I've resolved to make this a honest review, written within a half hour. No days of editing and rewriting. Straightforward review, from me to anyone who might want to read this. All my thoughts are out there, as flawed or as complete as they might be:
Houses of the Blooded is an underappreciated game by an underappreciated author. Having gone into work for himself, John Wick seemed to have taken the reigns off of himself with this, and he made good use of his time.
Houses of the Blooded is great if you want to play a game of tragic heroes (or at the very least, if you're tired of games featuring flawless Mary Sue characters- as a GM and player alike, this has irked me sometimes in the past). Shakespeare's tragedies, Oedipus Rex, Moorecock's Elric of Melnibone... all characters upon which I had a good foundation to make and conceptualize characters.
The setting itself is simple and straightfoward- the written history is simple, but the culture is very, very well detailed. Ways of speaking, the law and it's impact upon nobility (ven) and commoners (ruk) alike, what colors signify, what food and drink the ven enjoy (or abhor), the things they entertain themselves with, and of course, their views on Romance and marriage. As the book will note and make no mistake in failing to illustrate, there's fine cultural reason why "Romance" is capitalized but "marriage" is not.
At a glance, these might seem like unnecessary details. You might say "I just want to play my Shakespeare game and leave it at that", but you'd be doing yourself an injustice if you turned this away solely on that basis. The details are great enough to make the ven seem real, but given simply enough to ensure one doesn't get lost within the pages, blurring the line between a well-spoken conversation on the subject and a historically documented examination of the subject.
Tying in to style, mechanics uphold the idea of playing a tragic hero quite well, I'd say. Anyone can get a game, roll up characters, and say "I'm going to play a sorcerer Hamlet in this campaign!", but HotB both mandates and incentivizes such things. You have six attributes (called "Virtues" in the game, as they encompass Courage, Strength, Cunning, Wisdom, Beauty and Prowess- each one being far more detailed as their name suggests), with all but one being accessible to the player characters.
Aspects are included as well. For those who've ever played Fate or Spirit of the Century, you know what I'm talking about: you have points to spend, and Aspects are the means to both spend those points on dedicated advantages, or gain more points from an Aspect's disadvantages. Every Aspect has both positive and negative sides to it- every strength has some manner of weakness, every weakness having an advantage that can be contrived.
The game incentivizes "tragic heroes". Your flaws and advantages feed into one another, creating a sort of feedback loop of actions that both make them powerful and give them very human elements of weakness. The ven are powerful nobles who are often haughty and arrogant, but never Mary Sues or munchkins.
I'm approaching the end of my half hour, but I think you'd be doing yourself an injustice to turn this away. I'd recommend everyone read this, if only for the advice it gives and the knowledge that can be gleaned from it. My biggest issue with HotB is that there aren't many players for it, so getting a group together may require handholding.
[5 of 5 Stars!]