Horrible: Traditional Games
"[S]aying that this game should be burned is an insult to fire."You know those old board games and card games and roleplaying games you keep in your closet or attic? Yeah... you might want to keep a few of those in your closet, lest somebody sees them and tries to use it against you in court... especially if it's one of these. Important Note: Merely being offensive in its subject matter is not enough to justify a work as So Bad It's Horrible. Hard as it is to imagine at times, there is a market for all types of deviancy (no matter how small a niche it is). It has to fail to appeal even to that niche to qualify as this.
— Jason Sartin, in his review of FATAL
Examples (in more-or-less alphabetical order):
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- deadEarth, a post-apocalyptic wasteland RPG, claims to be better than all other post-apocalyptic RPGs of its time (it was published in 2000)... but it falls flat on its face with horrible chargen mechanics and mutations — er, "Radiation Manipulations" — that make no sense. Characters can be killed by Radiation Manipulation during character creation, which is made worse because strict rule interpretation limits a player to three character sheets ever. The skill system is incredibly convoluted, and since you have to pick your skills before you roll your Radiation Manipulations, you'll be picking those skills without critical info about how well your character can use them even if he lives to be played. You can read up on the specifics here.
- RTG released a Dragon Ball Z RPG. The execution was just as ludicrous as it sounds — stat blocks for the characters from the series had attacks that required rolling upwards of thirty dice... and that was just for the Saiyan Saga. The book itself was poorly written and poorly laid out, and it suffered from a lot of filler devoted to only marginally relevant subjects, such as customizing action figures. Three sourcebooks were released (with more cancelled), but the system was horribly suited to DBZ. The creators took a system with expected stat values between 1-10 (involving rolls of only 3d6 to resolve checks) and fed stats in the hundreds into it. "Power levels" amounted to nothing more than MP, but were used as the basis for gaining XP from a fight. Ugh.
- Empire Of Satanis, a game billed as being as being a mix of Lovecraftian horror and Satanism. What it actually contains is a nonsensical, derivative setting which has a puerile take on evil and horror at the best of times when it isn't just plain stupid. What makes it particularly bizarre is the designer, one Darrick Dishaw, a member of the 'Cult of Cthulhu' who claimed that he was "kicked out of the church of Satan for being too Satanic." His primary method of advertising the game consisted of yelling about how evil and artistic it is, using sockpuppet accounts to post positive reviews and, when all else failed, placing a curse on the people who disliked his game. A review can be read here.
- It almost seems confused as it talks of being as vile as possible, but having Candyland Magic. There is nothing in the rules or setting to make the half-demon characters not instantly kill each other, let alone work together as a party. The description of the setting is confused prose with zero consistency or sense of what kind of world these characters actually live in.
- FATAL is, hands down, the all-time reigning champion of horrible RPGs. The rulebook consists of 900 agonizing pages of poor mechanics, a massive number of ill-defined stats, violations of common sense, and all-around contempt for basic human decency. For example, one of the most basic rolls in the game is 4d100/2-1. That's right, roll a hundred sided die four times, sum the results, divide in half and subtract one...for all seventeen of your stats, and anything else requiring a bell curve. The creators, on learning the flaw of this system, decided to "improve" it to 10d100/5-1. For the record, if you are using real dice, that requires 20 d10 rolls. Character creation takes a while in this system, especially since (at least in the first version) each stat had four sub-stats (requiring more than a hundred dice rolls), and at one point it calls for a 1d10,000,000 roll. For the record, that's either 8 d10 rolls (one per digit), or one die that would be better for crushing Indiana Jones than for getting a random number. Practicality is thrown out the window in favor of vulgarity and offense, a quality not helped by the creators' claim that only white, non-Christian people inhabit The Verse and their constant flip-flopping between claims that it's either "controversial humor" or historically and mythically accurate (which, obviously, it utterly fails at being). Skills tend to be pointless and mundane (urination) and statuses are often every bit as bizarre as they are tasteless (fruit growing out of one's privates, a "scratch'n'sniff" vagina appearing on one's forehead, getting aroused whenever it rains). The sheer number of rules is ridiculous and makes the game incredibly difficult rather than giving it any challenge; to calculate the results of sex, one must solve quadratic equations. On top of all this, the game is absolutely drowning in Unfortunate Implications, featuring piles of misogyny, rape, and apologia for same. RPG Net reviewers Darren Maclennan and Jason Sartin have a far more detailed, and horrific, review if you're still tempted... (NSFW) An older version of the game included unfortunate more-than-implications including things like magic items themed around racist caricatures.
- In 1985, FASA put out a Masters of the Universe RPG to cash in on the fad of the time... and it was near the point of being completely unplayable. Important rules were left out (combat requires the defender to roll a D6 and add their skill... but which skill is never given) or even directly contradicted (one monster is listed as having two attacks, only for the very next sentence in the book to note that it "always defends"), and even when there is an explanation, it tends to be unnecessarily complicated (players have to consult a complex table to see how an enemy reacts to being hit before they can actually do damage). Stats are given for several characters from the show, but many of them give the impression that the writers had never even watched the source material - Teela, for example, is a magic-user despite being the Badass Normal of the Masters, and Orko, of all people, gets offensive spells. Worse yet, some of said spells didn't even have rules included for how they worked - later releases included a card that, rather than giving the rules, just said that they would be included in a future edition (which never came out). It was intended for 8- to 10-year-olds to introduce them to RPGs, but even adults with college degrees have expressed confusion over the mechanics.
- The game known only as HYBRID. First appearing on the newsgroup rec.games.frp.super-heroes as a series of posts by the author "C++", it purports itself to be a roleplaying game that "accurately models physical reality." The ever expanding "rules" consist of a disjointed jumble of mathematical equations with undefined variables, allusions to social and political issues and pop culture, cross-references to other rules, nonexistent rules and even rules from other games, misogynistic and other offensive statements, and much more. It is virtually impossible to make any kind of sense of the rules, much less actually create a character and play the game. RPG.Net ranks this as the second worst game of all time, with only FATAL ranking worse.
- As you start to actually READ the thing you realize it doesn't have rules, it has word salads that make C++ come across as an untreated schizophrenic. Rule number Zero is supposed to be an explanation on how C++ numbers his version histories, but starts to drift into an aside about Superman canon and quickly devolves into an Author Filibuster and conspiracy theory, eventually totaling over 1500 words. To top it all off, C++ fails to follow his own version history numbering rule.
- Racial Holy War. The title speaks for itself, but the concept warrants a fuller explanation: in the future, the minorities have conquered the world under the guidance of their Jewish masters and reduced white people to a few small pockets of resistance. But now the whites are going to strike back... and you're going to play them. The material seriously reads like someone who just finished the Protocols of the Elders of Zion but didn't quite feel up to tackling Mein Kampf. And that is before you get to the horrible, broken, unfinished rules, including, but not limited to complete omission of rules regarding player-character attack resolution — in short: you can't hit anything. Other gems: Players can be debilitated by body odor and will accept bribes to not attack during combat. Makes you wonder how the player race can claim to be "superior" if they suffer from the same physically-debilitating greed as the enemy races.
- Spawn of Fashan is a classic example from the early 1980s that has become one of the standards by which execrably bad tabletop RPGs are measured. It was an incomplete release — even though it had an example world, it didn't include enough in that sample for full use of the system. It took a long time to create characters and run combat because the stat tables were poorly organized and poorly labeled.
- Wraeththu: The RPG "adaptation" of Storm Constantine's fantasy series about post-apocalyptic mystical mutant hermaphrodites with flower-like genitalia (no, seriously) ended up not realistically portraying the setting of the books at all, casting the player characters as pretentious and glamorous sociopaths, and going out of its way to be as unhelpful to the novice GM as possible. Of note are the gutwrenching mechanics: among other transgressions, chain mail transfers a statistical immunity to flamethrowers. Details here and here.
- Intelligent Design Vs. Evolution. Ignoring the thinly-veiled attempt to convert players to believe in intelligent design, it's a simple board game where two players or two teams must move their pieces to the end of the board. While playing, players gain brain cards by answering questions; there are only 250 question cards. By comparison, Trivial Pursuit has 6,000. The questions themselves either make cheap shots at evolution, convince players to believe in the church, or are just random bible quotes. Not only is the information on the cards misquoted, but they clearly weren't proofread. One card cites Wickipedia (sic, we're not joking) as a source. The blog Freaking Awesome takes a look at it here.
- Power Lunch. A variant on Rummy, players have to meld together cards of celebrities at a table in a restaurant. If the cards don't match any sets, then the player must explain why they'd be sitting together and the opponents must vote yes or no to it. There is no advantage for the opponents to agree with the set, so it's wiser to say no at all times. Moreover, the celebrities are whoever was popular by the time it was made (1994), so in a couple of decades, the game can be quickly outdated with most people having no memory of most of these people. Only one version was made of this game and Board Game Geek gave it a rating of 2.60 out of 10.
- Spellfire, a CCG based on Dungeons & Dragons made in the Follow the Leader rush after Magic: The Gathering popularized the concept of collectible card games. Unfortunately, several factors helped kill the game — bad rules; artwork recycled from Dragon Magazine and old book covers; and very rare/powerful figures and items whose art were photographs of dressed-up employees, mundane items, and/or poorly made models. When your cards being as flimsy as photo paper is the least of your concerns, you know you're in trouble.
- In comparison, Super Nova was benign but it's still a rather mediocre card game. Players drew from a single communal deck, but the rules were so vague that there was originally no win condition... which was fixed in errata. The artwork is nothing awe-inspiring either.
- Top Trumps is a very well respected card game that has lasted for years with tons of expansions. However, it's Space Phenomena pack is the worst of the lot. The game works by having two to six players compare a statistic on the cards with the highest one being the winner. The Space Phenomena cards have stats as "N/A" or an extremely low number and rapidly shift in measurements, meaning that most cards are straight up unusable. This makes the game incredibly slow without House Rules. Even worse, some of the stats provided are in non-standard or just plain wrong units (such as "Earth Years" for speed)note or change reference points (for instance, orbital period, or "speed", for planets is given relative to the Sun, while orbital period for the Sun and other objects is given relative to the galactic center), resulting in numbers that are insane, wildly inaccurate and seemingly pulled out of nowhere. (Apparently The Moon wasn't discovered until 1651note , Venus wasn't discovered until 1990note , and Halley's Comet is -6000000 Earth massesnote .) Watch Ashens rip it apart here.
- Many side bets in casino table games are blatant ripoffs:
- Craps has an entire section of the layout dedicated to them (between the two main halves). The house edge of these is no less than 9% (Pass/Come and Don't Pass/Don't Come are about 1.4%). The Big 6 and Big 8 bets deserve special mention, since they are the same as "place" bets (i.e. bets that a 6 or 8 will appear before a 7), except that while the actual place bet pays 7 to 6, these only pay 1 to 1, meaning that the only reason for their existence is to rip off the uninformed.
- Casino War by itself isn't bad (the house edge is 2.3%-2.9% depending on payoff rules), but the tie bet pays only 10 to 1 when true odds are 12+ to 1 (depending on number of decks), giving a 17+% house edge.
- The collectible trading game BreaKeys; the main gimmick was literally breaking your opponent's game piece when they lost. BreaKeys pieces apparently came in bags of 20 for $20, which could be wasted in less than a minute in a game. Because the weaker pieces would always be the first ones to break, the law of collectible games, in which the rarer the game piece the stronger it is, does not apply here. Furthermore, the broken plastic pieces were fairly sharp and could cause messes and small injuries. And the icing on the cake, you could just feel, with your fingers, how strong each key was before using it. You can watch CR review it here.