Roll three dice and get all 3s! Yeah! Worm eyes! That must mean it's day 9 of the RPS Advent Calendar. But wait a second. There's something funny about your dice. You cheatin' me? Oh, hang on, they're just pizza dice. Well in that case.
What could it be but some Cosmo D? Have a ball in Betrayal At Club Low!
Alice0: Most RPGs are too long. Most games are too long, but RPGs especially. Initial excitement will boil away as premises stretch thing, repetition develops, and busywork becomes evident. How wonderful, then, to play a two-hour RPG set around one nightclub in a world I already adore.
Cosmo D's latest glimpse of the surreal and musical Off-Peak City sends us into a nightclub as an agent sent to exfiltrate an undercover operative who's in far too deep with a crime boss. Simple mission, complex task. You can see yer man almost as soon as you enter the club, flanked by flunkies, and could attempt to rescue him right then. This is wildly inadvisable, but I enjoy feeling dared by the possibility.
More than many RPGs, Betrayal At Club Low is about dice. Every attempted conversation, locked door, queue-jump, dance move, stew, and laser grid is a dice roll, yours against the challenge's. You have one dice for each of your six stats (the usuals: Cooking, Deception, Music, Observation, Physique, Wisdom, and Wit) and grow stronger by spending money/XP to raise the numbers on individual dice faces. Any equipment you might find with stat boosts is represented with an extra dice added to rolls using that stat. Your emotional state is also dice, temporary buffs and debuffs coming in the wake of successes and failures. Unsettling someone or winning them over is also represented with dice, adding positive or negative dice to your rolls or theirs. Plus you can design ('bake') your own pizza dice with ingredients found around the club, bringing perks from gaining extra money to swapping dice with an opponent.
All of which is to say: as you overcome challenges and uncover secrets, you'll come to carefully consider the best approaches to challenges and the best emotional state in which to tackle them, then roll a huge handful of dice representing things including: a DJ being rattled because you told him his mum's in the audience; someone hating you because you botched cooking his stew; your own embarrassment; puddle breath because you drank from a puddle; the dancefloor liking your dance moves and loving the free booze you scored them; your snazzy jacket; and a sinking feeling that you've really, really screwed up your big escape. It's quite clever and quite fun how much gets reflected in these dice.
I've always adored Cosmo D's invitations to visit Off-Peak City through gentle adventure games, and I'm delighted that this latest trip had an interesting dice system to master on top of the usual wonders. And the usual wonders are, as usual, wonderful. I adore the look of these games, this garish and confident bricolage. As ever, the music from Cosmo D himself is fantastic. Once again, I enjoy how he tells stories of people's lives running the gamut from little human moments to the exploitation of workers and commidification of creativity. And as we learn more about another shady corner of Off-Peak City, it raises just as many questions as it answers. What a fantastically weird place.
What I most like about the size of Betrayal At Club Low is that this is a rare RPG where I will do everything. I will talk with everyone, I will tackle every quest, I will attempt to complete everything—and I will enjoy it. Too many RPGs have two hours of good bits hidden unpredictably as rewards throughout a 90-hour scavenger hunt. I've even replayed it on the higher difficulty mode which adds unpredictable dice, and tried to find all the endings.