You, and your team, are Humanity’s last best hope for survival in the face of an apocalyptic Crisis.
First of all, any game which purports to let me re-enact Sunshine is going to make my teeth smile right off the bat. I love that movie. Luckily, OLBH has more going for it than just a friendly reminder of dudes dying horribly in space. It kicks off with an explanation that the Earth is in crisis, and we are to solve it, as the finest Doctors, Scientists, Soldiers, and Engineers around. Great!
There’s a pleasing clarity and vibrancy to the story system, which is designed to handle any sort of global crisis, from the sun burning out to an old-fashioned zombie apocalypse. Usually I’m leery of generic settings, but this isn’t generic at all, but very specific to one sort of story, that of smart people racing against time and dealing with overwhelming odds, for which the specific crisis is so much window-dressing, and in this instance it works. The broadly-defined Assets and Threats, and the Choice and Consequences in the act structure, feel like they elegantly enforce this particular almost-mythic narrative.
That said, there are areas where the mechanics aren’t so elegant. Some of this is a matter of polish and increasing the word count; the act-structure rules are very brief, for instance, compared to the first half of the document, which is brimming with examples. There are some unclear rules as well… for one thing, relationship dice would give me a positive and negative tie to both of my neighbors, which makes me wonder why these relationships need to be specific, and we can’t just say that all the players have good and bad experiences with one another. Tied to that, though there are rules for dealing with conflict and disagreement within the group, I’m not sure why we might want to do that… I wonder if it might be possible to use these relationships to mechanically enforce some disagreement. Additionally, while I really enjoy the notion of using Myers-Briggs to design a character, I’m not clear on how many dice one’s MBA is worth. Can I get up to four, or is it only worth a die if I hit one of the binaries? Either way, the MBA, too, could use some elaboration… the axes are fairly vague, and if I only need to act in accordance to one of them, I could get it pretty much every time I rolled.
This brings me to my big and most subjective concern, and this might be unfair, but while I like the contrasting dice and growing pools and think it creates a pleasing visual element to this battle of big heroes and unrelenting destruction, it sure leads to a lot of math. Adding four or five dice (or more!), then another set of as many, then subtracting one from the other, then dividing by five… it’s going to get tiring sooner rather than later. Something a bit more user-friendly would help, be it a flat success pool, or a comparison of runs of numbers (whomever has more sixes, if equal then fives, if equal then fours etc.) or a Dogs in the Vineyard-style “match or beat each number, die by die”… something to make the task a little less daunting.
But as I said, that’s a subjective concern, and I like the notion behind it… these growing piles of dice that spell hope or doom. It’s vibrant, which is the word of the day for this game. The driving idea is very strong, and of course thematically spot-on, from the noble sacrifices to the potentially apocalyptic finale.