Heart of Ashes is a combination RPG and coloring book. The players are children who have somehow entered another world, one that is fantastical and whimsical and dark and faerie tale-like. In the past, the great sundering removed the magic from most the people of the land.
But the kids weren't there for that so they still have access to magic. Now, they have power in a world of have and have-nots, a world where the lost heart of ashes might remove all of the remaining magic.
The mechanics are beautifully simple. Roll two six-sided dice. One will determine if you succeed and the other other will determine if there are bad consequences. You decide which die is which after you roll.
There's an economy of darkness where the game master can use darkness tokens to further the bad things that are happening in the world. But they only get those tokens when the players make poor or desperate decisions. The spread of darkness comes entirely from the players choices. Which is really cool.
What really impresses me about Heart of Ashes is how clearly it is designed to be a game that you pick up and play. The rules are laid out as an instruction process and you only read the rules to the players when they come up.
One of Alder's great skills as a designer is the ability to communicate. With the exception of Perfect:Unrevised, which I think was an early work, their games do an amazing job at helping you understand the process of the game. Even by those standards, Heart of Ashes does a great job.
Where Heart of Ashes falls short for me is that there really just isn't much there. Fifteen pages of setting and mechanics with ten more of player characters and nonplayer characters. To be fair, you can download it for free at Buried Without Ceremony and the small size does help with the whole sit down and play with no prep.
While I know the idea behind minimal settings is the be a bare bones canvass that you can paint however you want to. However, the details that we do see clearly indicate that there is more to the original vision.
I want to see the setting fully fleshed out, to really feel the world of Heart of Ashes. I want to see pages of setting and magic and pictures to color.
Basically, as it stands, I think Heart of Ashes is neat for what it does in a few pages and I would play it. But if I saw a full-sized version as a Kickstarter, I'd back it immediately and tell everyone about it.