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Friday 23 September 2022

Solitaire: Caltrop Kaiju

Imagine if a giant monster, a Kaiju, attacked the city where you lived? Stormed ashore and began stomping across one neighbourhood to the next, one district to the next? Crushing cars underfoot, smashing buildings, driving thousands upon thousands out of the city to flee to safety? Do you have friends and family in the city, and can you ensure their safety, let alone your own? As you move back and forth across the city, you will see the Kaiju again and again, and perhaps discern its weakness. Armed with that knowledge there are those who bring it to bear—the military, whose forces can drive the Kaiju from the city and back into the sea! It sounds like a film starring Godzilla, or Gojira, but is in fact the set-up and play for Caltrop Kaiju: A Monstrously fun and fast-paced TTRPG published by Button Kin Games. This is a small game which can be played in two ways, both of which are in solo mode. The first is as a mini-board game, whilst the second is as a solo roleplaying game in which the player keeps a diary of both his character’s actions and those of the Kaiju, much like other solo journaling game such as Thousand-Year-Old Vampire.

Caltrop Kaiju: A Monstrously fun and fast-paced TTRPG is designed to be played by one player aged ten and up. It requires a seven-by-seven grid to represent the city, marked with locations such as the nuclear power plant, city hall, and telecommunications tower, a two four-sided dice (the ‘Caltrop’ of the game’s title comes from the use of this die type), and a token to represent the player and a token to represent the Kaiju. The Kaiju comes ashore at the harbour and the game starts from there, whilst the player begins play in his mountain home. The player moves first, then the Kaiju. The player can only move one space, but the Kaiju moves three spaces in a randomly determined direction. As the Kaiju travels, it does damage to each square or each neighbourhood it passes through. If it passes through a neighbourhood three times, it is completely destroyed and becomes impassable for the player. The player can pass through partially destroyed locations, but whether due to the falling wreckage, flailing power lines, explosions, or collapsing buildings, there is a chance that he will be wounded. This means that the player rolls at a disadvantage on all die rolls. If the Kaiju does damage to the various locations, there are extra effects. For example, destroy the nuclear power plant and all of the surrounding squares are also destroyed!

In the short term, the aim of Caltrop Kaiju is for the player to trail the Kaiju and gain sightings of the gargantuan beast—hopefully whilst avoiding being stomped on and so wounded. If the Kaiju passes through the same square as the player, there is the chance that it will wound or even kill him in a dramatic fashion. However, from the same square as the Kaiju or an adjacent square—where there is no chance of the player being stomped—the player can attempt to gain a sighting of the leviathan. With each sighting, there is a chance that the player will learn the Kaiju’s weakness (if unsuccessful, the player automatically learns this weakness on the fifth attempt). Armed with that knowledge, the player can search for the secret military base, which necessitates a die roll, and if successful, pass on the knowledge to the military whose forces will attack the Kaiju and force back into the sea. However, the Kaiju now has the player’s scent and will be actively hunting him. Although the Kaiju is slowed as it hunts, the game becomes a race to find the base and pass the knowledge of the monster’s weakness before the player is stomped on or zapped or burned to a crisp. If that happens, the player, of course, loses the game.

Caltrop Kaiju is a simple mix of puzzle and programmed movement with the player playing against the game and the Kaiju. It can be enhanced and become something else if the player records a journal of his travails across the city in the wake of the massive monster, what he sees, and what he discovers about the Kaiju. To set this up, Caltrop Kaiju suggests the player answer a few questions, such as who his character is, how he is the best person to determine the Kaiju’s weakness, what family he has in the city, and more. The player is also free to determine what sort of Kaiju the attacking beast is and what its weakness is. In this mode, the player records a journal of his character’s success or a journal of his character’s failure that will be found on his dead body in the rubble of the city long after the Kaiju has wandered back into the sea…

In comparison to other journaling games, Caltrop Kaiju is lacking in terms of tables and thus prompts. Other journaling games have numerous tables that the player can roll on or draw cards for, and use the indicated prompt to drive the narrative being recorded in the journal. Caltrop Kaiju lacks these. There are no tables for the type of Kaiju, its powers, or its weakness, or who and where the character’s loved ones are. There is a table for describing otherwise empty neighbourhoods, which though useful, seems an odd inclusion given the lack of other tables. With that lack of other tables, there is not perhaps the replayability of other journaling games because there is not the obvious variability.

Physically, Caltrop Kaiju is cleanly and tidily presented. Despite being a British game, it is written in American English which might be confusing for a younger audience. 

Caltrop Kaiju: A Monstrously fun and fast-paced TTRPG is a small game about a big event and facing a big behemoth. On one level, it is a simple puzzle, but on the other, it has the scope to tell a classic tale of man versus a colossal Kaiju tale in a modern city, done as an exercise in creative writing. However, if the player wants to return to the city and once again, face the Caltrop Kaiju, he may well want to create some random tables of his own to add a wider degree of variability.

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