I’ve been wanting to get more into tabletop games, but don’t want to make a bunch of big commitments to something like The Sprawl which could last a long time. So I suppose the thing I’m curious about is in the title, what are your favorite single session or otherwise short tabletop games? What do you recommend others try and why?
The Sprawl is a good single session game. Skip making corporations and the corporate clock things during character creation, one legwork phase, one action phase, and you’re done.
I like Mouse Guard for short campaigns. I tend to just make players deliver mail and then something bad happens.
I have trouble finding groups that want to play Maid RPG with me, but I love it for oneshots.
The Quiet Year is just about the best single sitting game I could imagine.
Tenra Bansho Zero is a cool game from Japan that’s meant to played in one-shots, and you want a group made up of Zatoichi, Kenshiro, Rei Ayanami, and Ryu Hayabusa, then it’s the game for you.
Characters are encouraged to spend Kiei(basically XP) on rolls to solve immediate problems instead of just investing them in long-term character growth, and the structure of the game is pretty GM-driven, who has the power to move things along from scene to scene. Each character comes up with some fates, and is given a destiny by the GM, so they immediately have a reason to start acting.
A nice thing about the game is that since it’s not meant to be played long-term, the game doesn’t assume that the player characters are part of a consistent group like an adventuring party. You can play that way, but as long as all the PCs have a reason to be present in the immediate scenario, it works. The gm can shift around and give different characters the focus from scene to scene, and the gm is encouraged to hand off control of NPCs to players whose characters aren’t in the scene. In the one game I ran, a feudal lord had just died, and my players were the four potential heirs to the throne. Within a few hours, two were dead, the other two were too paranoid of each other to try to seize power, and a rival lord took over in the power vacuum. It was dope.
speaking of games used in Friends at the Table: Austin and Jack’s The Tower seems like it would be rad as hell for two people who can play off of each other the way those two do. Looking forward to them putting out something playable at… some point.
I wish I could play ANY game in a single session. All of mine seem to go on for at least 3, even in a “one-shot.”
That being said, Microscope is the choice for me. It’s a great game and it screams for you to complete it in a single session, when everything feels fresh and is coming out off the dome at the table.
I’m going to throw Fiasco out there. It requires everyone being into the idea so it isn’t perfect for every group, but it always leads to ridiculous, dramatic, and usually funny moments!
Appropriately, OneShot. Freebird Games (To the Moon, A Bird Story) are also pretty great.
OneShot is short (5-6 hours), adorable, clever, funny, etc. It’s been compared to Undertale a few times which I guess makes sense but there’s no combat in OneShot, just dialogue and puzzles.
Fiasco is fantastic!
The Sprawl can be single session. My friends and I play that game like a anthology TV show, where all our stories take place in the same world with different characters, with some connections. Each group pulls off one job, and it takes 2, maybe 3 hours. (that’s short for us, as we’ll play D&D/Pathfinder for 6 or 7 sometimes)
In terms of video games Gone Home and Journey are standouts to me. Gone Home especially, as I felt like it was the game that helped me learn to love exploration and adventure games again. I was mostly a shooter kinda dude around that time.
personally, my favorite one shot game may be monstegur 1244, where you play a group of cathars during the siege of montsegur castle, in, you guessed it, the year 1244. basically, the cathars are a dualistic heresy that believed the material world is the preserve of the devil, and their community is the target of a crusade by the catholic chruch. you play some of the last cathars who have holed up in the stronghold of montsegur, a castle in the pyrenees, which will inevitably fall to the besieging catholic army and confront those within with a stark final choice: renounce their beliefs or burn at the stake.
the game is really beautiful, since it’s all about wrestling with what it means to hold on to your faith (or to abandon it) at what seems like the end of the world, what it means to believe in something so stark like that the body is a literal prison, that life is a hell and a curse, but yet so many things seem to hold you here. it starts your characters in a hard place that ends in tragedy to get them to answer the hard questions–i don’t know a lot of other tabletop games that get to the good stuff so quickly and consistently.
I’ve found that GUMSHOE and BRP games can make for good one-shots, although there can be a fair bit of set-up involved if you’re the GM.
oh man, the cathars are my weird mediaeval history fixation and i love inevitable tragedy, i am HERE for this game
separately, i think Monsterhearts could be great for a oneshot, but might require some more specific goal setting (“we need to close the hellmouth before the town is destroyed”) or a big event (prom, maybe) rather than just revolving around the characters’ relationships and personal problems as they arise in a regular, longer game
Dan you already know my answer and it’s Microscope (the winner and the best game)
For those who haven’t played before it is a collaborative worldbuilding game where players each take turns adding events to a timeline for a universe. Every player has absolute control but only on their turn, which results in a canon that is very much yours but also very much everybody elses. It’s completely genre and structure free so games I have played have spun off into post-cyberpunk-apocalypse city reclamation by small tribes, a french-revolution space faring extravaganza, an alternate history cold war between nuclear powered lunar bases, humans infested by symbiotic intelligent aliens forging a city of outcasts in the desert, A steampunk fantasy world being ruined by continent sized titans and so much more. It is AMAZING and every game is completely different.
It is also incredibly well written. You can pick up the rules after a single readthrough, it has a huge number of very useful examples and they’re simple enough to be spelled out in their entirety on one A5 page in the back of the book. Just to add a cherry on top Ben Robbins also released Microscope Explorer, which not only goes through hacking and adapting the game and provides pages upon pages of inspiration and settings but provides three completely separate games inside it based off of Microscope’s core rules.
If you want a light-rules, light-hearted one, I recommend Lasers & Feelings. Star Trek-parody with a single page of rules, and only a single stat.
Like Lady Blackbird it’s made by John Harper, that excels in making short, condensed RPG systems.
i play monsterhearts as a one shot all the time, it’s pretty darn great. i often think of monsterhearts one shots as like the pilot episode of an unproduced tv show, where we get to explore the first beat of what we can imagine might be a longer story, which lets the game retain a lot of the freedom of a longer campaign (tho you do need to play more aggressively). it also makes a big difference whether your playing more of a four/five or a six/eight hour session: four hour sessions take better to the pilot episode model (IMHO), but in a six to eight hour session you have enough time to hit one story really hard and take it all the way.
incidentally, i too am quite fond of lady blackbird. playing lady backbird herself (the perfect imperial lady–gracious and charming and oh so deadly) is great fun, and is probably the best part of that game. that being said i’ve noticed she can dominate the game and other players end up feeling like a supporting cast, which not everyone likes.