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Remember Tomorrow

Gregor Hutton’s new game is familiar in many ways. The first is its nostalgic revival of Cyberpunk. Remember Tomorrow is set firmly in the future of cybereyes, neon, Russian pragmatism and Japanese manufacturing that never actually materialised. Rules-wise it is similar to Hot War and Shock but is an excellent refinement of both.

The game is collaborative and GM-less. All players have characters they have creative control over and have the right to initiate and frame scenes. Interestingly on your go you may not take actions for the characters you control, instead you create conflict for other characters in the game. It is essentially the position of the GM that rotates and you spend the majority of your time as a player.

The game is set in some anonymous sprawling trans-national cyberpunk metropolis where cultures mix, fuse and blur. Think the Japan/America fusion of Blade Runner. Each player creates a Faction and PC that they hold. A held Faction or PC acts as the holding player wishes them too. Each character and Faction is written on an index card, if they are held they are put in front of the holding player, otherwise the cards sit in the middle of the players and anyone can make use of them.

A really interesting thing about the game is that you can keep the cards between sessions to help form the campaign. In the next session you can simply bring out the stack of cards from the previous games and select some PCs and Factions to play from the existing groups.

Characters are made up of three attributes Ready, Willing and Able; Factions just have one attribute: Power. When challenges are carried out characters roll 3d10 and are trying to roll under their three abilities (using any dice to match any attribute). Factions do the same but compare all the dice to their one value.

It can be important to set the stakes before the challenge as the number of successes relative to one another determines the result and a potential result will be zero when both sides get the same number of successes. In this case both sides achieve their objectives so it is important that stakes are not counter to one another. Both sides wanting to shoot one another is okay, one side wanting to shoot at the other and the other to escape is good but one side wanting to shoot the other and the other wanting to avoid getting shot is not going to work out in a draw.

Where the relative number of successes is higher than zero the winner can spend successes to make mechanical changes, rather like Hot War. A winner can choose to make changes to their participant or the losing participant in the challenge. This is interesting mechanically and dramatically because to succeed in the game you need to make changes to yourself while quite often it can be tempting to “punish” the other side of the challenge by removing their advantages, diminishing their abilities or hurting them.

The narrative side of also works really well, do you pursue your fleeing enemy and try and kill him or do you let him go and examine the security passes he’s left behind to try and gain access to secret laboratory of a the corporation that is mixed up in this as well?

I want to emphasise how well Remember Tomorrow mixes its mechanics and its narrative, the two really support one another well and there are few times when something is exciting to describe at the table and which does not materially change the direction of the game as well. There are also no real mechanical aspects that don’t drive the plot forward, any change that is written on the cards on the table could make a difference to any future challenge.

The game ends when an agreed number of people or Factions have achieved their goal for the session mechanically. For people they must have a “check” in all of Ready, Willing and Able. A check is gained by using a challenge success and also explaining how winning the challenge narratively fits with the character’s goal. Perhaps by taking that security card the character is now Ready to confront the shadowy corporation he thinks has abducted his daughter.

Factions are simpler and exit when they gain 9 Power. Anyone who exits gets a free-narration scene where they describe how the group or person achieves their goal. Their card is then removed from the game (but can return in another session with a bonus to their (re-)creation process).

There are several things that a really interesting for me with the rules system. Firstly there is the idea of creating a campaign world via storing the index cards. The world grows bigger and more interesting with each game and yet requires no preparation or planning by one player beyond bringing along the cards next time.

The dilemma of helping yourself or punishing others is astute both psychologically and from a game design point of view.

There is also an interesting thing in that you really do need two to tango. If another player doesn’t object to an action you want to take then the scene becomes “colour” and you can pretty much narrate it freely no matter how extreme. In one of the games I’ve played one of the players wanted to know whether their character’s Dadaist/Situationalist pop culture cabaret act was a success. None of the players felt that it shouldn’t be so the player was free to narrate how the character’s show takes the metropole by storm or alternatively how enraged patrons bottle the character from the stage. This seemed to non-plus the player who wanted a more conventional challenge to decide the outcome.

Things that come with experience

To get the best out of Remember Tomorrow you need to be able to create opposition on your turn. If none of the other players objects to what you want to do then chances are it is either amazing from a narrative point of view or it’s not of interest to other people on the table. In the latter case you need to reconsider what you are doing and look for ways of introduce some pain and struggle into the lives of the other characters and groups. Too much colour and you may be having a great time but you are not going to get the mechanical props to exit your held cards.

To speed things up Remember Tomorrow has a lot of random creation for PCs and Factions (I’ve created a web version of the random creators you can use) and while this does create interesting characters it does mean that sometimes your character or Faction does not really fit in with the storyline that develops around the table. If this happens then it is important that you create new characters or Factions that do fit the fiction at the table. Look for incidental characters that get mentioned in the fiction and then turn them into a character or introduce the organisation they work for. The game is not centred around “held” cards. An exit by an unheld character is as good as a held one.

This last point emphasises the difference in mindset required to play the game. In Remember Tomorrow you are not playing a character you are trying to create difficult situations for all the characters and factions that are in play and explain the outcome of the dice rolls. Embracing the challenge of rationalisation rather than trying to impose a narrative.

Remember Tomorrow is a small but perfectly formed package and it grabbed me immediately and so far the shine has not come off. It is one of the best GM-less games I’ve played.