A Pre-Kickstarter Look at Relics: A Game of Angels

Here at Rolling Boxcars, we’re very fortunate in that we get to interact with a lot of publishers and content creators from around the globe on a regular basis. We’re recently contacted by Steve Dee of Tin*Star Games to have a look at his new roleplaying game, Relic: A Game of Angels, which will be launching on Kickstarter on April 10th. Our team took a look at the playtest (pre-layout draft) rules and what follows are our thoughts about Relics, but first, let’s explore what Relic: A Game of Angels is.

Relic: A Game of Angels (hereafter Relics) is a roleplaying game of modern urban fantasy where players take on the roles of angels that have been marooned on Earth. It is this premise for which Relic’s stories, called series, are firmly rooted. These angelic, and in a way, alien, beings who spend their time uncovering powerful relics and discovering their pasts and future all in an attempt to stop the arms race between Demons, mortal antagonists, and these angelic beings who strive to save the world. This is what sessions and series (story arcs) of Relic are focused on, but there is more than meets the eye.

In Relic, there are a number of thematic elements that really give the game depth. First, God is gone and no longer exists in the world. Second, angels, some good and some bad, are marooned on Earth in a great time of peril for the world. Third, the players are good angels who must come together, tap into their natures and beliefs to fight a war against Demons, mortal agents and all others that stand in their way.

The engine that powers Relics is the Fugue system originally developed by James Wallis and first used in Alas Vegas. The Fugue engine itself has two primary drivers and those are, it’s diceless, using tarot cards to randomly determine an outcome and it uses flashback scenes are a story forward mechanical element. Let’s talk about the tarot cards. Tarot cards are used to determine random outcomes in lieu of rolling dice. Any and all tarot decks can be used; there’s no need to purchase any specific deck. The flashback scenes are a mechanical element was originally used in Alas Vegas to allow characters who started with amnesia to discover and learn about themselves through these flashback scenes. Self admittedly, in Relics, the characters are not suffering from amnesia, but the design element remains. Instead, it’s used as a narrative element to now discover their past, like someone with amnesia. It’s a story forward mechanic that seems to add depth to the game. The scenes will reveal to the “audience” or the other players more about a specific character and how that nugget of information can be used within the story hence the whole story forward thing. There are a number of other differences between the original Fugue system and the Relics adaptation, but I will not be covering those design differences here.

Relics has some very bold conceits and prospective players need to be aware and consider them before playing. Flashbacks are important and allow players to learn more about their character (called a persona) through play. By design, the game is diceless and instead uses the tarot cards. Faith matters, the game uses real elements of the world’s major religions, both living and dead. The game also presumes that any series that explores the setting will use the core mythologies of Christianity and Islam, with a bit Zoroastrianism (and others) loosely and likely from a Western mindset. The tone of the game as written is going to promote fairly dark and gritty series that could be off-putting to some. The author warns that game would likely fall into the M/MA rating category.

Ten Things to Know About Relics (The rulebook gives deeper meaning to these ten things):
1. The Bible got most of it wrong
2. Strangers in a strange land
3. You can’t go home again
4. Fallen angels filled the world with magical items
5. An arms race has begun
6. Thou shalt steal
7. Angels are a product of all they remember
8. The path is unclear
9. Everyone wants you dead
10. You can’t trust anyone

Relics reminds me of an old Chaosium game called Nephilim. In Nephilim, players took on a similar character concept of being a displaced angel trying to find a way to get back into God’s grace and to ascend to heaven. Relics, on the other hand, embodies the fallen angel concept, but with a much darker and bleaker tone of not only personal survival but also their attempt to save the world where everyone wants them dead.

As I skim over many over many of the design and mechanical elements of the game, I am intrigued by the kind of stories that could be told in Relics. Not to mention I personally love tarot cards and as a resolution mechanic, I find it to be refreshing, especially given the theme of the game. The draft rules include quite a bit of lore and background that help to provide context during persona creation. Here, again, the tarot cards are used to randomly determine elements of the persona. No different from rolling on a random table in other games, but now it has artistic flare via the tarot card art.

I have never played Alas Vegas or used the Fugue test resolution system and as I read over chapter three “Playing the Game”. I find the test resolution system to be unique and intriguing. There are both simple and complex resolution tests and each has its own parameters and outcomes based on the tarot card dealt from the deck. Time and more exploration of the resolution system will tell me more.

Is this game going to be everyone? Absolutely not! Bear with me while I qualify that statement. The designer acknowledges upfront in chapter one that players who do not like flashbacks as a way of learning more about their character and/or those that are wanting an “in-game simulation” may not enjoy Relics. To be honest, I’m impressed that they willing acknowledge that Relics may not be for those that have particular play styles or preconceived notions of how they like their games. Rather, they want those that may not like the concepts or conceit of Relics to beware and their very upfront with readers about it. I would like to personally add that due to the religious underpinnings of the game, some players may find that the game is less approachable to them personally or in other cases turned off by the theme completely. That being said, I’m not a huge fan of Sci-Fi and tend to steer away from those games so, I feel those that are not into this genre might feel the same way.

Okay, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty when this game launches on Kickstarter on April 10th, should you check it out? Yes, absolutely! I encourage all of our readers to at least have a look and see if it might be a good fit for you and your game group(s). In my opinion, it has a number of things going for it that are really interesting and exciting. I like modern urban games, but angels aren’t really my jam, but I’m willing to give the game a chance just to explore the Fugue system and its dark and gritty urban setting. I also like using tarot cards as an in-game mechanic and the tarot resolution system looks innovative and refreshing. There’s something about Relics… Who knows, maybe I will find my new favorite game. Let’s face it, angels are seldom used as the primary focus of any game and it’s invigorating to see a new entry in that already sparse lineup.

~ Modoc

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