The Future Will Not Save Us – Book Review of Maschine Zeit

There comes a time in every review’s life when they look out over the landscape of the products they review and they ask themselves: “What need is there for another product in genre X?” In RPGs, there are obviously the heavy-hitters in every genre and there are groups of indie darlings that have bright flashes that may or may not last. After seeing the scads of games I asked to review from my convention runs this summer, I found myself asking this question of Maschine Zeit.

I admit, I had my Sci-Fi RPG switch flipped by two different games this summer before I saw Maschine Zeit, namely Eclipse Phase and Cthulhutech, both of which seem to offer the same things as Maschine Zeit, at least on the surface. You’ve got Sci-Fi, you’ve got horror, you’ve got technology expanding beyond the point of what is safe and you’ve got catastrophe and horror in spades. So, what is it that Maschine Zeit offers that makes it worth gaming dollars and table time?

The first is ease of use. Please do not get me wrong: I love me some Eclipse Phase but character creation is a bear. In Maschine Zeit, it’s pretty straightforward. As well, Maschine Zeit is not, on its surface, geared towards long-term campaigns. The book itself compares the game to a movie and the game is designed to be paced in that way. If all goes well, at the GM, you’ll end up having helped to tell a creepy-awesome story that left most, if not all, of the party dead at the hands of your plot.

The second thing that makes Maschine Zeit worth looking at is its sheer doggedness at pursuing its goal. This is not a game or system that is designed for anything but what it is designed for. Much like Outbreak: Undead, Maschine Zeit is designed for one purpose: to tell Ghost Stories on space stations. The book makes it abundantly clear that Maschine Zeit succeeds at that with minimal fuss. It’s the kind of game that you can easily pick up and play as a one-shot, or a series of inter-linked adventures with different parties of characters.

The third thing that stands out is the creep factor. In similar games (and I hate to keep bringing up Eclipse Phase but it’s my closest frame of reference) you’ve got creepy elements and even super-creepy themes woven throughout the book. In Eclipse Phase, though, even with humanity on the brink, the was a sense of… shininess about everything. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it. In Machine Zeit, nothing is shiny, not anymore. Everything is grimy, grease-covered and will likely kill you. It has grit flowing through it and you get that intimately as you read the book. It’s only 138 pages long and the vast majority of it is devoted to setting material.

Since my gaming group is pretty devoted to my running Pathfinder, I don’t get a chance to run many of the games contained in the books I review. It’s a shame that is the case but it does provide me with one of the metrics upon which I judge a game or supplement: do I want to play this game? In this case, the answer is a hearty, if slightly scared, yes. I would love to see this game in the hands of someone who really wants to scare the crap out of their players. The entry price of $29.99 is a little steep for a short, black-and-white book, but if you’re a fan of indie games, then that should be familiar ground to you.

Final Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a solid product and if you like the genre, you should really take a look at it.

[tags]rpg, rpgs, role playing games, reviews, Maschine Zeit, sci-fi, horror[/tags]

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