I’m really excited about Grey Ranks. It’s been a particularly fruitful labor of love for me, and I think people are going to enjoy it. It can be a bit of a hard sell, though — the elevator pitch makes it sound like a vacation in Pyongyang: “You play child soldiers as your whole world is blown to pieces around you. In the end, your character will probably die.” So I’ve been thinking about how to communicate why somebody might like the game.
People who just like cool roleplaying games will appreciate the beautiful cover and interior illustrations by indie comics artist Jeff Bent. The art is really, really good. It’s also sequential — it follows the story of the play examples, creating, in effect, a mini-comic. Shoe-horned in around the art are 142 functional, beautifully laid-out pages. The book was designed by The Mad Irishman, famous for his character sheets, and it features period-specific type and creative marginalia to supplement the text. It’s been heavily playtested across 18 months, with both in-house and blind testing regimens. The game works.
Folks who are into World War Two roleplaying will have a lot to like as well. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 is pretty close to uncharted territory. This isn’t Normandy — this isn’t even Kursk. It’s the largest single armed uprising against the Nazis. Home-made rifles against Panzerkampfwagen V’s. The game is meticulously researched and provides a ton of background material. Even if the system isn’t your cup of tea, it’s a definitive gaming reference that’s chock full of adventure seeds. And finally, one word — bibliography.
If you’re a busy adult, you’re going to appreciate Grey Ranks from both the “busy” and “adult” angles. You get maximum fun with minimum commitment. It’s fast-moving and exciting. There are specific rules for playing the game as a one-shot, and a standard game is designed for three evenings. Replay value is high. There are a ton of extras, like free downloadable character sheets, Radio Lightning broadcasts, and a lot more, to make getting up and running effortless. The game sort of teaches you how to play it as you go. That said, it’s an adult game, with adult themes. Sex and death are part of the fabric of play. If you want to dive into deep issues, Grey Ranks delivers. If you just want to shoot some Nazis, well, that’s there, too.
If you’re an indie games wonk, Grey Ranks has some interesting design twists and turns you’ll probably be into. It does cool things with situation. The game throws you head-first into a time and place about which you may know nothing, and motors along while giving you the tools to seamlessly honor ground truth. You might even learn something! I think Grey Ranks also does exciting things with mechanics. At its heart it is a simple game, but every piece relentlessly enforces the game’s thematic content. You play a child soldier, and whether you like it or not, both child and soldier will be tested and probably broken before the game is over. And finally, Grey Ranks does unusual things with narration. For example, there are times when you know the outcome a scene before you begin to narrate it. You are encouraged to interrupt other people’s scenes with flashbacks. It’s pretty neat in play.
Grey Ranks is at the printer (Publisher’s Graphics) right now and also at Lulu — the Lulu proof is en route. We’ll be using them for hardcover fulfillment and Indie Press Revolution for everything else. We’re bursting with pride about Grey Ranks and hope you’ll check it out.