By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 01 May 2019
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of RPGs getting the “new edition” treatment, and a large number of them were released or had Kickstarters over the course of the last year. I have a number of reviews of these books already, and there are many that I am still (im)patiently waiting on.
One of those I backed was Over the Edge, a game of “weird urban danger” that has resurfaced 21 years after the publication of the second edition. While I have no experience with the original, I was still interested in seeing what was going on with this, and decided to take you with me on this rather surreal journey to the island of Al Amarja…
Over the Edge is, as previously mentioned, pitched as a game of “weird urban danger.” Set on the fictional island of Al Amarja in the present day, players and GMs are given the surreal experience of an independent nation with its own laws…and a number of strange tech and occurrences.
On the island, you’ll find everything from illegal human experimentation to veterans of psychic wars to near omniscient beings, and you’ll be in the middle of it all with your own capabilities, trying to make it out alive.
==What You Get==
Over the Edge arrives as a full-color, 277 page PDF, spanning ten chapters of content.
While the first few chapters cover the basics of the game (edition differences and notes, intro to the game, character creation, mechanics), the meat of the book is actually within the setting notes. In fact, about 200 pages of the book is dedicated to setting, with many notes to “take inspiration from everywhere.”
==How It Works==
Functionally, the game is like a strange blend of Genesys, Powered by the Apocalypse, Fate, and whatever else you want to thrown in. I do wonder if it was always like this, making it ahead of the curve in that regard.
Players are the only ones to roll dice, which in this are a 2d6. Any result of 7 and above is a success (with modifies to lower things to 6 or raise to 8), while certain die faces can cause a Good Twist (you escape AND snuck out an extra toy you wanted) or a Bad Twist (you may have gotten out alive, but you lost your favorite focus item). If you can tie one of your Traits to it, you gain a set bonus based on the game’s power level.
Progression is at the speed of plot, and there’s a psuedo-level system involved here solely in place to track sheer power (and not the smaller specialties one would earn).
That sums up the entirety of the mechanics. It’s simple, doubly so when you know the aforementioned games, and flexible enough to get the job done.
As previously mentioned, the mechanics for this game are simple. There’s a number of fiddly bits (many are fitting for the setting), and there’s some elements that some may find frustrating (the usual joke of “Can I make my vaguely worded trait give me an advantage?” we hear about in Fate), but it has a low cost of entry, is rather simple to work with, and actually has advantages over other games that use similar setups but more convoluted rules.
The game really is streamlined to pick up and run on the go, and as a GM that is always on the go, I can’t love this enough.
As a GM, there is one part I absolutely love about this game: the use of the Question Mark. By linking a “?” to one of your Traits, you are literally telling the GM that this may be false, or that it is something you want to explore over the course of the game. An easy one could just be “Brave-? Brawler”, denoting that you want to push the envelope on that word “Brave.” A more complex one would be “Sole Survivor-? Of A Psychic Death Squad,” as it shows that you might not be the only survivor…or if you even survived at all. I honestly really like it, and will be sneaking it into a few games with similarly narrative elements to see how it pans out!
In all honesty, I had some major issues with the style of writing for this book. At times, it is awkward at best and incomprehensible at worst. Between the first person writing and conversational tones, the topics that make it feel like a propaganda and conspiracy theory machine, and the downright surreal nature of the setting makes this a harder read than it should be. While I dig the surreal nature of the setting, the writing just kills it for me. In fact, this book was a bit painful for me to read at times, but that may be solely because of my background (English major, editor, librarian, etc).
Sadly, this creates problems for other parts of the book. With the writing style often relying on in-text asides that aren’t always separated, it becomes difficult to really track some of the game elements vs the writer’s (or GM’s) preference for handling it. Considering the number of sidebars in this book, it is rather awkward overall.
Essentially, there’s great information thrown into a book in such a haphazard way that it just feel awkward and difficult to read.
As a game, beyond any reservations I have on the fiddly parts of the mechanics, I have one other concern: campaign length. The game seems to be a great fit for shorter games, whether they be one-shots or just a few sessions long, and there’s not really much for longer campaign support beyond the setting (which is the majority of the book; still not quite sure how I feel about that). And again, with the surreal nature of the game and setting, I’m rather wary about how a longer, more “epic” campaign could function with this.
Simply put, I don’t quite know how to feel about Al Amarja at this point. The lion’s share of this book is about the setting on this tiny island, with everything from city maps to named locations (with some NPCs) to holidays to personal names. The setting is fleshed out rather well and would be interesting to explore, especially as it truly is an amalgamation of a sci-fi dystopia with a hopeful democratic utopia and being a fun-house mirror of modern society while being loaded with various conspiracy theories. It really is an interesting, and intriguing, read.
That said, the setting has some rather odd quirks, such as nothing being pinned down. With all of this detail that brings life into the island, there’s sidebars and notes for things that could be there instead, and it doesn’t always mesh well or clearly make sense. Considering the “take inspiration from everywhere” motif brought up earlier, I find this to be a true study of contrasts: you have a setting that is detailed, but so much of it is going to rely on the GM’s ability to adapt it.
Personally, I’d have preferred it going more one way or the other; either more vague but loaded with options, or more concrete with fewer options. It’s hard to make a suggestion for a game that’s trying to be such a level of surreal and unique that it both pins down “facts” while also contradicting itself in various in-game and out-of-game ways. Some may like it, some may hate it, and I’m torn about it.
All said and done, my excursion in Al Amarja leaves Over the Edge sitting at the baseline of three buns.
The game has some great things going for it: a simple mechanic with plenty of fiddly parts to make it different from the others, a setting with details and flexibility for fun things, and generally flexible storytelling tools that I feel any GM, new or old, could use a refresher on. It also has a rather interesting, albeit difficult to master, setting that is full of rich things to explore and pull inspiration from.
Sadly, the writing still of the game is a massive turnoff for me, as it directly impacts my ability to fully comprehend the material and separate book text from writer/contributor opinions. When you factor in the sheer level of Kafka and Dali-level surrealism tucked within the pages to showcase an almost Orwellian society, it’s a bit of a challenge to cope with. In short, I don’t find the writing to be very newbie friendly, but there’s some useful information and tools that one could strive to borrow.
In short, it’s a potentially good book with some heavy weights hampering it. If you can get by them, or if they don’t bother you the same way, then you might find the game to be much higher than I rated it.
Over the Edge was written by Jonathan Tweet and Chris Lites, and is currently available via DrivethruRPG as a PDF for $19.99. The game was released to Kickstarter backers this year, and print copies will be available in the future.