Party First Review.
I have been an avid storyteller for years. I run primarily horror role playing games, Call of Cthulhu and World of Darkness, with a helping of shadowrun on the side. So when I heard there was a new horror role playing game on the block, set in a fictional soviet style 1980's I was instantly intrigued.
I have been able to run a couple of sessions now, ran the first part of the 1st scenario in the book, and then finished it with my own ending (Turning it from the Thing inspired, to the Keep inspired).
Myself and my players all enjoyed the sessions. These are my thoughts about the game.
The setting of the USRA (A twilight version of the USSR) is a fun one to play around in, I think most of my play group had seen Chernobyl and that came across in the dialogue and interacting with the NPC's. Indeed as a storyteller you can almost craft a story from the bureaucratic horror of the system itself. This emersion is further helped by the narrowness of the classes. Each one, From Agent to Soviet and 6 others in-between gave you a feel for a role in the USRA.
Each character giving you abilities and advantages that you can use in game. As well as some boosted stats. No Character class can be chosen more than once. This gave an interesting spread of characters for the mission ahead.
The game brings a few elements to the horror genre that enhanced the mood and setting of the game. The first being a choice in what type of test would be made. A Party test or a Personal test . A party test draws on the stats of the playing group. Using the lowest skill in the Party, however its easier to manipulate the results with other actions, whilst a Personal test costs more to use, and is harder to manipulate the results, but you use your own skills. This gave the players some fun dialogue and decisions to make as the game progressed.
The second thing that is tied to the tests is that of the Tension pool. The Tension slowly increases as the game progresses. One of the key ways for this to occur is when the players roll a 1 on there tests. The tension pool gives the storyteller a pool to roll that represents the environment. They can also spend dice from the tension pool to trigger certain events as determined by the scenario. Finally the Tension pool every time you hit 10, will trigger an exploding tension effect. That will add to the story. One of the ways the players can manipulate there own dice rolls is by giving the storyteller extra tension dice, again this was always a fun decision at the time.
As a storyteller I really appreciated the tension pool, and will be certainly adapting some form of it for other horror games I run. It gives me a game number I can test against based on how the story is developing, for those times I am just wanting to test against something simple to ascertain if a test is successful.
The system and character creation is dead simple. I ran this game over zoom, and had characters created and ready to play in 40mins. That included a discussion of the rules, and me reading out the rules and abilities relevant for each class. After 30 mins of play my players had a good understanding of the tests and mechanics of the game. During our second session we didn't have to recover any of the core rules. I suspect this would be a good system for novice players, or people you are introducing to role playing.
The game is based around 1 shot adventures, come up with a run something cool. This was refreshing from my normal long story arc games I run. Yes you can do 1 shot adventures with other systems, but what I liked about this, was the ease of the system, and the tension pool ratcheting up well the tension. Knowing its a 1 shot adventure means the players can be a bit bolder, and are less worried about character death.
The group I ran the game with, whilst all being experienced role players that I know well had never played a RPG with me. They all enjoyed the game. All said they would be happy for another session in the future.
I have spoken about the system and mechanics being simple and accessible, and for a 1 shot horror game that works really well. If you are wanting a more crunchy system this may not be for you.
In conclusion, I would rate this game a 5 out of 5. Its the perfect game to run for a new group of players coming together. It has a fun theme, that is engaging in itself. Its the perfect game a gaming convention, something different to run for your none gaming friends on Halloween or as a pallet cleanser between other sessions. Russian accents are optional.