A Game Per Year: While the World Ends (Bonus 2009)

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 While the World Ends

While the World Ends is a minimalist Storygame about strangers who’s lives intersect as they struggle to fulfill their goals in the middle of a world-ending event. The narrative pattern it replicates resembles that of disaster movies. You can easily imagine the protagonists of a film about an earthquake or a pandemic running to and fro within the framework of the game.

The game is a 40-page booklet of pure systemic design. It lays out a pattern for play built around a drawn diagram and by following the pattern, a specific kind of story emerges. It’s so clean that I could imagine it being used as classroom material for teaching game design of this type.

There’s no setting or milieu. Rather, the players come up with that themselves in the beginning, using big ideas that provide the context for the catastrophe. Scifi is a natural genre for this but not the only one. In this, the game has the same feature that a lot of Storygames do: It leans on the players’ familiarity with enough tropes and concepts that they can deploy them when asked, providing the fiction in which the system’s story beats occur.

One interesting aspect about the game is that the players form two teams, each with their own final event that the play steers towards. Mechanical results based on character actions determine which of the two teams wins, getting their final event realized in the gameplay.

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