Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/25/tabletop-review-forever-summer/
So, back story. I saw Forever Summer come up in late June and the concept sounded interested, but I just didn’t have time to review it. As the weeks went on I noticed no one was reviewing and I started to feel sorry for it as the concept was a cute one, so as soon as I had a break in the deluge of my usual review material, I managed to fit this in. I’m still kind of shocked this isn’t getting much attention as it’s designed for kids (a much needed demographic in our industry), is very cheap (under five bucks) and the core concept is pretty fun. What is that concept? Well, in the immortal words of Joel Hodgson/Robinson, “Let’s have an adventure like The Goonies!”
Welcome to Oceanvale, a small coastal town in the Pacific Northwest. On the surface it’s like your typical sleepy rural town. Underneath the surface though…weirdness pervades! Perhaps there is pirate treasure to find, an alien posing as the principal, a haunted house on the outskirts of town and more! All that is need is a good Responsible Grown-Up (Name for the DM/GM/Storyteller/Keeper/etc in this game) and a troupe of players willing to have adventures in the same vein as many 80s style family friendly films. Besides The Goonies, Forever Summer is also inspired by things like E.T., Eerie, Indiana, Goosebumbs, Fright Night and even South Park. The gist is something weird supersaturates Oceanvale and while the adults are oblivious, a group of spunky kids with attitude and curiosity are the only ones that can save the day. Again, this is a very cute concept although I think it is going to appeal for to adults who were children in the 80s rather than kids of today. It’s very much a piece of nostalgia rather than focuses on the type of stories today’s young children are actually watching and enjoying.
The art is…interesting. The cover is perhaps the worst art in the game and I think it’s the colouring job that makes it visually unappealing as the same artists does all the very nice internal black and white art in Forever Summer. Of course, the cover is meant to help sell the piece, especially for a digital only game, so please don’t judge a book by its cover – literally in this case. Most of the interior art are pictures of the sample characters and it’s very well done. It’s not what you would see in a big budget RPG, that’s for sure, but for a small indie press, I felt the art really captures the atmosphere of the game. There is a lot of art in this piece considering the whole book is only fifty-eight pages in length and most of it brought a smile to my face.
The game is pretty rules-lite, which makes sense for a game designed for ages seven and up. Unfortunately it’s a little too sparse on rules with huge chunks of things simply not appearing in the book, making the game a bit unplayable in its current form. Character creation is a notable example. There are eight steps to making a character, but there are no guidelines or help toward making them. Step #4 is “Add +1 to Nerd, Jock, or Popular” which are essentially the classes in the game. That is all the book gives you. This would imply that you start off with a single point in one of these and nothing in others. However, the pre-generated characters all have between six and seven points distributed between the three. There is simply no explanation at all for the discrepancy. The character creation rules are little the eight bullet points. This gets worse with Step #7 where it says “Note down your special power.” The book gives no guidelines or helping hands in this regard. It’s left completely up to the imagination. This is fine to a degree, but the game really needs some structure or hand-holding, especially if you have single aged kids playing. Little kids are going to pick things like nuclear explosions or summoning Batman. I think younger gamers or those used to more structure to their game will get very frustrated with the copious amount left unsaid in Forever Summer.
Mechanically, Forever Summer is fine. All you need are some six sided dice. You only roll when there is a possibility of failure or in a challenge with another character. In this case the player and the GM roll a six sided die and added any bonus such as their Nerd/Jock/Popular rating plus any points they have for being Good/Very Good at a skill. Highest total wins. That is literally all the mechanics in the game. Again, some RPG “purists” might poo-poo the lack of rules other than this, but for young gamers or first time RPG’ers, this is a smart way to do things. Sure, when I was in single digits, I was playing percentile games with all sorts of charts like TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, but I’m pretty sure I was the exception and not the rule. By keeping the rules light and simple, along with only using six sided dice, Forever Summer becomes a story-telling piece with some light rolling to add tension. That’s going to be what young kids need.
That said, there are still some rules missing. There’s nothing about what happens is another kid helps you out. There is an example of holding a door closed as a challenge between one kid and a monster, but what if three or four kids are holding the door shut. What if a Brain is helping a Jock study, do they get a bonus on that test which, if passed, will let the Jock get out in the nick of time to save his friends? Again, there are a lot of things that will come up in Forever Summer that are ignored or that the authors didn’t think of, which will frustrate younger gamers or new GMs. A little more substance could have gone a long way here.
The majority of Forever Summer is spent on describing Oceanvale along with its important locations and residents. This is great that the game really fleshes out the town, but when have of your book is spent go in-depth about your core location instead of spending time on finishing the rules or character creation…that’s not a good decision in my book. The game is meant to be a rules-lite experience where imagination takes precedence, but then most of the book is telling you where you are and who dwells within instead of letting the players make it up themselves. It’s odd that the game is so constricting in this regard when it’s been so hands-off in everything else. I think the Oceanvale content should have either been a supplement and/or that the rules and character creation content should have received more attention for Forever Summer to truly work. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Because of this odd choice of priorities by the design team, Forever Summer goes from being a great concept to a game that really needs a lot of work if it is to ever find an audience.
Although the price tag is only five bucks and Forever Summer does have its moments, I can’t really recommend the game in the condition that it is in. Perhaps with a few more pages to explain the rules in a manner the target audience could better understand, or some more in-depth help for the Responsible Grown-Up, and you’d have a fine indie game with a small but loyal underground following. In this state though, Forever Summer needs a little more work before it is ready for its big screen debut.