Ivan’s Top 12 Games of the 2017 200 Word RPG Challenge

I recently read all 694 entries of the 200 Word RPG Challenge for this year, and reviewed them over on my blog. I eventually rated close to fifty of them as “Excellent” or “5 star” games, and none of them were the three that ended up winning the competition.

Which is great! I love that the judges had a different opinion to my own; variety is the spice of life. Those games deserve all their accolades. And that gives me an opportunity to rave about my own personal favourites, drawing some attention to some of those which didn’t even make it to the finalists.

Narrowing down so many games is really hard, but I think I’ve finally got my top 12. It was a hard decision.

 

12. Joy Wizards by Clinton Dreisbach

One of the most enchanting games was Joy Wizards. The premise is that you play wizardly types who need to create joy in order to fuel your spells, so don a magical persona and literally go out and make someone’s day a bit happier. If people seem really into it, you can even let them in on the special secrets of joy magicians.

I love games that reach out into the community, though it must be done responsibly, and Joy Wizards does it in a friendly, approachable and non-aggressive way. Perfectly silly for a fun day out, Joy Wizards is a game for all ages.

Award: Best Outside Game.

 

11. Stop Reading to Lose by Jesse Coombs

There were a vast number of games that explored poetry and other literary methods to present their 200 words, and a few even went the Choose Your Own Adventure route. Some even went for a one-player writing approach. Stop Reading to Lose stands out among them.

To read it is to play it. You could call it a one-player scripted roleplay. Maybe you could say that it isn’t a roleplay and is just a very self-aware short story told in second person. Regardless, though I read every entry in the contest this is one of the only ones I can say I played, and I enjoyed it a lot. It should also be pointed out that this is the only game in my top 12 to have been a contest finalist.

Award: Best Use of the 200 Word Format.

 

10. Goodbye by Stuart Burns

There were a lot of games about dealing with grief, especially games about discussing the life of the recently deceased. Goodbye deals with death from a different direction, with players part of a support group for characters with a terminal illness. An arbitrary coin flip decides your destiny between meetings, which is perfectly thematic.

A dark theatresport style of game, Goodbye is a harrowing roleplay for mature players. It has a competent design, with a compelling and natural framing.

Award: Best Game to Take to Drama Club.

 

9. On Cuddling Dragons: A Primer for Beginners by Wendy Gorman

I’ve raved about this game a lot. You dress a person up in the world’s stupidest dragon costume and then cuddle them because you just freakin’ love dragons. For some people, this just might be the best game ever.

The designer also contributed another entry, So You’re Becoming A Dragon, which was a competition finalist for good reason. It’s certainly an excellent game, and has a more solid frame for character development and story. But On Cuddling Dragons has a sweetness that makes it special.

Award: My New Favourite Designer.

 

8. What Could Go Wrong? by Ethan Cordray

There were a lot of heist games in the competition, so many that they could basically be considered a category of their own, and my favourite of them all is What Could Go Wrong? You grab a die with as many sides as you have players (an excuse for those of us with d5s and d7s to show off our toys) and every time you attempt something you basically have to make a table of disaster for the roll, only one result being good. Every roll is a nightmare as players attempt to trump the last bad outcome with something only marginally worse, because the next player has to come up with something even worse than your inclusion.

The fun in this game comes from its tension, and the moment when someone rolls really well is exciting for the whole group. I love games that bring a group together, but I also love games where someone gets to be responsible for screwing the whole group over, and What Could Go Wrong? does both. A lot of games tried to be the new Fiasco or Leverage during the competition, but this game stole away with the prize.

Award: Best Success Where So Many Others Failed.

 

7. Amnesia Llamas by Crystal Pisano

This is a ludicrous hack of an old party game I know as Celebrity Head. In the original you had a celebrity assigned to you by pinning a card to your forehead or somesuch (so that you couldn’t see it but everyone else could). Players would ask yes-or-no questions until they figured out who they were. A classic party game.

In this version, your celebrities died and reincarnated as llamas. Instead of asking questions you make statements and if your statement matches something your celebrity would say then the other players shoot you with water pistols. Because they’re spitting on you. Because they’re llamas.

This has breathed fresh life into an old game and has done so in a way that has made it unique. You can’t help but love it.

Award: Best Hack.

 

6. The Duel by Christopher M Sniezak

The Duel proves that a combat scene can be the very heart of good storytelling, filled with passion, history, development, and surprise. As a duelling mechanic it is simple, but incredibly dramatic, and the focus is on telling the whole narrative of a conflict at the most exciting moment of that conflict. It’s tight, punchy, and satisfying.

Despite a couple of spelling issues, this game shows brilliant gamescraft and is perfect for the 200 Word format. There were a lot of combat games in the contest, but few managed to incorporate storytelling so seamlessly.

Award: Best Combat.

 

5. Wizards of the Tome by George Philbrick

Magic systems are hard to design, especially if you want to maintain their sense of magic. Players in this game have spells based on the chapter titles of a book, but don’t get to know the effects of their spell until they cast it. Better still, what the spells actually do was decided by the other players earlier.

So few games manage to capture the sense of being a sorcerer coming to terms with the fickle nature of a spellbook that they don’t fully comprehend. And this game gives you an actual book to do it with! Tactile elements! Yes!

Award: Best Magic System.

 

4. Let’s Eat Kevin! by Snamo Zont

One of the most enjoyable games of the competition is this striking little party game. One person plays Kevin, who doesn’t want to be eaten by scary beasties. The other players all play the scary beasties who need to come to a unanimous agreement on the details of eating Kevin within the time limit or Kevin will get away and they’ll all go hungry. The most entertaining point is that any reasonable point that Kevin makes has to be addressed.

This is an outstanding game and it would have been even higher on my list if it weren’t for the time limit of one hour mentioned in the text (I’d say maybe two or three minutes per monster would make it tighter.) Nevertheless, Let’s Eat Kevin! is immediately approachable and incredibly entertaining.

Award: Best Party Game.

 

3. A House Is Not a Home by Joe Beason

So many games turned to cards as the central gaming tools of their storytelling, but only two had you building card houses out of them. Demon Dare had you building structures after blind drawing, which was nice, but A House Is Not a Home structured the whole game around building the house, which was also the central motif of the story.

The game is about two close family members having a fight and the card house symbolises not only their home but their relationship. You can create triangles to strengthen your position, or lay down bridges to literally “build a bridge” with your partner. You can even escalate the issue by placing extra levels on the structure. The whole game adds a Dread-like component and progresses in an intuitive manner.

Award: Trophy for Theming.

 

2. [a collaborative system of creation] by M Chilton

There were many games that used candles, flames, or matches to help tell their story or set their mood, and though I liked a lot of them none of them really lived up to their potential. I really wanted one to grab me, and I’d lost hope until I read the second last entry. In this game, you light candles and then pour the wax into some water to solidify it into a shape which you then use as a shadow puppet to tell your story.

There were a lot of games about playing gods or creating pantheons throughout the contest; some were better than others, and a few had some great ideas. But none were as creative or unique as this.

Award: Trophy for Creativity.

 

1. The Dreaming Giant by Alina Astalus

The Dreaming Giant will probably not be your favourite game, but it certainly is mine. The pitch is glorious, the ending poses a philosophical dilemma, and the central mechanic is possibly the subtlest and best storytelling rule I’ve seen for a long time.

Very simply, the game is about collecting stories and learning the lessons they contain. In order to overcome obstacles, you need to have learned a story that teaches you the secret of how to surmount the problem. Storytelling thus becomes the structure, theme, mechanic, and purpose of this game and I’ve never seen a roleplay incorporate storytelling so fully into its design. It’s a masterwork.

Award: Trophy for Excellence.

 

You can find the actual winners chosen by actual judges here.

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