*Available for purchase via download at itch.io

Stuck at home with due to social distancing? Maybe you’ve just got a really busy schedule and need something to do on your own? If you’re a gamer, now is as good a time as any to try a solo RPG-something like The Artefact by Jack Harrison.

This game was part of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest 2 which allowed creators to make do-it-yourself magazines. It was a way to develop content, as well as pay homage to the early days of RPGs when zines were developing material for the then fledgeling hobby. What better time to take a risk creatively than to embrace the medium that helped create all kinds of home-grown rules for table-top games?

The Artefact is an entire solo game in a neat and tidy 24 pages pages. It is black text on white background, and features minimal, but useful art. Those illustrations that are available actually do help to depict the game. The real question is, how does it work?

Harrison’s solo game permits a player to creates a system agnostic item that has at some time or another been in the possession of someone, a Keeper. This means, in a nutshell that you are taking on the persona of loot that you might find while adventuring. Pretty fun idea, right? That’s what I thought as well, and why I backed it.

After reading through, and actually playing it, I would say that this isn’t really a game as much as it’s a fun creative-writing exercise. When you begin you basically start sketching out notes based on prompts, and the further you carry on, the more complete your object becomes-including an illustration. Tables help randomize the experience, and the whole process is guided from concept to fully-conceived the creation becomes.

From start to finish the whole thing takes about an hour, and so its highly playable, while not being a major time commitment. There are ideas baked into the game, such as turning out the lights for a short period of time to replicate the isolation of a lost object that are quite clever. Additionally, there are different types of items, and nothing about the game is specific to any fantasy world. This could easily be used for the table-top role playing game of your choice. In fact, I felt like I wanted to hack it and figure out how I could expand upon the experience.

I came up with a few ideas:

Perhaps it could have expended categories for the items being created. The game currently boasts three kinds of items, but this could easily expanded.

I wanted a sort of historical aesthetic to the game. Wouldn’t specific cultures of civilizations have different techniques, designs, and patterns worked into the objects? This could be a nice touch to add some specificity to the item being created.

More options for how the item changes hands. One of the features of the game is to examine how an item changes hands from one “Keeper” to another. This could be from nefarious means, or benign. However, its a feature that could be developed further to enhance the scope of the storytelling aspect of the game.

This was a fun game, but felt limited. Granted, this was supposed to be a “Zine”, and wasn’t intended to be a large game. Even calling this a game is a bit of stretch because you don’t really win. The whole purpose is to walk a player through the creation of an object, and to examine how it changes hands from one Keeper to another. Once you’ve done that you’ve created an item with a backstory, but it would be reaching to say that this is anything other than world-building.

Ultimately, The Artefact stands out because it is immensely re-playable, something that other solo rpg experiences lack. It also shines because it can be a handy tool to help people create content for other games, which is a plus for people short on time. Even though it’s highly playable, it never felt like a game-at least not to me. There aren’t conditions for victory, and there really isn’t a point where a player starts, or ends. You just run out of rule book. This last point isn’t necessarily negative, the game just could have been longer. It’s a great compliment, and why indie game development is always worth looking into. This is a great system agnostic supplement that could fit on any gamer’s shelf.

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