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SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
Publisher: Land of NOP LLC
by A customer [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/30/2018 15:59:16

I'm a little hesitant to write the review before playing the game, but if play greatly defies my expectations one way or another, I will alter this. You play as cyborg revolutionaries ("Receivers") in an alternate history 1986 fascist USA, utilizing a mysterious Signal broadcast by your comrades in the Resistance to temporarily wield superpowers against the Regime, until the Regime shuts the Signal and you have to go back into hiding. The setting of an offers a lot of opportunity for players to jointly explore and reflect on contemporary political and social events, perhaps especially because the intriguing mix of GM-player narrative control, seems like an excellent way to really draw on the insights and experiences of everyone at the table. The setting itself is a pretty broadly outlined canvas on which you can freely, and jointly paint your own details as needed. Mostly the fluff details were nicely evocative, with only a few pieces that made me groan as implausibly on-the-nose ("How could 'fake news' be a recently evolved term to discredit anti-Regime information in a fascist country where the Regime has presumably dominated most media for decades?") or raising questions of setting coherence ("How are consumer electronics, civilian automobiles, and other tech-dependent goods exactly on par with our world's 1986 counterparts when the U.S. has supposedly been in an economic recession for ~30 years? ") Based on the Kickstarter page, the setting caught some flak for its selection of the four Resistance Factions maneuvering to dominate the Resistance and post-fascist U.S., but I would say that the selection are narratively excellent: the Old Men (militia types, some of whom are just adamantly libertarian, some of whom are white nationalists themselves, and all of whom are intending to take up arms against the government), the Party (revolutionary democratic socialists, some of whom are Soviet agents), the Faith (Christian activists opposed to the Regime, some of whom just want to humbly help their neighbors, and some of whom make the Mujihideen look tame), and the Makers (the ultra-rich who fund the Resistance, possibly because they find the Regime morally repugnant or threatening to the Makers' business, possibly because they like using the purse strings to control the Resistance and use them as pawns). These are diverse groups with potential for both noble heroism or to themselves become oppressors. The tension between the factions, the spectrum of extremism within each, and their desire to act on their own agendas to the occasional detriment of the Resistance overall seems like a source of endless opportunity for interesting stories. And, your group won't lack for fuel to start these stories, due to a nice meta-game cycle system for generating events and missions, the success or failure of which each influence Faction loyalty and the overall strategic picture (specifically the Resistance's degree of popular support, international support, and fighter strength) [these factors are based on respected real-world models of insurgencies]. The overall strategic status of the Resistance affects how long your comrades in the field will be probably able to broadcast the Signal during your missions, which is to say how long you'll have your cool super powers. Meanwhile, earning the favor of the various Factions allows use of their various perks during those same missions (the Makers offer a handsome bribe to an obstacle, a Party undercover agent delays your pursuers, etc.) These factors, plus the fact that XP-gain is tied to the total Loyalty each Faction has to the Resistance, means that there's an interplay between the strength of the Resistance and the strength of the PC's. The missions themselves are built around a core mechanic of using 5 dice, some of which are d10s and other of which are d6's, depending on your competence in the type of action--nicely unified across Combat, Intrigue, and Evasion scenes in a fairly streamlined system. The outcomes of each of these rolls can be modified through a variety of different character traits, each of which are a nice way to subtly push players to flesh out their characters' backstories and roles in the setting. The hybrid of GM-player narrative control comes from the fact that the number of successes (6+ on the die, subtracting any 1's) gained on a roll determines how much of the action its results the player can narrate: 3 or more successes gives the player nominally complete narrative control (barring a few mechanical restrictions and what amounts to social pressure to keep things from going too much off the rails and contravening the established facts/tone), which seems like it opens opportunities for truly creative collaborative scenes. This joint-narrative building does seem like it could slightly clash with at least one meta-game mechanic: the inherent randomness of the regular Faction Loyalty Check. Essentially, at a point during the meta-game cycle, the GM chooses one of the Factions, rolls d6, and then compares the results against that Faction's current Loyalty (which is between 1-5). If the result is equal to or less than the Loyalty, great: you get a boon from them and the opportunity to go on a mission for them and increase their Loyalty further. If it's above, then members of that Faction try to do something...counter-productive to the Resistance's success, the precise nature of which depends on how well the war is going overall: from desperately stupid actions like the Faith sending suicide bombers against civilians when everything looks terrible, to the Old Men carving out their own personal warlord fiefdoms when it could go either way, to (just when you're on the verge of victory!) any of the Factions' extremists joining up with the Regime, murdering the moderates in their own Faction, murdering almost everyone in the next strongest Faction, and then becoming the new hybrid-antagonist as Theocratic Fascists, Stalinists, Corporate Oligarchs, or White Nationalist Fascists (the lattermost of which doesn't actually seem all that different from the existing state of affairs.) That last one in particular seems like a lot to settle with just a die roll, and while I'm thematically excited by the idea of the Great Betrayal, as its called, and I think that the unpredictability of the Factions' actions adds some excitement, I'm anxious about what this looks like in execution. Overall though, I'm definitely looking forward to playing it.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
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