The Yawhg is a hotseat-multiplayer choice-based game. Two to four players each control an adventurer-type character doing stuff in a fantasy city: after six week-long turns, the legendary Yawhg shows up and destroys the city, and the survivors have to choose what roles they will play in its reconstruction. (Or you can play it alone and control all the characters.)
There’s some obvious influence from dating-sim or princess-trainer games here: as in a classic dating sim, each character chooses different activities each week (or day, or whatever) in order to train stats which will ultimately be used for particular checks.
Much of the story’s basic material is drawn from stock-fantasy, but it makes a lot of aesthetic choices clearly meant to cut against that. The storylines are as likely to draw on fairy-tale or folk-tale elements as stock fantasy, and the art style is much more suggestive of an illustrated children’s book. The soundtrack, by Halina Heron and Ryan Roth, is bittersweet, haunting and distinctly un-game-y, a big signal that you should not be approaching this thing as simply a gung-ho heroic sword party. The main screen, where most of your choices are made, bears strong similarities to a board or tabletop game – the main action, placing characters on a city map, is quite reminiscent of Lords of Waterdeep (along with rules like: you can’t go to the same place you went last turn, or to an already-occupied location).
Each player turn has two parts: one is predictable (‘you work in the bar all week, gain 1 charm and 1 wealth’) and the other is a random event where you’re offered a multiple-choice answer, usually requiring you to overcome a skill threshold. These last can get pretty wacky, and often involve unpredictable and bloody mayhem. Variations on ‘you black out, become a crazed monster for a little bit, then recover’ are fairly common; sometimes you unleash chaos which interferes with other players’ actions. This unpredictability, together with the relatively short amount of time you have to execute a plan, forces flexibility on the players: you might intend to target a Mind-and-Finesse class, but then be forced to refocus when a magical plague throws your stats into disarray.
In overall mood I was put most in mind of The Quiet Year, although the actions in Yawhg are ostensibly more character-oriented than society-oriented. It is clearly a game about apocalypse, and to some extent about community. Like The Quiet Year, players don’t directly interact, but they ultimately need to work together – and might very well fail to do so. Like The Quiet Year, the threat of apocalypse is always looming. You are reminded about it after every week, but no details are given about what it means, and there is nothing that can be done to avert it: you can only prepare – although, in-character, you know of the Yawhg only as a vague myth, and have no idea that it’s coming.
A very common depiction of apocalypse in popular media, particularly videogames, is essentially a right-libertarian one: the post-apocalypse is a world purged of authoritarian and communitarian constraints that limit the individual, forcing/allowing a radical refocus on individual or family survival. Yawhg, on the other hand, begins from a state of relative individualism and moves, post-apocalypse, to a substantially more community-oriented perspective. Pre-Yawhg, the characters can work for the common good (in the hospital) against it (pickpocketing), but most of the options are basically focused on your own personal growth, and you often cause a lot of random trouble in the process; you have a fairly weak grasp of the social order. Post-Yawhg, you become the social order, and the choices get a lot narrower: what is your role going to be in the aftermath – maybe for the rest of your life? Does it help or hinder the community? Here, too, there’s much that’s hard to predict; even if the rebuilding effort succeeds, your character’s story might end sadly, or go off on an unanticipated tangent.
There’s some obvious peer-pressure going on in the hotseat game, which is why it makes sense as a hotseat game rather than an online-multiplayer or single-player piece – if everyone else picks help-the-reconstruction roles, you can scupper their chances of success by deciding to be a jerk. (It’s also fairly quick to play through, and not super-difficult as stat-optimisation games go, so if you have a few friends over and want to knock out a couple of games it’s not a huge hassle.)
An appealingly odd beast, by turns goofy, dark and melancholy, juxtaposing heroic power-fantasy with the arbitrary, often cruel unpredictability of life. I like it most because it is so very much its own thing.