Having selected my top 20 of the 103 Threeforged games, I now have to work out the five I'll vote for. But first I think it's time to look back over them and discuss some of my favourite moments.
Now it a few reviewers have noted that there are a number of Harry Potter games. Wizarding is a straight up rpg with the Potter serial numbers filed off, whilst Double Potions (currently the most downloaded game) surpasses it by narrowing in to one particular class. Personally I prefer Apprentice Wizard Familiar to either, where you communally play one student and get to interact as his/her familiars. Even so, the best Potter game in my opinion is closer to Terry Pratchett in tone, and that's Last Year's Magic. There's something about bumbling drunk wizards and ridiculous spells that I love.
But though magical high schools were popular so were their mundane counterpoints. Yearbooks in Disgrace goes for a light entertainment vibe whilst High Velocity Times at Space High went for silly. But it was the beautiful Mixtapes and Mistakes that really excited me including a wonderful risk mechanic and a performance style interrogation at the end, though I disliked smash-cutting.
That seems to be a bit of a common fault for the performance/theatre sport games. It's detrimental to your play to have a system that interrupts the scene. It's a pity because a number of these games have brilliant concepts. I love Ad Libitum Absurdity's idea to have non-spotlight characters working only on their secondary goals whilst not commanding the scene. State Cinema's propaganda kaiju and VHS Fury's B-grade variety are both hilarious but are let down by clumsy mechanics. Psychic Detective Agency has constant out-of-character talk, whilst Children's Radio Hour counters the whole problem by introducing set in-character time limits. King of Bones has probably the simplest setting, but the musical system needs work and is really intimidating. Nevertheless, as much as I love all of these ideas I couldn't help but feel that I wouldn't use the mechanics as they are. I'd definitely use the settings.
On a similar note, there are a few big party games that also need work. In A Week of Sharks is great, but the mechanics need more work. On the other hand, It Is Forbidden needs to be streamlined down to fully become accessible.
I've never been a play by mail player but a few of these games have converted me. Fallen Sky has an awesome letters from home system that overshadows the rest of the game. Pony Express takes it a step further, and if you told me last week that one of my favourite games in the contest is about rainbow unicorn friends who send letters to each other I would have laughed. Among Humans twists Doomed Pilgrim in its own macabre direction and presents itself well.
On the note of presentation, there are some really pretty games. Conspiracy and Cowards is such a professional-looking product and The Rending of the Veil includes a hand-drawn map among its many other attractive design features. But by far the award for prettiest game goes to Gho5t. So pretty in fact that you just can't help but be suspicious that Gho5t is style over substance.
Cards are big at the moment. Microscope-style index cards find interesting twists in If At First You Don't Succeed, Millennia and Timelines. I like them all a lot, but the index thing is leaving me cold at the moment.
Standard playing cards get a lot of use and for the most part are serviceable. The Prophet's Price and The Quantum Haruspex opt instead for Tarot cards but sadly fail to exploit the possibilities. A few games have gone for custom cards, which is fine, but Hound/ed and Zen Flashback Battle Zero sinned mightily in not supplying printable cards to make it easy. At Any Cost, It Is Forbidden and No Myth were much more organised and so trump the lazy ones. Like no giving me character sheets. Sheesh!
Speaking of character sheets, I love the idea of blacking out details on your CIA character sheet in The Policy of Truth. Automaton has an excellent flowchart of programmed options on its sheet. Connections with other characters were often emphasised but none quite so simply as The Reunion which symbolised connections with physical objects at the table. The tactile nature was further explored with To Return A Wallet, where stuff from your pockets can influence gameplay.
There were a lot of mechanics that opened my eyes. House of Hades uses dominoes where the length of your chain determines success. Bag Pulling Game gets credit for the bag mechanic, but The Hot Seat does it better. Shinobi Village has you throwing both hands at once in scissors-paper-rock contests (one for attack, one for defense) which totally revolutionises the way I look at "fist-throwing" game systems. Silver Tongues uses puns for duels and double-entendres for seduction attempts. Forgeborn and Under the Broken Moons use a "die-drop" method of map creation which I've never encountered before but now absolutely love! Aquila also has a circle-drawing method to making maps that is equally interesting, but not quite as fun.
Old-school games are difficult to make in 4000 words, but Tales on the Weird Seas did it in seafaring style (one reviewer referred to it as Disney Crawl Classics and that's pretty accurate). But where Weird Seas went with tradition, others went a different direction entirely.
Langer Memorial Trauma Centre seems to have a standard roleplay design but has a big twist intended to make a political statement. The Dream Palace and The Mask And The Daydream each have more to do with story and concept creation rather than roleplaying and differ from each other in that one is shared and the other is very personal.
But probably the most controversial would be The World As It Is, which I rank very highly. Seen as frivolous, pretentious and foolish by some, I see it as a piece of art. It's the only game where to read it IS to play it and so much talent has gone into the work. In many ways, the approach here would have improved the highly comical MUSCLE WIZARDS VS LAZER DINOSAURS: TURBO VAMPIRE EDITION. MWvLD didn't need a system - it should have lampooned the whole idea. Both of these games were very refreshing for someone reading all 103 games.
Of course, by saying 103 I'm including the enigmatic Agency, which has still yet to appear...