Today I received my copy of The Shab-Al-Hiri Roach by Jason Morningstar. (Find out more)
First impressions were good - it's a lovely looking book. Very nice cover art and design. Getting one of the first hundred, it is signed (with the note GU-UD - on page 64 I later discover this translates as "Dance, lowly maggot") and numbered (according to the stamp, number 28 of 100 owned by Pemberton Library). The book is filled with colourful pictures and comments like this, all building up the style of the game.
I next opened a little envelope that contained the cards and a large, creepy rubber cockroach. My daughter loved this and began running around the house with it. That's just cool.
Anyway, on to the actual text. It's pretty short so I have already read through it. The basic idea is simple. An evil, ancient Sumerian roach god has got loose at Pemberton University in 1919. The players all have a character who is a member of the faculty there, involved in their own power struggles, of the usual academic type. The roach will possess some (or all) of these characters, leading to gruesome, absurd hijinks.
The game is played without a gamemaster. You play through six key events in the University year, with each player having the opportunity to frame a scene that (hopefully) will lead to a boost in their character's reputation. Each scene ends with a conflict, which resolves who gets what from the things that happen there.
To throw a spanner in that, at the beginning of each event you each turn over a card. This has two sides, one for people possessed by the roach and one for everyone else. You must work this into one of the scenes in the event. Becoming possessed by the roach happens in two ways - if you turn over a card indicating that happens, or voluntarily at any time. The reason that you might do this voluntarily is that it gives you a huge mechanical advantage in conflict resolution. Of course, it's hard to get un-possessed, too. And if you end the game with a roach, then you lose.
Another nice feature of the cards is that the roach ones are orders from the roach (all in ancient sumerian and loosely translated). They are obscure and strange. But the bit I like the best is that if your character has a roach, you must pick another player to be the target of the order before you read it. So you might end up with something like "AS-AZIGA NISSU LAL-BAL: A shadow falls over this person - threaten him" aimed at your primary ally (or vice versa). Oh yes, you also have to intone the sumerian phrase in a sinister voice when you carry out the order.
Overall, a lovely physical book and interesting game design. Play should be absolutely hilarious. Well worth a look.