Indie Gaming Reading Club Reads: Cold City

Let’s go back to yesteryear, 2010 if I’m reading the release dates correctly, and talk about Cold City.

The premise is pure nerd bait: the characters are agents in an ultra-secret monster-hunting squad working in 1950 Berlin. Each character also serves their nation’s (secret) interests, and no two characters belong to the same nation. There are American, British, French, German and Soviet spies and super soldiers on the hunt for creatures resulting from insane Nazi occult experiments and “twisted technologies.”

I’m generally super-squicky about “Cthulhu did it” stories when it comes to Nazis in gaming, but it’s not super terribad in Cold City: the experiments and monsters and tech are all due to Nazi and human ambition; they’re not being guided (let off the hook) by otherworldy forces.

It looks like the twist or killer app or whatever in Cold City is that everyone has a Trust value, from 0 to 5, with every other character at the table. That’s a bonus for when you’re working together! But you can also leverage that trust against each other as well when you’re pursuing one of your Hidden Agendas. When you create your character you also create an agenda for your nation, as well as for yourself. So that’s interesting.

Otherwise, it feels like Cold City straddles a space in indieland pretty close to traditional RPGs. It’s GM-intensive. It’s built as a toolbox, with tons of options to personally shape the way your game is going to work (like, you decide whether the hidden agendas are secret or open information). It’s basically about monster-hunting. And it’s very, very much on the GM to bring to the game all the texture and opportunities to pursue hidden agendas. 

In this day and age the game feels almost old-fashioned in its trad-ness and open toolbox-ness. I think I’d play it and maybe even have some fun for a session or two, but it just feels like it’s a lot of work.

Happily they put a lot of good information in the book about the various intelligence and military groups operating in 1950 Berlin, largely drawn from actual history and then tweaked to accommodate their weird alternahistory. There are three broad types of monsters on the loose (changed humans, otherworldly entities, undead) but those feel super incomplete, without much guidance for expanding on those ideas. There’s really no baked-in support for all the personal agendas the players might pursue — stuff like “I want to make lots of money fencing the twisted tech I find” or “I must hide my homosexuality” — but it doesn’t look hard to build toward that. Good quick-NPC rules.

So, anyway. I was really hot to get into this game when it first came out. I’m substantially less hot to play it now, but it does look like a pretty good way to play in that semi-cooperative, semi-PvP space.

0 thoughts on “Indie Gaming Reading Club Reads: Cold City”

  1. …there are folks who follow you who don’t want to see nerd shit? Don’t get me wrong, I love your nerd shit, but I’m trying to remember what stuff there is that isn’t nerd shit.

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