“All it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
It’s the fall break of my sophomore year of college — early October, just before the weather starts to turn quickly south in upstate New York. It hovers in that unpredictable zone that oscillates wildly and rapidly between ‘Armpit Stains the Size of Texas’ and ‘Two Sweaters Because You Forgot to Pack a Coat’. I can still walk around outside in a tee shirt and jeans for now. (Or, as was my habit, jeans, a tee shirt, and a kheffiyeh from my unfortunate and tone-deaf stages of appropriation and political demonstration. But you live and learn when you’re a week away from being 20.)
I’d gone home that weekend for one of the last times of my undergraduate career; a lot of my liberal arts college friends were from families where they could comfortably return to their middle class lives and live in their childhood bedrooms and hang out with their friends who were also all on break from college. Or they had gone to New York City.
I was having something of an existential crisis (monthly, at the time) and, you know, I’m poor as shit. I couldn’t afford staying a few days in a place where, living there now, my rent costs more than my family’s generous allowance for that entire sophomore year combined. But I couldn’t stay on campus either. It felt like the claustrophobia of my dorm room in the woods without any of my friends to keep me company. But going home was always hard, too, because college was a million miles away from what it felt like anybody else from outside that tiny town would understand. It’s also becoming increasingly clear as I look back to who I was then that I was growing farther away from what I could understand. From what I was willingly trying to forget sometimes.
Enter Night in the Woods.
I can see myself in Mae, the main character. A little too close for comfort, in fact. Would you know, Mae is actually my middle name, and my last name is also the name of Polish immigrants who came here a century or so ago? My mother’s side of the family had lived in Pennsyltucky, too, since before this country was a westernized Nation. They were the original extorters of the native peoples. I play the bass, as well, and graduated somewhere around the middle of my high school class even though I had talent because I was just so dang bored. I, too, ended up in college by what felt like sheer luck and felt so guilty leaving my friends behind when they worked hard, too, if differently so.
God, I remember so well the feeling of being with two good friends then, that weekend, on top of a building we certainly shouldn’t have been, on what is probably the highest point in our town if and only if you consider the tops of buildings to be peaks. Later that year, I came back for spring break, for another identity crisis, and one of those good friends and I ended up in a literal cabin in the woods on top of a godforsaken actual mountain. There was a fire and other goings-on, another cabin in the woods we most certainly shouldn’t have been in, and there were syringes sticking out of the snow that still, in March, was over a foot high. I hadn’t brought a coat then, either. I ended up on top of a building then, too.
That happened a lot between the end of high school and the middle of college. I was living out my teenage years all at once, kind of like running around on power lines. But I went back that October. Mae didn’t. Mae dropped out, and don’t think I hadn’t considered it, too. She’s right, you know, about the shapes. Sometimes things are shapes, shapes with no meanings or intentions. And you need to step away and get some perspective on how they fit together.
Basically, Night in the Woods is my story. The first few hours of playing it, I kept shouting at the television “THAT IS TOO WEIRD” or “THAT IS TOO REAL” or “ARE YOU KIDDING ME” because — well, I ended up on top of buildings. The cabin in the woods. Power lines.
But most of all, Night in the Woods gets small town post-industrial Appalachia so right. Where at first I was thinking “god, this is uncanny, this game was made for me,” I found myself thinking no, this isn’t just my story, this is the story that we all know. The narrative that stories about small towns get almost universally wrong. Most media makes it seem like small towns are actually small cities, that Buffy’s Sunnydale is a “one Starbucks town” that also has a night club, space for an art gallery opening, and a huge-ass high school.
Meanwhile, our coffee shop closed down for repairs after a flood in summer 2010 and hasn’t opened its doors since. The sign was in the window until recently, a faded red Jesterman font. It was a gift shop with Adirondack chairs out front when I was last there in May 2016. It was once a railroad stop, but grass overtook the tracks long ago, before the industry even left.
There are so many of us out here with these stories but few who live in our towns ever really escape. We rarely get to make the stories that we lived, because we work blue-collar jobs to barely make ends meet in our trailers and remain not-even-blissfully ignorant of the world changing around us. My town is honestly stuck in about 1952, where new businesses get run out in under a year and the ones that thrive are the ones that have been around longer than I’ve been on this earth. (Or above it, hovering somewhere on a building, it would seem, much like Mae’s power lines.)
I got exceptionally lucky, despite my family being in the bottom 10% of income earners, to have had opportunities to leave and lacked the strings to discard them. There is a point where you can listen in on the conversation the historical preservationists are having about a statue in Possum Springs, Night in the Woods’ setting. They’re discussing whether it should stay or go, and one of them shouts out “this is like the stoplight all over again.” My town literally has two dueling historians who alternately sabotage and refuse to acknowledge the existence of the other. Or at least, they did in 2010. One of them might have died by now.
Mae’s friends work hard at their jobs at their cash registers. Bea in particular had a light that got snuffed out, and she struggles throughout her story arc with resentment for Mae having the opportunity to what she could not: go to college, have a ‘normal life.’ Bea believes Mae squandered her chance by dropping out (though this does change as Bea learns the reasons why). Bea also thinks that she’s run herself dry and become “uncool” by Mae’s jaded collegiate standard because she works long hours in a job she hates and has the energy to do nothing but stare at the wall.
There’s no romance to living in a town a square mile large with a thousand people, where everyone lives in abject poverty and the nearest real grocery store is ten miles away. You’re all working class, blaming the government who was supposed to help you for the state you’re in, having to decide between heat or food for the winter because the railroads left and the cars broke down. (Truth be told, they should have died in the 80s.) You can’t drive an hour each way for $35,000 a year when you’re supporting sick families. Or when, as with Mae, you can’t even get a job or talk to people normally because your reputation from five or ten years ago follows you around everywhere and pokes its nasty head in sometimes.
You can hardly blame the Big Bad at the end, which solves the story, because their motives make sense. Even if the ends (some stability in a world that’s moved on, is that too much to ask?) don’t really justify the means (murder).
Mae’s family works hard to pay the mortgage, but they might lose their house because of predatory lending. They re-mortgaged the house to send her to college, and then she dropped out. Her dad works at a deli counter, and her mom works at a church. The future suddenly doesn’t have a form any longer. It’s not even shapes. Mae’s doing a lot of things without an understanding of what’s going on at home. She puts her friends in danger and makes selfish decisions, but it makes sense, you know, when you’re trying to compare two worlds that really, deeply, contrast. I want to hate her, but I see myself at 20 and just can’t.
The gameplay is repetitive, but it feels meaningfully so, whether intentional or not. When you’re whiling away the hours in your childhood home, trying to find purpose in a place that doesn’t even have cell service, you do kind of end up doing the same things over and over. There’s always the guys in the bar (who, by the way, you have fascinating relationships and are worth listening to. Their words speak volumes).
You know they’ve all worked hard, in the real world or in the game. We all know the people who can’t catch breaks no matter how many knots form in their shoulders. That fall break, I was mourning the end of the honeymoon of my freshman year of college, realizing there were a lot of things that I couldn’t rationalize or make fit into the shapes of my new world when I had been so molded, against my will, by the old.
Night in the Woods tells the story of getting out of your small town but being drawn back. The story of the people with bright futures had they only been born elsewhere and in the right time at the right place, or who, by chance, ended up facing the consequences of one bad decision that mapped out everything that would come afterwards. Night in the Woods puts you into that post-industrial forever-economically-depressed-if-only-they-would-see-it rust belt, and I’ve never felt anything more real. Night in the Woods doesn’t romanticize the small town, and for that, it tells the story perfectly.
Images Courtesy of Finji
Keeping Kosher In Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World is the best selling game in its series, with over 7.5 million units shipped. There are many reasons for this: The game is more accessible for new players, it’s not just on a handheld console anymore, there was actually some marketing push for this game…the list goes on.
However, I personally think one of the reasons the game is so popular is its food eating cutscenes. Before you go on a hunt, you can eat a meal at a canteen that gives you buffs. You’re also treated to an adorable and very tasty looking cutscene of the Palicoes (a cat like race that helps you hunt monsters) making your meal. The details are so lavish and the end product looks so good I couldn’t help thinking about it off and on for weeks. And one question that kept recurring was, “Would any of this food be Kosher?”
Kosher foods, for those of you who may not know, are foods that conform to the Jewish kashrut (dietary law). The word treif describes any food that does not abide by this law. Determining what foods are Kosher or not can get complicated since different groups of animals have different rules. At its most basic though, there are three groups of animals: land, flying, and fish (invertebrates as a rule are treif). Conveniently enough, most monsters in Monster Hunter World could fit under the same categories. We’ll go through each category and examine a few monsters from the game to decide if any (or all) of them can be Kosher.
Before we begin though, I’d like to give major props to one of our editors, Gretchen. Before I wrote this article, I knew next to nothing about what makes a food Kosher or not. Gretchen not only educated me, but did a lot of the heavy lifting, and for that I am grateful.
The first monster up for discussion is called Uragaan. Uragaan lives mostly in volcanic regions and is identifiable its large chin, its shiny, lustrous golden hide, and the spikes along its back. It consumes mostly bedrock and those large spikes on its back are actually crystals. It produces a sticky, tar like substance on its stomach, which it uses to attach explosive rocks to itself as a means of defense. If someone were to knock down or kill Uragaan, they’d be able to mine the vast mineral wealth on it’s back…but they wouldn’t be able to eat it, as Uragaan isn’t Kosher.
In order for a land animal to be Kosher, it has to meet three basic requirements. First, it can not be a carnivore or a scavenger. It can not eat meat. Second, it must have a split hoof. Horses aren’t Kosher, but animals like cattle and sheep are. Finally, the animal must chew its cud. Pigs have split hooves, but they don’t chew their cud and thus are not Kosher. Uragaan meets the first rule, but fails with the second and third. As such, Uragaan can never be Kosher.
The next monster up is Kirin. Kirin resembles a unicorn or (more accurately) a Chinese Qilin. It has a single large horn growing out of its head, with a white mane and tail that seem to stand on end from static electricity. It’s body appears to have fur, but those actually are scales. Kirin also seems to crackle with electricity as it walks. Looking at the picture we can see clearly that it has a split hoof. The game doesn’t tell us what it eats or if it chews its cud, but if we extrapolate what it looks like and compare to say, an antelope or a deer (both of which are Kosher) we can safely assume that Kirin is Kosher as well, right? Wrong.
Kirin fails to be Kosher not by the quality of the animal, but by the quality of its behavior. You see, Kirin belongs to a group of monsters called Elder Dragons and these monsters, in addition to being tougher the ordinary monsters, are immune to traps and tranqs unlike other monsters. This presents a problem, as in order for meat be Kosher, the butchering must happen in one swift action using a sharp knife. Shooting the creature with an automatic repeating crossbow is not the way to do it. Kirin, unfortunately, is not Kosher for this reason.
We come now to the last land based monster in this article: The Kelbi. Kelbi, unlike the monsters mentioned thus far, are not aggressive. They are small, and the males are usually green in color while the females and juveniles are blue. Males also have large, prominent horns while female horns are smaller. In-game, Kelbi horns are medicinal, and players make potions out of them. I’m also happy to report that Kelbi might be our first (possibly) Kosher monster.
Like Kirin, Kelbi has a split hoof. We also know that Kelbi are herbivores, but it is unknown whether or not Kelbi chew their cud. Extrapolating and comparing them to real world deer and goats though, we can have more confidence that Kelbi are, in fact, Kosher.
Now we will discuss birds. According to Jewish tradition, animals that fly and are not insects are birds. Thus animals such as bats are ‘birds’ in regards to Kosher rules. The rules for birds themselves are fairly simple. They can’t be predatory or scavengers. This rule immediately rules out the next monster on the list: Rathalos.
Rathalos is known as the “King of the Sky” and is the male counterpart to Rathian, another flying monster. Rathalos are bipedal wyverns, primarily red in color, with sharp, poisonous claws that they use to hunt with. In addition to that, they have a flame sac that they use to produce flaming projectiles from, and their long thick tail has a club at the end of it. But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, no birds of prey can be Kosher.
The next monster on the list is one of the oddest in the game. Pukei-Pukei resembles at first glance a giant chameleon with frog like eyes, wings, and green scales covering its body everywhere except around its wings and neck, where it has feathers. The Pukei-Pukei is an herbivore and it will eat poisonous plants so it can produce a poison to defend itself. Despite all of these peculiar traits, Pukei-Pukei appears to be Kosher.
I was surprised to hear Gretchen tell me this, as I thought there would be no way a monster as weird as Pukei-Pukei could be considered Kosher. But as she laid the case out it began to make more sense. Despite some reptilian traits, Pukei-Pukei has more avian traits, and that classifies it as a creature of the air under the kashrut. As a creature of the air, it has to meat a few specifications. It does not scavenge like a vulture, nor does it hunt like a bird of prey. Thus, Pukei-Pukei meets the requirements.
And By Sea
There aren’t very many sea monsters in Monster Hunter World sadly. Only one of them really seems like it would count. And this one is Jyuratodus. Jyuratodus resembles nothing more than a bipedal coelacanth fish. It has two dorsal fins, two pectoral fins, two pelvic fins, and a long, thick tail that it can use to defend itself. It also covers itself in mud and other ooze, to act as another layer of defense and to possibly keep its gills and scales damp. Fortunately for us, practically the only water based monster in this game is also Kosher.
For a sea animal to be considered Kosher, it must have fins and scales that can be removed. This generally means that the stereotypical fish is allowed, but not animals such as eel, lobster, squid or crab. Jyuratodus, despite its size and aggression does have fins and scales and would be Kosher.
The Hunt Goes On…
So what are we left with from this list? Two monsters that could be considered Kosher, three that are not, and one that might be, if it chews cud. And this is only a small sample of the monsters in the game. Not only that, but Capcom has plans to release more monsters as free DLC over the upcoming months. When the PC version of the game is out, I might revisit this article and expand on it. Until then though, happy hunting and bon appétit!
Images Courtesy of Capcom
Hopes and Fears for Deadfire
The release of Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire, the sequel to an old-school RPG that’s close to my heart, was pushed back a month. An unfortunate state of affairs, to be sure, but tolerable if it gives the developers the time to eliminate bugs. It also gave me time to undertake another play-through of the original. This time, as a female dwarf druid from the Deadfire Archipelago, just to see if it becomes relevant.
And for those of us who appreciate traditional, yet forward-looking RPGs as I do, I’d like to talk a bit about what I hope and worry about in the sequel. Unfortunately, I was unable to get into the player beta that has been going on for some months now, for brutally fiscal reasons. So while I kept close tabs on the testers were saying, I must avoid making authoritative statements.
Instead, I’m going to cover some big topics that occur to me as I play Pillars of Eternity again and wait for Deadfire. Those are, in no particular order…
Spells: rest or encounter?
First things first: since I play a full spellcaster as my main character for the first time, I already can’t wait for Deadfire’s upgrade to spells with per-encounter uses, rather than per-rest. Having spells that only recharge on a full rest stunts the game’s pacing and makes balance very difficult. What we have here is three situations:
- The caster doesn’t use any of their per-rest spells and doesn’t contribute much.
- The caster does contribute without per-rest spells, using per-encounter or passive abilities. Each main casting class has those.
- The caster dominates the encounter with powerful spells.
None of those situations are optimal. If we have either the first or the last, it means two extremes. If the second or the last, then it means those classes’ performance is similar to those with per-encounter or passive abilities, but they also sit on tactical nukes.
There’s really no way to balance it against classes whose abilities are available a number of times every encounter, or entirely passive. It will inevitably swing in the direction of some classes having more impact on the battle than others.
Resting as a pacing mechanic is notoriously unreliable, because the game can’t really control how much we rest. It can dole out camping supplies and make some areas impossible to rest in, but players can bypass it all. In a tabletop game, per-rest encounters will rely on the GM’s willingness and ability to enforce a particular pacing. In a video game…there’s no GM to do that.
This change has met with mixed reception. Aside from those who think it’s dumbing down the game, there have been concerns over insufficient quantity of spells and the fact that they take too long to cast. Meaning the battle might be over by the time you fire off that spell. The latter two are legitimate, and I hope the developers address them.
But regardless of what issues arise from a shift to a per-rest resource management, I really think it’s for the best. Per-rest spells are a relic of old-school D&D that has stuck around by inertia. We can’t be rid of it in D&D, so let’s at least remove it from Pillars.
Health and safety
The health system of Pillars of Eternity is somewhat controversial. Its removal in favor of a more traditional health in the sequel, perhaps more so. The original system measures two health “bars”: endurance and health.
Every time you take damage, you lose both, but while endurance regenerates by itself and through abilities, health doesn’t. You have at least four times as much health as endurance, which means it drops slowly. Once your health becomes lower than maximum endurance, the latter is also lower. Dropping to 0 endurance knocks you out, dropping to 0 health maims you, then kills you.
In theory, I like it. It’s a compromise between old-school unforgiving attrition and a more modern style where everyone gets back to full strength after each battle. But I’m not sure it works so well in practice.
Sometimes it does, and introduces slow sapping of your characters’ strength and forcing you to rest. But at other times, you either avoid damage enough for it not to matter or one character is focus-fired by enemies and their health drops dangerously low. So you have to rest even though everyone else is fine.
This particularly punishes characters who get into the thick of it without necessarily being tough and wearing heavy armor, but also back-like casters or shooters who end up target of enemy attacks. There’s no “taunt” mechanics that would straight-up force enemies to attack certain characters instead of others, either.
Deadfire will remove this duality and simply have health that acts like endurance did. Once you drop to 0, you’re once again knocked out, which results in maximum health dropping by 25%, in addition to injuries. But if it didn’t drop to 0, it will return after the fight just fine.
While I wish they could have tried to strike some sort of compromise and refine the health/endurance system, I can see why they did this instead. The old system was fiddly, random and many players didn’t understand it. Although in the last case I think the problem was with insufficient explanation. The game never tells us in plain terms how it works, so of course it confuses people. But other than that, I can respect their choice of predictable simplicity over continued tinkering.
Matters of romance
We don’t know a lot about romance in Deadfire, only that it will be there. It will also include non-heterosexual relationships, something rather conspicuously absent from the original – with the exception of openly lesbian Maneha and her crush on Pallegina. Whether or not Pallegina reciprocated it is less than clear. She’s flustered by Maneha’s attention, rather than threaten bodily harm as she usually does, so maybe?
This has drawn some ire from people. Some complaints stem from elitism, believing that romances are something from a BioWare game and Obsidian should be better. Others come from a place of homophobia, believing that the existence of non-heterosexual romances are a sign the SJWs are coming.
An actual concern one might raise is accidentally getting our character tangled up in a romance. The developers promise a complex system of inter-personal relationships, where all sorts of interactions will influence them. That’s great…if it works. I expect that they will still be predictable to some degree. But I also worry about accidentally making an NPC attracted to us.
Relationships developing in a way we didn’t expect or plan for is natural, of course. In fact, that’s what the supposed complex network of influence is meant to accomplish. But when it comes to romantic or even sexual matters…I feel it’s different. Having someone suddenly display such interest in your character can be uncomfortable.
We’ve seen it in RPGs before, particularly those from BioWare. That studio eventually adopted a system of making it absolutely clear we’re pursuing a line of dialogue that may develop into a relationship. What will Deadfire do here? Regardless of how they handle it, I do look forward to this new way of tracking relationships and influence among our companions.
One of the major features in the sequel is the ability to mix and match classes. Or, well, not mix and match, really. You can pick two classes and get abilities from both, but at a slower pace. While you will have a broader repertoire, you will get new tiers of abilities later than a single-class character of the same level would get.
I’ve been excited and worried about it ever since its announcement. It has so much potential for customization, but also for breaking the game. The balance team certainly has their hands full with it. By some accounts, single-class characters feel not so much weaker as constrained, compared to multi-classed ones. There’s just not enough abilities to pick from, or ability points to use. There have been some hints on how they plan to fix it, so I hope they do. This is a tremendous opportunity and I look forward to playing a greatsword-wielding Fighter/Rogue.
…and many more
There’s a good deal of other innovations Deadfire will include, but it would really take me a while to discuss them all. The new system for damage reduction and penetrating it, managing your ships, exploring the vast archipelago… this game promises to be huge, and what I discussed here is just the tip of the iceberg,
Whatever happens, Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire promises to stay on the same course of marrying old-school gameplay with innovative, fresh design. I have high hopes for it, with the usual trepidation over their getting dashed to the ground. But that’s just how it goes when a series doesn’t just repeat the same things over and over.
Images courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment
Dialect is an amazing game that asks if dying languages should be saved
Greetings readers! Today will be the first of hopefully many reviews of tabletop role playing games. Some of them more mainstream, and others somewhat obscure. Today’s review is going to be about one of the more obscure titles. The game is Dialect and it is made by Thorny Games. Dialect is about language. Specifically, how languages are born, can grow, change your way of thinking, and how they can die. The team working on it has quite a pedigree, and includes people like David Peterson, who created the fictional languages on Game of Thrones.
Now, full disclosure: This game was on Kickstarter, and I did back it. My review will be based on the initial digital copy of the game I was given after the crowd-funding campaign was successful. I played Dialect with three other people: M, T, and V, none of whom backed the crowd-funding campaign.
Dialect itself is different then a lot of “traditional” tabletop RPGs in that there are no dice, and no GM running the game. All you need are index cards, the five different decks of language cards that come with it, and the rules. Dialect requires three to five players as well, counting yourself.
The first thing the players do when they begin a game of Dialect is picking a backdrop for the game. The backdrop (called an “Isolation” in-game) is what separates this group from the wider world. These Isolations range from the physical (A new colony on Mars) to the cultural (A thieves guild). The Isolation is what lets them develop their language. The language also changes with the Isolation as well, as the next step is to define three different “aspects” about the Isolation. These shape the language, and will vary from game to game. In one example from the book, an aspect for a colony on Mars might be the ever present dust storms. After that the players have to answer questions about their community. These are smaller than the aspects, but still can define how the language will grow and change.
Once the players have answered all the questions, they draw three “archetype” cards, choosing one of them to use. These cards define a role in the isolation, and range from Innocent to Zealot. Leader to Jester. Each archetype has a different relationship with the different aspects. Some relate to only one aspect, some relate to them all. After selecting an aspect, giving a bit of backstory to the character, and determining their name and what others call them, the meat of Dialect can begin.
Each player starts with three cards from the first language deck in their hand. These cards have different word ideas on them. They range from ‘Greeting’ to ‘Bad Omen’ to ‘Filler World’. The player then ties this word to one of the aspects, explaining how the aspect gave rise to this word. It’s at this point that the players can discuss what word fit the best. In the end though, only the person who played the card can decide what the word is. After that, the final step is to have an in-character conversation either using or conspicuously not using the word. The final step has the player draws a card from the second language deck, and play passes to the next person.
After each player has had a turn, the “Era” changes. Now the isolation will have to deal with hints that their way of life is ending. There are three eras. By the end of the third, the Isolation has ended, and the language (Or at least the culture that spoke it) dies.
One of the goals of Dialect is to create a language based on what the players want. And in this, it succeeds spectacularly. The language cards are clear and concise. The round table nature of the game also makes sure that every player has a say. As ‘V’ puts it: ”The floor is pretty much always open for discussion, but it prods every player into the spotlight so nobody gets unintentionally left out. The ‘this is 100% your choice’ questions make you feel more attached to that element of the game.”
Another, smaller aspect of Dialect I particularly enjoyed was how the book (and by extension, the writers) were concerned about player’s comfort levels. They stress repeatedly how the group should know it’s limits, and to avoid situations or scenarios that might be triggering to other players. A lot of games do this nowadays, but few do it as frequently or as early as Dialect does.
Dialect is also open ended enough that it can be useful when used with other settings to define specific cultures. ‘M’ agreed with that sentiment, and added: “I feel like it was less a game in and of itself than one of those generators I see every now and then, to help build a setting or a space marine chapter or whatever else.”
One of the strongest aspects of Dialect is the re-playability. With the randomness of the cards, the different selections of Isolations, and even the contrasting moods of the players, you will have a totally different experience each time. ‘T’ put it best, saying: ”A lot of the games will be different each time. Between the scenarios and the players and the cards, everyone will have a different perspective.”
Dialect is not without its faults. The most prominent of which is the very thrust of it’s premise. A game about how languages die can be very high concept, and that can scare some players away. Another thing that can scare players away is the group role-playing and decision process. Some players are just naturally more timid than others. In ‘T’’s words: “as it stands someone who isn’t comfortable at the sort of ‘rping’ it out probably wouldn’t get the same enjoyment’
Another fault with Dialect that stems from its focus on language is that nearly all it’s focus is on the language. There is very little to help new players get used to roleplaying. There is also very little that helps distinguish between the language creation and the roleplaying aspect. ‘V’ had a bit to say on this: “I think the game’s biggest weakness, from what I played, was the actual roleplaying part. It’s 90% meta, OOC [Out of character] discussion of your language, then you suddenly have to scramble into character and improv on the spot.”
The final criticism I have with Dialect is that there are places in the rules where there is ambiguity. Some rules errata will fix that issue though.
Before I give my opinion on the game itself, there are a few things I would like to mention. The first is that the Isolation does not have to be literal. It can be as simple as a boarding school, or even a website where people go to congregate. I even noticed some parallels to a few of the Isolations and the early LGBT movement. Not that the LGBT movement is dead, but that the language of it has changed since the early days.
The second thing I want to tell you about is a story from the test game I ran before writing this review. The players were members of a thieves guild in early 19th century London. They were con-men, swindling rich aristocrats out of their money by selling them ‘Mummy dust’ that was actually just dirt scraped up off the side of the road. One of the words the came up with was the word ‘Stone’ to refer to a bad omen. Named after the newly discovered Rosetta Stone, the word took on new meaning in a few turns, and began to be a term for anyone who wouldn’t fall for their tricks. It became one of my personal favorite words that session. When the game ended, I realized that the word was dead. Only a game like Dialect could make me feel that way about a simple word.
Dialect is an amazing game. I highly recommend it for people curious about language, those who are looking for a tool to help flesh out their own worlds, or for anyone just looking for a unique, fun game that doesn’t require a lot of set-up. Everything from the art design to the rules to the cards all helps bring the main focus of Dialect into perspective: What is lost when a language dies? Are dying languages worth saving?
Having played Dialect, I can tell you the answer to the second question. Yes.