This is the one hundred twelfth 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 Tabletop Game Of Fear In The Late Anthropocene
The “late Anthropocene”, in case you are wondering, refers to the end of the (proposed) geological age in which human activity is the dominant influence on the world’s ecosystem, or as Catch The Devil puts it, “the last sputtering coughs of the human age.” Sage LaTorra seems to have a more pessimistic view of this than I, because Catch The Devil is not set in some distant future, but in our current world, right now.
As the tagline says, Catch The Devil is a tabletop tole-playing game, requiring 3-5 players. So, like most similar games that have come up in this series so far, I cannot actually play it, and instead must simply read through the book and tell you what I think. One of the things that I think is that Catch The Devil is a Powered By The Apocalypse game, based on rules originally designed for Apocalypse World, although this is not mentioned anywhere in the book, and is merely alluded to on the itch.io page. It would make sense, however, since Sage LaTorra is a co-designer of Dungeon World, one of the more prominent Powered By The Apocalypse games. And I recognize the rules regarding “moves” — governed by a roll of two six-sided dice that dictate whether moves result in success, success with complications, or trouble — because they’ve come up before in this series: In Another Life and Of Bodies are both Powered By The Apocalypse games with similar rules.
Catch The Devil seems particularly interested in exploring fear and loss, freely admitting that the rules are designed so things will not go well for the player characters. The GM takes an adversarial role, embodying a fear made manifest that will bring about the end of the anthropocene. Players don’t have much control over the characters they create, the aim being to have a group of average people face something far beyond their experience. They may not even try to best it; escaping it or even just enduring it are viable goals to work towards. The moves (the Powered By The Apocalypse term that basically just means “actions”) available to player characters give an indication of how poorly this may turn out: “Take a Risk”, “Study”, “Keep It Together”, and “Suffer Harm.” A central idea in Catch The Devil is that each of these moves can be “wounded” during play, as characters face physical or emotional trauma. When a move is wounded, the character rolls a die to determine which alternate version of that move they get. Most of these are worse than the un-wounded versions, but a few are better, because sometimes, when placed under pressure or backed into a corner, people pull off feats they did not think they could.
I should elaborate a bit on the mechanics, so the concept of a wounded move will make more sense. Let’s say a character is attempting something dangerous. This falls under the “Taking a Risk” move, so the player will roll two six-sided dice and possibly add one of their character stats to the result (in this game, those stats are Quick, Steady, Sharp and Tough, each of which is a number between -3 and +3). On a 10+, the attempt goes well. On a 7-9, there’s a complication, and on a 6 or less, it turns out badly, perhaps by wounding one of the character’s moves. If the “Take a Risk” move is wounded, players might find themselves with penalties to their stats when making the move, or maybe even a bonus if it turns out they shine when the going gets tough. Other moves work similarly. For example, the “Study” move is used to obtain information about people, places or things, but when wounded it may give incorrect information, or the wrong kind of information. The “Suffer Harm” move, when wounded, will likely cause players to suffer even more harm. If all of a character’s moves are wounded, they will die. This is merely one way they can die.
Catch The Devil does provide guidance for GMs at the end of the book, but it’s fairly high level, with only a few examples. I suspect an experienced GM will be needed in order to run a successful game, since they will have ensure that there’s just enough hardship for the player characters. In most tabletop role-playing games, the GM is facilitating fun for the other players, but here the desired experience is darker. It seems a delicate balancing act to me, and the GM is responsible for dreaming up much of the premise and story as well (with some prompts in the book). The other players, however, will likely be fine even if they haven’t played many tabletop role-playing games before. The rules are easy to grasp and it’s clear to see how they would fit a variety of scenes. The game itself is short too, designed to be played over 1-3 sessions, although LaTorra mentions the possibility of expanding it at some point in the future.
This strikes me as one that will be highly dependent on a good group. With players who take a grim satisfaction in watching the downfall of humanity, and a GM who can deftly weave an appropriately unsettling story, I could see Catch The Devil shining. If that sounds like you, then be sure to check it out. If you missed it in the bundle, Catch The Devil is sold for a minimum price of $10, with some options for need-based pricing too.
That’s 112 down, and only 1629 to go!