Takuma Okada is among the truly great in the world of indie RPG design. I had the pleasure of interviewing them for my now-frozen podcast and have since kept up with their work. Okada’s latest game is Oldhome: Children Chasing Giants and it is truly something special in its elegance and simplicity. I found it hard to pinpoint precisely why the game hit so hard, why it feels like a cut above other small, solitaire, journaling type games. In my attempt to do so, I had to compare it to my most recent journaling game experience in The Last Tea Shop. There’s certainly nothing wrong with Last Tea Shop. It’s good and thoughtful. But something about Oldhome grabbed me in a way that Last Tea Shop, and other games like it, did not.
In both its design and fiction, Last Tea Shop is a bit shadowy and ethereal; Oldhome is about travel and adventure among ancient colossi. The latter is simply more exciting and easier for me to sink my teeth into. Literally and figuratively, it’s just meatier. Oldhome is evocative with so little. The instructions are clearly written and the random mechanics are also a bit more manageable and straightforward (as opposed to the cyclopean tables of my own solo game). They lead you towards the fiction, rather than towards the rules.
Below is a record of the first bit of my first session.
My name is Enyeto and I come from Azalea. It is a fine town. We honor our colossus well and often. We are one in many respects. I can hardly sleep, for example, without the feel of our colossus wafting over the earth. It lulls me.
I have never seen our colossus from afar, but they say its shape is similar in fashion to a turtle. I have seen pictures of turtles. But our turtle floats by the air of its own breath. I believe this because I have flown before and the gentle up-and-down feeling, like rocking a baby, is just what have felt here in Azalea every day of my life. If our colossus has a name we have forgotten it. One day I hope to see its face.
Anyways. As our neighbors do, as all the world does I suppose, we celebrated the Festival of Oldhome. It was wonderful, but that isn’t important at the moment. What is important is that I…Usha, actually…found a pair of scratched sunglasses. This is not the kind of thing we children can keep. Usha faltered. I think she was afraid. So, she gave the sunglasses to me and I ran them home. My parents knew exactly what was to be done.
The very next morning they gave to me my uncle’s leather pack. It had been stuffed, by my cousin I think, with trinkets and old bread. Trinkets in case I have need to trade, bread in case I cannot find hospitality. But I believe it will not come to that. Immediately they walked me to the far edge of Azalea, nearest to where the sun rises. I could not see the ground below our colossus, only a dense fog and the piercing tips of treetops. Mountains were there, but far away, almost like a huge stone stuck to the lavender sky.
This is where my uncle’s old skiff is kept. We rarely use it for we rarely have cause to leave Azalea, but my father does his best to keep the skiff in working order. I think he does it to honor his brother.
Anyways. As rarely as I use it I know how. And I know how to plot a course to the other colossi; school teaches us that much. My mother spoke with some of the other adults, the astronomer most especially, and they decided I should make for the Old North Fort. It’s rather close and many of our people have relatives there.
I am on my way there now, trying to write as much as I can and watch the world go by as much as I can. Behind me I stared for an hour at Azalea, hoping to get a good look at our colossus, but it was hard to see among the fog and clouds. I believe I could make out the edge of its shell.
When I see the sloping shoulders of the wolf-colossi I know I’m near the Old North Fort. Until then, I’m going to look at the trees and eat bread.
Kid, good luck finding what you’re looking for! I, Hoben, am not the owner of the fine sunglasses. Though I wish I were! They’d help me be an even better napper! More useful than this bird of mine!
The Old North Fort was fruitless. Besides the sleepy man who wrote this I came across another person at the far edge of the colossus, near the wolf’s tail, gazing off at the mountains while his chicken ran wild. He was kind but unhelpful. A woman in town, in the large olive grove at the Fort’s center, gave me some lace gloves she’d found for luck but that’s about it. I am back on the skiff and on my way now to Look Far. It is further north, and colder, but their colossus is said to be fiery and warm. I’m rather excited to see it. Hopefully the owner of the sunglasses will be there as well.
Look Far is of a shape I cannot describe. The colossus is bent, like the sickle moon, but also curved and wide, standing far, far above the treetops. In what would be the empty middle of the sickle is instead a big bright glow from a furnace so large I can hardly believe it. It’s barely morning and I am tired but I must go and explore.
The lush groves of baobab trees make no sense. How do they exist here? I suppose the warmth of Look Far’s burning heart is something to do with it. There was a group of kids my age being watched by an adult, a woman wearing a lovely ribbon in her hair. They directed me through the trees and down the slope of the colossus’ back to the main town of Look Far.
This town is made of many terraces that stick out flat from the steep back of their colossus. It’s very green. The warmth of the colossus’ burning heart is enough for plants to grow all year. It’s tricky at first, walking around, but I soon got used to it and rather enjoyed it. The sound of a radio pulled me into a small café where they were selling weak tea; I could tell from the smell of it. The radio belonged to an older man. I did not speak to him but heard the old songs coming from the speaker. The words were not encouraging:
Seen stumbling around in darkness – questioning honours and dreams Those treasures will never befall you – they’re out of reach
The owner of the little tea shop was very kind, however, and understood my journey, having done it herself when she was young. She offered me a place to stay for the night and that sounded well enough. I welcome a break from sleeping on the air skiff, though it was difficult to rest so far from home. I have her a my favorite blue feather in thanks.
Attached to my room is a small porch overlooking the rest of the town. I heard clopping coming down the stone steps of a terrace below me and there was another man riding on his horse, stark black and easy to see against the sunset. I thought it odd. How could they have gotten the animal here atop their colossus? We have so few animals back home. He must be proud of his horse for he paraded it through the next terrace, a kind of park central to the town, and earned many onlookers. I shook my head and decided to go to bed early.
If I’m to find the owner of these sunglasses I’ll have to move on to the next colossi in the morning.