Review: Son of Oak Game Studio – City of Mist (Powered by the Apocalypse)

City of Mist
City of Mist is a neo-noir superhero roleplaying game, written by Amít Moshe, published by Son of Oak Game Studio and distributed by Modiphius Entertainment.
By Aaron T. Huss

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City of Mist is a neo-noir, superheroic storytelling game Powered by the Apocalypse… except that it’s not really Powered by the Apocalypse. As is common in PbtA games, it takes the basic premises of Apocalypse World and adapts it for something unique. In this instance, it is actually taken in a considerably different way to create something much more abstract than the mechanical aspects of PbtA.

First off, City of Mist is not a superhero game in the traditional sense of comic books going back 80+ years. Instead, it is more like the urban fantasy-style of superheroics where realistic people have extraordinary abilities, but they don’t go around saving the world. They use their abilities to serve their own needs or the needs of the task at hand. Second, City of Mist is fully embraces neo-noir in all aspects of its setting. It lives and breathes this subgenre with a setting designed to be made all yours – it’s not set in a real world setting, but more on that in a bit.

So how is the game abstract? City of Mist does something unique with PbtA by getting rid of traits. Instead, everyone is comprised of tags (a common feature of PbtA) that serve as your Roll+ modifier. For each tag you can apply to a move, that becomes your modifier. While it may sound kind of mechanical, it’s definitely not. The tags are quite subjective and can be combined and applied in many various ways to any of the game’s moves. The moves are still defined in terms of their purpose and outcome, but they are essentially much more flexible in that you can use whatever you have at your disposal that applies.

So how is the setting abstract? City of Mist contains a locale within a locale. The fantastical elements of your character are not known or seen by those who have not been enlightened by those abilities. As such, those who can wield these fantastic powers see the world slightly differently, creating an almost parallel locale to where your game actually takes place. It’s the concept of “things are not what they seem.”

Characters are also abstract. Those fantastical elements? Well, they don’t come free. They are directly caused by an awakening of sorts when your character realizes it has the essence of a great, mythical being inside of him or her. This mythical being (I use the term mythical loosely to mean anyone of importance throughout history, gods, goddesses, legendary figures, fictional characters, etc.) is what provides those powers to the character, and the character simply becomes more and more aware of them and then figures out how to utilize them. See, it’s not really superhero, but it is definitely some aspect of superheroic.

Motivations are also quite abstract. There is no objective goal; everything is subjective. This subjective goal is what motivates your character and drives much of what happens from conflict to conflict. How these conflicts are connected is at the hands of everyone’s imagination, much like what you would expect from PbtA.

From the standpoint of neo-noir superhero, City of Mist definitely fits the mold! It’s like reading a new age, dark comic book with lots of twists and turns that keep you on your toes. However, with everything being so abstract, the book ends up being really long. When things are mostly objective and nestled inside mechanics, resolution is fairly straightforward. When things are mostly subjective and options run the gambit of possibilities, you have to present a lot of options for the players to choose from (or at least to understand what’s possible). That means there are many, many pages of examples, options, combinations, possibilities, etc. that drastically increase the page count (500+). You are basically presented with “what could be” rather than “this is what you choose from”. A bit of overkill for me, but it does create a very complete core book.

There’s a lot more in this book, but getting into those kind of details isn’t really necessary in a review. If you like the abstract methods described above, you will definitely like the rest of the book. All those other details simply support the major points above.

City of Mist was supported by a lengthy list of Kickstarter backers. As such it is a beautifully illustrated book with a great layout and presentation. If you like the neo-noir comic book style of gameplay, this is definitely an RPG to check-out. If you like things to be a bit more straightforward so that you can resolve conflicts a bit more objectively, then I would move along to something else.

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