1/52 New RPGs: Mutant Year Zero – Mechatron

I’m on a study project to improve my understanding of roleplaying games. To this end, I already have two reading projects, A Game Per Year and An Adventure Per Year. This is the third, with the goal of reading or playing 52 games made this year or last year. Originally I considered making this “A New RPG Per Week” and that’s where the number 52 comes from, even though a weekly schedule is probably not within my abilities.

The cover of the Mutant : Year Zero expansion Mechatron (2018).

The post-apocalyptic Mutant: Year Zero is one of the best roleplaying games currently on the market, the defining work in its genre. It’s a big reason why for the last few years, it’s really felt like the Swedish roleplaying game industry is killing it in terms of quality and vision.

Mechatron is the second major expansion to Year Zero and like it’s predecessor Genlab Alpha it introduces a new playable character type and a campaign adventure. In the core game you play mutants seeking to build a community in the wasteland while searching for the mysteries of your origin. In Genlab Alpha, you’re a mutated, intelligent animal, and in Mechatron you’re a robot.

The robots live in an underground complex, the titular Mechatron. Built by humans for industrial purposes, for a long time the robots have toiled without any oversight from their long-lost creators.

At the start of the Mechatron campaign, some robots (including the player characters) become self-aware and start to question their role.

Mechatron is a beautifully illustrated, well-written book. The mechanics are simple, focusing on defining the character and helping with conflict resolution. The real substance is in using worldbuilding to create a meaningful, interesting and even profound environment to experience and explore. The campaign included in the book goes through the questions of identity and meaning Mechatron is all about elegantly and effectively.

Naturally, this is an easy game book for me to approach because the style of play it’s designed for is so close to my own. Light mechanics, immersive and original world and characters, lots of space for players to bring their characters to life.

Perhaps my favorite element in Mechatron is the comedy. The robots have been programmed with human behaviors to make them easier to interact with for their creators. However, because the creators are long gone, these behaviors have started to become increasingly erratic, leading to a lot of tragicomic local color.