Awoken: Worlds Apart – Review

Awoken: Worlds Apart is a cooperative Tabletop Role Playing Board Game for four to seven players, developed by Last Hold Games. The game is on Kickstarter now, until July 11th 2019 (8:30 pm AEST). I got my hands on an early reviewer copy, which means what I played was not a final version and some parts were incomplete. I’ll detail what I got to play; but keep in mind things will be tweaked and updated before the game is released to backers, so some things might change.

The reviewer copy I received came in a lovely box for something so early before release, and while the hope is that the final box will be much larger, to hold A3 maps unfolded, this was still a good representation of how much enthusiasm has gone into the game already. The box art suits the games tone and the rest of the art in the rules book, like classes and races was good as well.

In the box there was the usual rules and dice, along with the story line booklet, inventory cards and inventory boards, character sheets, battle maps, directional battle tokens and finally (though I didn’t get any in my copy) there will be status effect cubes in the finished product. The idea of Awoken is to present a TTRPG rules set that players can take away to home brew their own campaigns, but more importantly give them a well built world and a series of pre-written quests in the form of four seasons of campaign story lines that have choices which fall into the story later on. In the final game, players are supposed to make themselves into the player characters, but in the review copy they were just premade character sheets.

The rules system felt a lot like Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition on the surface level, with attribute scores creating dice modifiers and adding to skill checks under the relevant attributes. The role playing dice rolls are very familiar, while many other things had us doing the usual flicking back and forth through the rules to clarify things that a new system is always going to have. Where Awoken set itself apart was the combat. Different classes would have a different number of action points to use per turn and different actions would take a different amount of points. To move your Character five meters would take one action, as would a standard attack; but a heavy attack would take two, same with a finesse attack and most of the juicy spells the magic users could cast. This led to a much nicer feel to the combat. Where I’ve played systems that require an action to pull a potion out, another to move to the person who needs it, and another to pass it to them it would take a whole turn to heal somebody and you feel like you’ve missed out on the action. Awoken manages to fix that problem with the action counts. Most characters have got five or six actions to play with, so even if they had to heal they’d still have enough left to move and attack at least once in a round.

Awoken also fixes the problem of “doing something specific” during combat. Many times in other games I’ve wanted to, for instance shoot a fleeing guard in the leg while he runs away to stop him leaving, or specifically disarm someone’s weapon. Most systems will either not allow it, or require a series of contested checks to see if you were successful, or even to roll doubles to allow something other than just damage to happen on an attack. Awoken introduces the Finesse Attack. This allows players to try and do something specific, like the examples above. It requires an extra action to attempt and uses your finesse skill in the attack roll, an enemy gets an automatic counter attack if you fail, but just being able to do anything makes the combat feel less like a grind to get through and more like the role playing you turned up for.

Another nice feature of Awoken is the turn system, or rather lack thereof. Whoever wants to go, goes, with players usually going first; and if they take too long, the enemy goes. This feels nice, with people not having to worry about initiative order and the players getting to sit back and watch if they can’t think of what to do, and debate to go next if they’ve got a plan.
Awoken also uses a critical hit system, which means if you roll a good hit against an enemy you’ll always have some guaranteed damage. Attack rolls above an enemies armour level will do more damage the higher above that number they are. It also uses a Natural 20 “level up” system where an attack roll with a natural 20 allows you to put one point into the skill tree of the relevant weapon or magic type. This skill tree applies when using heavy attacks. Though the review copy only had the skill trees for physical weapons and not magic types, I liked this idea. Though I must say I prefer something like Monster of the Week where you get a point to level up on a fail or critical fail, which softens the blow of recurring bad dice rolls for those of us with, just, terrible luck.

One of the big things that’s being advertised with Awoken that I’ve seen is the Inventory system. Players get given a selection of item cards with weapons, armour and other items to be placed on an inventory board. The players storage capacity is only as large as the blank squares on the inventory board. While this system does encourage better inventory management, reminding players to empty the miscellaneous items out quickly, it feels like a bit of a gimmick. Its lovely to see the art of the item cards and having to place them in a way that they fit on the inventory board is a bit nifty at first, but quickly becomes largely redundant. It takes up a lot of room on the game table, especially next to A4 booklet character sheets often laying open next to an A3 size battle map taking up the middle of the table. Most of my players recorded the relevant stats for their items onto their character sheets and then put the inventory boards at the back of the table where they wouldn’t get in the way.

Though Awoken had many things that made the system feel silky smooth, there were one or two other things that felt like bumps in the road. One of these was the Flat Footed and Ready Stance mechanic. The idea is if you’re in the Ready Stance you only take a negative(-2) to your armour level when you’re being attacked from behind. If you’re in a Flat Footed Stance you take a negative(-2) when being attacked from the sides and a negative (-4) when being attacked from behind. This sounds good in principle, but was easily forgotten once we were in combat. What stance people were in was supposed to change depending on if they were taken unawares and if they’d swung a heavy attack or not but in the end we stopped keeping track of it and just ran with flanking rules with a +2 attack for each ally in base range of the enemy you’re hitting. It was just easier to see and keep track of on the battle maps. However, I feel like its something you’d get used to if you played with the system a couple more times. That said, playing on a hex grid was a lovely change of pace from squares and made more sense when characters had to travel diagonally, which they are likely to do. The Directional Tokens made flanking easier to track here and I’m a fan of the Hex/directional pieces combo.

Another thing we ignored was the Guild Board mechanic, which was largely due to the fact that we’d been playing for hours and were running out of time. Though in this test story line, the guild quests didn’t seem to have any pay off. I understand that in the final game, the guild mechanics are for players to jump in, earn a few extra resources and maybe get a series of recurring NPC’s into the role playing of a longer campaign, but we were looking to go get dinner and skipped this part, so I can’t speak to how it runs.

The gameplay was easy enough to get a hold of generally, evident when we managed to have two people jump in for the last story arc and not seem too lost. The status effect cubes idea is great and battle with directional token on a hex grid was great fun, especially with characters getting to spend multiple action points each turn.

Now, into the story lines we played. The review copy had three quest lines that got more involved as they went and there was one decision early game that had an impact in a later encounter and more decisions made that were clearly meant to impact future stories too.

The first quest and a half felt like those one shot D&D sessions you can sign up for at conventions. It started as a generic introduction to the rules, very impersonal and just showing you how it works. As the players started goofing around a bit more and generally being menaces to everything I was doing as a GM, the later parts of the story had more depth. I would hope that the final copy of the game, which is supposed to have enough gameplay for 3-4 hours every week or two for a whole year, would continue this progression of depth and allow for more player agency and general character development. The NPCs at this stage felt pretty cookie cutter, but one of them was a recurring character already and I’d hope that the final campaign brings more back to expand on their stories.

Just about the only outward problem with the story we found was that not all the options were written in the book. Several times players wanted to explore an area more for extra details, but there was just nothing else listed in the book. Most cases I winged it and made something up, but beginner GMs might struggle with coming up with that sort of stuff on the fly. There was one big game changing instance that wasn’t called for in the story line booklet, where a couple of the players wanted the join the side of the bad guy and help them out – where the only options in the book were to fight her or leave her be. If there hadn’t been a whole additional story line to get to, and it had been my own campaign, I would have gladly let my players turn their cloaks and see where they went from there, to hell with whatever else I’d prepared for them.

Other than that, the set up of the story booklet was a little rough at times. Likely this will be changed later, but the NPCs had their dialogue written in either dot points or quotes. There were some things that should have been one and not the other, like a villain monologue in dot points instead of in easy to read quotes. However, the parts that were in dot points were succinct enough that it was easy to role play the various NPCs.

I must admit it was a lovely change, not having to prep heavily before GMing a session. I’ve been spending a lot of time as a GM in Traveller, where I’m home-brewing every planet, NPC, species and story, so being able to just read through the story line booklet thoroughly once and giving it an extra skim on the train on the way to the session was a radical time saver and it was enough for me to keep track of what was going on and know what was immediately coming up while we were running through the session. I’d love to run something long term like this in the future, when I finally finish the Traveller campaign. It was a nice change of pace to be able to just, play.

The Awoken Kickstarter has a high all or nothing funding goal of $75,000 AUD so that they can cover the costs of high quality artwork and manufacturing. They aim to source some of the best artists from around the globe and supply a truly high quality product and is priced to break even on expenditures. While I applaud the hiring and fair pay of artists and presenting a high quality product, the game still has a long way to go before reaching its goal, and it might have been better for the team to compromise on this just to get the game out there in some form. So if you want to get your hands on Awoken, you’ll likely have to pledge and spread the word to help the game over the line.

Over all I had fun playing Awoken: Worlds Apart. It was freeing not to have to spend dozens of hours preparing for a session to GM, and instead just skim over the story lines a second time right before the session started. While some of the rules seemed clunky and hard to keep track of, I’m sure you’d get used to most of them if you were playing the game regularly, as it’s supposed to be played. And there’s still the possibility that any rough mechanics will be polished further before its released to the general public.

It being similar to 5th Edition on the surface made it easy for people to pick up and join in without having to teach them everything from new, and the differences from 5E kept the players interested.

The fact that players have multiple actions per turn, and that different activities cost different amounts of actions felt like a better way to do things. It cut out turns that had you spend the entire time moving, like in many other RPGs I’ve played. While the card inventory system was a little redundant, seeing the art for the items was nice.

If you want to know more about Awoken, check out their Kickstarter here
or the Last Hold Games site here

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