Reading 44 – A Game of Automatic Fear by Matt Snyder

It’s Christmas Day, all presents have been opened and everyone here is relaxing. I decided to dive into the folder with PDF games I have acquired during the last year and see if I could find any gems for next year’s gaming. First, I read 44 by Matt Snyder.

The book
44 is 37 pages in the usual 6×9 format.44 cover The text is formated in a single column, but very heavy with rules terms, it took longer than expected to get through. There are a few small pictures in the margins.

The setting
The game’s setting is the US in the fifties, and one by one Section 44 is replacing the people with robot replicas. The PCs stumble across the truth and are targeted for replacement, and the game takes it’s beginning.

The rules
The rules are focused on tracking the struggle between the PCs (trying to survive) and the Director (trying to replace the PCs with robots). PCs have dice pools for Resolve, Contact and Material, and roll them against the Director’s pools to resolve conflicts. The system covers allies and friends, called Bonds, that the PCs can draw help from in the form of bonus dice. But doing so exposes them to danger, and they risk being converted to robots in service of the Director. Everything is geared towards promoting paranoia and fear.

The form
The game has a GM (The Director) to play the opposition to the PCs. Play goes through a fixed number of scenes during which the PCs try to avoid being replaced by robots. Any players who fail, proceed to play their robotic counterpart and work on the GM’s side to convert the remaining PCs. Any PCs that remain human at the end of the game have won.

The setting is weak, besides the basic premise of a shady conspiracy that replace people with robots in the fifties there isn’t much setting in the game. However, if the players are willing to fill in the gaps along the way, it shouldn’t be a problem.
The rules are good, are focused and seem to model the PCs’ struggle well.
The form is good. Clear instructions are given to both the GM and the players. The GM is even given a ‘character sheet’ of his own to track his resources during play.

Will I play it?
Maybe. I think that the general paranoia feel of the game is awesome, and I’m a fan of similar fiction with movies such as The Faculty and The Invasion, and the brilliant Iron Empires comics.

On the other hand I wonder how relevant the GM really is to the game, at first glance it looks like we have a Vestigal GM on our hands. I.e. 44 might be a game where so much of the GM’s role has been automated and handed out to the other players, that it might as well be played as a GM-less game. Only very small adjustments are needed to play the game in the style of Polaris, with the GM’s tasks rotating among the players. – The official 44 page

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