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Red Markets: A Game of Economic Horror
Publisher: Hebanon Games
by Monica G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/31/2018 23:31:09

This game is yet another take on the zombie apocalypse. But the designers have added a new wrinkle and integrated it well into gameplay. Fans of the genre will enjoy spotting which elements the game has cherry-picked (the basic premise bears a strong resemblance to George Romero's fourth zombie film 'Land of the Dead'). But writer Caleb Stokes places an emphasis on how free market capitalism would function in a nightmare world (the game's introduction states that it intended as a poverty simulator). The premise is that the characters are scavengers (dubbed 'takers') looting bounty from the ruins of society following a zombie apocalypse (called 'the blight'). What is left of the United States is roughly divided into the Loss (a wasteland full of zombies) and the Recession (what is left of the d government and civilization). The setting is extensively detailed but renders the game heavy on exposition. The first 110 pages of the 487-page book read like an illustrated zombie novel, but are entertaining. The core mechanics use a red and black dice for each roll. If a character rolls a higher number on the black dice, he wins -- if the red is higher, the market wins and the player fails. Rolls can be boosted by spending charges on equipment or will power. Skills also add bonuses to the black. Players also certain disadvantages to their characters -- weak spots (personality flaws) and soft spots (virtues that can be a nuisance). There are set types that a character can play, and each has an intrinsic tough spot -- essentially a fixed pair of characteristics (one an advantage and the other a disadvantage). An example is the hustler. This weasel has a list of connections that he can sometimes call on without needing a skill check. The bad news is that he is often in debt. All I could think of was Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt. Just reading the character creation rules gave me ideas -- a hustler whose soft spot is preserving any books that he finds (they do represent knowledge and culture) and whose weak spot is stocking up on beer or spirits as a creature comfort. This guy would be well-connected but a potential drag during a scavenging run. The game differentiates between a grittier, more realistic style of gaming and a more cinematic approach with roiled options to accommodate them. These are coined 'boom' or 'bust'. The presentation is brisk and simple. Literary quotes meant to illustrate certain themes are scattered throughout the book as hand-written sticky notes. The zombie portion of the book contains some interesting ideas -- there are latent carriers of the zombie virus that are harvested for potential vaccines, for example. But anyone who has seen a Romero film, 28 Days Later or Resident Evil will be on too-familiar ground here. There is a glut in zombie RPGs and the political metaphors in Red Market are not particularly subtle. But on the balance this is is a well-constructed diversion.

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Red Markets: A Game of Economic Horror
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