Turning to Kickstarter to fund a print run of an expensive RPG core book with a niche audience is commonplace these days, so it’s no surprise that Kenzer & Company did a Kickstarter to fund their second edition of Aces & Eights, their Wild West-based RPG. Unlike, say, Deadlands, Aces & Eights plays the subject matter more or less straight (with a significant difference I’ll get into later), which makes it a bit of a niche in the tabletop RPG market – in which fantasy, horror, and SF spins on historical settings tend to be more common than history played “straight”.
Why is this the case? I’m not sure. Maybe part of it is that geek culture buys into the idea that “historical thing plus wildly historical element” is more interesting than “historical thing”, despite the fact that if history has one lesson to teach us it’s that fact is often wilder than fiction. Perhaps another part is a dislike of historical research as an element of gameplay – though there’s an odd contradiction here, in that the same gamers who aren’t so keen on historical research might be entirely happy to play games in extremely detailed fictional settings in which boning up on bits of canon might become a significant part of running a game.
On this latter part, I wonder whether there’s something in geek culture which prefers the cast-iron certainty of an authorially-approved “canon” of a fictional setting to the grey lines and uncertainties that exist in actual historical research. In a fictional setting there are clearly designated goodies and baddies; in a historical setting, you get the same (people freeing slaves in the antebellum South = goodies, fucking Nazis = baddies), but you also have this big blurry mass in between. For some, that’s off-putting, particularly if they just want a bit of escapism; for those that prize historical roleplaying, those grey areas and that scope for research and study informing your gaming is often part of the appeal.
The cognitive trick you need to overcome is that it doesn’t matter if your game is 100% historically accurate, any more than it matters whether your Star Wars game is 100% canon – you will make mistakes in either. It’s just that in the historical game, debates on how a hazily-thought-out supernatural metaphysic interfaces with the action are replaced with discussions of historical points. Both forms of table talk can be constrained or encouraged to the tastes of those present by an attentive referee.
Such rants aside, though… is it any good?