Short Order Heroes, by Calico Games, is a crowdfunding project currently ongoing on Kickstarter (closes 06 May 2013). A copy of this project was provided to me for review.
Full Disclosure: As I stated in my Kickstarter post where I first mention this, one of the creators is one of my closest friends, and I am backing this project. Not because of the aforementioned reason, but because of actually using it. Read on for more.
The basics are pretty simple: It is a deck of cards. Each card has an adjective and a picture that illustrates that adjective. The cards have a number in the lower left corner and are color-coded by that number (more on that in a moment). Uses for this are as a game aid in creating characters (PCs and NPCs), or as a stand alone game with a built in resolution system.
To play the game, each player draws three cards. Those adjectives build the groundwork for their character. NPCs are built on one to three cards, depending on how important they are. As we all know, the more description an NPC has, the more relevant to the story. This mechanic supports that with the amount of impact on the story they have as well.
Resolution comes in the form of a card draw. Any traits that you have which will help you increase your result by one, and any that will hinder you decrease your result by one. The difficulty is 4 and the cards range from 0 to 7 - there is only one 0 and one 7, with an equal distribution of the remaining values (1 through 6). Well, equal distribution until you start getting traits, at which point it skews a little. Generally, the better traits tend to have higher numbers, and the higher the number, the better the trait tends to be (7 is Lucky, for example). The converse is true for the lower traits as well (0 being Jinxed). This tends to mean that the more "good" traits that are in play, the lower the pulls from the deck will be overall. This may, or may not, be relevant to you, but it is an interesting global balancing idea. If you happen to be on the losing side of that math, it may seem less interesting.
From a practical standpoint, this means you can have a functional game with all of the mechanics you need right in your pocket. Perfect for today's busy geek on the go who wants to take advantage of any gaming opportunity at the drop of a hat.
My personal preference is as a gaming accessory. For that, there are numerous ways that it can be used, but really a few jump to mind. The biggest for anyone is likely to be as a GM aid. I would use this to add a little additional personality to any random NPC and keep them all different. For example, I don't think that I would ever assign the personality "Melodramatic" (which is a 4) to an ork scorcher that was captured and is being interrogated. But after I drew that just now, I think that I am obligated to because it sounds awesome.
If you, or your players, ever have some difficulty fleshing out a character, this can also be a useful tool. For some games, maybe you are just looking for a few character traits to hang things on (a beer and pretzels game). Perhaps you're playing FATE and need more traits, particularly the negative ones (like Trouble) and are having difficulty making decisions. Could be that you just don't even know where to start. I've seen all of these and this deck could be a great way to help. Draw some cards, see what you like; maybe an adjective or some art will grab you.
In an upcoming Feng Shui mini-series that I am currently working on, I will be having my players draw two traits. If a trait will help them, +1 to the Action Value, if it will work against them, -1. A quick and easy way to add a little more flavor to the game. Really, the kind of thing that can easily be added to almost any game in some fashion or another.
Everything about this is fast and easy to work with, which is a big plus from behind the screen - keeping momentum and maintaining the tempo of a game are always concerns for me. Too many commercial game aids slow things down as you implement them. They may be fun, but can take away from the game as they start to become the game (Critical Hit decks, I'm looking at you). Others require some interpretation and re-calibration to make it work. All of this makes things skip a beat and it may be hard to rebuild that momentum. Which is where the clean simplicity of Short Order Heroes is very successful.
The Kickstarter is already through it's second stretch goal, which puts it up to a 90 card deck for $20. The promo deck I received is a mere 54 cards. Clearly, I am not the only person who likes this idea. The next stretch goals are themed decks of 36 cards each, and I would like to see at least a couple of those. Specifically, I'd like a deck with super-powers and one for scenes. The last one in particular for FATE games.
To put my money where my mouth is on this, I'm not only going to be backing this project, but I'm going to give away my promo to someone reading this. There are a couple of requirements: first, I have to be able to identify you since this is going to be random; Anonymous isn't distinctive. This can be via e-mail, G+, or a comment on this post. The second part: you have to spread the word about this project. I'll pay for shipping to get this to you. Spread the word and it could be yours. I'm going to randomly pick the winner in a week. Sound fair?