Though I’ve had an interest in tabletop roleplaying games since discovering D&D in the early 80s, I’ve not played as many as I would have liked to. It’s even more difficult to get them to the table now – at least with people in the same location as you – thanks to the current pandemic. Being alone more often than not makes it far more difficult for many of us to play games that rely on gathering a group of people in the same physical space.
This makes solo RPGs a far more appropriate and enticing prospect. Why worry about the fact that you can’t rope friends or family members into playing a game with you, when you can play an imaginative and fascinating RPG experience alone?
Alone Among The Stars – by Takuma Okada – is just one such solo RPG experience: a solo tabletop game of exploring strange new worlds, finding exotic flora and fauna as you go. It’s played using a standard deck of cards and one six sided die; as well as those components, you’ll need something to document your discoveries in or on – a journal, or perhaps your phone, a tablet or a laptop.
You roll a six sided die when you’re ready to explore a new planet, using the result to determine the number of discoveries there are on the world you’ve landed on. Once you’ve dealt out your 1-6 cards face down, you’ll then roll the die again to determine how you find your next discovery before turning over a card. The card’s suit determines the type of discovery you find (whether that be some form of plant life, ruins, natural phenomena or living beings), with the number determining where it’s found (for example: near a volcano, on a glacier or in deep water). Once you’ve written about your discovery, if there are more cards to uncover you can push on – and if there are no more, you can consider that planet fully explored, name it and – if you choose to – move on to another planet by repeating the process from the beginning.
It’s an incredibly – and impressively – minimal design, with the prompts being vague and open to interpretation. The cover, rules and reference lists fit comfortably on a few sheets of A4 paper (and, in truth, could be condensed to fit an even more compact space). At first glance, it seemed too minimal and lacking in guidance to me, yet when I gave the game a try something truly remarkable happened.
I made my first roll, giving me six discoveries on my new planet. I rolled for the first feature to be uncovered and turned over a card. When I started to write, I found the first few sentences quite difficult, but my imagination was soon fired by the journey I began to take in my mind. By the time it came to turn over my third discovery, I was writing about how I’d struggle to free a crashed alien vessel that a crystalline cliff face had seemed to grow around, seeing as this wasn’t intended as a mining expedition and I was woefully underequipped for the task. Nowhere in the rules will you find anything that points you to a narrative sentence that specific, but the beauty of the minimalist rules is that they provide the perfect springboard for your imagination to be set off. Not only that, but the entire experience became incredibly involving, yet somehow meditative at the same time. Though each fresh discovery is determined in such a simple way with minimal wording, by the end of my trip I was writing more and more, filling in little details in the narrative about my dwindling resources to explain why I could only investigate for six days and writing wistfully about the desire to return and find more on the planet I’d found myself on.
It’s an amazing experience, akin to the lone, procedural exploration in video games such as No Man’s Sky, though of course far more open to interpretation on the part of the player. The simple, straightforward act of documenting your discoveries opens up pathways to imagination that you may not have even realised you had within you, as well as being a relaxing and engaging experience that feels uniquely yours; a very personal journey.
Though I haven’t yet had the chance to try it out, there’s also a two player version of the game – Together Among the Stars – and an online version which uses in-browser interactive fiction tool Twine.
I’ll be sharing my first playthrough as another article this week; hopefully, it’ll demonstrate just how powerful the minimalist rules can be, even if the off-the-cuff fiction I wrote isn’t particularly polished. As you can probably gather from my review, however, Alone Among the Stars provides an experience I can highly recommend.
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