I want to approach this with an unbiased approach, but it's difficult. I came across this game while developing my own and discovered eerie similarities. But soon I came to the conclusion that they were two different breeds of the same animal. And this animal is beautiful. And forget unbias or bias, I see no reason to give it subpar 5 Stars.
If you want to know what Broken Rooms is, imagine Fringe and Sliders if seen through a Kübler-Ross model lens. As many of the characters are going through emotional states of loss, the worlds themselves are as well. Thirteen worlds, all mirrored off of ours and all facing an apocalypse level event. In which society is trying to cope with the loss of existence as man knows it. I love this game, and hopeful I can convince you to love this game.
I've seen some complaints of the text being too large. I, however, feel it's fine. Everything is spacious, but so well organized I never noticed. The art all fits, despite being mostly photographs run through filters. Everything fits concisely. If anything, it feels like a report or textbook from an organization teaching it's employees, only not that obvious. Also, the book is oozing with flavor text. Standing in at a crazy 465 pages with roughly 50 pages of rules, about 60 pages of "stuff", and about 300 pages of setting. Yeah. It's all thick atmospheric juicy steak of information. And I love it.
The art's nice, the layout. It's easy to read. It flows naturally. And the last 200 pages read like diaries and reports from each of the 13 worlds. It loads decently on my smartphone and reads smooth on my desktop.
The only gripe I have is the character sheet is too simple. Years of being spoiled by White Wolf and Mr Gone have left me craving very stylish sheets. This game's sheet is just test and a few tables. It's almost too basic, like a psychiatry report. Which fits in thematically with the MHPA below and the stages of grief motif.
The momentum system uses D12s and focuses on story and character. It allows characters to build and spend world altering power called momentum. Stats are as simple as Mental, Physical, and Soul. There's 20 skills. Special powers. "Qualities" that feel like more powerful once-per-session versions of Aspects from Fate. The wound system mirrors the stats, with mind, body, and soul taking damage along tracks of dots.
What's most outstanding is players are forced to fill out a Motivation, Personality, History, and Appearance questionnaire. The MPHA, as it's referred to, really brings the feel of the game together. Each of the 23 or so questions rounds out everything you could want to know about a person, like you're prepping for a psychiatry exam instead of building a character. It reminds me of Apocalypse World and Outbreak Undead partly. But here it's so much more. This sets the game apart from most. Character stats and skills are so simple and short that they don't form who the character is. The MHPA really sets the game tone apart.
Dice mechanics: Pools of 12s rolled to beat target numbers for successes. With target numbers being based on situations and number of successes modifying difficulty. Dice that add up to generate Momentum. No successes with only 1s or 2s create a critical failure - botch. Yes, you've heard all this song and dance before, only with D10s. Which is fine. The D12 fits their meta and they'd have suggested D13s if they were easily accessible. All that matters is it works. Though I have no ability to playtest it, everything seems to work fluidly on paper. Don't hold me to that. If you like D10 dice pools with target difficulties and numbers of success, you'll like this.
Characters can use shared locations between the 13 worlds to hop across realities. The most outstanding mechanic, however, are Meridians. They sound simple: Blocking, Changing, Finding, Keeping, Opening, Writing, etc. Each has a concept and you pump reality power (Momentum) into them to do the effect of their name. Breaking? You can break things, break people, break ideas. Finding is one part Scrying and one part Bloodhound. Writing allows you to rewrite information from changing data on a hard drive to changing people's memories. It's not telepathy, it more like very quick Inception done with a magic marker on their erasable brain. Meridians are the big party prize here. Characters can mess with just about anything, and it makes for fun times. Almost makes me think you could use this to run a version of the movie Push meets the movie The One. Well, not The One by the book's default rules, as coming anywhere near your alternate self leads to very bad consequences.
There's a wide range of hazard rules for starvation and hypothermia and stuff, as well as objects like weapons and magical artifacts. Well, just "Artifacts", but we know what the deal is. Overall I'd like to say the system shines. It's stuff I've seen a million times before by other companies. But I've seen a million slices of pizza by different companies and most every one is delicious. I'd say the system is efficient and does what it needs to. No, with glaring eye strain the Setting is what shines. So brightly you gotta wear shades.
The game likes to stay ambiguous like Apocalypse World. In 2002 something happened. No one knows exactly what. Then there were twelve other Earths and everyone but us faced the apocalypse. 10 years later, the world hopping characters with a specific genome are trying to jump between the 13 realms and patch up all the holes, save all the peoples, and stop all the problems. Mostly they seem to die all the deaths and go all the crazies. It's a game of ideas. it's a game of endless questions and very few answers. It's exactly the mystery that made me fall in love with Don't Rest Your Head, Lacuna, HoL, Summerland, Exquisite Replicas, Kult, Enter the Shadowside, Apocalypse World, and The Shadow of Yesterday (actually I could list games I love for hours but I'll stop here). It's a question with you providing the answer through gameplay.
What is the question? And what answer are you likely to find?
Good question. There are 13 Earths. Each one has the number in superscript like "Earth to the eight power". It's neat. Earth one is "normal", whatever that means to you. Two is Left Behind with less religious tone and nature reclaiming the world. Three is claimed as the after effects of an asteroid, but described it honestly sounds more like Kairo/Pulse after the ghosts are gone. Four is the classic bug-alien invasion. Five is Children of Men. Six is Al Gore's nightmare. Seven is the ice age. Eight is the panic that comes when a black hole is only years from pulling Earth in. Nine is ocean-water zombies. Ten is that Abrams show Revolution. Eleven is a Monty Python Church Police sketch taken all the way with no humor whatsoever. Twelve is the best, with make believe monsters that only children can see and roaming armies of kids who protect parents from them. Thirteen is basically the grease trap of the other 12, being an empty place where the shadow versions of realities catch like a filter.
You say to me "Thirteen worlds, that's neat. Is that it?" and I say to you "That's 300+ pages of thirteen worlds." Sure. You could ditch the setting and use the Momentum system to try and convert something else, but you won't have much fun just using the system. Or maybe you will, it's your fun. But if you decided to ditch the momentum system and convert Broken Room's setting into anything else, it's glorious no matter what it runs on. I kind of want to try doing it with Apocalypse World or Fate. However, the current system works fine for the setting, so no need to convert, though we know you'll try. No matter what you do, this is a thick phone book of setting. And each world is so filled with so much flavor you're going to have to take a long time to digest and some antacids and maybe a ciesta.
Buy the book already. The last 200 pages are characters writing reports and letters about their travels in these worlds, which is worth it alone. The last half of the book is on par with most things that White Wolf put out. You know, the company known primarily for industry grade flavor text and setting the story game bar (before Ron Edwards, Vincent Baker, and Jason Morningstar helped smash it apart).
The Final Verdict
I like it. Now. I'm poor and always trying to save away for basic meals let alone the luxury of games I can't play. Even as a PDF on sale, $25 is a big chunk of my cash. I'm use to spending that much on a stack of printed books. Let alone trying to imagine buying the print of this for $50. I'll just say that after reading it, it was worth the money. When I'm no longer poor I'm buying the hardback no matter the cost. It's a damn good setting. The Meridians, the world hopping, the strange rules and paradoxes of alternate selves, and the thick chunk of thirteen unique settings makes for an awesome product. It's not a game of treadmills or narrowly designed railroads. It's a game of getting lost in a maze. It's Alice in Wonderland if created and produced by J J Abrams. It's character and story driven world hopping in which everywhere you go is falling apart. It's The Lost Room if every time he exited it was a different universe that was about to be eaten by Cthulhu.
The only problems I see are...well, the character sheet. Two, the "always could be more" effect I get with stuff. This is a great game, but another supplement or two wouldn't fill my appetite. I'm gluttonous, though. Your results may vary.
By now you know if you like it. If it sounds like the type of game that interests you, it's worth it. The only crime here is it has nearly none of the exposure it deserves.
[5 of 5 Stars!]