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Review: Guestbook: The RPG


I'll come right out and say it: I love Guestbook.

The game was an impulse buy at last year's Gen Con after a friend demoed the system for me. Even after having a great time I felt a little cheated when I forked over twenty bucks for five tri-fold brochures of story scenarios, rules that looked like they were truncated for a thirty second elevator pitch, and a pretty picture on the front. It wasn't until later, when I handed one of my Storybook brochures to an avowed non-gamer, that the real magic of the RPG hit me.

See, Guestbook isn't a game; it's a smokescreen to get non-gamers to jump into roleplay. Getting somebody to play along feels almost subversive, like the brochure is an excuse to trick non-gamers into having fun.

Instead of offering large, all-inclusive rulebooks this game is organized into tri-fold character brochures. Each brochure contains a single protagonist, a set of ten story-seeds, and all the rules required to play the game -- which, beyond placing limits on how many sentences are allowed for a response, boils down to "tell a story with a friend."

Players in Guestbook take on the roles of protagonist and GM. The protagonist reads an Adventure from the brochure which sets up a simple conflict to resolve. (Firebrand, a normal high school kid with hidden superpowers, is being bullied. Can she stop the bullying without accidentally catching the bullies on fire?) The GM then acts as the adversary for a five minute long storytelling session, introducing complications for the player to overcome. After each turn a round of rock, paper, scissors is played to determine who gets to explain how the scene is resolved. There is an overarching metagame for folks who like that kind of stuff - introducing NPCs and complications and twists and such -- but I found that the simpler the game is played, the better.

Machine Age Games also pride themselves on being LGBTQ inclusive, and it shows in both the wording and scenario construction of Guestbook's characters. Care is taken to avoid simple boy-meets-girl romantic tropes, and the Adventure seeds are both complex enough to drive the gameplay while remaining open enough for players to introduce their own personality. I've run the game about a dozen times at a local LGBTQ youth center and tackled everything from a being bullied for acting butch to having a fast food manager trying to reveal to the world that her district boss was secretly an alien. I never ran a game where I felt like the player's personality was being shoehorned into a particular "vision" of the game, which made the storytelling all the more fun.

Guestbook, in essence, is a storytelling session disguised as a game. Like I said above, getting somebody to sit down and tell a simple story is downright subversive in this day and age, and despite its simplicity I constantly have people asking for one more game.

That's not to say that Guestbook isn't without its flaws. rules are a bit truncated to fit on the brochure and as such can be a bit hard to use in games. In particular the mechanic in which key words used in responses may be traded in for additional sentences in the story was poorly written and squeezed into too small a space to be useful. Thankfully, the rest of the game is so dead simple to play that these rules can be safely ignored. There's also a social media twist to the game which is given a full sixth of the game's space, but again I found the game to be far more useful as a quick-and-dirty Gaming Subversion Tool for the masses. I would much have preferred that the space reserved for people to sign guestbooks when they've played a game be converted into more space to explain the rules.

All that said, Guestbook: The RPG scratches the kind of itch that only an indie game developer could even know existed. Its low price point, dead simple rules, and accessibility create a game that I can take to anybody and have a great time telling a silly story.


CPFace said:

That really interests me; I've always felt that a good roleplaying game should have very simple rules and more of an emphasis on... y'know, playing the role of your character.

Might look into that.

devamon said:

See, this is exactly the sort of post that would have been beautiful over at the now defunct velvet dice bag. I wish that blog would be revamped and brought back into use, but I have no idea how much interest there actually is in that.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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