Review: Hard-Wired Island

Hardwired Island: Retrofuture Cyberpunk, by Paul Matijevic, Freyja Erlingsdóttir, and Minerva McJanda from Weird Aged Games

We’re back again for a review and talking Cyberpunk. It’s one of our favorite subjects here at Angel’s Citadel, and we’re looking at a new product this week from a publisher that’s new to us: Weird Age Games. The game is Hardwired Island: Retrofuture Cyberpunk and it was released to DriveThruRPG on April 22, 2021. Weird Age Games is an indy publisher whose works can mostly be found on itch.io. They have a couple of games based on FATE (Core or Accelerated depending on the game) and some more that are either independent rulesets or based on similarly open systems like Lasers and Feelings by John Harper (of Blades in the Dark fame).

First, as usual, technical details. We purchased it as a pdf from DriveThruRPG. The artwork is gorgeous and fits the theme quite well. The PDF layout is clean and smooth, with easily readable text and well bookmarked. They have even included a useful ‘Using This Book’ section. The only detail I wasn’t fond of was the font choice for the paragraph headers, but that’s more personal preference. This game uses d6 entirely and has some similarities to Forged in the Dark games with the success and failures, and FATE in cases with character creation. Based on the other works in their portfolio, those are not particularly surprising mechanical influences.

Hard Wired Island’s “Grand Cross” Space Station

The game is set in an alternate year, 2020, where you are living on a space station. The first chapter covers what influenced the setting of the book, Bubblegum Crisis, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell and Policenauts. I’ll be honest, it was the first two that really attracted me to this book, Cowboy Bebop was one of my favorite animes, and I loved Bubblegum Crisis. This chapter also covers things like a broad outline as to how things happened, then goes into a brief overview of the player-known setting.

Chapter two covers the mechanics of the game. It starts with the dice, then goes into character creation, with a character creation guide. The character creation isn’t a hard process, but it’s not a short process. It’s very much a storytelling character creation: Who is your character? Where are they from? What is their goal? Chapter three is a more detailed version of the occupations. With seven occupations to choose from as a citizen, you’re sure to find something you’ll like. You have an origin, or where you come from, then you go into traits. Each occupation has a talent pool to choose from and abilities in that talent pool as well as some extras to choose from. The seven occupations are: Fixer, who solves problems with their skills and contacts; Hacker, who solves problems by hacking systems; Influencer, who solves problems by influencing people; Operator, who solves problems with drones and machines; Soldier, who solves problems by fighting and protecting; Street Fighter, who solves problems with martial arts; and finally Thief, who solves problems with agility and trickery. (Page 61) Chapter two focuses more on what each of the abilities are, while chapter three covers the occupations and the specifics of advancement.

Chapter four covers Assets and Cybernetics. Things your character can draw on as usefulness, or things they can put inside their body. The Assets come in different flavors depending on how, where, and what it’s used for. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail on this portion, but it makes me think of the Cyphers from the Cypher System, or the potions from Dungeons and Dragons. Cybernetic Augments on the other hand are put in the body, increase your burden but are repeatedly useful. This reminds me in a lot of ways of Shadowrun and their cyberware section. Chapter five covers what Grand Cross is, how it was designed ‘in game’, and how they got to where they are now. It covers everything a player needs to know about the setting in enough detail to give you a feel for it, but with enough leeway that the GM can still make it their sandbox. This is something I think is quite important and often forgotten. Chapter Six onward are more GM-geared, with a focus on location, directory, and running the game along with some NPCs and plot hooks to make it easier for you to start with. They have also included a small campaign starter and a standalone adventure.

The thing that I really like about the book is that it includes little snippets of ‘character speak’ as if someone actually living there wrote down what they thought for people to read. I really enjoy when designers take the time to do these things because it helps give me a feel for what the game designer was thinking when he built the system and colors how I perceive it. The biggest thing I noticed that could be improved technically, is the white page between the cover page and the following pages so that they line up properly in side by side view.

Now, stepping out of my review stance for a moment, let’s talk about price tag, because it’s come up in regards to this product. There’s been a lot of flak thrown at this book for being a thirty dollar PDF. Yes, it was thirty dollars, however, it’s also three hundred and ninety eight pages of content. Now, anyone who has done business with DriveThruRPG knows that they take a portion of what they sell, typically thirty to thirty five percent on each pdf. So, on a thirty dollar pdf, Weird Age Games might get twenty dollars of it (this is me doing basic math, not speaking for Weird Games at all) That money has to go towards their bills, their artists, their layout designers and everyone else that’s worked on it with them.

However, the money doesn’t just cover the book itself that you get, the full package also includes a compressed pdf, a player reference and a separate character sheet. Quite frankly, it’s thirty bucks of excellent content and while I can understand not buying it if you can’t afford it, I don’t understand why you would fuss at them for their price? They’re barely making a living as is. They are artists just as much as everyone else is and they’re not a big name publisher like Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, or Catalyst Game Labs, so… If you’re going to rant about how indies and artists need to be paid what they’re worth then you need to stop complaining when they charge you what they feel they are worth. OK? OK, rant over.

Hard Wired Island is good for what it is: an indy Cyberpunk game that hits some of my favorite high notes, and what it does: give another alternative in that genre with lots of content and some serious effort behind it. I enjoyed reading it and have added it to my list of to-play games.  Happy Gaming!

  • Joann Walles

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