The Yawhg is a game in which one to four players prepare for the titular, ill-defined, quasi-apocalyptic thing that will hit their town in six weeks. Each week is a single turn for each player, and so the pace is brisk and every choice matters. Dread hangs thick over the whole game, and there are in fact plenty of things that can go wrong before the Yawhg arrives. I’ve had characters who’ve been injured or incapacitated, broken physically or mentally, abducted by monsters or turned into monsters themselves.
But the most persistent and pervasive fear is that whatever quality you’ve been fostering—wealth, charm, finesse, physical aptitude, magical aptitude—will be useless or insufficient when the promised catastrophe arrives. That’s a fear that cuts deep, for me. I know that I find myself wondering whether the ways in which I spend my time really are valuable. I know that I find myself half-wishing, stupidly, that some urgent and decisive crisis would come along and truly test my mettle, once and for all.
We like survival tales and post-apocalypses because they’re so definitive. There’s no room for artifice or superficiality. You find out what matters, and what doesn’t. What’s sustainable, and what isn’t. There’s no room for ambiguity, and therefore, we like to imagine, no room for neurosis or anxiety. Dire situations makes the between cause and effect, between choice and consequence, entrancingly minuscule.
We’ll all know what we’re worth to each other soon enough. That’s the narrative, thematic, and emotional space that The Yawhg occupies.
One of the game’s smartest design decisions is that, even in multiplayer games, the player-characters don’t directly interact with one another. They’re barred from, say, both spending the week in the town hospital treating the sick. They can take turns chopping wood or fighting crime or learning alchemy, and they can even save one another’s lives by doing so, but they can never do it together.
The Yawhg would be a pretty fundamentally different game if the players were an in-group of survivalists— or for that matter, if the game took place in a tiny village, or if it contained a bunch of NPCs with dialogue trees. The Yawhg doesn’t just threaten a handful of narratively relevant people. It threatens the whole town.
Isolating the player-characters’ doomsday preparations makes their relationships, and their responsibilities to one another, far more abstract, in that Benedict Anderson kind of way. You get the sense that your actions could save or doom a lot of people that you care about, without having to actually meet very many of them and without anything so trite as a save-the-world narrative being in play.
When we survive the Yawhg’s onslaught, we all do it together. And when we fail, we all fail each other. But what we’re all worth to each other is, ultimately, a measure of who we’ve each individually decided to be, and how we’ve each elected to spend our limited time. That’s heady stuff for a game (or anything else) to express so succinctly, through sheer consistency of tone and design. Which makes The Yawhg a fairly remarkable creation.