Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cold City

I mentioned Cold City while I was up standing on my soapbox yesterday, so I thought it might make a good topic for my next little mini-review.

The book itself is small and light, weighing in at 128 pages of the smaller 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" format that seems fairly common for the IPR books.  It's light on artwork, but what is there is often dark, twisted, and well suited for a city filled with ineffable horror, because really, shouldn't all horror be ineffable?

The book perfectly illustrates my point of the value of games who try new directions and offer a different type of game play.  Set in Berlin, five years after the end of World War 2, it uses the backdrop of a city devastated by war, divided by its conquers, and filled with unimaginable horrors.

Yeah, that's the backdrop.

Sure, the premise of the game is a multi-national group of monster hunters who secretly stalk the streets of Berlin with the hopes of quietly defeating creatures the world would do better not knowing about, but as cool of a hook as that is, it's only the beginning.

At its heart, Cold City is about characters, and the drama that they represent, in a very real way.  You aren't just monster hunters.  You're a team cobbled together from the various allied powers who occupied Berlin following the war.  Each character comes from a separate nation, each with its own problems, agendas, and prejudices.  As the Cold War begins to heat up, you are forced to work together and trust one another, even as your governments grow colder.

Of course, that leads to the question of what trust represents.  In Cold City trust is a very real and tangible force.  Further, it's a kind of currency that's just waiting to be traded in.  What that means mechanically is that you can draw upon the trust you have in others to allow you to focus on the task at hand.  If you've broken into a Nazi lab and are trying to gather information about whatever horror was birthed here, you can gain bonus dice to your rolls if you trust that your buddy is watching your back.  Where there is trust, however, there is the potential for betrayal.  If you just happen to be the trusted friend who is supposed to be watching your companion's back, you might consider betraying your companions to get bonus dice that could help you sneak out some vital piece of equipment that may serve your government's interests.

That's why I say that the city itself is just the backdrop.  It seems to me that the real action here is focused on the characters' relationships with one another, and the effort to balance that with their own needs and the goals of their governments.

It's a wonderful book, allowing the players to explore the darkness that engulfs the horror-filled streets of post-Nazi Berlin, while exploring the nature of the own group and characters as well.  The mechanics perfectly fit the style of game play, and actively serve to encourage characters to play to the themes the game represents.  It may not be the game for every group, but if you are looking for something different, or something that will test you ideas of in-game loyalty, you would be hard-pressed to find a game that does it better.

5 out of 5.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Thanks for your thoughts on Cold City, it really is appreciated. I hope my commenting doesn't break the rules of entering the ENnies, but I just wanted to say that I apprecaite the time taken to read Cold City (and all the other entries) and offer your thoughts on them.


Unknown said...

No worries. It's a public forum, so it hasn't been a problem for writers and publishers to pop in on occasion.

That's really most of what this blog is about, to give my thoughts on the games and the process of judging, and give people a chance to let me know if I got something wrong or ask questions.

I hope the review did the book justice. I really enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

Cold City is just a beaut of a game. I think it really shows off how the Contested Ground crew are especially talented at coming up with vivid settings, to start -- but marrying that talent together with some vicious personal vs. national agenda type struggles is where the magic really clicks in.

Good review; thanks for sharing it with us.