Author – Guillaume Jentey (@JenteyG)
What’s best in life, reader? To buy an inexpensive game, to support an innovative indie designer, and to hear the laughter of your friends as Thugrum the Barbarian mows through waves of chain-wielding mutant biker Ninjas. Thankfully, Sonja and Conan versus the Ninjas (SACVTN) checks off all boxes on that list. SACVTN is a GM-less, narrative RPG that allows players to collaboratively create sword and sorcery stories. If you’ve watched Beastmaster or Red Sonja, you know exactly what to expect from this game.
In SACVTN, one player plays the Barbarian who tries to overcome the obstacles put in their path by the 2-4 other players controlling the “Ninjas”. I put “Ninjas” in quotes here because, really, “Ninja” is a stand-in title for mooks/henchmen the plot’s Big Bad Evil Guy will throw at the Barbarian throughout the game. Though the Ninjas work collaboratively to challenge the Barbarian and to determine what sort of Ninja the Barbarian will be facing, there are strict limits to how much collaboration occurs before play begins.
For example, in a three-Ninja game, the first Ninja comes up with the overarching plot and an important object that will appear in the game. Likewise, the second and third Ninjas create a notable character and a location, respectively. These decisions are made alone and noted on index cards which are kept secret. Additionally, each Ninja gets one or two secret powers they can use to further complicate the game at times of their choosing. This secrecy and independent creativity can lead to wildly strange/hilarious tonal shifts throughout the game. These cards/powers, as well as a handful of blank cards, are spent by the Ninjas to create different scenes and complications for the Barbarian to deal with.
Character creation for the Barbarian is simple, consisting of nothing more than a name, a physical description, and a sheet of powers to select from during the game’s scenes. The Barbarian loses any power they use in a scene and only regains them once they do a special “inglorious move” in which the roll of a die informs the player how many words they can use to describe what they do. Ultimately, the Barbarian succeeds at everything they attempt – the move they choose happens and the narrative continues in response. A success/failure resolution mechanic is not present in this game, which allows players to tell the stories they want rather than having to tell a story dictated by random chance.
If you have a gregarious bunch of friends who love storytelling games, scrape together the change from your couch and purchase SACVTN. It’s $3.00! This game is also a wonderful way to introduce new players to RPGs as its cooperative nature allows more experienced players to help if someone gets stuck. With that said, be careful the more loud/creative players don’t overshadow the quieter ones, as the forced collaboration can be a double-edged great axe. This game is the perfect light RPG and, by Crom, I cannot wait to play it again.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this book, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. I did reach out to the author to learn how to say his name, however, and still probably mangled it. J’ai une langue stupide.