Author – Alfred Valley (@ValleyOfAlfred)
There’s a reason we see dozens and dozens of Wretched and Alone games and PBTA games and D&D clones in this hobby. They work. The systems are familiar and functional, and even most “inventive” games borrow heavily from their predecessors. And that’s fine. Sometimes designers don’t want or need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes they just want to add a couple fancy hubcaps or bespoke spokes and call it a day. This metaphor sweaty enough yet? Moving on.
Once in a great while, though, a game like Lay on Hands comes along. Lay on Hands is a solo game by Alfred Valley that allows players to tell the story of a wandering healer travelling through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I love the premise but…that’s not why this game warrants a review. Folks, this game’s resolution mechanics are…wild? Wild feels right.
Much of the game depends on a coin to resolve conflicts or create adventure content. For example, there’s a series of yes or no questions towards the start of the book that help players flesh out their worlds. In another section, flipping a series of coins generates a sentence word by word that becomes the mantra of the game world. Here’s a pic of it so you understand more clearly what I mean.
If the game was just a series of coin flips, I wouldn’t be so enamored with it (even though it uses that mechanic better than any other game I’ve played). What really grabbed me was the Oracle. Essentially, this is a tiny tray you construct out of paper, the bottom of which is covered by a variety of words and phrases. If you’re playing the game and need some inspiration, you spin a coin in this little tray and see what word it lands on. For example, you might need some help generating an NPC in this town and so your spun coin ends up on The Eye. Maybe that means it’s a Seer or prognosticator. And if you need a little more, there are smaller words above and below the main word that can provide a bit more color. Using The Eye still, if your coin landed on heads, you would read the word above, which is Illusion. Maybe this Seer is pretending to know the future!
Additionally, each space on the Oracle has two numbers, one corresponding to a d66 table and the other ranking one to four. If you don’t want to use a coin, you can always roll 2d6 to consult the Oracle. Conversely, you can compare the number you land on to aid in your world building by looking it up on a d66 chart of post-apocalyptic features to add to your game. The d4 value is used when trying to randomly determine how difficult something in the game is.
And what do you do with the difficulty number once you have it? Buckle up.
The game provides a maze divided into many, many sections, each of which has a simple task to complete. These tasks range from having players color in a section, draw a line up to a certain point, or do quick math. To overcome a challenge in the game, players have to spin a coin and, while the coin is spinning, complete a number of these simple tasks correctly. The number of tasks to complete depends on what the initial difficulty number was and what skills and abilities the player has on their character sheet. If they mess something up or can’t finish the number of tasks in time, they fail.
Remember when I said the resolution mechanics were wild?
I’ve already gone well beyond my usual 500-word cap on this review and there’s still so much of this game that warrants discussion. The character classes are wonderfully unique. The tables and art are rich and evocative. The aesthetics of the character sheets, player aids, and Oracle are both pleasing and functional. Everything in this game is weird, and yet everything in this game works. That’s a rare combination.
This book was an absolute joy to read but very challenging to review, and both of those facts are tied to how unconventional this game is. Whether you’re a designer looking for something new or a player looking for a unique experience, grab a copy of this game and prepare to be delighted. Innovation like this deserves to be rewarded, especially when it is successful as it is in Lay on Hands.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this game, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. I plan on reviewing more solo RPGs for the next few months in an effort to bring more attention to the amazing Solo But Not Alone #2 bundle on itch.io. I hope you’ll stick around and consider supporting an amazing charity that’s doing a lot of good work to help prevent suicides.