Day 4 – Most Surprising Game
This is an interesting one. I tend to research most of my purchases well in advance rather than go into them blind, or buy games because they hit one of my interests—I already knew I’d like Achtung! Cthulhu well before I picked it up, for example. That said, there have been a number of games that have made me to re-think how gaming works:
- Alternity (1997) – this was an odd one; shortly after they were purchased by WotC, TSR rolled out this rather slick (if now very ’90s) science fiction RPG. At the time I was neck deep into 2nd Ed AD&D, and beyond passed tales of Vampire and Shadowrun, knew nothing of other game systems. (This was also when I was in the phase where more skills/formulas = more realistic = better game, shockingly enough, and my homebrew list of non-weapon proficiencies indicates I probably would have loved Rolemaster at that point in my life.) But low, someone in our group showed off Alternity. It was a class/level system, but had a freeform skill system where you had a lot of flexibility to build your character. It had a “situation die” steps counter, where you rolled your d20 and added/subtracted another die, using that second situational die to account for other complications. (Never mind that the situation die was a clunkier version of Torg’s 1-die bonus chart.) It introduced me to other games and mechanics, and I have a fondness for it today even though its rules are a unique collection of oddities.
- Exalted (2006) – my introduction to White Wolf, a system I still play and consider one of my faves. We started playing it in college in the fall of 2006, and low and behold, it was amazing. Nobody talked about it after the game petered out, so I actually surprised the GM by pitching in to buy myself a couple hundred bucks of material. The setting is perhaps my favorite fantasy world out there. There’s so much material and so much awesome stuff to do, I could run nothing but Exalted for the next decade and still have some plots left over. Of the rules, “stunting”—describing epic actions for bonus dice—has informed a lot of my play/GM style, even if everyone in the world always thinks their GM is short-shrifting them. (I keep pulling out the big guns in our Scion game, and all the one-die stunts/cheap GM is driving me nuts.)
- Spirit of the Century (2007) – I snagged a .pdf of SotC right after it won an ENnie, and the entire thing blew my mind. I went into it because pulp ’30s roleplaying is my thing, and I was (then) still on the hunt for a copy of Adventure!, which is one of the greatest games ever produced. SotC was my introduction to Fate, and even though I didn’t do anything with it for another 3-4 years, it’s been one paradigm shift after another. It helped start me philosophizing on games theory and game mechanics. I can see myself playing this one in 20 years, if not forever.
- Edge of the Empire (2014) – as always, I was a buck late and a dollar short to the party… I gave it a year to see how it was received. I really enjoy the Star Wars setting, but I grew more and more meh about it as I grew up, in part because the prequels sucked and in part because the Expanded Universe was growing at such an exponential rate. (The world loses some of its mystery and wonder when everything is so well-detailed that Wuher the bartender has a thousand-word Wookipedia entry from 39 appearances.) System-wise, I’ve always felt that the d20 system didn’t match the setting’s cinematic action—the books were overladen with prequel screenshots to boot—and d6, while fun, didn’t hook me compared to my friends. Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars system, however, is a thing of beauty, and went well beyond what I’d expected them to make (which was a pretty book with clunky rules I didn’t really love, ala their Warhammer 40k line). It merges a lot of the newer school of games thought—the more abstract, narrative, cinematic stuff—with a decently solid system that’s both flexible and crunchy. This is another one I can see myself playing for the next 20 years.