Back in August of 2016, Monte Cook Games launched a kickstarter for their game Invisible Sun. At the time, there was a lot of secrecy surrounding the game, with very little details of what all the obtuse terminology the game was using meant. It had numerous components, each with a name that wasn’t explicitly indicative of what purpose it served, and further, the game wasn’t made available online. It was described as a “Luxury RPG Experience.”
As of February 2019, however, Monte Cook Games has announced that they were going to release Invisible Sun digitally in pdf form, along with a digital preview of the game. When it initially came out, I mostly ignored it. Though with the release of the preview, I decided to dig into it a little bit, because I believe that an informed marketplace is a healthy one.
If the title of this article is any indication, I was not impressed with what I was able to surmise. So for your reading pleasure and to help you make a more informed decision as to whether you should get this, I bring you Five Things Wrong With Invisible Sun!
1) It’s Expensive And Excessive
When it was initially funded via Kickstarter, the lowest tier that gave you a copy of the game was set at approximately 200USD, and since then, the price for a pre-order of the next batch of these to be shipped out is about 300USD. This is a steep price tag for any game, especially when you consider that the trio of books for Dungeons and Dragons is about 150USD (oftentimes much less), with the options to eschew certain books if you don’t want or need them. Even the digital copy of Invisible Sun goes for about 100USD.
While Invisible Sun does come with numerous books, there’s also other props it comes with that, frankly, probably aren’t necessary. Props such as The Testament of Suns, which is a plastic hand meant to hold a card for everybody around the table to see.
Invisible Sun’s weight, according to its listing on Amazon, is 30lbs (about 13.5kg). There’s a lot in this box which, even if one isn’t opposed to paying a high price point, still means you’ll not only need to find room for this 30 inch cube (about 75cm), but you’ll need to lug it around and move it about when you’re going to play.
And the game has several books, several decks of different cards, and several other things that contribute to our next concern...
2) It’s Poorly Designed, Organized, And Explained
The rules and all the pertinent information needed to play the game are spread across four different books, as well as numerous different decks of cards. Some of these decks contain information that isn’t reproduced in any of the books, according to their web page. This means if one of these cards is lost, that’s a part of the game that’s likely to be lost as well.
Four books sounds like an incredible thing for a game to have, and I will give props to Invisible Sun because they do seem to divide the content of the books up pretty reasonably: basics information in one book, setting information in another, etc etc. That’s an idea I can get behind, since one of my favorite games, Tenra Bansho Zero, has a similar setup for its English edition.
However, if the table of contents is to be believed, the index for Invisible Sun is located in the back half of the book “The Gate.” While I’m fond of the multi-book approach, putting the index in just one book like its an encyclopedia does open up some problems. What if that book is unavailable, and you need to find a specific piece of information within it?
Furthermore, on the subject of indexes, Invisible Sun does a little bit of indexing throughout itself. This is a welcome answer to the issue of the index being in only one of the books, but, they picked a jarring place to put these mini-indexes: right in the center of the page.
3) It’s Not As Original As It Claims
Invisible Sun makes some very bold claims; among these being that it’ll change how RPGs are played, it’s a new way to play RPGs, and also that it includes “magic that is truly magical.” These are all claims that, at best, are exaggerated, with one of the big selling points being that includes rules for how to play without having everybody present, or even when the GM isn’t present.
On its own, that isn’t a problem. How to handle player absence would ordinarily be something I’d welcome in a rulebook. It’s one of the praises I sing of Meikyuu Kingdom. In fact, if a player character is absent for a session, there are codified rules on how that character can still contribute to the game.
However, these are issues the greater RPG community has, for the longest time, already solved. We’ve figured out how to run games without a GM, we’ve already come up with and codified the idea of flashbacks as a gameplay device, and we’ve also come up with having one-on-one scenes between GM and Player.
It takes hubris (or being wildly out of touch) to codify these things we’ve been doing for so long, and use it as a selling point for your boutique priced game.
4) It’s Pretentious
“Invisible Sun is deep. It’s smart. Just like you. Invisible Sun will change the way you play rpgs.”
That is the the final line in the original sales pitch for Invisible Sun, the crowning gem after a passage of nonsense and promises of solving problems that were already solved. This page has since fallen off the Invisible Sun website, replaced instead with a somewhat more informative one that describes the setting and premise a little better.
Arguments could be made in contrast to the first three points: Invisible Sun is smart because it codifies these solutions the community has solved. It should command a higher price for this benefit, since there are games that don’t do this. Other games have obtuse settings and a blurred line between where rules and setting information are.
However, it’s this collection of traits, convoluted layout, obtusely described setting, high price point, and being described as a smart game for smart people, that marks the sort of snob appeal that makes it pretentious.
Given that this hobby is social in nature, though, it behooves me not to villainize anybody who likes this games. So more power to you if you were one of the folks who got your hands on the limited quantities of Black Cubes out there. Just keep this in mind: high barriers to entry, monetary or otherwise, means there’s not likely to be as many players for your game.
I’ll end this article on a slightly more amusing note.
5) Bonus! Poor Security For Their Web App
This factor isn’t really a strike against the game, so much as something that makes me think perhaps the team at Monte Cook Games is out of touch with the modern world. (After all, never blame on malice what could just as easily be incompetence.)
Invisible Sun also had a companion app developed for it, though it isn’t available on the Google Play or Apple App stores. It’s instead what could best be described as a web-app, a website that has the functionality of a smartphone app. In my quest to dredge up more information on Invisible Sun, I came across the app, and wondered if registering might yield any secrets.
There’s one field that asks for a specific word, from a specific page, of a specific book that Insibile Sun comes with. This is what we call a Dictionary Encryption, and it’s an old form of securing information that was also used as a form of copy protection in about the 1990s.
However, the app doesn’t seem to include a captcha verification. Meaning somebody handy with scripting languages could potentially brute force their way through registration, trying every possible word to fulfill the Dictionary Encryption. (An activity that, we at High Level Games do NOT condone.)
Aaron der Schaedel is aware of the folly of punching up at a name like Monte Cook in this hobby. Having been chased out of other circles for more absurd reasons, though, he remains unperturbed. You can chastise him for questioning a long time member of the industry via twitter: @Zamubei
Picture Reference: https://www.montecookgames.com/store/product/invisible-sun-preorder/
The writing team here at High Level Games loves checking out new RPGs and sharing our experiences. Thus we have our attention focused on the horizon, ever watchful for the latest editions and originals in the works for our beloved hobby. As a New Year treat, we’d like to share with you the games and supplements that are “Coming Soon in 2019.” We don’t want to hog all the hype to ourselves; tis the season of giving, after all! With our breath bated and no further ado, here is each writer’s most anticipated 2019 release.
Editor’s Note: to the right of the dashes are the names of the writers that chose the games, not the names of the creators or publishers.
1) Swords of the Serpentine - Phil
Political drama? Check. Magic that’s as dangerous to the user as the target? Check. Gritty setting? Check. GUMSHOE? Check. Swords of the Serpentine checks off almost all of my boxes (we’ll see how much black humor pops up), and looks to be another excellent addition to the GUMSHOE line.
2) Kamigakari: God Hunter - Aaron der Schaedel
Kamigakari is a game from Japan, set in modern day Japan, where you play as a supernaturally endowed hunter of otherworldly beings protecting an unsuspecting populace of mortals otherwise ignorant to the horrors hidden from them. The kickstarter for Kamigakari was fully funded in November of 2018, and is expected to be available in the Summer of 2019.
3) Trinity Continuum: Aeon and Core - Josh Heath
The original versions of the Trinity Continuum are some of the few RPG books I’ve held onto over the years. I took Adventure! and Aberrant to Korea with me while I was in the Army. These games are part of the reason I explored non-World of Darkness games. The 2nd Edition will include a modern setting similar to the shows Leverage or other action story shows without high powered Supers. The Kickstarter ran in 2018. It will be coming with the Space Opera setting, Aeon. I’ve been reading the 1st Ed books in exciting anticipation. Color me sold, this is the game I’m most excited about in 2019.
4) Strongholds and Followers - Rich Fraser
Raising a cool 2.1 million dollars on kickstarter,Strongholds and Followers is my eagerly awaited gem. OK, so maybe this is cheating, but I didn’t think it would be out until January (technically the hardback won’t). Authored by the self proclaimed King of Kickstarter (jokingly, but it stuck as these things do), Matt Colville, this sourcebook for the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons covers something sorely missing for this edition of D&D. It’s strongholds, and followers, get it? I played D&D from Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortals (BECMI) box sets through second edition before quitting and all of these editions had plans for strongholds and followers. Followers were an automatic thing once you reached ‘name level.’ See, in first edition, each level had a name associated with it and at ninth level you reached your name level (High Priest, Lord, Paladin, Ranger Knight, etc.). People started to know who you were so living in a bar isn't going to cut it anymore and some of these people want to join you, as opposed to just being hirelings. So Matt developed his own systems over the years and decided to release it to the public. With his extreme popularity, rightly so, on youtube he started a kickstarter and the rest is history.
5) Yellow King - Leyshon Campbell
This Kickstarter has been blasting through stretch goals because everyone knows Robin Laws knows how to make a great game. The multiple worlds and multiple selves will allow campaigns to run the gamut between subtle horror, alternate realities, and full dystopia. The different eras allow for even more variety, up to and including a generations-long legacy game where you play the great-grandchild of your first character. But even for those who will not run a whole game, there is so much rich material to mine here that it’s just not possible to not get your money’s worth out of this one.
6) Mon Dieu Cthulhu - Ross Reid
As a result of the success from the popular Achtung! Cthulhu, Modiphius has not only released multiple versions of it, but is also venturing out into other time periods. Mon Dieu Cthulhu currently only has a few fiction pieces but has been slated for a future RPG release which I for one cannot wait to get my tentacles on. Rubbing elbows with swashbuckling soldiers avoiding musket fire and blasting a cannon at the unholy gods of old is going to be a blast.
7) Silent Titans - Max Cantor
This is an OSR adventure written by one of the most prominent OSR writers, Patrick Stuart, with layout by Christian Kessler and art by Dirk Leichty. Patrick is an excellent writer full of engaging prose and weird, totally original ideas, and Dirk’s art looks incredible. This kind of avante garde work truly elevates tabletop into an artform, and is unlike anything you’ll find from the mainstream publishers. If Patrick’s other works such as Veins of the Earth or Fire on the Velvet Horizon are any indication, this book will be full of all sorts of interesting mechanical considerations that can be taken into other games, and will probably work as a setting unto itself. I’ve already backed the (currently live, and already successful) kickstarter, and would encourage anyone on the fence to check out his other works!
8) An Atlas of the Horizon - Jarod Lalonde
An Atlas of the Horizon is a passion project that has been worked on for the better part of five years, and as such, there are a lot of hopes riding on it. The kickstarter (which has already surpassed its goal) tells us that it is an intensely character driven rpg taking place in a world that is approaching a proverbial boom in culture, trade and all other aspects, and the world is just waiting for guiding hands to shape it into what it’s destined to be. Atlas is shaping up to be a game that looks to the horizon (god that nail was hit on the head) and smiles at what it sees. It focuses on optimistic themes, and honestly in this day and age, I really do think that we could all use a little more optimism. In all honesty, this appears to be a game that wants to make a statement, and I’m interested to see what it has to say in the coming year.
What are some of the upcoming games you are excited for? Drop us a line anytime and let us know!
High Level Games has a lot to be thankful for in 2018. We also have plenty that we’re eagerly awaiting in the coming year! Stick with us, because it’s going to be a blast. And if you want to show your support, take a look at our Patreon page. Thank you, and have a critically successful 2019!
-David Horwitz, Blog Manager
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/255133215/strongholds-and-streaming
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games