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

Saturday 30 September 2023

Solitaire: Rock Hoppers

You made it and you survived. In answer to the signal sent from Tau Ceti almost a century ago, you were among those who made the three decade-long first journey by mankind through interstellar space. What humanity found were the arrays, installations ranging in size from a metre across to kilometres across and performing a variety of functions—habitants, defence systems, power stations, communications relays, and many more. What they all do remains yet to be determined, but if humanity is to survive, it needs resources—which can hopefully be found in Tau Ceti’s outer system. Prospectors, known as ‘Rock Hoppers’, have been sent out, one-part miners, one-part salvagers, one-part explorers, to search for the resources mankind’s first colony needs to survive. Hopping from rock to rock, from asteroid to asteroid, every rock hopper hopes to locate that lucky strike which will set them up for life—and if not that, enough to continue operations. That was what you thought when you detected the gravitational anomaly. It could only be xeno-tech, something that help understand the installations of the array which drew humanity to the system. Only for the gravitational anomaly to spike, soaring to nine times what you first detected, collapsing the entrance to the asteroid, trapping you inside. You cannot go back the way you came. The only way to survive is to find a path forward, hopefully a route out if not answers as to what happened…

This is the set-up for Rock Hoppers, a solo journalling game of desperate exploration in the near future in another star. It is a sequel to The Long Goodbye and both are set in the same Dyson Eclipse future. Where The Long Goodbye explored the journey from the Earth to the unknown of Tau Ceti and the fear of the journey and what might be found at Tau Ceti, Rock Hoppers explores what might be found there and what it takes to survive. Where The Long Goodbye was a two-player epistolary roleplaying game, Rock Hoppers is a solo affair, one which takes it desperate tone and urgency from The Wretched, though not its horror. 

Published by LunarShadow Designs and like The Wretched before it, Rock Hoppers is a game about exploration, isolation, fear, and perseverance and potentially, survival in the face of overwhelming odds. The game requires an ordinary deck of playing cards without the Jokers, a six-sided die, a Jenga or similar tower block game, and a set of tokens. In addition, the player will require a means of recording the results of the game. It is suggested that audio or video longs work best, but a traditional journal will also work too. Rock Hoppers is a played out as a series of days, the player, as the titular rock hopper, undertaking a series of tasks each day and responding to prompts before ending the day by recording its events and his thoughts in his personal log. As in The Wretched, the rock hopper is unlikely to survive the experience. The rock hopper’s personal mining rig might become trapped in the tunnels in the asteroid or the tunnels might collapse, crushing the rock hopper—which will happen if the tower block collapses. The only way for the rock hopper to survive is to reach the cause of the gravitation anomaly and hope that it has some answers…
The four suites correspond to different aspects of the rock hopper’s mining rig and the environment around him. Spades represent the rock hopper’s personal mining rig and the supplies it was carrying when he became trapped; Clubs detail the asteroid itself, previously mined by whomever it who built the arrays; Hearts are signals that the rock hopper will pick up from outside the asteroid; and Diamonds are the secrets to be found buried deep in the asteroid. Unlike in The Wretched, there is no sense of threat from without, no monster or alien lurking, ready to find its way into the asteroid… Instead, there is a sense of isolation and desperation, rather than of being stalked. In that isolation, there is also time for reflection for the situation that the rock hopper finds himself in and likely, if disaster strikes, on his life.

Rock Hoppers does have secrets. These are revealed only under certain circumstances. The likelihood is that the player will take several attempts to play through Rock Hoppers in order to get to them and begin to reveal the secrets of the asteroid and thus the very first secrets of the Dyson Eclipse future. 

Physically, Rock Hoppers is cleanly and tidily presented. It is not illustrated. 

Although Rock Hoppers uses the same mechanics as The Wretched, it is much more constrained and isolated in nature, primarily because there is no external force. It does take a while to play through, in the sense of multiple attempts, to reveal any secrets of the Dyson Eclipse setting, and a player may find himself going over old story prompts.

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