May 6, 2019
The clouds have passed over Malice. As the rain washes away our fears, we will in turn pour our feelings on this system over your willing eyes and ears. If you don’t have time to listen to the potluck episode, here’s a handy blog post to reference as you decide whether or not you want to click that Buy-It-Now button! So now let’s dig in to A Town Called Malice (ATCM) by David Kizzia and Monkeyfun Studios.
Remember to take our review with a grain of salt since the game is likely to change by the time it is officially released!
Our first discussion topic was the Nordic Horror setting and its effectiveness in this system. Even our players who were not well-versed in Nordic Horror still really enjoyed the setting and the eerie feel made possible in such a small town. We made sure to touch on the fact that although we made the Darkness something supernatural, the game does not specify that; your Darkness can be as terrifyingly real as you wish! The rules and creation guides leave many options to the players while guiding them along an easily spoopy situation.
The game appears to be very open to possibilities. With that in mind, David Kizzia mentions the possibility of a PvP playstyle. The Beta rules do not go into detail on this, but the entire team is very interested in learning more about that choice! We’re personally hoping for some Betrayal at House on the Hill surprise twisty goodness!
Continuing on, the playbooks fit perfectly in the setting (if you want a sneak peak at every playbook, check out our Session 0 at patreon.com/tabletoppotluck). The archetypal structure of the characters lets you take a very specific role and implement it however you’d like to fit your desired story. It’s very easy to make a community through the playbooks, and they’re all made to build a seamless sense of community. You start the game by creating your characters which includes creating a location in town and an NPC that fits with it. This includes everyone in the world building and makes it more of a group activity instead of just running a cut and dry setting guide. We love the inclusion of the players in worldbuilding in any game and were so excited to see it explicitly asked for here.
On the subject of structure, we addressed a unique feature of ATCM. Instead of a singular GM running the game, the system requires a narrator. This can either be one player (who also has a character in the game) or the role can be shared by all players, each taking turn with the role as the spotlight shifts between them. As lovers of secrets and unknown horrors, a lot of us questioned how effectively a scary story can be told if 1. Everyone knows the secrets or 2. No one knows the secrets and it’s all improv. As a sole narrator, Megan found it a bit difficult to balance knowing the hidden information and trying not to meta-game as her PC. That being said, we all agreed that we wouldn’t want to give up the feature of all players taking turns being NPCs. This fits better with a rotating narrator, or at least a narrator who doesn’t take the sole role of GM, and really solidifies this as a game of community. You build the town, you continue to help it grow as you create new locations, and you lend your voice to the community. It’s very rounded out between every player and no .
As much as we believe comparing this game to Fiasco is like comparing apples to oranges, we want to touch on the topic because they’re both technically GM-less games. If you want a bit more structure to your improv TTRPG, ATCM has a lot of it. Fiasco is, as the name suggests, more of a chaotic, comedic whirlwind. It’s the different of wanting a fun, Cohen brothers film or a darker Fargo. If you’re a fan of a bit more structure and darker narratives, you’ll love A Town Called Malice.
Some players might struggle with the fact that the existence of full success/mixed success/ full failure endings leads some people to stray a little bit away from natural roleplay due to the innate desire to win. If you want a full success, you most likely will end up meta-gaming at least a little bit as you head towards the final act and confrontation with the darkness. And that’s fair! But if you want that out of your games, you might take up issue with ATCM. At the same time, this leads to very cooperative play which can be a joy if you’ve had problems with adventuring parties that are constantly questioning why they travel together.
On the subject of Scenes: There are 5 different possible scenes you can choose to run on your turn. These either resolve something personal for your character or address a story pillar of the game. As we’ve seen throughout ATCM, that’s a lot of options to keep you from feeling trapped in only one choice. You can help your friends, fight alone, or just go out and do whatever puts your character ahead. And that’s a good concept. We could see some of the scenes growing more from where they currently are, but other than that it’s a pretty good start! Each brings something different in the evolution of the acts, but their effects are still pretty easy to follow. The change between the acts itself can be very subtle and that can let the importance of the ending sneak up on you. It’s important to remember that this game will eventually end and there can be dire consequences for your choices even from the first act. That being said, you need to stay on your toes if you want to win because one dice roll can change the entire game.
As was just mentioned, this game has an ending. This isn’t really built to be played over years and years (though there are notes in the book for continuing the story). If you feel like you don’t have the time to commit to an RPG campaign, ATCM can be a perfect option for telling deep, dark stories on a busy schedule. The team had a bit of a disagreement on if this game can be picked up and played on a moment’s notice, even though it’s very low commitment (aside from emotional). Marquez thinks it depends on the people you run it with. Ray thinks it still requires setup to be run well. Like the Betrayal at House on the Hill boardgame, it requires a bit of setup and a certain level of investment, so it really is up to you if that’s the type of game you’d go for at a party! If that sounds like a party for you, invite Megan.
This is a game for “spooky binches,” those who like mysteries and thrillers, psychological film nerds (Jacobs Ladder), and serious improv troupes (which should totally exist). If you want to play normal people confronting things far above their understanding and normal wheelhouse, then this is a game for you.
So would we play it again?
-Sally wants to experience mixed success endings and failures.
-Marquez wants to play the other playbooks.
-Ray would possibly play it but isn’t chomping at the bit. She wants to see a PvP playthrough though.
-Megan can’t wait to see what changes will be made when the Kickstarter has done.
Some tips for playing:
-If you want more instances of the darkness having a chance to come in to play, play with more than 4 players! And work on confronting the darkness as much as you can!
-Like any game, play with it. If you want to modify the rules for a certain mechanic to fit your group better, feel free! There are so many options in this game, it feels like optimization really fits the spirit of the system.
-Make sure you’re upping the stakes as you get closer to the ending! The game doesn’t necessarily tell you when to do that (aside from Darkness scene failures), so follow your gut and let that darkness shine!
-Sally thinks that this game is a bit difficult for people who have no experience with tabletop roleplaying games. So if you’ve got newbies in your group, make sure you’re checking in with them to make sure they’re getting the most out of the game! Also, probably shepherd them through it with a selected narrator instead of taking turns with that role.
A Town Called Malice is on Kickstarter from April 23rd-May 24th: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/monkeyfunstudios/a-town-called-malice-a-nordic-horror-story-game