Our Last Best Hope – Use Those Story Hooks When You Can

In late October, when I was just getting my ad hoc gaming group started, I ran Our Last Best Hope, a hybrid board game/roleplaying game from Magpie Games. I can say without qualification that fun was had by all.

The conceit of Our Last Best Hope is that the world is facing an apocalyptic threat (“space,” “snow,” and “zombies” are included in the main book), and the players are the one desperate shot at saving humanity. Players can be soldiers, doctors, scientists, or engineers, each with special abilities to deal with threats.

Our Last Best Hope is a “storytelling game” without a gamemaster; each turn a particular player has a roleplaying experience during which he or she tries to accumulate “story points” so that, at the end of the roleplaying phase, the story points can be used for extra dice to deal with a threat.

I decided unilaterally that the apocalypse would be space-based, because nothing says apocalypse like rehashing the plot of Armageddon. We decided we’d be trying to disarm a rogue Soviet Mars probe that was going to detonate its Cold War nuclear payload, shunting the Red Planet on a collision course with Earth. We had two engineers, two scientists, a doctor, and a soldier.

Everyone died. We may have fudged the rules at the end, so maybe we saved the Earth, but everyone died. What we didn’t realize was that, if you don’t roleplay to get your story points early on, a sequence of bad rolls can enmesh the players in a cascade of increasing threats, so that after one round, everyone’s somewhat injured and already down on “touchstones” (free single-use story items, such as the saxophone we ended up jamming into a breached airlock) and drawing down the common story point pool we were hoping to use against the cataclysm at the end.

Because of that, midway through, when there’s a roll to determine if you made the right choices so far, we failed catastrophically. I think it wiped out all of our special gear and killed half of the table right then. After that, we were just too low on story points and health to go much further, although our deaths did contribute extra dice to the end.

That said, we had amazing fun. We were screaming at the players who “made us crazy,” chatting with the players who “made us sane,” and revealing horrible secrets like how both engineers had fudged their qualifications. We laughed a lot, and would totally do it again.