“My Choice In Friends Might Have Caused a Slight International Incident” – Schools, Politics and War in “Fire Emblem Three Houses” and “Trails of Cold Steel”

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School-set RPGs are not uncommon as a concept and so do not, themselves, need much specific introduction or explanation. Nevertheless, there is a subset that I find somewhat more interesting – those which take the idea of an academy for the young and influential to learn martial and political skills so they may become future leaders. The big one, for a while, was Trails of Cold Steel; I’ve written in the past about its slight inability to land its heavier political themes, and the inescapable tension between its ideas of personal friendship and intrinsic goodness versus wider-scale conflict. I like it a lot, despite its flaws (and will merrily play Cold Steel 3 and 4 when the chance arises) but it is a series of games, like Valkyria Chronicles 1 and 4, that raises a lot of very interesting critical arguments.

This article contains significant spoilers for Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2 and Fire Emblem Three Houses.

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Tabletop Game Review: Acceptable Loss

It’s been a while since I reviewed one of these narrative games, but a recent conversation about the RPG Dread and its use of a physical, inevitable death timer in a Jenga tower to evoke the progression of a horror film got me revisiting a game from the collection I downloaded.

Acceptable Loss (by @rpgnatalieis a simple game, although perhaps a little more complex than Dread in order to expand the theming and add an almost competitive element. It sits in a very strange place between competition and co-operation as, in contrast to the usual social contract that the GM-player relationship should be more than simple hostility the “GM” figure (or closest analogue as there is not a usual table power structure here) plays an embodiment of hostility pushing inevitably towards the other character’s death.

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Tabletop Game Review: Laser Beams Like So Many Stars

This article was originally written for Who Dares Rolls (www.whodaresrolls.com) and is reproduced here with permission.

Laser Beams… is by Taylor Smith (@whimsymachine)

In the game’s own words, its premise is as follows:

“You are a huge fan of mechs and their amazing pilots. You love to watch their heroics on the news, you visit when pilots come to your town, you own multiple letterman jackets emblazoned with mech pilots’ insignias. You’re burdened with the dream of piloting, eclipsed by the fear that you will never be more than a spectator. You love that which is unfathomably above you. Let’s talk about that.”

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“The Battle Warehouse is Even More On Fire Than In Winspector” – It’s FIRE FORCE

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Quote, of course, from the inimitable @dril

It is sadly possible that before long I will be intensely frustrated with Fire Force, because the things I liked about its first episode are things that will probably end up less prominent, and there is a whole fascinating world of things I will not like lurking in the wings unless it lives up to some interesting foreshadowing and pulls off some good revelations. But nevertheless the first episode has spectacular energy to it, combining great aesthetics of combat, a visually impressive setting and a concept that is simple, elegant and effective for setting up an ensemble-cast superhero series. It is not far removed from a Super Sentai series (or perhaps even more like Rescue Fire or one of the Metal Hero series like Winspector) – a team of heroes themed around the emergency services fight monsters related to their specialisation. In this case, in the distant future(?), people often explode into flaming skeletons and it falls to the FIRE SOLDIERS to kick the skeletons to death and shoot them with guns.

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Tabletop Game Review – 6 Minutes of Power Remaining

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This article was originally written for Who Dares Rolls (www.whodaresrolls.com) and is reproduced here with permission.

Note: This article also includes some references to personal experiences of death and loss, and discusses those themes.

6 Minutes of Power Remaining is by Kris Ruff

A lot of the games in the Emotional Mecha Jam focus on humanising the mech in these mecha stories – often through making it a role played by a player, whether or not it is actually a sentient AI. This opens the theming of the games up to wider questions touching on those explored by cyberpunk fiction; whether or not a meaningful bond can exist between a human and an inanimate, or non-sapient object. And, indeed, when one considers the relationships forged in war between human and AI, there is the question of whether something made as a weapon can feel friendship or love.

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Tabletop Game Review – Death Sentence

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This article was originally written for Who Dares Rolls (www.whodaresrolls.com) and is reproduced here with permission.

Note: This article also includes some references to personal experiences of death and loss, and discusses those themes in detail.

It took a lot longer than I initially assumed it would for me to find the right words to review Jeff Ellis’ (@manyeyedmonster’s) Death Sentence; I thought it would be a straightforward review, as I had very easily discussed the thematically similar 36 Minutes as an exploration of unglamorous death in military science-fiction. I think I needed time to unpack my thoughts, and perhaps the immediacy of my response to 36 Minutes was part of why I couldn’t launch straight into forming opinions on Death Sentence. Any game that goes into death beyond killing as a natural mechanic of conflict resolution is going to be personal, and potentially troubling, for the player. You could very well say that even in a game where the expectation is one will fight death should be personal and troubling.

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Tabletop Game Review – 36 Minutes

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This article was originally written for Who Dares Rolls (www.whodaresrolls.com) and is reproduced here with permission.

Note: This article also includes some references to experiences of death and loss, and discusses those themes in detail.

Christine Prevas’ (@cprevas) 36 Minutes is not an enjoyable game to play. It sits strangely within the genre it evokes because it plays out in real time a very particular sequence of suffering and death that absolutely would have a huge, unwelcome emotional impact on some players. You could roleplay it differently, and if anything make it more fitting within its genre, but I think doing so would require a significant distancing between player and character that the game does not necessarily encourage. Perhaps that is the intention; it certainly feels like something intended to take players out of the safely expected bravado of what is often a heroic, noble kind of war story. On the other hand, if you are trying to do something like that, something that wholly subverts the usual methods of a genre to question its implicit associations, that in turn is an act which needs interrogation.

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Two Illustrative Playthroughs of “Alone in the Station Remnants”

This article was originally written for Who Dares Rolls (www.whodaresrolls.com) and is reproduced here with permission.

These two pieces of short fiction are my attempts to play the solitaire RPG Alone in the Station Remnants.

The most interesting thing I found about the experience was the challenge it presented in holding two registers or prose voices in mind and being able to switch between the two, presenting a narrative from two very different and incompatible approaches.


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Tabletop Game Review – Alone in the Station Remnants

Note: This article was originally written for Who Dares Rolls (www.whodaresrolls.com) and is reproduced here with permission.

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A screenshot from Ace Combat 7 (2019), illustrating perhaps the sort of derelict military spaces that AitSR is about exploring.

Alone in the Station Remnants by caro (@seaexcursion) is, a very interesting solitaire writing exercise/character piece; solitaire roleplaying games, in the form of journalling or letter-writing games, are fascinating to me as a writer and fan of fiction and I greatly enjoy trying them in their various forms. A modification of Takuma Okada’s Alone Among the Stars, a game of space exploration and painting expansive, dreamlike worlds, Alone in the Station Remnants brings the scale down to the intimate level, and adds an interesting parallel narrative aspect that absolutely sold it to me as good.

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“Vengeance.” How Gun X Sword Does, And Does Not, Endorse It.

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As I continue to watch Gun X Sword I’m struck by several things. Firstly it does not get significantly less uneven in quality. Secondly, the El Dora V episode feels even by the halfway point like a weird anomaly of sincerity – although other episodes, in their own ways, hit equally weird and interesting concepts. Thirdly it is a series that has an unbelievably strong villain even before he actually does anything.

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