This is the thirty-first entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
A Game of Cosmic Goblin Mayhem
I feel like Cosmic Goblin Mayhem would be a good name for a band.
Space Goblins! is a tabletop role-playing game, and like the others that have come up in Scratching That Itch so far, it requires more than one person to play. Specifically, 2-5 people. That means I can’t actually play it, and must simply provide my thoughts after reading the book. That book clocks in at 10 pages, outlining a fairly light ruleset designed for quick and silly shenanigans as a rambunctious crew of space goblins. Piloting their junk ship, players will ram other vessels and raid them for more junk, and eventually try to reach the distant safe haven of Junktopia. So, pretty standard space goblin stuff. The book offered in the bundle is an early version, but Space Goblins! had a successful round of crowdfunding on Kickstarter as part of Zine Quest, so a newer, fancier book will be coming. Once finished, that will replace the barebones version offered at itch.io now. The current version is fully playable, however, so bundle owners may want to take a look.
While many of the tabletop role-playing games that have appeared so far have leaned very heavily into storytelling, asking players to collaboratively generate a story and act it out with each other, Space Goblins! instead uses a specific formula to generate its tale. This formula is based on the free tabletop role-playing game Tunnel Goons by Nate Treme, which is available for free (or any price you like) and is offered under a the Creative Commons 4.0 International License, which lets other creators adapt it in their own works. In fact, Space Goblins! was made as part of the Goon Jam, a time-limited event that challenged game designers to make new games based on Tunnel Goons. I did not have time to investigate Tunnel Goons myself, so I’m not sure to what extent Viditya Voleti modified its rules, but the result is a system that lets players get right into a silly goblin adventure without the need to set up a detailed backstory first.
Across several rounds (the number of which can be varied to set the game length), play proceeds through set phases: JUMP!, CRASH! and BOARD! The JUMP! phase sees the players’ junk ship make a faster than light jump to a new star system, while players can perform various onboard tasks and root through their junk to look for valuables. In the CRASH! phase, everyone rolls a bunch of dice to determine the type and size of ship they will ram into. In the BAORD! phase, players ransack the targeted ship, using dice to determine which rooms are encountered next, and facing challenges in each.
In lieu of a standard game master, players take turns acting as a referee for the BOARD! phases. Each time a ship is boarded, one goblin must stay behind to guard the junk ship, and that player gets to describe what the boarding party encounters and act for the opposition in the various rooms. Mechanically, these challenges are met with yet more dice rolls, including bonuses from different goblins’ skills and special treasures they’ve found among their junk hauls, but narratively they are wide open. Sure, it could be a straight up fight, but it could also be the goblins attempting to spoil a fancy meal being prepared in a luxury liner’s “Absurd Kitchen”, or putting a bunch of books in the wrong places in a library, or any other mischief the players can dream up. Pleasingly, between rooms the players in the boarding party can temporarily act as referees, explaining how their actions on board might bring harm to the junk ship (perhaps security forces try to jettison it, for example) and the player babysitting the junk ship gets a chance to play out some challenges of their own as they try to keep their spacefaring home in one piece.
That home, the junk ship, is represented by players collectively building a representation of it using interlocking plastic blocks, like Lego. As boarding parties return with more junk, players add pieces to the ship, but pieces can break off if the ship is damaged. It’s an imaginative way to track the collective health of the junk ship, and players will also write down new rooms they construct within as they amass junk from their raids. If the goblins reach the final round of the game, they will attempt a final crash landing on the planet of Junktopia, and must adventure through their own ship room by room as it breaks apart in the atmosphere.
Overall, Space Goblins! sounds like a lot of fun. My own tabletop role-playing experience begins and ends with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, a game I’d been hearing and reading about for years before I finally played it myself. Despite this, I was unprepared for how quickly things degenerated into silliness, as our party of adventurers tried absurd stunts and fell to bickering at the worst possible moments. Some of the role-playing games we’ve encountered so far in Scratching That Itch try to rein this in, sporting serious themes or careful guidelines for scenes. Space Goblins! embraces it instead, designing the entire game around the crazy mayhem that will inevitably ensue. I know from experience that this will generate a ton of laughter around the table. By having players rotate the role of referee, however, it means everyone in the group must be comfortable thinking on their feet to make amusing scenarios for the various rooms. That’s usually a task that a single player takes on as the game master, so some groups might find it harder to share that burden, especially since the randomized nature of Space Goblins! doesn’t lend itself to pre-prepared story bits. On the other hand, it’s not strictly required that every player serve as referee, and it might be a great way for players to try out the role if they’ve never dipped into game master territory before.
It’s not clear whether Space Goblins! is meant to be played in a single session. Without being able to play it myself and see how long a boarding operation takes, I can only speculate, but the “long” setting of eight rounds seems like it could easily run over several play sessions. Even the shortest option of three rounds could take a while, if players are having a lot of fun improvising things in each encounter. No matter how long the first journey takes, Space Goblins! is clearly designed to be replayed many times, with new crews on a new ship, or even as the same goblins setting off on a new adventure. It doesn’t require any preparation beforehand and can be taught quickly, and would probably be a nice game to use as an introduction for players who have never tried a tabletop role-playing game before. Just as long as they don’t need to act as referee right away. Space Goblins! does require several six- and eight-sided dice, as well as some sort of building blocks to use for the junk ship, but players who don’t have these can use a pile of tokens to represent the junk ship’s health instead, and online dice-rollers for challenges.
So, if the idea of wreaking havoc across space as a goblin sounds like fun, why not give Space Goblins! a try? For those who missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $12, and the upcoming fancy version of the book from the Kickstarter campaign will be added for free when it’s ready.
That’s 31 down, and only 1710 left to go!