I stumbled upon the game in boardgame geek's PnP files, which is where I find potential board games to make. RPGs, that's a bit more unusual.
The game consists of eight attribute cards, eight goal cards, one double-sided rules card and one double-sided scenario card. And that's it. No dice need apply.
You choose one of the two scenarios and then deal out two attribute cards and two goal cards to everyone. Each attribute card has two attributes and you choose one on each card. The goal cards also have two goals but one is white and the other is gray. The gray ones all deal with interacting with other players. Pick a white goal and a gray goal. All of your choices are public knowledge.
You take turns being the active player. On your turn, the other players use one of your goals and one of your attributes to frame a scene where that attribute gets you in trouble. You use the other attribute to try and solve the problem. The group decides if your solution works. If it does, you fulfill that goal.
Everyone gets four turns to fulfill their two goals. If you succeed, you win (and there can be more than one winner, of course) If you fail, you get to narrate your own death scene.
The 18 Card RPG is not the most minimal RPG I've ever seen. The original version of The Name of God is less than half its length and that is a surprisingly rich and engaging game. Although the fact that all you need are the cards, no dice or tokens or pencils or paper is nice, although, again, 18 Cards isn't unique in that.
And a major ding against it is the lack of any real theme. Mechanics can be interesting but a RPG lives and dies on the stories you tell with it. Theme and setting are what you fall in love with in an RPG.
The tone of the game is a bit off. The two scenarios, both of which are about being some kind of lab experiment are at odds with some of the light-heartedness of the attributes and goals.
However, what I do like about 18 Cards and what keeps me looking at it is the structure. The actual structure of the game, how each scene is framed and only going four times around the table, is very tight and strong. While there is a lot of freeform, how the group forms a scene around attributes and goals gives a lot of guidance. It reminds me a of Epidiah Ravachol's Astro Robbers from What Is A Roleplaying Game.
A few years ago, I played another RPG that was clearly designed to be pulled out and played, Tau. Come to think of it, I think the designers billed it as an RPG filler. But the game play was cluttered and unfocused. Compared to that, 18 Cards seems much simpler but also much cleaner and accessible.
The gray goals get a bonus mention because they force your character to interact with at least one other character, so the game isn't just completely separate narratives.
I can't help but wonder how much better 18 Cards would be with more focused theme. It could be focusing on a specific genre or even setting. (This is at least the third time I've seriously wondered if a game could be improved by turning it into a Star Wars game. Ironically, Doctor Who is my franchise of choice. I still haven't recovered from the Phantom Menace. To say nothing of the scars from finally seeing the holiday special)
The 18 Card RPG feels like it's 3/4 of the way to being a solid and fun game. Despite looking at so many one-shot RPG systems and micro RPGs, I've never really thought of the idea of an RPG filler. However, with some work, I can see 18 Cards being one.
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