Disclaimer: English is not my first language. I apologize for any mistakes, spellig an grammer-related, up front.
Chariot is a game about Atlantis. To be more specific, it's a game set in an Atlantis based on a theosophical account of Atlantis (Blavatsky, James Churchward and William Scott-Elliot are mentioned, among others, as sources of inspiration) - and, even more specific, it's about the Fall of Atlantis.
Chariot is set in a world of wonder and horror, populated by 5 different races - all of them human and subject to human experience. The Atlantean race is established as the context for the other races - other than the Atlanteans and their empire, there's the Lemurians (usurped by the Atlanteans), the Rhmoahal (subjugated and enslaved by the Atlanteans), Tlavati (a race the Atlanteans failed to subjugated and enslave) and Muvians (seceded from the Atlanteans).
Chariot is a game about human evolution, and the inherent tragedy and horror. One race - the Atlanteans - finds itself in ascendance, attempting to push out or enslave all competition.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: the author is fully aware of the imperialist and racist nature of ideas presented in the setting. Atlanteans subjugate other cultures, take slaves, treating human beings as non-persons and inflicting acts of rape or de facto rape on them.
This subject is tackled head-on. At no point is slavery or rape or the violation of another person's agency treated as a good or desirable thing. Those things are clearly presented as contributing to the destruction of Atlantis. They're subject matters to be confronted by the players and the player characters. The book is very specific (and helpful) in its storytelling advice concerning the horrors of the setting.
The empire is dying. Slaves rebel. Islands sink. Giant machinery sucks away earth's energy so that a select few people live in luxury, at a cost of thousands of lives. War is threatening. A Catastrophe is coming.
The player characters are Fated. As one of the Fated, they know what's ahead, they know how they are going to die (individually), and they've been given abilities that - while not enough to prevent the Catastrophe - may well save lives and change the world to come.
The book describes the cities and nations of Atlantis and Lemuria (twin continent to Atlantis) in detail. Special detail is given to social problems and sources of conflict in each of the regions/cities, making the setting chapter a fertile ground full of story ideas. There's a civil war about to happen on Atlantis proper. There's a city whose main export is people magically lobotomized and turned into slaves (among them "Thralls Decorative"). A warrior state whose all-female soldiers gradually trade away their humanity through magic to be better soldiers. A college of priests charged with enforcing law to the letter, without any concept of mercy or clemency. A society plagued by ghosts of a human race it destroyed. Etc.
Characters are created by choosing a race, a social station and a Fate. Aside from the obvious importance of race and social station in the setting, Fate is pretty important too - your Fate tells you how you'll die in the coming Catastrophe (yes, that's right. A player character cannot die, under any circumstance, until the Catastrophe), and it also gives you a Boon.
Boons are powers that always work, unless a character uses it on another Fated. Boons include things like "You know the truth of all things" or "You are always victorious in battle".
This is important - right after character creation, it is entirely possible to play a character that automatically wins every fight, unless opposed by a Fated. The implications of this are treated in a sidebar - the consequences are important. So you can win every fight. So your magic never fails. What's next? What do people think of you when faced with your power?
Characters have 9 Attributes. Conflicts are resolved not by rolling dice but by choosing and playing cards using a Tarot deck. There's an interesting strategic element in playing the right card at the right time. The book includes an example for conflict resolution.
DISCLAIMER - I'm not the right person to give you a qualified review of the game's system. My tastes in terms of systems are very specific these days. The system of Chariot doesn't fit my personal tastes. I find it hard to give you a balanced perspective on the rules, which is why I'll let other reviewers do that. This is a personal failing of mine and in no way a fault of the system.
Of particular note is the inclusion of a "Catastrophe list" - a list of (not particularly happy) things that may happen before the Catastrophe, setting the stage and painting a picture of the dire state of the setting and the things to come. Examples include
"River water turns sour and undrinkable."
"Migrating Lemurians collide with a large city and threaten its destruction."
"One of the God-Emperors denies, publicly, in a proclamation that there is anything wrong."
"A city’s government loses all control and dissolves into chaos. "
That's it, then. Chariot is a pretty dark game.
In writing this review, I'm spending plenty of time describing the horrors and tragedy of the setting. Which is appropriate, because Atlantis isn't a happy place, but any presentation of the setting wouldn't be complete without also mentioning the glory. There's airship fleets. Domestic dinosaurs. Rocketboats. Floating islands. Magic. Cyborg amazons. All of that.
However, these things exist to set the stage for a game that is, ultimately, about tackling difficult subjects - terrible injustice and oppression.
As mentioned in the game, the point of the game is altruism - it's about struggling to make things better in a world that desperately needs heroes. There are very few systems designed to make a character more effective - characters start out as something like demigods right at the beginning. Instead, there are systems that make it easy for players and the game master to introduce new, interesting NPCs - relationships for the player characters. The game isn't about reaching personal goals, it's about freeing slaves. Doing something about the sins of the Atlantean empire. Making sure someone gets to survive the Catastrophe.
This game is probably not for everyone. It's very specific in what it is set out to do. For those who enjoy games focused on tragedy, the human element and the ways people deal with tragedy, I cannot recommend this game highly enough.
If I have captured your interest with this review, I recommend checking out the author's blog concerning Chariot:
This is where the author talks about the game's setting and system as well as sources of inspiration.
[5 of 5 Stars!]