The long-awaited James Wallis art-as-RPG, Alas Vegas, is finally available for purchase, and it’s led me to launch It’s In the Cards Week – a week dedicated to games that eschew dice in favor of cards for gameplay and task resolution.
This game was Kickstarted five years ago, and various elements in play pushed its final delivery out quite a ways. However, the wait is more than worthwhile as “the Godfather of Indie Games” (as anointed by Robin Laws), along with a truly all-star cast, brings us one of the most innovative immersive story ideas with a gameplay style that will throw you for a loop while it drags you into a story you help unveil as the clock keeps ticking.
BAD BETS, BAD DEBTS AND BAD DEATHS
You wake in a shallow grave in the desert. It’s night. You have no memory of how you got here, or who you are, or the location of your clothes. A scar of neon in the shape of a city squats on the horizon. There are answers there. And trouble.
ALAS VEGAS is a dark journey through a bizarre and terrifying casino city where everything has a cost. Caught in a war between the Rat Packers who run the place, the players must find allies, the truth, and a way to escape. Memories are recovered, secrets are revealed, old debts are settled, and nothing is what it seems.
Your character sheet starts as blank as your memories, but your character gains skills by having flashbacks to their previous life, so as the game progesses their backstory does too – creating a twisted web between the characters, as they piece their past together and work out how that fits with what’s happening to them.
The mechanics are based on the casino game Blackjack played with Tarot cards, creating high-stakes narrative showdowns, and spinning elements of the game’s story from the cards that come up in play.
‘Alas Vegas’ lasts four sessions, structured like a high-budget HBO miniseries, leading to a revelatory final climax that’s a fitting end of the campaign. It’s Franz Kafka’s Fear and Loathing. It’s The Hangover meets The Prisoner. It’s Ocean’s Eleven directed by David Lynch. It’s like nothing you’ve played before.
PLUS THREE EXTRA CAMPAIGNS
ALAS VEGAS runs on the Fugue game system, built to tell stories of characters with amnesia. It uses Tarot cards and rotating GMs to create unique, high-tension adventures, heavy on character and narrative. As well as ‘Alas Vegas’ itself, the book contains three extra complete Fugue campaigns:
- YET ALREADY, frantic time-travel to save a chaotic, collapsing universe, written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan;
- WARLOCK KINGS, paladins returned to life as generals of a dark army, by Allen Varney and Johnstone Metzger;
- REMEMBERING COSMIC MAN, in which you play two characters: one of a gang of superheroes whose leader has just been found dead, and one of the police investigating the crime, by Laurent Devernay and Jerome Larre.
Plus all the Fugue mechanics, of course.
PLUS A HOST OF STARS
ALAS VEGAS also contains articles by some of the finest games writers of the last two decades:
- Kenneth Hite contributes a complete stand-alone story-game set in the blood-red heart of classic Vegas, ‘Killing Bugsy Siegel’;
- Robin D. Laws tells you how to use tarot cards to create game narratives on the fly in ‘Tarot-Jumping Other Games’;
- Mike Selinker adds a bizarre casino in which your characters can place bets on their own chances of success in the adventure;
- Matt Forbeck details the ins and outs of running gambling games in RPGs ;
- Richard Dansky expands the Alas Vegas setting in ‘Grifts, Scams and Making it’;
- John Scott Tynes serves up cocktails in ‘The Guide To Drinking Heavily In Vegas’;
- Eye-popping interior art by World Fantasy Award-winner John Coulthart and Dennis Detwiller;
- John Kovalic contributes an exclusive in-game comic strip!
- And Sean Smith describes how to… but you have to let us keep a few secrets.