Thursday, June 6, 2019

If you can’t beat the conspiracy, join it. Against your will.

44: A Game of Automatic Fear is a free RPG by Matt Snyder, the same guy who gave us Dust Devils. My old group always meant to get around to playing Dust Devils but we sadly never did.

In 44, the game master controls Section 44 and its conspiracy to replace humans with robot duplicates while the players try to uncover the conspiracy and survive. Mostly try to survive.

The game is only 37 pages long so it doesn’t have much in the way of setting information. That’s partially because the game master and players develop some of the details themselves but it’s also because everyone already knows how Invasion of the Body Snatchers stories work.

The core mechanic is tiny dice pools with the high die being your roll. Players have three traits (resolve, contact and material) which determine how they solve problems, contacts that let them pull in more dice and anxieties, which are penalties that also let you set aside dice to use later.

Both the players and the GM also get a pool of reserve dice that they can use in any conflict. However, those are one-shot dice and when they go away, they’re gone. That’s particular harsh for the players since they share their pool.

Damage comes in the over arching concept of stress. Stress can make you lose contacts to the conspiracy. Stress can damage your qualities. Stress can even make you get replaced by an evil duplicate and fight against the remaining humans.

44 is set up as a one session game with an actual count down. There are four rounds and every player gets one scene in each round. Everyone helps develop the scene, even if they’re not in it, and the scene ends when the conflict requires a die roll. At the end of every round, there is a roll to see which side is gaining ground. After the final roll, everyone gets an epilogue.

I am of two minds every time I look at 44. On the one hand, it doesn’t feel very innovative and it doesn’t have a spark that makes me want to run out and play it. On the other hand, I also think it’s a very solidly designed game that would be easy to sit down and play and would also be fun to play. 

I like the fact that there is a countdown. For one thing, that means that there is an end to the game and you have an idea when it’s going to come. But it also lets you know how much time you have left.

I also like that 44 really lends itself to cinematic play, with each scene having one big decision. No rolling for each punch. Each scene has just one roll that decides how things go. In fact, combined with the countdown, the game really has the structure of a movie. If you played a campaign instead of a one-shot, it would be more like a movie series with each session being a big event that shakes everything up.

But most of all, I like how you can become part of the conspiracy but still be a part of the game. Honestly, that’s what really pushes 44 into being a game that I think would be fun and engaging. Also, a game ending with the conspiracy winning but that’s okay if it’s a fun ride on the way.

44: A Game of Automatic Fear doesn’t shake up my world. It doesn’t have the spark that ignites my imagination. But I think it would be fun and a great deal for free.

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