Here’s a few of the reasons why I’m excited by Maschine Zeit, and you should be too.
Good Scary Writing & Scary Good Writing
The best horror stories do not rely on jump-out in-your-face scares. They don’t base themselves entirely on bloodshed or gore. The effective use of stillness and partially illumination of the unknown cause for a much more tense and compelling atmosphere than the tactics employed by your local haunted house attraction. Maschine Zeit is definitely in the “stillness of the unknown” category. The writing and pacing sets the stage for the kind of flashlight-gripping terror that used to define the kind of storytelling experiences that would have Hitchcock nodding in quiet approval as the rest of the audience screamed bloody murder.
Characters That Are People, Not Just Stats
The character creation system, which I’ve tested a couple of times, has a flow to it that puts the personality of the character front and center rather than putting it behind a wall of statistics. While the stats are certainly there, Maschine Zeit again sets itself apart by actively encouraging players to min-max their characters. Instead of having player aim at being good at everything, this system ensures that the character can accomplish certain tasks with dramatic flair and apparent ease while other characters take on other roles. The shy, intelligent James Sunderland type might be good at figuring out puzzles but he’s not going to be as accurate with a pulse rifle as Duane Hicks. It might seem a bit counter-intuitive at first to players of other tabletop RPGs, but it fits right in with the atmosphere of the game and gets you into your character a bit more adroitly than sitting at a table rolling dice over and over again, praying to Gygax for the best stats possible.
An Apocalypse We Can Believe In
One of the best things that Maschine Zeit has going for it is the way its world is grounded in reality. Even as things begin to turn towards the surreal and supernatural, there’s a tone of voice that has the player thinking “Yeah, that could totally happen.” This grounding makes the events over the course of the game that much more visceral for the players. Combined with effective use of the game’s narrative structure and characters that feel more like real people than fantastical archetypes, this realistic foundation of Maschine Zeit’s world and its stories make for a unique and immersive tabletop experience that can be very difficult to find.
But find it you can, thanks to the genius minds behind Machine Age Productions. There are plans for us to play through a scenario tonight, and tomorrow might find me doing a postmortem on both how the game plays and how the characters fare.
Unless of course all y’all would rather I talk about Dan Brown or something.