Z4 2

Orbital (2021)

Looking at some sci-fi flavored zines this month. Or, alternately, ennui flavored zines. Both statements are mostly true.

Before we get into specifics on Orbital (2021), I need to stress how gorgeous it is. I love Torben Bökemeyer’s art a lot a lot. It evokes the complexity of space station life in an appealing way that reminds me a bit of Moebius. The color palettes are perfect. And that cooooooover. The metallic ink is just wonderful. The photo doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

Anywho, Orbital is by Jack Harrison and it is based on the No Dice No Masters system that is at the heart of Avery Alder’s Dream Askew. It’s a collaborative storytelling game that, even if I didn’t know it was based on one of Alder’s games, I feel like I could have guessed. It has a lot in common with The Quiet Year. In a nutshell: war is raging across the galaxy, but space station at the center of Orbital remains neutral and the folks who live there want to keep it that way, even if they don’t see eye to eye on everything.

Unlike a lot of this sort of game, especially ones with community focus, Orbital has players creating and controlling specific, pivotal characters while also collaborating on the creation of the setting and narrative. Players take turns introducing three types of narrative scene (big ones, little ones, or a read, which establishes the vibe of the whole station at that moment). In these, characters can make moves (basic ones are free, strong ones net positive results but cost a token, weak ones net negative results but gain a token) and through the meshing of the two, the fates of the characters and the station at large are determined.

I don’t know why I feel like the game is tuned to produce tragic stories, but I do. I feel like war is always going to consume a place like this. Whatever the tone, though, I’m always down for a story about outsiders trying to remain peaceably outside.

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