Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 3 June 2023

Solitaire: Bumbling

As the title suggests, Bumbling – a solo RPG is about bees. Or rather about being a bee, a worker bee, to be precise. Published by Button Kin Games, also responsible for the fun Caltrop Kaiju: A Monstrously fun and fast-paced TTRPG, and part of the team responsible for the superlative Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I, , this is a solo roleplaying game in which you control the fate of a worker bee as it goes about its bee business—learning dances, dancing, leaving the hive and questing, and so forth. On the quest, the worker bee will encounter other creatures, some friendly, some not, who perhaps will point the bee in the direction of flowers, discover landmarks, and when flowers have been found, complete the quest by returning with pollen to fill the hive. The further away from the hive the flowers are, the fewer fellow bees will have visited them, and so they will contain more pollen. Once the worker bee returns, it can not only learn more dances and go out questing again, but it can also dance too, and so teach other worker bees about the flower locations it found on its quest.

Bumbling – a solo RPG is played out on—what else?—a hex map. At the centre is the hive and surrounding will be a patchwork of landmarks, including buildings, natural features, and so on, as well as the much-desired flower beds. Initially, just three, but as the worker bee travels further and explores new hexes, it will discover new landmarks, encounter new friends and enemies, and hopefully escape the creatures that want to eat it, and return with ever increasing amounts of honey. To play, the player will need a six-sided die, a sheet of hex paper, a journal to keep notes in and record his worker bee’s quests. Dance moves are optional for the player, if not the worker bee.

Bumbling – a solo RPG is about exploration, learning, and making friends. The play is derived from randomly generated elements—the dances that the worker bee knows, the dances associated with particular hexes on the maps, the landmarks and flowers on each map, and the creatures and their reactions. What is not random is how the worker bee reacts to these core elements and thus what the player records in his journal. In play, the limitations upon the worker bee’s travel are twofold. First, on the dances that it knows and the dances associated with particular landmarks. Second, on the creatures it knows and interacts with. Both will serve as navigation points. So, the worker bee will initially fly in the direction of hex with a dance it already knows. If this leads to flowers, fine. It can return with the much-needed pollen. If not, the worker can begin to explore, building a map of new locations and landmarks and creatures and hopefully, flowers full of pollen. These become way points that the worker bee can return to again and again as maps dances and locations. In returning to the hive, the worker bee can do three things after depositing the pollen. Learn a new dance, tell the other worker bees about the flowers it has found, and best of all, develop new dance moves and teach these.

Play ends with the worker bee having filled up all one-hundred-and-eighty cells of the pollen score sheet. It might also end early if a creature attempts to eat the worker bee, but the game does suggest the worker bee is nimble enough to get out of the way. At which point, the player has a map to consider and a story to read.

Bumbling – a solo RPG is slightly underwritten in terms of explaining the initial exploration and tying a dance to a hex. Perhaps an example of that would have helped. Otherwise, physically, Bumbling – a solo RPG is bright and pink and simple and quick and easy to pick up and begin play. It even comes with blank hex maps and scoring sheets for the player to copy.

Bumbling – a solo RPG is exceptionally light as a solo, journalling game. In comparison to Caltrop Kaiju, it is contemplative in nature, without the sense of peril. That lack of peril means that its sense of achievement comes from the exploration and the interaction with friendly creatures, and telling the story of this rather than defeating or overcoming an obstacle. However, without that, it does mean that there is not the inherent need to return to Bumbling – a solo RPG to play again and to see how well you did. Nevertheless, Bumbling – a solo RPG is a bee-calming little game, providing the means to explore and learn about world from a worker bee’s eyes point of view and tell its story.

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