A Game Per Year: Unmoored (Bonus 2020)

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

The cover of Unmoored

Unmoored is a solo journaling game published by the Finnish designer Lari Assmuth. It’s based on Wretched and Alone.

You play a fresh recruit in the Tactical Unit of the Department of Special Relativity, sent on an important mission. Something goes wrong and you’re lost in time, making jumps that you can’t control. You use a deck of playing cards to randomly pick prompts for what happens as you jump again and again. The emotional tone of the game is grim. Your identity frays, your memory becomes hazy and survival is always difficult. There is the possibility of more positive endings than a lonely death but the odds are not in your favor.

One emotional touchstone is Sam, a person who’s role is to symbolize the people who matter to you. Another is the mission itself. You may get the chance to finish it but not without a cost.

When you create something for an international audience as a Finnish designer, there are two tactics: One is to make it Finnish, full of people named Sirpa and Jalmari. The other is to adopt camouflage, typically an American cultural idiom. This makes it easier to approach for Americans, but thanks to the power of cultural imperialism, also to people living in other countries. They’ll recognize the American cultural markers because they’re so ubiquitous.

In Unmoored, the latter choice is the one adopted, although there are not that many references to anything specific beyond generalities like the Midwest.

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