I betatested the system and backed the Kickstarter, and now I get to tell you about my favorite RPG.
You might think that a 500-page book couldn't have a core mechanical system that's simple, fast, easy to learn, and highly flexible. Red Markets is all those things. It combines the best elements of traditional task-resolution skill-based gameplay with innovations from the best of the story game scene. And it puts its mechanic constantly at the service of a tight, focused game theme: everything costs resources. Economics as horror.
Economic horror is a genre that you might not have ever heard of, but you've probably played before. The old school dungeon crawl where you're counting your torches and arrows. The sci fi game where you struggle to fix the oxygen system before you asphyxiate. The childhood game of Monopoly, desperately trying to miss landing on your sister's Boardwalk hotel. Any game where the tension and worry revolves around the questions, "Can I afford this?" "Should I risk this?" "What am I giving up for this?"
Red Markets is about bringing those horrors into the center of the game. The zombie apocalypse setting is there to tap into our strongest mythical story about insecurity and constant danger (and it's brilliantly realized in a distinctive authorial voice, not generic in any way). The world of Red Markets is about the horror of having already lost everything, then discovering that you still have so much left that you can still lose. And the horror of the the everyday, constant need to risk life and limb just to get tomorrow's food on the table.
It's a beautiful game that tells beautiful stories, of tragedy, suffering, endurance, and even sometimes triumph (always hard-earned, never certain). And it depicts the daily, constant struggle that eventually adds up to those stories.
There's much more I could write, about the wonderful modular rules elements you could steal for other games, the possibilities for applying the system to other settings and moods, the fantastic community of players that have already created tons of great additional material for it. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's the best RPG I've ever played. I think if you try it, you'll love it too.
[5 of 5 Stars!]