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Games of the Year 2020: Delve creator Anna Blackwell on the solo roleplaying of Thousand Year Old Vampire and Ironsworn

Plus why you should play The Wretched and The Artefact.

Anna Blackwell is a writer, journalist and game designer. She is the creator of storytelling RPG Those Who Play and solo map-drawing RPG Delve, as well as its spiritual spin-offs: the dungeon-crawling Rise and planet-generating Umbra. Anna is also the editor of Indie Uncovered and has written for outlets including The Board Game Book and Tabletop Gaming magazine (where she worked with Dicebreaker’s Matt Jarvis).

This year I have to give my Game of the Year award to two games because they’ve both completely changed how I see RPGs.

Thousand Year Old Vampire

Thousand Year Old Vampire RPG book

A solo journaling game that has you write the diary entries of your vampire over the centuries as they gradually forget more and more of their own life. There are hundreds of prompts and the ingeniously simple mechanic for progressing through them is so unobtrusive that it’s frighteningly easy to get immersed and to come up with all sorts of terrible things for your vampire to do.

That gentle nudge into writing your own horror is where Thousand Year Old Vampire excels. After an eight-hour-long session all I wanted to do was tell people about my Pictish vampire’s catfishing and how she killed her own descendent and stole her identity just because they were similar enough in appearance.

Ironsworn & Ironsworn: Delve

Ironsworn: Delve RPG artwork

Not so much a journaling game but still heavy on the writing, Ironsworn is the closest I’ve found to a solo RPG in the same vein as Dungeons & Dragons or, more appropriately, Dungeonworld. Using a form of the Powered by the Apocalypse engine, you’re given a selection of moves that can be applied to a broad range of situations. If you succeed, great, describe what happens and keep the story moving. If you fail, the Oracle, a selection of tables tailored to each of the moves, takes over and injects some consequence into the story. Thanks to the Oracle my first campaign ended with my character getting sacrificed by cultists.

The Delve expansion adds in new example enemies, mechanics and expands the Oracle for exploring sites: locales that can range from the dungeons and ruins to forests and swamps. While having two rather hefty books and a substantial number of reference sheets on the table is usually enough to make me flee in terror, Ironsworn somehow pulls it off elegantly.

Honourable Mentions

The Wretched

The Wretched RPG artwork

A solo RPG that uses a Jenga tower to represent your decaying ship and the xenomorph-inspired alien that’s trying to get in. This zine really surprised me with how atmospheric it could be thanks to the excellent soundtrack and its novel audio logging, where each turn you record yourself saying what just happened. It was so immersive that even as a Jenga champ my hands were so shaky that I ended up toppling the tower painfully early.

The Artefact: Second Edition

The Artefact layout

I fell in love with the first edition in all its simple, lonely glory and I shouted my praises for it from the rooftops so much that I got to contribute a playbook to the second edition. So while I may be very biased, I think The Artefact is a beautiful game that explores some very real feelings of solitude and abandonment and any game that makes me want to hug an axe gets a big ol’ GOTY from me.

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