I doodled up very quickly and put very little thought into."
And Nate is the kind of games designer I think of when I think of an "itch game" (rather than just a game on Itch, important distinction) and why the site is so important right now.
In the time that it takes a Wizard of the Coast writer to get approval for a line change in a big book, Nate's Radikal Quest had already spawned a thousand weird offspring. Most will never get played, most might be unplayable but it's in this weird crucible where the magic happens.
Anyway as it happens Radikal Quest isn't on Itch (though it is free to dl here), but several other of Nate's are, so go and treat yourself to PROLE instead.
A game that takes minimalism to it's almost logical conclusion, you toss a coin to determine success, it reminds me of my very first DMing experiences as a kid, when with no rules and no idea what to do we just got on with it and guess what, had a lot of fun. It's hard to put a price on recapturing that feeling, but as it happens Nate's managed, $7, job done.
HEARTSEEKER by Scott Malthouse
Whilst not quite as RADIKAL as Nate Treme, British games designer Scott Malthouse is someone else who has often made a virtue of paring back almost everything and returning to the fundamentals of play.
Whilst he's more than capable of turning his hand to more involved titles, such as the Arthurian Romance of the Perilous Land, he's released several super minimalist RPGs of late such as the Robin Hood inspired Merry Outlaws and just this week a new 2 page distillation of the original Dragon game.
Do we need more OSR retro clones? I mean probably not but then do we need any new games, I could live several lifetimes with what I've picked up in various bundles in recent years, so really that's not the point.
I think of it as a little like jazz standards, everyone's interpretation offers something different, emphasises different parts, takes a razor blade to others and so in its way reveals something new about the original.
Anyway Heartseeker is currently free to download, making a mockery of the point of this article but why not chuck him a quid anyway.
SCIENCE FAIR by The Brain Trust
OK so in true Apple style we've saved the big one for last. I mentioned bundles above and it's really one of Itch's best features. A chance for like minded games designers to get together and actually support each other.
Now whilst The Brain Trust presents: SCIENCE FAIR might not be as ridiculous a proposition as something like this summer's gargantuan Bundle for Racial Equality it's more focused approach does mean you'll probably remember you own these games and actually use them.
Assembled by Adam Vass and Will Jobst, hosts of the Brain Trust podcast and very good game designers in their own right, SCIENCE FAIR includes 23 titles ranging from Tyler Cumrine's wonderful map-filling-in game Beak, Feather + Bone & Chris Bissette' anarchic kebab run simulator Chicken And Chips to Simon Moody's Mexican wrestling themed What's So Cool About Lucha Libre? and Vass & Jobst's own A Guide to Casting Phantoms in the Revolution, a game which I've so far been loathe to download as it would be a constant reminder I don't own the wonderful physical version.
Anyway 23 games, showcasing the genuine breadth of talent and high weirdness in gaming today, what more could you ask for?
And remember the Kickstarter for the debut issue of Wyrd Science is running until December the 11th. 80 pages of hot RPG, Wargame & Board Game chat, juts £4 for the PDF and £8 for the actual magazine!