Review: Spectres of Brocken

when advertising this game to my friends so i could get someone to play it with me, i, with nothing but affection, referred to it as “gundam: three houses.” you play in two phases: in the academy phase, you play students learning how to be mech pilots; after a timeskip, you play the conflict phase, where your characters meet again for the first time in years on the battlefield. it uses the no dice no masters system as a base, but eschews tokens and instead has you work with a word bank, which some moves let you borrow from and change: you set words to help establish tone and themes, and add to the bank as you go on. this is a very bare bones explanation of the thing, because to be totally honest, i didn’t completely jive with it, but more on that later. 

but seriously i’m never gonna get a better gag in here than “gundam: three houses”

the concept for spectres of brocken is really strong. the prompting helps support it really well, too: the moves, scene prompts, and especially the character building does a lot to help keep its intended themes moving. you get four character traits: a conviction, an impulse, a potential, and a flaw. you start the academy phase with only one of these, and certain moves let you fill in more of them as you play and your character discovers themselves; if you have any blanks left by the time the conflict phase rolls around, you get to decide what to use. 

i played a one shot of this that ended up turning into a three shot. having it turn into a two shot was not terribly surprising—the game is set into two phases, and even recommends exactly where you should pick back up if you are cutting it in half—but the three shot was kind of an accident; we just wanted to play so many more scenes than was recommended because we were having such a good time with the premise and our game! that said, the vast majority of our game ended up being freeform rp—which is fine, but means we weren’t really doing much with the system. we kind of struggled to find places for the moves, and especially the word system, which resulted in us just kind of skipping over it. 


  • the concept of this game, even though it is more or less literally fire emblem: three houses in robots, is really strong. all of the writing and prompting serves the themes and touchstones it’s aspiring to really well and makes it easy to build a world 
  • like i said, absolutely love the character building system; i think it’s a really unique take that, again, serves the core themes very nicely, and it was a lot of fun to work with 


  • we ended up struggling to use the word bank system (and, as such, most of the moves) with any consistency; i think i can count on one hand the number of times we used words as a group over the course of 10+ scenes 
  • i don’t think there’s enough to tie in the mechs with the characters. admittedly i’m coming from a place of not being particularly into mecha (or sci-fi in general), but we ended up playing most of our scenes outside of mechs because we just couldn’t really think of what to do with them 

would i play it again

maybe? i played their free preview, and i’m curious to see what they end up doing with the full version now that their kickstarter has ended, but i’m probably not curious enough to spend money on it. if someone else invited me to a game, i’d probably give it another whirl, but it would have to go really well for me to play a third time. 

get the game!

spectres of brocken is by aaron lim. you can get a free playtest kit on itch, where you’ll also eventually be able to get the full game once it’s completed! 

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