Monday, October 16, 2017

Our Last Best Hope

One thing I'd like to get back to one of these days is the dozen-or-so, half-finished drafts sitting in my blog's memory. I mean some of them are still pertinent. However, for the sake of "just doing something" (baby steps, right?) I'll write about something more current:

The last month or so, I've been dipping my toes back into the Magic: The Gathering world. The reason for this is pretty simple: my son has discovered Magic cards. Back in June, he be can collecting and trading Pokemon cards, and was gifted with a huge stack of the things from an older kid (11? 12 years old?) who'd moved onto MtG. While we played these earlier in the year, what's become a big part of the fun for my first grader is trading cards on the playground (before and after school), and Magic cards became the currency of choice sometime around the 2nd week of September.

I have a fairly substantial collection of MtG cards, most of which were purchased off an old roommate back in 1999 or 2000. We...myself and my housemates of the time, including my spouse (before we were married)...found the cards enjoyable for casual play, especially down at the Baranof, over breakfast, while nursing our tremendous hangovers (ah...wasted youth). But casual play was all we ever did with them. While it was fun to build decks and tweak them with the nickel cards you could pick up at Gary's (back in the day), none of us wanted to invest substantial amounts of money in them. For us, it was just a cool substitute for Rummy or Cribbage...something fun to play while relaxing with a beer (or whatever) in the evening.

While I did end up amassing a couple thousand cards, they got boxed up and (mostly) forgotten sometime around 2000 or 2001...after my wife and I moved out of that house and "grew up;" getting married, buying cars, and houses, etc. But as with many of my gaming products, I kept the cards (still in shoeboxes), figuring some day they'd get brought out again. And now they have.

[just in case anyone's wondering: I am a packrat, but I wouldn't call myself a hoarder. I have been known to part with things, even things of substantial nostalgic or symbolic value (my old electric guitar, for example). And some my 2nd Edition AD&D books...I found exceedingly easy to discard. I don't hang onto EVERYthing, folks!]

However, after a couple-four weeks of deck building and playing and attending one local, MtG competition (at a local shop with a substantially younger crowd), I find myself kind of sour on Magic, again. The cards are still neat and I really dig on the newest series (it's all inspired by South American-flavored pulp: lost world dinosaurs, Aztec-ish vampires and conquistadors, plus various South Seas pirates)...but I don't want to invest in a paper product that disintegrates in water, and certainly not to the extent that I could compete in a competitive environment. And just beating up on my six year old is kind of a dumb exercise in gaming. At least when we play Rummy he can win a hand or two.

But the boy still likes the cards and I picked him up a booster pack for him this weekend, as well as a new RPG for yours truly: Our Last Best Hope, a GM-less story-game by Mark Diaz Truman, inspired by the disaster movies of recent years that focus on world-threatening melodrama. Films like Armageddon, InterstellarThe Core, The Day After Tomorrow, and any of various zombie-apocalypse films that have graced the screen...stories where a small band of heroes must work together and overcome various obstacles to save the human race from extinction.

It's a well-known trope these days, and I'm kind of surprised at how familiar I am with it, considering these types of films bore the shit out of me. I mean, the formula's pretty tired, the drama pretty contrived...and yet these stories remain popular and (probably because there are so many of them) I've seen more than my fair share of them. Heck, some of 'em (like Armageddon) are a lot of fun, even...or especially...when they are at their most ridiculous. Regardless, the game is exceptionally well-crafted, and playing within such a recognizable genre gives players a real chance to ham things and have a great time.

Underrated classic
Hell, you could use it to model a lot of high stakes, crisis-type situations. Something like the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage...which I just re-watched with my kids a couple weeks ago (despite its age, I still find it a great film)...would be perfect for Our Last Best Hope. Even though humanity isn't on the brink of destruction, The Fate of the Free World is!
: )

I won't get into the specifics of the rules here except to say that compared to other "Story-Now" indie-games, it's very concise and focused with excellent practical in-game resources and a lot of new-tech support (including QR codes throughout the book that you can scan with a phone app for video examples of specific rules). But for me, it shows that there ARE real reasons for playing other RPGs, and other systems. You could not use (for example) the D20/Pathfinder system to emulate the large-scale disaster drama with the same kind of laser-focus that Truman brings with Our Last Best Hope.

It really warms my heart. Damn, there are some designers doing good work out there.

Anyway, Diego's not old enough to play (he's still a little young, even for D&D), so it'll probably be a while before I get a chance to try Our Last Best Hope. But it's definitely worth keeping on the shelf for some future, rainy day. Unlike the Magic cards, I doubt it'll take sixteen years for me to find an excuse to play it.
; )

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