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  • John Power Jr.

ZineQuest / ZineMonth Round-Up Part 1

Having moved to August last year for, let's just politely say reasons, Kickstarter's annual ZineQuest returns to its traditional February setting for its fifth instalment. With the even more indie-minded ZineMonth running alongside it at the same time that means there's an abundance of new titles to check out this month but as ever we've rolled up our sleeves and dived in head first to bring you our first look at what's caught our eye.

2022 was an odd year ZineQuest, the now traditional Kickstarter campaign designed to flood the world with RPG zines and hopefully encourage many new games designers to dip their toes into the dirty world of publishing. But whilst last year's decision to shift the date to August without much in the way of communication left many games designers in the lurch it did lead to the launch of semi-rival ZineMonth.


A platform agnostic, grassroots campaign hastily put together by the indie community itself, ZineMonth placed a much greater emphasis on providing resources and knowledge for wannabe creators, such as Goblin Archives excellent Annotated Archive of Game Design Resources, and encouraging game designers to look beyond Kickstarter, after all time and time again we've seen the perils of relying too much on one company in this industry.


This year both campaigns have aligned and that means that across the likes of Kickstarter, Itch and several other platforms there's an astonishing number of RPG standalone games, adventures, miscellanies and much more besides to check out that range from your traditional dungeon crawls to journaling games to several much stranger, unclassifiable games.


I like to think of this month as a little like a health check for the RPG scene, a chance to see what ideas are bubbling away in the undergrowth, what trends we might be able to spot amongst the huge amount of titles released, and especially in the case of 3rd party "content" see which systems game designers currently see as worth hitching their wagons to.


We'll have lots more to say about both ZineQuest and ZineMonth later in the month but for now here's our first selection of titles currently crowdfunding that have caught our eye and that we think showcase just how inventive and diverse this scene is right now.



ALTNYC88 - HUNTING HIGH & LOW


With its minimal rules, maximal vibes and a setting that gleefully loots everything from those rough and ready early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics to films like Escape from New York, Pontus Björlin's ALTNYC88 is one of our favourite RPGs of the past few years.


Anyway, Björlin is back with the third, and final, part of the Dr Zeke's Garments trilogy, a sprawling misadventure that has pitted our brave gangers against elephant headed mutants, sewer dwelling punks, hideously modified robot cops and more in a quest to recover the titular McMuffin's.


After Part 2 arrived on a fold out map/poster, complete with snazzy Decoder Glasses, the campaign returns to the more traditional zine format, though once again we're talking a beautifully laid out and illustrated Riso-printed creation and to close out the series Hunting High & Low throws that staple of straight to VHS 80s classics, the shadowy ninja clan, into the mix as the search for a legendary denim vest hots up.


If that all sounds ridiculous it's because it is and we couldn't love it more. For more on both Björlin and ALTNYC88 check out our interview with him from our second issue.


Find it on: Kickstarter

Campaign Ends: February 28



DEAD AIR


Growing up in the 80s I've often found comfort in revisiting the existential horror of total nuclear annihilation and have recently been "enjoying" Taras Young's brilliant Nuclear War in the UK, a wonderful if somewhat horrific look at how the British government hoped to steer us through Armageddon in the event of the Cold War hotting up.


If you too long to conjure up a warm radioactive glow of nostalgia, and Putin's current sabre rattling isn't enough, then Fiona Ruthven's Dead Air should do the trick.


A solo RPG, Dead Air takes place in a post-apocalyptic Glasgow, if you can imagine such a thing, and with just a pen, paper and deck of cards you too can while away the hours as your character ekes out a few desperate weeks trying to keep their emergency radio station going whilst the world around them crumbles into radioactive ash.


If that all sounds a bit too depressing, and I'm sadly looking at my unplayed Twilight 2000 box set as I type this, Ruthven promises that this is more "The Thick of It meets Threads" than just straight up misery porn and takes loving aim at both the somewhat optimistic government messaging of the 20th century and the ludicrously bleakly reality of the situation.


Find it on: Kickstarter

Campaign Ends: February 22



DINOCAR


If, for some inexplicable reason, the thought of recreating the last desperate moments of an irradiated wretch doesn't appeal, and who are we to judge, how about Dinocars, a game that finally dares to explores the premise of what our world might be like a world if someone's magical wish to meet dinosaurs came true.


If you're thinking blood, mayhem and the like then you're in the wrong game as these dinosaurs, obviously, decided to settle down, get jobs, look after their families and most importantly here start driving cars.


Keeping it family friendly the game skips over poignant soul searching moments like our new Dino-friends asking awkward questions like what petrol is made of and instead focuses on the inherent comedy of massive beasts with tiny arms trying to navigate the streets in inappropriately sized sedans.


Billed as a "Chaotic Art RPG For All Ages", Dinocars sets you to work drawing a map and creating this brave new dino world as you chart their madcap road-trips and daily commutes, leaving you with a both a work of something at least approximating art and a fantastical story by the end.


Find it on: Crowdfundr

Campaign Ends: Feb 21



DRAMA LLAMAS


Knowing the propensity for RPGs to wallow in gore and misery lets keep things light for at least a couple more games here and what better way to do that than with Drama Llamas, a standalone game of fame hungry llamas who are out to make it big via the medium of reality TV. Yep, you read that right, indie RPGs, aren't they great.


Anyway the game is divided up into episodes in which are camelid characters must compete in challenges, engage in attentention seeking bouts of conflict with their rival llamas and deliver soulful confessional interviews, all in a bid to become the series' breakout star.


Is this all a deep and meaningful allegory for how modern culture shaped by reality TV and the overwhelming desire for fame has turned our society into a human zoo, or is it just a game about ridiculous llamas? Guess you'll need to play to find out.


Find it on: Kickstarter

Campaign Ends: March 16



HIT THE ROAD JACK


The open road has long played an important role in the American psyche, both as a place of freedom but also in the long empty stretches between cities a place of danger and Hit The Road Jack deposits you one on these sun baked asphalt rivers deep in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the horizon ahead of you and trouble behind.


Playable as a solo game or two-hander the game sees you take on the role of either the hunted or the hunter, out on the road mid chase. A deck of Tarot cards and the zine will provide you with all the prompts you need to flesh out your characters background and, as the chase plays out, find out how their story ends.


The game in its ashcan version is available immediately and the funds raised from the campaign on itch will go towards paying for more art, recoup some of the production cost and potentially fund an audio version of the game.


Find it on: Itch

Campaign Ends: Ongoing


GOLF QUEST


Full disclosure here, the designer of Golf Quest - Anna Blackwell - is one of our freelance writers but seeing as we first hired Anna because of how impressed we were by their solo games such as DELVE it should come as no surprise that we continue to be interested in their games.


So Golf Quest then, a game which the Mensa members amongst you may have already figured out revolves around golf, or more specifically the pen and paper version of it that you may have played at school and which then combines that simple-ish dexterity game with RPG elements, because why not?


Ah yes, those RPG elements, as you may have also guessed this is no ordinary golf course, and alongside the more familiar obstacles such as sand bunkers you'll also need to navigate your way through 3 trap filled dungeons, before returning to the 19th hole for more roleplaying shenanigans as you play out the all the rivalries and complications of the clubhouse.


If that all sounds incredibly odd (and I say that fully aware that we've already covered fame hungry llamas in this round-up) then you'd be right but then surely that's the point of both zines and ZineQuest, to provide a place and space for game designers to experiment, indulge their strange whims, surprise and hopefully delight us.


Find it on: Kickstarter

Campaign Ends: Feb 22


HIVE OF THE CRAWLING CREEPS


Ok, if you were worried that this was all going to be charmingly whimsical games about roller skating beavers or the like then lets mix it up with some good old fashioned body-horror.


Casper Dudarec first came to our attention through Deepest Valleys, a delightfully illustrated wargame that managed to streamline and shrink everything down to fit in one DL sized ziplock folder and yet still provide a fascinating, and importantly fun, experience.


Hive of the Crawling Creeps though is a complete change of direction being a system neutral adventure set in the eponymous Hive, a "tangled nest of organic tunnels and chambers almost impossible to escape."


And yes escape you must as it really doesn't seem like the kind of place that you'd like to hang around in, filled as it is with all manner of disgusting looking creatures that have been cobbled together from various parts of Dudarec's own body.


The adventure comes in two parts, the bestiary featuring six of these anatomical horrors and then the setting itself. Buy it now via Itch and you get immediate access to the bestiary with the funds raised paying for the 2nd half to be completed, notably with the edition of a map by the brilliant Lukasz Kowalczuk.


Find it on: Itch.io

Campaign Ends: Ongoing



MÖRK BOLL


Having mashed together the worlds of MÖRK BORG and miniature wargames with the acclaimed, not least by us, Forbidden Psalm, Kevin Rahman is once again at it, this time with MÖRK BOLL an equally violent if perhaps more tongue in cheek game that brings Blood Bowl style fantasy football mayhem into the miserable if colourful world of everyone's favourite Swedish art-punk RPG.


As you'd expect this is no genteel, or indeed gentlemanly, game and it seems to have inherited the nastiest traits from both parents promising such delights as being able to decapitate your opponents and then score goals with their now severed heads and play being disrupted by maggots raining from the sky.


Which to be honest having lived a literal brick's throw from Millwall's stadium for much of the 00s all sound horribly familiar, though thankfully a lot more fun.


Find it on: Kickstarter

Campaign Ends: Feb 25



THE CONNECTION MACHINE


Something I'm keen to explore more of this year are multi-player, GM-less games and one that we will almost certainly be adding to the pile will be Tanya Floaker's The Connection Machine, a game in which you are tasked with entering the dreamlike 4th Dimension by a powerful super-computer, as you do.


Within this surreal setting your minds will be turned against yourself as past traumas take on demonic forms (PTSDemons to be precise) and, well, basically attempt to do bad things to you, their waves of attacks threatening to disrupt the Hypercube.


Did we mention there's a Hypercube? Well there is and rest assured that its destabilisation would generally speaking not be considered a good thing.


Survive the experience though and not only do you get to say you've prevented the destabilisation of the Hypercube, and lets be honest that's not something you get to do every day, but you may even emerge stronger from it all having found some degree of inner peace.


Lots of big ideas and bigger words involved here but if you've a gaming group you're comfortable with and looking for something that behind the technobabble is focused on creating a space for meaningful experiences then The Connection Machine could be well worth exploring.


Find it on: Kickstarter

Campaign Ends: Feb 20




AQUILUS


This first round-up's been fairly heavy on the more, let's say, leftfield end of the RPG spectrum so let's cap it with two titles currently crowdfunding that are perhaps a little more traditional in nature if no less wonderfully strange with it.


The first of these is the third issue of Singing Flame's Aquilus, who some of you may know from the brilliant DNGN, and what we have here is your classic looking OSR miscellany, essentially a zine sized KNOCK! that looks like it will give you a contact high if you touch it too long.


Within its pages you'll find all kinds of new classes, micro-settings, events, NPCs and other strange detritus to bolt onto whatever your retroclone of choice happens to be, with everything here inspired by the Weird Fantasy of authors such as Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance or Lord Dunsany.


So, if you're looking to add a touch of Zothique oddness to your games, want to fill your world with unsettling techno-fantasy anachronisms, eldritch temples dedicated to unspeakable gods, the forbidden magic of a dying land and/or you've ever accidentally drunk bong water whilst contemplating your orb then Aquilus could be just the ticket.


Find it on: Kickstarter

Campaign Ends: March 2



THE ELECTRUM ARCHIVE 2


And finally, last but it absolutely no way least we have the 2nd volume of Dutch game designer and illustrator (you may have seen his work in our third issue) Emiel Boven's OSR adjacent RPG and setting The Electrum Archive.


Part one, released last year and available to buy again as part of this campaign, introduced both the core rules - which will be fairly quick to pick up if you're familiar with games like Into The Odd, Cairn and the like - and an the setting - Orn, a world whose people were brought to the planet in ages past by technologically advanced aliens but which has regressed back to a more primitive, fantasy-friendly, state.


This new volume expands upon both with a set of new character classes to play and an in-depth look at the city of Titan Port, introducing all the things we'd expect in a bustling post-apocalyptic hub from decadent merchant houses to incense heavy bazaars, there's even a buried spaceship just outside the city to explore/loot.


Brought to life by Boven's own art The Electrum Archive is building up to be something quite special and hopefully will eventually be collected in a hardback book, in the meantime pick up the zines now whilst you can.


Find it on: Kickstarter

Campaign Ends: Feb 28


 

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