TRPG Review ‘Our Last Best Hope’ (3 out of 5 Stars)

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Our Last Best Hope” is a tabletop roleplaying game about a team of people on a mission to save humanity from a terrible crisis. It allows gamers to roleplay scientists, soldiers, engineers and doctors through intense space, snow or zombie danger scenarios.

THE GOOD

Price – “Our Last Best Hope” is $10. A complete tabletop roleplaying game for less than the price of a hardback fiction novel. With prices for tabletop roleplaying game core books running between $40 and $60, this is a value.

Short – At 125 pages, this book took me a week to read and be ready to play. The length is refreshing and the smaller amount of content translates directly into a simple, lean game.

Indie Cred – “Our Last Best Hope” has got it. Made by a small game company, Magpie Games, it is clear the writer had freedom to write the game he intended without a lot of committee consensus. The emphasis of the game is on quick, dramatic storytelling and the game’s indie roots are clearly shown through numerous innovative ideas that facilitate that emphasis. Use of 3×5 cards makes character creation swift. The elements of the story the players will tell together are broken up into distinct categories (threats, resources, touchstones, death triggers). The story-crafting tools included in the game are unique and elegant.

Kickstarter Victory – This game was created through Kickstarter. I never saw the Kickstarter campaign and I did not know it was a Kickstarter-created game until I read it in the introduction. I purchased “Our Last Best Hope” right off the shelf from my Friendly Local Gaming Shop and even the store owner did not know it was a Kickstarter-created game. I absolutely love this. I love that the game creator had an entire successful event with the Kickstarter community that believed in the game from the start and then after the excitement and the push and the whole fulfillment process, the game gets a second phase of life with a community who is brand new to it. This is my favorite way to encounter and interact with Kickstarter-created products.

Dice Mechanics – The game runs off of pools of black or white six-sided dice. Black and white dice that come up with the same numbers cancel out, then the black total is subtracted from the white total and the result is either a white remainder or a black remainder (depending on which is greater). White indicates a good result and black a bad result. The level of the crisis determines the number black dice that go into the pool and the players detail out their characters through roleplaying to earn white dice to fight the crisis. The dice mechanic allows the players to fight the crisis together, much more collaboratively than is presented in most tabletop roleplaying games. This is one of the greatest strengths of the game. Its design pulls players together to fight in unison and even allows squabbles and drama between two player characters to add to the strength of the players’ team rather than distract from their ability to work together.

Visual Design – This is an indie game and as such, clearly the budget for art was more limited than would be seen on a Wizards of the Coast, Paizo or Fantasy Flight tabletop roleplaying game. So like most small press game companies, Magpie Games was tasked with making the game look great with little resources. “Our Last Best Hope” uses crisp icons and silhouettes to evoke the adventure and the danger the game presents. The visual design does an excellent job of sketching out the world in black and white only, leveraging the limited budget to maximum effect. The design is so good that the book is a case lesson for other small press authors faced with the problem of making a tabletop roleplaying game visually compelling on a limited budget.

THE BAD

Finding Players – “Our Last Best Hope” is a low profile indie game. Unless you are blessed to have a tabletop roleplaying group where each player is highly attuned to the latest and greatest across the spectrum of tabletop roleplaying games, it is unlikely more than one or two of your players will be familiar with “Our Last Best Hope.” That means you have to sell it as a GM, and next to traditional $40 to $60 tabletop roleplaying games, “Our Last Best Hope” looks slim and simple. This is an obstacle to play, but not one that can’t be overcome with the same skills a good GM uses to draw players into an adventure and make content compelling each week.

THE UGLY

No Gamemaster – I did a double take when I read this 10 pages into the game text. “Our Last Best Hope” does not use a gamemaster. This is tough. Few players beyond those dedicated almost exclusively to indie tabletop roleplaying games have experience with tabletop roleplaying games that do not use a gamemaster. I think it is arguable a game that does not use a gamemaster is not a tabletop roleplaying game.

Without a gamemaster, each player has equal control of the narrative. This works fine if you are sitting around the table with five skilled gamemasters. Most of the games I am in have one or two skilled gamemasters, one or two players who are building a gamemaster skillset and one or two players who are players and not gamemasters. No gamemaster means there are sharp veers in gameplay. Choices that a skilled gamemaster would know the inherent pitfalls of are avoided by the gamemaster players and are included by the non-gamemaster players.

Honestly, if the GM-less system was indicated on the cover, I would not have bought “Our Last Best Hope.” I felt a little tricked that this crucial piece of information was not made apparent to be considered before the purchase of the game. This one fact alone is what makes this game a 3-out-of 5-stars for me. If “Our Last Best Hope” did use a gamemaster, I would rank it as a 5-out-of-5-stars game.

CLOSING NOTES

Overall, “Our Last Best Hope” is a lean, innovative, visually unique game that offers a considerable amount of adventure for a small price tag.

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